I grew up a preacher’s kid in a church where members took an active and sometimes intrusive interest in my spiritual formation. One such member was a contractor and carpenter, Mr. Mulberry. One Sunday night at the conclusion of the church service, my dad called on me to pray. He believed his three boys should be ready to “preach, pray, or sing” at all times, and this was one of those. I went to the podium and pronounced a rambling, poorly worded benediction using words and phrases I had heard the church men—yes, it was always men in the tradition I grew up in—say hundreds of times over the years. I felt I had done a decent enough job on my benediction. I hadn’t been struck down for blasphemy and some of the older ladies congratulated me for saying “such a nice prayer.” However, Mr. Mulberry found me, took me aside, and offered a few pointers. At first, I resisted his intrusion, a defensiveness instinctively rising in my spirit. But as I listened, I realized he wasn’t being critical. He offered wisdom in a compassionate way. His advice? When you pray, don’t use all the words and phrases you’ve heard in church your whole life. Talk to God in your own voice using your own words. When you pray publicly, use complete sentences. Remember you are talking to God on behalf of the entire congregation. Watch out for filler words and be sure to speak clearly and project so that everyone can hear.
I imagine that Jesus shared these words about prayer with his disciples in that same vein. Over the years, I have reflected with gratitude on Mr. Mulberry’s moment of instruction. I’m sure the disciples viewed Jesus’ guidance on prayer with similar gratitude.
What word or words come to mind most often when you pray? What do they say about you and about God?
God of knowledge and language, give me words to express my truth to you in our times of conversation and words to express your truth to those I encounter today. Amen.