It seemed like a perfectly wonderful idea — a community prayer meeting. Pastor announced it from the pulpit for the first time on Sunday. He said he would be there, and he invited any and all to join him.
It seems odd to me that we always make such a big deal out of the fact that we are the nation that allows prayer in public places but then we don’t really practice praying in public that much. From where I sit it seems to me that the Muslims do a much better job of praying in public. Sometimes when I’m at the local Starbucks, I wonder what would happen if the people gathered there — the ones I know are Believers — just started praying.
So I was delighted to see that all the area churches were gathering under one roof to pray. I mean it’s not like we don’t have plenty to pray about, right? Like Egypt and her people for one. And how about all those unemployed people? And the Haitians, let’s not forget them. Or our friends in the Gulf region? And the uninsured? Should we pray for them? And the aging? Billy Graham says it takes a special grace to age. Should we ask God to impart it to our friends and family?
I have a list. I’m sure you have one, too.
So at 6 p.m. I gathered at the church where the prayer meeting was taking place. I guess I had it in my mind that we would break up into small groups and pray together that way. Quiet groups praying by the dozens all around the room. I was a little unprepared for the music. I mean, it’s fine. I like music. I even like the rowdy kind. But I was hoping for just the sound of people praying. The discordant voices of many, praying whispers to Jesus.
I had not prepared myself for the synagogue-format of the many preachers giving mini-mini sermons followed by the invitation to stand and pray where you are at.
Let me say that I would not want to be a preacher for the world. Honestly. I’d hate having the job where people criticized everything I do. It may not seem like it at times but I’m a people pleaser. I want everybody to love me. Or at least tolerate me. So this is in no way meant to be critical of what I know was right intent on behalf of the community preachers. I know they meant well. I just wish maybe they’d had a woman preacher among them. Somebody who might could have said: Now, hold up a minute fellas. Let’s consider that more carefully before we move forward.
Because about 30 minutes into the prayer time, all those prayers started sounding like sermons in and of themselves. I’ll let God judge the intent of the prayer’s heart but I’m just saying.
I was sitting off by myself — in a middle row in the middle of the church — but I looked around. The gal sitting two seats down was busy with her daughters, who were dressed in their nightgowns. The ends of their hair were wet. It wasn’t raining out so I figured they’d bathed and got ready for bed prior to coming to the meeting. I’m not sure if their mama was a single mama or not, but I flinched when one of the pastors asked that we pray for fathers to be fathers.
He said something about the fact that in a household where fathers are spiritual leaders 80 percent of the household follows Jesus. But in households where mamas are doing the parenting and loving Jesus, that statistic drops off the edge of a cliff. It’s apparent that single mothers who love Jesus are for the most part fighting a losing battle. They might as well give up and marry the first converted convict that comes along.
One gal over in the corner started praying out loud for her husband to “man up” and be the “Jesus man” that God intended for her and their unborn baby.
Whoa, buddy. I was thinking if I prayed a prayer like that in front of God and everybody my husband might leave me to join up with the French Foreign Legion. Do they still exist? Or maybe some pirate ship. He would definitely be tempted to do some bad-ass Johnny Depp impression.
But what really got me to squirming was when the fellow to my left started praying for God to deliver single mamas from their shame.
I know he didn’t mean it the way it sounded. Or at least I hope he didn’t, but that’s exactly what he said — God needed to deliver single mamas from their shame.
The single-mama daughter in me wanted to rise up and give somebody the trailer park beat down.
What the hell?
Say the stupidest things sometimes.
It got worse, people.
I should mention that earlier that day, I’d spent the afternoon with a gal who recently lost her mama. Unexpectedly. At still a relatively young age. She was fine the first few weeks in December. Nothing going on. Doing her regular thing. But then Christmas week she started feeling poorly. Said she was weak and tired.
By the first week in January she was in the hospital, intubated, cancer throughout her body. Then she was dead. Just like that. Planning Christmas one week. Planning the funeral a couple of weeks later.
Her daughter hadn’t yet recovered from the death of her own baby just two years ago. One minute he was a healthy cherub and the next he was at Oregon Health Sciences Hospital, hooked up to a heart monitor and breathing tubes and feeding tubes. A rare heart defect, doctors said, before the first operation.
He might not make it out of the operating room, doctors said during the second operation. He did, but he was brain dead. His mama was in shock and wanting so badly to find something that would resurrect her boy. So when friends offered to come pray the devil out of him, she agreed.
When their prayers suggested that she — the mama — just wasn’t quite thankful enough, well, then, that’s when it hit her that God doesn’t work like that.
And when the boy died, the very next day, well, it’s taken some doing, getting beyond all that praying the devil outta him. She’s managed, but it’s been a struggle.
I was thinking about all that when the next preacher fella got up there and said that all the preachers had come together and agreed that we all needed to pray the curses out of this town. And then he listed the four curses that they’d all agreed upon:
Well, yes, I agreed, that certainly was a scourge upon any city in any land.
But honestly, I can’t even recall what the other two curses mentioned were. I was just too dumbfounded by that last curse that I completely forgot the others.
God wants to free us from the curse of poverty, the preacher said. Satan wants us to live the lie that we will never have enough.
Oh. Brother. Here we go again.
Yes. I even rolled my eyes.
I’d love to sit down with that preacher and talk to him about that curse of poverty and explain to him how it is that when one group of people have an abundance of stuff that almost always precludes that somebody somewhere doesn’t have enough. I wondered if he’d ever taken a simple marketing course. Or perhaps traveled outside this city’s gates.
I wondered if he had ever considered that perhaps poverty isn’t the curse — maybe being rich is. Jesus certainly seemed to think that was the case. He mentioned it a few times.
Maybe exploiting others for one’s own personal gain is a curse.
Maybe the real curse is when we look for ways we can use God rather than looking to God for ways he can use us.
I don’t know.
By then my heart was so heavy, I just got up in front of God and everybody and left.
I can tell you this — it’s a curse to be thinking about stuff all the time.
Sometimes all you want to do is pray.
Is it any wonder Scriptures suggest we find a quiet closet to pray in?