Sunday, August 19, 2007

Prayers and words

Two prayers to compare. The first, from the bulletin at church this Sunday:

You know, Lord, that we sometimes find life to be difficult. There is so much uncertainty; there are so many questions; there are so many setbacks; there is so much pressure to conform. At every turn we are tempted to compromise our morals, to fit in with our society, to question the standards of our faith. Forgive where we have yielded, and help us to build spiritual stamina in our ethically challenged world.
The second comes from the United Methodist Hymnal and is from both the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren churches:

Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of all things, judge of all people: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine majesty. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father. For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, to the honor and glory of thy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


The first prayer may have been written by our pastor. I don't know, and it really doesn't matter who wrote it. It's crap.

I think it should be given to the church of Dr. Phil. It seems like a prayer that he would like. It's easily changed too, since we only have to replace the word Lord with Dr. Phil one time. Let's see:

You know, Dr. Phil, that we sometimes find life to be difficult. There is so much uncertainty; there are so many questions; there are so many setbacks; there is so much pressure to conform. At every turn we are tempted to compromise our morals, to fit in with our society, to question the standards of our faith. Forgive where we have yielded, and help us to build spiritual stamina in our ethically challenged world.
Yes, that definitely makes more sense.

Today in Sunday school we read the story of the first Christian Pentecost. It says something about how we should speak in the language people understand. But that does not mean we shouldn't use the language of the church.

How do we learn language? What ways seem to work best? Most schools do things backwards, studying verb conjugation and sentence structure before anyone speaks the language. That's not how you learned your native language. You learned before you knew what learning even was. You heard it, day after day after day and you tried to duplicate it even when what you were saying made little sense to anyone listening, and you understood much of it before you were able to speak it clearly. Why should the church be different?

I understand that the prayer of confession from the Methodist/United Evangelical Brethren churches could be a bit daunting to a visitor who had not been raised in the church. I feel uncomfortable when people around me are speaking a language I don't understand. But the church can do things that help people to know the language. We should teach it, but we cannot teach it if instead we just quit speaking it.

4 comments:

  1. Haha! We have those same kinds of "prayers of confession" in our church, and they drive me nuts too.

    Here's a recent one:

    "Dear God, we come at the invitation of Your Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We come to You in humility and gratitude for the gift of forgiveness for our sins which we name silently in our hearts before You. It is only by Your grace that we receive these gifts of grace. By that same grace, enable us to share these gifts, and all other gifts that You have given, with our neighbors, the world, that you have called us to love. This, we humbly ask, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen."

    Notice that at no time does it actually acknowledge or confess any sins or ask pardon. Also, there is absolutely no pause whatsoever after the words "which we name silently in our hearts before You." So there's not even a chance to confess one's sins privately during the so-called prayer of confession.

    Another one for Dr. Phil or perhaps (given the greeting) Dear Abby.

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  2. I completely disagree. I think the first one is great. jesus taught us to pray to "abba" father, which is a personal, and intimate way to speak to God.

    I feel too many people think that God only hears lofty prayers that talk about divine judgement, and our pitifulness. Instead of love, and forgiveness.

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  3. I'm glad you disagree, Dave. If I've conveyed that I want prayers to be more lofty, I've missed the point I was trying to make.

    I agree that love and forgiveness are vital, but I don't think this prayer conveys that either. It seems to be a "universal" prayer, that could be prayed by anyone, to anyone, and that's why I object to it.

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  4. Good post Gary, and quite the wakeup call for churches out there (I lead one) that can be tempted to sacrifice the heart of what makes us Christian ---- that we're redeemed, transforming (read crucified to an old life and resurrected to new life), Jesus-followers. Trying to be relevant doesn't mean dropping who we are called to be, which is what happens sometimes.

    Hope that doesn't sound harsh or negative. Just a reality that prayers that seek to be helpful through broad inclusivity and by being non-intimidating usually lose the power of faith.

    Good points.

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