Recently I was listening to a pastor speak on the topic of prayer and as often happens, he prayed to start. I found myself agreeing with him as he spoke to God and then he did something that threw me. He cracked a joke. In the middle of praying he made a joke. The joke was not offensive and was related to the Super Bowl. However, it stopped my focus and turned me off. Why?
Jesus, became a man for many reason including helping him connect relationally with people. While growing up, He would have spent time in the company of other children laughing and playing. As he grew older He interacted with other adults and certainly those encounters weren’t always serious. While on the road with mostly the same people day-in and day-out someone must have cracked a joke or two or maybe even pulled a prank. Just as Jesus wept at the effect Lazarus’ death had on others, I’m certain He also laughed when the occasion called for it. So why did a joke during a prayer stop me in my tracks? Was I being legalistic thinking that there is a certain posture we must take during prayer? Was I being too reverent thinking God wants us to be serious when talking with him?
I believe it struck me because I realized he was no longer talking with God but talking to us. It is something we all probably have noticed during a prayer gathering. There are those who intentionally or unintentionally change their prayers into preaching or a bible verse recital. Their intention, when they started, may have been to speak with God but somehow, they became distracted by the people present and started to address them. Scripture shares: “The Lord would speak to Moses face-to-face as one speaks to a friend “Exodus 33:11a”. This does suggest a less formal posture is acceptable. However, it does not suggest that when talking, God and Moses were less focused on each other. I’m certain we would feel slighted if, during a conversation with a friend, they suddenly made a remark that was obviously not directed at us but meant for people standing nearby. You might wonder if the conversation was over or if it had even started. Upon reflection, I acknowledge that I have made a joke while praying. However, listening to another doing it made me realize the negative effect it could have on others, including God
If our prayers are not directed at God, why pray? The pastor’s joke distracted me because it was obvious that he was not talking to God but was saying those words for those listening. He became conscious of all those listening except God; he put God on hold for the sake of a laugh. Now, when I am sad or happy, suffering or being reflective I know I bring those moods to the conversation I’m having with God; especially during spontaneous prayer. I don’t try to change thinking God wants me serious; I tend to go as I am. However, I should want to direct my prayer, no matter how short or long, to God.
Prayer time is when we communicate with God. If we are in a group setting, we generally are praying with others or on behalf of them. It probably is not the time to try to say something wise or funny just to please our friends who may be listening. It is a time of joy where we humbly approach God to honestly share with Him. It is a time when we connect to the One who is always listening for us.