Christians have some strange habits when it comes to prayer. Some people wouldn’t think of eating a meal in public without holding hands and praying until the chicken nuggets are blessed but think nothing of offering to pray for someone and then never get around to it. When I was in Bible college, we ate family style around the table. Being Bible college students we never forgot to pray for our food because, as we used to say, “Un-blessed food rots your gizzard” (I never did find out what my gizzard was). Anyone who arrived late to the table was assured that the “food was already blessed.” We used to joke about the half-life of a food blessing. If the food were put away in the fridge would it need to be blessed again? Is it the food that is blessed or the table itself such that if someone, for instance, brought their bag lunch late, would they need to say a new prayer over their food? Silliness. Pharisaical silliness that is almost as bad as eating food without saying a blessing. These uses and abuses of prayer are our last installment in this series on the habits of highly annoying Christians. So just consider this my own version of the Screwtape Letters guide to having an annoying prayer life.
Make up Secret Rules for Prayer:
We may not consciously judge people on other things, but we judge people on how they do prayer. If you want to have an annoying prayer life, by all means inculcate a habit of silently criticizing others and how they pray and make sure you follow the prayer rules to the letter. You must close your eyes and bow your head unless you really want to be spiritual then you will raise your head so high you risk a pinched nerve if the prayer is too long. But you never ever should open your eyes (except to see if everyone else has their eyes closed.) You should keep your hands in your lap unless you want to be really spiritual in which case you fold your hand fervently. If you are leading the prayer, you should make sure to pray for the 50 or so prayer requests mentioning ever minute detail of Aunt Sally’s surgery. If you leave someone’s request out by accident, the prayer doesn’t count.
Concerning Others, Pray rather than Do Anything
When others mention some really bad thing that is happening to them. Don’t sit down and listen or go over to their house. Don’t offer to fix a meal or dare ask specific questions that might indicate you were searching for a way to come along side them and pick up the slack. If the pastor needs volunteers for the youth ministry, under no circumstances should you consider if your schedule would permit it or, if you are already over-committed, take it upon yourself to ask around for other volunteers. Say a quick prayer while driving down the road (the eyes close rule always applies except when you need to quickly get that prayer off your conscience while driving). The proper response to an acquaintance’s subtle remarks that they are hurting is to promise to pray for them and maybe recommend a book you’ve been reading. When pressed to commit to something you really want to refuse but don’t have the heart or the guts, a time honored strategy is the prayer stall method or Prayer Stall for short. Let me illustrate:
Pastor: Hey Jim, we would love for you to help Saturday with the kids soccer fundraiser. Can you bring your pickup to haul off the leaves?
Jim: (who can’t bring his truck because he has already committed to be the fourth in a round of golf on saturday). I don’t know Pastor, I will pray about it and get back to you.
Nine times out of ten, the Pastor will forget or you won’t see him till after Saturday when you can admit you did pray about it (on the way to the Tasty Freeze in rush hour traffic) and God led you to blow the youth group off. Of course you wouldn’t say it that way. God just led you to refuse to commit and not tell anyone until after the fundraiser was over.
Concerning Your Attitude and Actions, Do everything except Pray
When it comes to your own internal motivations and character, if you want to really have an annoying prayer life, then don’t pray about your enemies, your feelings, or your own perspective on a bad situation. This is the only time to really avoid prayer. If you are angry someone especially do everything (stew, ruminate, gossip, be passive aggressive) but never, ever subject your attitudes to prayer. This goes double for situations involving church and its administration. I know, I know, the Bible says Jesus is the head of the Church and if one has a problem with what is happening at church one should go to the Head of the Church first but this would require us to humbly submit our own agendas and secret ambitions to Him. Much better to do everything but pray. Complain to the pastor about the parking lot fund or better yet complain to the ladies Sunday School chairperson. Note if you are gently rebuked for talking to everyone but the pastor, just fall back on the Prayer Stall Method mentioned above.