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Spirituality: Public Prayer Can Be Tricky For a Variety of Reasons

When a chaplain friend revealed she was Methodist, I jokingly cracked, "I'll pray for you."

A corny joke exchanged between clergy, it communicates feigned superiority.

Joking aside, public prayers sometimes come with strings attached. Allow me three examples.

In the fall of 1995, I stood over a very scared woman on a surgical gurney. Fibroid tumors in her uterus became very painful. Since the patient, 35, already had three children, she agreed to bypass the typical biopsy and have a hysterectomy.

Thinking it might help to pray, I reached for the patient's hand, but she quickly withdrew it under her blanket.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm praying for you," I answered.

Shaking her head from side-to-side, her cheeks inflated in an effort to mute a torrent of sobs.

"No prayer?" I asked incredulously.

She nodded in affirmation.

"Will the prayer release your tears?"

Again, she nodded.

I should have known better than to suggest public prayer. I knew the woman would be afraid to express her fears and release her tears in such a communal place.

I knew this, because the patient was my wife, Becky.

Somewhat different than my wife, but still queasy about hearing, "I'm praying for you," is my chaplain assistant, Tech. Sgt. Robert Webster.

To understand his peeve, you need to know Webster isn't required to declare a religious affiliation, because chaplain assistants have no religious duties. Assistants do generic tasks such as maintaining records, equipment and chapel grounds. In wartime, assistants carry an M16 assault rifle to protect chaplains because they're prohibited by the Geneva Convention to carry a weapon.

Unaffiliated, Webster prefers to describe his beliefs as an "ongoing spiritual search."

So, when people say they will pray for him, he hears the same disapproving tone communicated in my prayer joke, although it's no joke to him.

He says offers of prayer can seem more like an ambush that contains the presumption he's "going to hell."

"I just don't share their brand of spirituality," he said.

Finally, last month, the Pentagon expressed some offense in the "I'm praying for you" sentiment as it was expressed by Franklin Graham, the Rev. Billy Graham's son.

The Pentagon disinvited Graham from its National Day of Prayer observance because of his unfavorable comments about Muslims and Hindus.

The comments became interpreted as the agenda of Graham's sponsor, the privately funded National Day of Prayer Task Force.

Public prayer can be tricky, because it can so easily communicate our latent judgments. Prayer warriors can become prayer voyeurs.

Sometimes, people like my wife hear the parental tone that conveys, "I know what's best for you." Others, like my chaplain assistant, hear a judgmental tone. And certainly the Pentagon heard the tone of a parochial agenda.

I think that's why Jesus suggested we pray in a closet. Paraphrased beautifully in "The Message," Jesus said "Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage."

I think that's good advice, although some, like Graham, see the need for a public stand. He decided to pray in front of the Pentagon - invited or not.

As for me, it's the scriptural advice I follow when praying for my chaplain assistant, and it's the advice I followed that day in pre-surgery with my wife. After promising to limit my prayers to silent ones, she took my hand, and we found agreement before God that she was safely in his hands.

1 Responses »

  1. MIKEY WEINSTEIN, JESUS-BASHER

    What kind of wine has Mikey Weinstein been drinking?
    As an anti-Christian Jewish supremacist and as the president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, he's doing all he can to create an anti-Jewish backlash and help bring about the predicted endtime Holocaust of Jews that'll be worse than Hitler's.
    Neither Falwell, Hagee nor any other Christian initiated this prediction. But Weinstein's ancient Hebrew prophets did.
    In the 13th and 14th chapters of his Old Testament book, Zechariah predicted that after Israel's rebirth ALL nations will eventually be against Israel and that TWO-THIRDS of all Jews will be killed!
    Malachi revealed the reasons: "Judah hath dealt treacherously" and "the Lord will cut off the man that doeth this."
    Haven't evangelicals generally been the best friends of Israel and persons perceived to be Jewish? Then please explain the hate-filled back-stabbing by David Letterman (and Sandra Bernhard, Kathy Griffin, Bill Maher etc.) against followers of Jesus such as Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.
    Weinstein wouldn't dare assert that citizens on government property don't have freedom of speech or press freedom or freedom to assemble or to petition the government.
    But God-hater Weinstein maliciously wants to eliminate from government property the "free exercise" of religion - especially by evangelicals - a freedom found in the same First Amendment. Significantly, this freedom was purposely listed FIRST by America's founders!
    And Weinstein wouldn't try to foist "separation of church and state" on strongly-Jewish Israel, but he does try to foist this non-Constitution-mentioned phrase on strongly-Christian America.
    In light of Weinstein's Jewish protectionism and violently anti-Christian obsession, Christians in these endtimes should be reminded of Jesus' warning in Mark 13:9 (see also Luke 21:12) that "in the synagogues ye shall be beaten."
    Maybe it's time for some modern Paul Reveres to saddle up and shout "The Yiddish are Coming!"

    PS - Some, like Weinstein, are so treacherously anti-Christian they will even join hands at times with enemies, including Muslims, in order to silence evangelicals. It was Weinstein, BTW, who put pressure on the Pentagon to dis-invite Franklin Graham from speaking there on the National Day of Prayer!
    PPS - Weinstein is an echo of the anti-Christian, anti-American Hollywood which for a century has dangled every known vice before young people. We seriously wonder how soon the lethal worldwide "flood of filth" (global harming!) that Hollywood has created will engulf and destroy itself and help to bring to power the endtime Antichrist (a.k.a. the Man of Sin and the Wicked One)!