Years ago, when my family first began attending a local church, the associate pastor invited me to have lunch later in the week. As a new Christian, I was still self-conscious about praying in front of anyone and somehow sensed he might ask me to open up in prayer before our meal. Over the next few days, to ease my concern, I rehearsed a prayer that went like this: “Thank you Lord for the beauty of Your creation, for Your endless creativity, how even in the simplest of things Your majesty is revealed. Thank You for this food. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” We met for lunch soon thereafter, and sure enough, he asked me to say grace. I recited my prayer, word for word. Was it ever polished! And so very heartfelt.
The following Sunday, the associate pastor was standing in for the pastor and presiding over a very large congregation. At the end of the service, he did something the pastor never did–he asked for a volunteer to close everyone in prayer. Uh-oh! As I watched him scanning the audience for a volunteer, I tried to slouch down in my seat as far as I could. I was practically in full recumbency, and getting some strange looks from the people around me, when he looked directly at me and called me out to pray.
My initial thought after being called out was, “Now I’ve gone and done it. I’ve convinced him that I have such a deep relationship with God that it can’t help but spontaneously pour out of me in the form of well-crafted and elegant words.” My second thought was, “Run! Run very fast!” However, realizing I couldn’t both run and subsequently show my face at this church ever again, I chose a third option, and began: ”Thank you Lord for the beauty of Your creation, for Your endless creativity…” You know the rest. Although you’ll be pleased to know that I did have the good sense to leave out the “thank you for this food” part.
On the way out, I was once again unable to avoid the notice of the associate pastor. As I passed by, he just smiled and slowly nodded (either that or he was grimacing and shaking his head in disapproval), but he didn’t say a word…at least not to me. Although we’ve never spoken of it since, I suspect he and his staff have had more than one chuckle over the whole affair. Who can blame them?
All this brings to mind a very apropos verse (Ecclesiastes 3:4): “[There is] a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn.” So true. I wept that day and mourned for days to follow. And after these many years, the humor of it all is not lost on me either. I’ve since come to learn that when we pray, God wants our hearts, not our eloquence, and that He gives us the words we need when we need them. But just in case He forgets to prompt me the next time, I’ve begun to memorize my latest go-to prayer: ”God is great. God is good…”
I hope this encourages you to smile today.
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