It is our tradition to pray before meals as a family. We do this as a way to stop, pause, and express thankfulness for our meals. As much as we believe in doing this it is easy to not pay attention to these prayers. They become, in a word, tradition.
Last night my husband prayed, and although my son and I initially had our eyes closed, we peaked at him, bewildered, as he prayed “Thank you for backwards, yesterday and tomorrow”. We opened our eyes (ok, well I admit, they were already open) looked at each other and him in surprise as he said, eyes still closed, “I was just seeing if you were paying attention”. It was a humorous moment. We were indignant. We admitted to distraction (there were hot, fluffy biscuits competing with the prayer) but we were well aware that the words did not make sense.
The truth is, despite the best of intentions, prayers can become rote. Prayer can lose its meaning and impact as we, wearing our busy badges of honor, rush from one place to another and one activity to another. There is also another difficulty – it’s easy to know the right words and have them fly off the tongue without pausing to really think about them. We have a “prayer vocabulary” that isn’t always helpful in communicating the cries of our heart to an Almighty God.
One of my favorite books is an old classic written by John White called “Daring to Draw Near“. The book looks at 10 people in the Bible who communicated from the depths of their souls to a God who they believed could, and would, hear and respond. Although the people featured are in completely different circumstances, from an adulterous king (David) to a wife who desperately wanted a child (Hannah) the common thread is their stark honesty before God. They were not talking about “backwards, yesterday and tomorrow”. They were pouring out the pain of their souls and in doing so walking away comforted. The God that they prayed to is not portrayed as a comfy grandfather, but rather a God that makes us tremble with His power and strength.White’s goal was not to write a book on prayer, but to offer us a renewed picture and vision of what prayer is and can be by, in his words, “eavesdropping” on these prayers.
He sees these prayers as “windows on eternity, looking out at the profoundest issues of life and death. Before long you forget you are dealing with a prayer, so startled are you by what you see beyond it” (from “Daring to Draw Near” by John White, copyright 1977 Intervarsity Press)
From Daniel’s great prayer of intercession to Hannah’s personal prayer of loss, we eavesdrop on people communicating with God. From calls for forgiveness and action because “Your city and Your people bear Your Name” to wordless heart cries of personal pain, there is a glaring absence of clichés, and a strong presence of people who are candid and authentic before a living God.
Our humorous moment at a dinner table prayer that included “backwards, yesterday and tomorrow” has given me a chance to once more remember the many honest dialogues that are available and purposefully written. Recorded so we can eavesdrop, so we can tune in, not to a formula, but to passion, pleading and purposeful communication with the Almighty God.