Ponyhawk and Prayer

First things first… I’ve run out of words for Sanjaya’s performances. Last night, the Sanjaya’s pony hawk hairdo left me speechless. Shania simply must go home tonight.

Interesting little article by Tony Jones on prayer. Click here for the full e-article. He argues that in many places, prayer has become far too informal. He argues for reverent and conversational prayer, but not informal prayer. Here are some excerpts:

In two decades of youth ministry, I’ve heard a lot of
conversational prayers to Father Weejus. You know, "Father Weejus ask that you’d
be here tonight, and Weejus hope you’ll really bless our time." I’ve heard a lot
of unnecessary "justs" and "reallys" over the years, and inappropriate uses of
the subjunctive mood ("We pray you
would move your people and you
would do your will …").

I’m all for conversational prayer. But a lot of it is sloppy,
which, I’m afraid, has been bred by too much informality…

So I work amid younger Christians who, on one hand, appreciate
the informality with which they can speak to God. But we also get it when Kevin
Smith, in his hilarious (and outrageous and filthy) film Dogma mocks that image of Jesus with his "Buddy Christ," a
life-sized statue of a smiling, thumbs-up Jesus meant to replace the wholly
depressing Catholic crucifix.

Smith’s postmodern irony makes a salient point: modern
Christianity has emphasized the immanence of our Savior, but, pushed too far, we
are in danger of making the God of the universe little more than our buddy. Or,
worse, as sociologist Christian Smith has found, many churched teenagers pray as
if God is little more than a "Cosmic Butler," awaiting their next request for
his services."

What do you think? Has prayer become too informal? Or, is it still too formal? Or, do you think it’s just about right. The venue and occasion for prayer may make a difference in your answer…but I’m inquiring of prayer in general.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Share Your Thoughts

6 thoughts on “Ponyhawk and Prayer

  1. One of my favorite poems I learned while growing up:
    The Prayer of Cyrus Brown
    “The proper way for a man to pray,”
    Said Deacon Lemuel Keyes
    “And the only proper attitude
    Is down upon his knees.”
    “No, I should say the way to pray,”
    Said Reverend Doctor Wise,
    “Is standing straight with outstretched arms
    And rapt and upturned eyes.”
    “Oh, no, no, no,”
    said Elder Slow,
    Such posture is too proud.
    “A man should pray with eyes fast-closed
    And head contritely bowed.”
    “It seems to me his hands should be
    Austerely clasped in front
    With both thumbs pointing toward the ground.”
    Said Reverend Doctor Blunt.
    “Last year I fell in Hidgekin’s well
    Headfirst,” said Cyrus Brown,
    “With both my heels a-stickin’ up
    And my head a-pointin’ down.
    And I made a prayer right then and there,
    The best prayer I ever said,
    The prayingest prayer I ever prayed,
    A-standin’ on my head.”

  2. Everyone is making good points! Isn’t prayer language fascinating? I think we often turn to jello when praying…the very idea of communicating with the Creator of the universe and knowing that He is onto your thoughts even before you verbalize them. How do you speak to God?
    Even though the “justs” and the “reallys” bother me as well, I think God is measuring our prayer by the dimensions of our heart, not the brilliance (or lack thereof) of our words.
    Here’s a problem I have that I’d like someone to address: I’m bothered by the fact that I seem to say the same prayer using the same words day after day. Now believe me, it’s not “vain repetition”. I still feel the feeling…but I struggle with “thank you for sending your son, your only son, to die for me…that I might have life” and rarely changing the text. But then, I guess I should heed my own advice from the previous paragraph.

  3. Paul Bramadat is a sociologist who spent time studying a campus ministry group at McMaster University. His book is called THE CHURCH ON THE WORLD’S TURF. He talks about the prayer vocabulary these students developed over time — especially the use of the word “just”.
    He thinks we use it because it sounds humble. We’re not asking for much. We just want a little. Just this or just that. Not a lot.
    It’s a fascinating read (but it’s crazy expensive unless you can find it used).

  4. I’m not sure it is warranted for Tony to lay all of this solely on our teens, especially the “Cosmic Butler” idea. That has plagued God’s people for ages, young and old. It also seems difficult to set a standard for prayer. Prayer originates in the heart and bursts out in many different forms. I would challenge people to study the Psalms and see how David expressed himself to God. At times you could call it irreverent, informal, need oriented, familiar, etc. It’s all there. I might have argued the formality thing in the past, but when Christ descended from heaven to become one of us, He chucked that out the window. He became our Brother, our Friend, our Savior, our Help. He secured closeness and intimacy between us and God. I’ll give our teens a break on this one.

  5. Great questions, Tim. In response to Jones, I’m not sure how we would distinguish between prayers that are “conversational” and prayers that are “informal.” Is there a distinctive “prayer vocabulary” that all Christians ought to use? And if so, who gets to decide which words are appropriate and which are not? To me, the issue inevitably gets mired in subjectivity, and opinions will of course vary along generational lines, with older Christians preferring their way and younger Christians preferring theirs. The way I see it, given the challenges of ministering to youth in today’s culture, we should be praising God when they even bother to pray at all! If a prayer is being offered to God with genuine sincerity, reverence, and devotion, who are we to critique the choice of words? Also, we should remember that ancient prayers are only ancient to us — they were contemporary in their own time, i.e. they were typical of the customs of speech and language in their own time. Although it’s great to recite and imitate ancient prayers, it’s also important that we find ways to pray that reflect our contemporary way of speaking.