Unsaid prayers

I usually write the pastoral prayer for our Sunday worship on Friday. I don’t like to “wing it” in worship. I prefer go go into worship prepared. Obviously there are many times when the prayer has to be adapted because of events that happen between the time I write the prayer and the time it is used in worship. As a result of this practice, my pastoral prayers tend to be a bit generic, praying for the kind of general concerns that exist every week such as hunger, poverty, injustice and the like. I have found, over the years, that those general prayers can be very meaningful to worshipers precisely because they are not specific. A person can come to worship with a specific challenge, concern or need and something in the prayer, often unintended, will connect with them. When I try to list too many references to specific concerns in the pastoral prayer I run the risk of having someone feel like their concern was left out.

So there are always prayers that go unsaid. I try to make reference to this reality each week as I invite the congregation to share a time of quiet prayer. I avoid using the term silent prayer, because a congregation the size of ours is never truly silent. There are all kinds of sounds that are in the room. We do, however, hold quietness together and during that time each person can pray in her or his own way the prayers that are on their hearts and minds. I then try to draw the congregation together into a single community with the pastoral prayer before we together pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Sometimes, when I look back on a particular worship service, I am deeply aware of the unsaid prayers.The concerns of our community are far wider than the general topics addressed in a pastoral prayer written two days before our worship.

Yesterday, I could have prayed for the people of Japan:

God of all compassion, our hearts are with the people of Japan where more than 100,000 search and rescue personnel are combing the debris and destruction following the worst storm to hit that country in decades. Our hearts ache for the grieving with more than 40 dead and 16 missing. Give strength to those who are searching. Give hope to those who are waiting. Give comfort to those who are grieving. Give shelter to the homeless and peace to the victims. Inspire our generosity to share with those in need. For we know that you are with the people of Japan in this season of recovery and restoration.

I could have prayed for the people of Syria:

Almighty God we watch with horror as Turkish forces roll into Syria trapping innocent civilians between Kurdish and Turkish fighters after the sudden and unexpected withdrawal of US troops. Already more than 50 civilians have been killed in Syria and more than a dozen in Turkey. The people have nowhere to go. They are trapped with bombs and gunfire surrounding them. As you know, God, many of the people are already refugees, forced from their homes, seeking shelter from combat and peace for their families. Protect the innocent, gracious God. Heal their wounds. Grant clarity to world leaders that they might turn aside form their struggles over power and position and focus on the needs of the people. Open our eyes to see the sufferings of the innocent that we might influence our government to compassionate action. Gracious God, in this war-torn world, we pray for peace. Our own efforts at establishing peace seem to be fraught with mistakes and danger for your people. We seek the peace that only you can give - the peace that passes all understanding.

I could have prayed for the leaders of our government:

God of all wisdom, we have been taught to pray daily for our leaders, that they might find clarity of mind and the wisdom to put the needs of the people ahead of their own, that they might wield power for the good of all. Yet we daily witness confusion and partisan power plays at every level of government. We confess that our human governments are filled with sin and failure. Help us to restore the power of forgiveness to the process of government. Give those in power the ability to choose for the good of the people instead of personal gain. Guide our decisions that we might choose leaders capable of acting for the peace and freedom of all of your people. Over and over again, you have shown us that the road of freedom lies not in our human governments and leaders, but in a genuine faith in your providence. Be with those who govern, O God, and help us to place our trust in you.

There are a hundred prayers that I could have prayed. Each might have reached some need within our community. But the bottom line is that the relationship between the people I serve and God is not dependent upon the words that I choose. That does not mean that I should choose words lightly. If anything it means that I have to be even more careful as I craft the prayers that we use in communal worship. Words are important. But they are not magic. We do not manipulate God. God does not need us to provide information about where the needs of the world are located. God does not need us to tell God what to do.

Our prayers are for us - a discipline to remind us that God is always present and always listening. God knows our concerns before we put them into words. God is present with those who suffer and those who grieve. God walks with the soldiers and cries with the victims. When we open ourselves to this reality. When we remember that all living is praying and God is always our witness, we find even more ways to pray.

And I, for one, become more aware of the prayers that have been left unsaid.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!