This New York Times story titled “The Right Way to Pray?” is something I’ve been reading and re-reading the last couple days. It’s full of lots of new agey thoughts on prayer but little in the way of actual Biblical thoughts on the matter. Instead there’s a mix of Eastern mysticism, modern Evangelical self-worship and a little of a few other points of view. Even the Jewish and Catholic points of view come off as being more about what’s easily accessible than what Scripture has to say on the matter.
I’ve been trying to figure out which is actually the most offensive part of the story and finally have decided on this passage:
In the afternoon, in a classroom of the tabernacle’s annex, Henderson delivered a workshop on technique to an audience of pastors and seminary students. “Some people think it is better and more meaningful to pray alone, but that’s false,” he told his students. “You improve by praying with others who can mentor you, people who are more expert than you.” According to Henderson, there are rules of effective praying: “Let God begin the conversation. Keep your prayers brief and clear. Repeat simple Scripture-based phrases. Pray standing up to fight torpor. And pray directly facing others, eye to eye, in a loud, clear voice.”
The person quoted quite clearly and frankly says that the idea of praying along being better is “false.” I wonder if he’s familiar with Matthew 6:5 – 8:
5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Christ himself here says it’s best not to pray in public but to do so in solitude. I’d be amazed but this is probably just one area where Henderson doesn’t believe in the inerrant nature of Scripture but only finds it useful when it jives with the move of the spirit that’s inspiring him.
There’s actually nothing wrong with public prayer, especially when it’s part of a traditional liturgical service. But those prayers tend to be either A) Confessions of doctrinal unity (Lord’s Prayer, the Creeds) or B) Intercessory (“We pray for our leaders, those suffering illness and all according to their needs). But the former are the only times in the Liturgy when the congregation is praying together whereas the latter is the pastor – Christ’s rightly-called servant – leading and the congregation following along.
There is a right and a wrong way to pray and that’s found in Scripture, which appears to be the only place that articles author – and the people he interviews – didn’t look.