Do you have colleagues, fellow students, or acquaintances from out in public (bus drivers, shop owners, even those at church that you don’t know very well), where your dialogue is almost always the same? We say, “How you doin’ ” as a convention (in fact, sometimes, we can fit this into a single syllable), but not as an invitation to start a conversation. Maybe there’s a little bit of small talk that varies from time to time, but in the end, it’s just that: a greeting and some pleasantries.
If you think about those people, who you never (or rarely) have a real conversation with, what would it look like if you got to the part of your day (or week) where you usually greet this person, but instead of repeating the same thing, you paused, invited them to stop what they were doing, and took some time to talk with them?
Now, I realize that not all of these people that we greet are able to stop and chat with us. Some have work to do (or are driving down the road at the time), while others would find it creepy. Still, when it is possible, imagine how much more we could learn about these individuals, and how much deeper our relationships might become, as we learned to know them as real people?
In recent weeks (months?), my prayer list had gotten to the point where it was mostly repeating the same things. (I’m an engineer by nature, after all, and so patterns and consistency are kind of my thing.) For the most part, I meant these prayers (meaning I was sincere about them), but that was sometimes difficult when the words were usually the same.
I think that I was also caught in a sense of duty (or fear). What if I didn’t pray for one of the people on my list that day? Would they not be blessed as much by God, or have less chance of being successful in their own walk with Jesus (or their ministry, which I guess is kind of the same thing)?
So, one day I just talked to God. (I know that pastors say we should talk “with” God, and they’re probably right, but that day I didn’t get much farther than sharing my own side of things.) I set my formal prayer list aside, stepped back, and told God what I was really struggling with.
Not too many days later, I was reminded of – or, we might say, confronted with – the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount:
“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!
Matthew 6:7-8 NLT
This fit right in with what I had experienced: saying the same things to someone – even God – over and over doesn’t really deepen the relationship. It isn’t much of a conversation, once it has become a ritual.
Of course, I don’t think that prayer lists are a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with asking that God would drive out evil in front of the missionaries that I know, or asking Him to grant the pastors, elders, and staff of our congregation both wisdom and protection. Still, when prayer becomes merely a “How ya doin’ ” or other rote conversation with God, maybe it needs to be set aside some days, to just have a chat.
I hope that you aren’t caught in the same rut that I was, but if you are, I invite you to think about how you might talk to someone that you care about, or even (if given a chance) a casual acquaintance who you don’t know very well. What would make that conversation different from how you talk with God? Are there elements of talking with friends that are suitable to include in your conversation with God?
Just something to think about.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.