Pointless prayer 6

“You know you’re old when your wife asks you to come upstairs to have sex and you tell her that you can’t do both”. I recently went to a big ol’ church down the road to listen to a bit of a legend in the world of Christendom, Tony Campolo, and this was his opening line. This fiery 77 year-old is still as sharp as any tack, has more passion than a teenagers pants and a credential list longer than a snake-eating monkey tree.

I had never seen him in person but I grew up hearing stories about how controversial and offensive he was so I was stoked to see how big his kahonas were in an ultra-conservative setting. The classic story I heard is that he dropped an F bomb in the middle of the service and then rebuked everyone for caring more about the fact that he let an effenheimer fly than the millions of people around the world who are starving to death everyday. Classic.

But what I resonated with was his view on prayer. He told this story of how his 10-year-old son walked into the living room and said something like, “I’m going to bed & I’m going to pray… anybody need anything?”. He also talked about how so many of our prayers are just pointless – they’re telling God what He already knows: “Dear God, my aunt Mary is sick in the hospital….” Seriously, is God really that much of an idiot that we need to tell him about who is sick and who needs to be healed as if He’s responding with, “What the hell? Who? Aunt Mary? I didn’t know she was sick… which hospital?”. Funny stuff.

All that to say, my view(s) on prayer have really changed over the past few years. I think I used to have more of a posture of “if you ask long and hard enough with the right amount of people, God will do it”. But I hold things with much more of an open hand these days.

Prayer Poem

I asked God to…

Tony Campolo told the story of how Mother Teresa was interviewed and asked about her prayer life.

The interviewer asked, “Mother Teresa, when you pray, what do you say to God?”.

She responded with, “I don’t say anything, I just listen”.

The next question was, “Well, what does God say?”

She replied, “He doesn’t say anything, He just listens”.

<BEGIN RANT> This is either ludicrous or profound. To me, it is the latter and the essence of prayer. So often, I have no idea what to pray and frankly, I think I’ve wasted a lot of time telling God things that He already knew. It has more to do with clearing our thoughts, spirit, mind, and creating space to be “on”. Listening. Seeing what God might be doing / saying behind the stuff that’s going on in front of our physical eyes.

I have to say that Dr. Campolo was tame on the offensive fader yet was still able to inspire me (which is pretty tough to do these days… especially from behind a pulpit). I could have done without his manipulative marathon child sponsorship sales pitch at the end but I still love his passion for the poor.

This little poem I found about 10 years ago inspired my current view on prayer – I dug it out of my journal and thought I’d pass it on. <END OF RANT>

I asked God to take away my…
– Anon

I asked Gad to take away my habit
God said, No
It is not for me to take away, but for you to give up.

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole.
God said, No
His spirit is whole, his body is only temporary.

I asked God to grant me patience.
God said, No
Patience is a byproduct of tribulations;
It isn’t granted, it is learned.

I asked God to give me happiness.
God said, No
I give you blessings; happiness is up to you.

I asked God to spare me pain.
God said, No
Suffering draws you apart from worldly cares and brings you closer to me.

I asked God to make my spirit grow.
God said, No
You must grow on your own!
But I will prune you to make you fruitful.

I asked God for all things that I might enjoy life.
God said, No
I will give you life, so that you may enjoy all things.

I asked God to help me love others as much as He loves me.
God said…  ahhh, finally you have the idea.