Praying in public gets dicey depending on the circumstances, who is praying, and who is witnessing the prayer. For example, in June, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a high school football coach who was fired for praying at midfield after each game. The court’s ruling overturned the Lemon test that had been the standard for determining cases involving the separation of religion and government activities.
The coach’s win resonated with many religious groups even though almost three-fourths of U.S. adults believe religion should be kept separate from government policies. This article neither defends nor advocates opinions regarding this particular example. However, I favor praying without ceasing, whatever that might mean.
The Reverend Robert L. Morris, Jr. concludes, “Prayer is the most talked-about subject in Christendom, but very few people regularly do it.” Yet, writes Morris, “Developing a rich and vital prayer life is the chief spiritual struggle for all believers.”
According to a Pew Research study, approximately one-third of U.S. adults say they seldom or never pray. This number is rising as only 18% in 2007 responded similarly. On the other hand, 45% report praying daily. While this is encouraging, this number is lower than the 58% who reported praying daily in 2007.
Since 63% of us identify as Christian, I wouldn’t expect the number of us who pray daily to be much lower. This is a dilemma. Jesus clearly saw prayer as crucial and thus prayed frequently. So why, as followers, are our prayer habits not consistent with His? And what can we do to improve our own prayer habits?
A lot gets in our way when it comes to prayer beyond fear of what others might think about us if we pray in a public space. In particular, most of us are constantly pressed for time. I often feel like I’m running from one activity to the next without enough time to process or do a follow-up.
As a result, I’m often praying on the run. It’s still prayer but also more of a monologue than a dialogue. This means I may miss out on a lot that’s more important than what is causing me to rush.
My best prayers come when I’m feeling a sense of awe. And this is the best advice I can offer to those who hope to improve their prayer life. But, first, determine how you traverse the road to awe.
Dictionaries define “Awe” as a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder. According to a white paper published by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, awe shifts our “attention away from ourselves, makes us feel like we are part of something greater than ourselves, and make us more generous toward others.”
It’s no wonder that the road to awe leads us to prayer.
But prayer has a lot of layers. The outer layer is easily articulated. To pray is to communicate to a source of power beyond our own. What comes next can be formal, artistic, and familiar. Or what comes next may be a disheveled hot mess.
There is no mold for prayer. Just as the hearing impaired communicates with hand signals and the blind read braille, prayer is even more nuanced, personal, and challenging to define, describe, or categorize.
Perhaps my most bizarre prayer experience ever came when I was actually yelling at God. “What do you want from me?” I shouted at the sky. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting an answer, but I got one that changed my life forever.
On those occasions when I’m upset with God, my demeanor shows up in my prayer as a lack of awe. I often forget who I’m talking to as though God has no idea what I’m up against. It is a similar stance taken by children worldwide in conversations with parents.
I’ve noticed that from time to time, I swear I can hear similar words that God spoke to Job in one of my favorite biblical stories.
Anyone who knows the story of Job has a divine gift. His story is a gift because no one has it worse than Job. He lost everything, including his wealth, family, and health.
But since Job was a believer, he wanted God to weigh in on his circumstances. Job’s friends didn’t abandon him but offered advice that missed the mark. It was God who had to answer for Job’s plight.
Were you there when I made the world? If you know so much, tell me about it.
After several speeches by Job to provoke God to explain why so many bad things had happened to him, God responded. “Who are you to question My wisdom,” God says, “Where were you when I created the world?”
Among other infractions of holy etiquette, Job was missing the awe that should come naturally whenever we speak to God. Nevertheless, this is how I expect my conversations to go when I’m upset with God and start lecturing the Creator from the back of the bus.
The obvious answer is nowhere. I didn’t exist and wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for God making it possible for me to live. And I know that this fact challenges every one of us at times. And a few can’t quite get past the idea that the world wasn’t a fortunate accident of natural causes.
This unfortunate attitude can be corrected on the road to awe.
As the UC Berkley team pointed out in their paper, awe has a way of shifting focus away from our individual needs. Awe shrinks our perception that the world revolves around and answers to our needs. Humility is a beneficial by-product of awe that we discover along the way.
In a letter to the church in Philippi, the writer encourages us to have the same mindset and humility as Jesus, whose humility is legendary. While humility may look different to each one of us, imagine having tremendous power to command armies but choosing to do jobs that no one else wants to do. I’ve found that awe comes with humility.
Does this mean that we shouldn’t yell at God? Probably not. But like any parent an upset child is better than a silent one so if you’re upset with God just be yourself. Just be ready to learn and be transformed.
Each Sunday during our series, Pray, we’re collecting prayer requests. You can submit a request online from our website home page. In addition, prayer request forms are located around the church and during water and food giveaways.
You can join us each Sunday in person or online by clicking the button on our website’s homepage – Click here to watch. This button takes you to our YouTube channel. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.
A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to connect@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.
Content for this series is based in part on:
Robert L. Morris, Jr.. Pray Like Jesus: What We Can Learn From the Six Recorded Prayers of Jesus. Bloomington, IL: Westbow Press, 2019.
Gregory A. Smith. “About Three-in-Ten U.S. Adults Are Now Religiously Unaffiliated,” © Pew Research Center, Dember 14, 2021. Retrieved from: link
Dalia Fahmy and Rebecca Leppert. “10 facts about religion and government in the United States.” © Pew Research, July 5, 2022. Retrieved from: link
Alex Swoyer and Stephen Dinan. “High court allows football coach’s prayer as private religious expression.” © Washington Times, June 27, 2022. Retrieved from: link
“The Science of Awe.” © Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, 2022. Retrieved from: link