In an earlier post, I suggested that, even as Christians – and maybe especially as Christians – we are uncomfortable praying with one another. Outside of a select number of (sub)culturally approved contexts, we find it uncomfortable to stop a conversation with a friend and say “Let’s pray” (particularly if the conversation is actually an argument and the friend is actually your wife). We may talk a great deal about God, his will, and the worldview he wants us to have, but we talk very little to him together.
Why do we feel awkward about spontaneous prayer in the midst of interpersonal conflict, logistical difficulties, or other standard-issue features of life? I think there’s a number of factors. Fear of hypocrisy has a role. Fear of seeming holier-than-thou has a hand. Misleading caricatures of faith and forgiveness also play their parts. Over the next few blogs, I plan on considering six reasons we are uncomfortable praying with one another and hope you’ll follow along. Why? So we can agree corporately that we suck and do our protestant psychological penance? Not interested. Rather, I hope God will use these reflections to expose lies we have been believing and renew our minds with truth. I want to live in more conscious dependence on Him together with you and I want to experience the power in our relationships that will come from recognizing his power, presence, and authority in our midst at every moment.
So…why is spontaneous prayer awkward? Why don’t we pray together?
Reason #1.) We recognize the sin mixed in our responses and fear looking like hypocrites.
- He did it again. Seemingly oblivious to the facts that dishes don’t clean themselves and others might want to use the kitchen, your roommate has left the kitchen sink piled so high with dirty cups, cookware, and cutlery that even getting a glass of water is a feat of engineering. Being a master of subtlety and grace, you wrap the dishes up in his bath towel and place it strategically on his pillow. He’s not impressed and tells you that’s gross and disrespectful. You drop some relevant Proverbs about the sluggard and tell him to grow up. In the “conversation” that ensues, there never seems to be an appropriate place to say, “Let’s take this to the Lord”…
- She did it again. Of course – she’s sorry. She’s always sorry, apologizing profusely for failing to keep her commitment, but that doesn’t change the fact that the last minute scrambling and late nights fell to you. You’re not trying to punish your friend, but you’re exhausted and feel in a funk. If she feels a little coldness from you, it’s not more than she deserves, right? You feel a few pangs of conscience. Maybe you should go beyond your perfunctory granting of forgiveness and take both her brokenness and your bitterness to Jesus…but won’t it seem fake and forced?
- You did it again. It had been a hard day and stepping on those Legos had been the last straw. Is it too much to ask for sharp plastic toys not to be left on the stairs? After your explosive tirade, the kids have been walking on eggshells. Could anybody take you, and God, seriously if you suggested you should pray together?
So, what is the golden key? How do we get past our hypocrisy so we can pray with others? At this point, I want to pull a Bob Newhart and yell at both you and me, “Stop it!” No, I don’t mean stop being a hypocrite. I mean we need to quit trying to “get past our hypocrisy.”
Oh, I don’t mean it like that. Hypocrisy is a serious problem that drew some of Jesus’s sharpest rebukes. If we play at religious routines and rituals while we live in rebellion against God’s commands, we are under God’s wrath. We should want our walk to match our talk. We should be striving for greater holiness. We should always be like Paul, pressing “on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14) But if we are going to imitate Paul as he instructs in this passage (v. 17), we must imitate his faith as we imitate his effort. Paul’s ambition did not flow from having arrived. He was comfortable admitting weakness, saying, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect…” (v. 12); but what freed Paul up to press forward was an important mental setting that is integral to faith. He continues, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what like ahead…” (v. 13)
Paul wasn’t shackled by hypocrisy because he wasn’t shackled by past performance. He was free, not because he had built a respectable portfolio of piety, but because he had tossed that whole game and gone all in with Jesus. So often, our embarrassment over hypocrisy is the flip side of pride – the one is just a bit more successful (either in practice or PR). Successful pride boasts; failed pride blushes. Paul scrapped them both.
Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ…for his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. (Phil 3:7-9)
Friends, Jesus died for your sins – including your hypocrisy. His righteousness is perfect, even when yours is not. His commitment is complete, even when yous is weak. Imitate Paul and come to Jesus. Forget what lies behind and come to Jesus. Give up on self-reliance and come to Jesus. Come in repentance over your hypocrisy. Come in brokenness over your sin. Come to be forgiven. Come to be washed. Come to be renewed.
And while you’re at it, bring a friend.
Yes, bring that friend that wronged you. Jesus will forgive them too. And he’ll help you forgive as you have been forgiven. Come to Jesus and together celebrate the mercy and grace of our great God.