Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Why Didn't You and I Ever Pray Together?"

Last week, my wife and I were back in the Cincinnati area, where we lived for the seventeen-plus years that ended little more than a month ago. We were invited to attend the annual meeting of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Clermont County, on whose corporate board I served for over three years. We decided to make a day of it, including an appointment with Vicki, who cut our hair throughout our time in Cincinnati.

As Vicki cut my hair, she stopped the buzzing of her trimmers and fixed me with a serious expression. "Hey," she said, "why didn't you and I ever pray together?"

Although my conversations with Vicki could be outrageously funny, there were plenty of times when we discussed serious matters. Over the years, I also discussed "spiritual" things with her and even promised to pray for her. But I never prayed with her. I never even offered to pray with her.

Feeling a bit flummoxed by her question, I suppose, I stammered around an answer. The gist of it was that, as a pastor, I need to be careful not to even appear to force my faith down the throats of people with whom I do business or I interact in my daily life. It's a valid point...to a point. But the fact is that Vicki long ago became a friend of our family. Why, I asked myself, hadn't I ever prayed with her?

Vicki smiled at my obvious discomfort and said, "I'm just yankin' your chain, man." She went on to explain that after her mother suffered from a stroke a few weeks ago, she got a call from a client, a businessman. "How's your mother doing?" he asked. After Vicki gave him an updated report, he said, "Let's pray for her." And he began to pray on the telephone.

"I thought that was so cool!" Vicki enthused as she told me about it. "Here's this guy taking time out of his busy day to pray with me for my mother. It was great!"

In my whole life, I've never met anybody who minded it when someone offered to pray for them. It's the least offensive way a Christian can share their love of Jesus Christ. (Assuming, of course, that they will follow through on the offer and actually pray for the person!)

But as I reflected on Vicki's experience, I realized too, that I've never met anybody who minded it when somebody offered to pray with them.

Of course, such offers must be made sensitively. If Vicki's client had walked up to her at the busy barber shop where she works and loudly announced he was going to pray for her mother and she could join him, that would have been the height of insensitivity. Christians who embarrass others with their expressions of faith aren't helping anybody!

But the way her client approached Vicki on the subject demonstrated that he was no religious show-off, just someone who cared about Vicki and her family.

My family and I have been the beneficiaries of the prayers of a caring person like that. More than once. But one incident stands out in my memory.

In 1996, we bought a new Toyota Corolla. The salesman was great, obviously focused not just on making a sale, but on getting us into a quality car that we could afford. As we picked up the car and prepared to drive it off the lot, he said, "Hold it, folks, could we pray?" We were surprised, but readily agreed.

"Lord," he said, "please grant that as long as the Daniels family owns this vehicle, that it will give them quality service. Keep them safe as they drive in it. In Jesus' Name I pray. Amen."

Our daughter, who lives in Florida, now owns the car. So, eleven-plus years later, it's still in the family. And it's still a great car. As Sarah often reminds us, none of that should be a surprise. "After all, Dad," she tells me, "it's been prayed for!"

We weren't offended by that salesman's offer of prayer and in fact, look back on the experience with fondness and gratitude.

I know what some who are reading this may be saying right now: "Of course, you weren't offended. You're a preacher."

Leaving aside the fact that I have sometimes been offended by people who offered to pray with me--usually because they've displayed spiritual arrogance and presumption, let me tell you that, although I never did so with Vicki, I have offered to pray with hundreds of people through the years. And not just in counseling sessions at the church office or in hospital rooms. It's happened in lots of places.

Once a neighbor was visiting with me after we'd been out mowing our lawns. He told me about some things going on in his life. One thing led to another and, lo and behold, I asked if he'd like to pray. We prayed in my front yard. "I thought that would make me feel uncomfortable," he told me. "But it didn't. Thanks." "I thought it would make me feel uncomfortable," I told him. "But it didn't. Thank you."

When we pray, we voluntarily lay the needs and concerns of our world before God, asking that His will be done. When we offer to pray with someone else, we're doing that and expressing our concern for them.

If the offer to pray with a person is done with love for them and not a desire to look pious, it can be a great thing. Just ask Vicki.


tm said...

I'd mind. It's a bit presumptuous, IMHO. Plus, prayer has always seemed like a weirdly personal thing. Praying in public with other people has always struck me as as weird as, say, going to the bathroom in public with other people. (this is one of my earliest memories: having been raised Christian, I found grown adults expressing their love for another man in such unabashed fashion to be deeply embarrassing.)

Mark Daniels said...

"I'd mind." That's where sensitivity comes in. Someone who knows you and actually cares about you would understand that--or, actually ask you if you minded--and not subject you to embarrassment.

We have some Christian friends, for whom it would be deeply embarrassing to pray over our dinner at a restaurant, for example.

We have other friends--Christian and "not so much"--who fully expect (and want) to thank God for their food, even in a restaurant, and have no problem with praying.

In the first instance, it would be insensitive for us to force folks to pray. In the latter case, it would be inconsiderate not to pray.

It's all a matter of being sensitive to people.