The Right Way to Pray?

I just read an article by a Jewish agnostic writer named Zev Chafets entitled, “The Right Way to Pray?” He decided (as a reporter, not a seeker) to visit different places where prayer happens to see if he could learn what the deal was with prayer. About 75% of Americans report that they pray at least once a week. People seem to put a lot of emphasis on prayer, and Chafets wonders if there was a right way to pray.

He visited a huge evangelical megachurch that stresses prayer in its services by having people stand in groups of three and pray together. He visited an Anglican spiritual director who uses Tibetan prayer bells and candles. He visited a Jewish rabbi who taught prayer through yoga (people in mourning are to say the Kaddish prayer while standing on their heads to acknowledge the upsetting nature of death).

He talked with a seminary professor who taught prayer and once edited a now defunct magazine entitled Pray! Who suggested that there are rules for proper praying—“Keep your prayers brief and clear” [Jesus prayed all night]. “Repeat simple Scripture-based phrases” [Jesus warned about vain repetitions]. “Pray standing up to fight torpor” [Jesus fell with his face to the ground]. “And pray directly facing other” [Jesus said to pray alone in our room]. And finally pray “in a loud, clear voice.” [Remember Hannah’s silent prayer answered spectacularly in the birth of Samuel?]. The problem with coming up with rules for relating to God is that the Bible is always filled with exceptions!

Rabbi Marc Gellman (half of the popular duo “The God Squad”) suggested that prayer is essentially “Gimme! Thanks! Oops! and Wow!” He said, “Wow! are prayers of praise and wonder at the creation. Oops! is asking for forgiveness. Gimme! is a request or a petition. Thanks! is expressing gratitude. That’s the entire Judeo-Christian doxology.”

The last place he visited was an Assembly of God church. He got there early and talkws for awhile with some kids in the children’s choir. When they found out he was writing on prayer, they began to share in childish enthusiasm how prayer had made a difference in their lives-- for the grandmother who broke her leg, the sister who suffered with asthma, the friend who was burned in fire. It was in this child-like faith in God and reliance on Him in prayer at a simple, old-fashioned church that became for Chafets "the right way to pray."

There are some 300,000 churches in America, and I could have picked any one to attend on Easter morning, but I liked being in this one. Especially the kids. They didn’t need Reverend Henderson’s prayer techniques, or the high-tech mantras of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Their prayers weren’t Rabbi Gellman’s suburban Jewish prayers of Thanks! offered to whom it may concern. They didn’t pray to de-center their egos or find transcendence or to set off on a lifelong therapeutic spiritual journey. They prayed to a God with whom they were on a first-name basis, and they believed their prayers gave them power, which they used on behalf of their asthmatic sisters and infirm grandparents and a kid they knew with burns on his body. Sitting in church on Easter morning, I realized that I was probably never going to become a praying man. But if, by some miracle, I ever do, I hope my prayers will be like the prayers of the kids I met at the Love church in Berkeley Springs. Straight-up Gimme! on behalf of people who really need the help.

Of such is the kingdom of heaven!