As a man of faith who spends most of his time traveling to churches, I have become more and more attuned to the irreplaceable value of prayer in one’s life. It is such a vital component of spiritual vitality.
Since I grew up in church, I heard all kinds of different prayers all the time — different styles and whatnot. Over the years, I have become somewhat of a student of the little quirks people have when they pray. I am especially fascinated by a few little phrases that I still do not understand to this day.
If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. “Father, we just pray a hedge of protection around Tim and his family.” This one rarely comes unaccompanied by a deeply sweet southern drawl. “Now Timbo, we are praying a hedge of protection around you, buddy. That’s right, mmm hmm. Around you and your whole family.”
A hedge, huh? I don’t mean to complain, but is that really the best you can do? How about praying a thick cement wall with some razor wire on top of that bad boy? A hedge of protection sounds like it is one good pair of clippers away from being removed — and I’m sure the devil’s got a pair of those lying around the old Sheol Shed.
But I guess certain church people think a hedge is going to scare the devil away. I can just see a red, pointy-eared wily devil prancing up to my spiritual property line. Creeping in for an attack. But just as he is about to step onto my lawn, he becomes keenly aware that something is not right. And for some reason, I imagine this particular devil with the sophisticatedly British accent of a classic diabolical villain.
“What is this I behold on this lawn of my enemy’s perch? Is this greenery? I can’t get through that! Father of all lies? Sure. Originator of the fall of man? That was a cinch. Tempter of the nations? Child’s play. But a hedge? Now this is serious!” The whole ridiculous imaginary encounter continues to mushroom cloud in my brain as Satan’s minions gather round to bemoan the shrubbery’s impenetrable might. “My greatest weakness is landscaping. How did they know? Move that bush!” End scene.
Truth be told, I do appreciate prayers in any form, even when hedges are being raised. Hey, prayer is prayer. I’ll take as much as people are willing to give—more or less. Sometimes, the “more” can be overwhelming, especially when someone is praying while they are nervous. It is not uncommon for them to say a certain word like just just a little too much.
The small group stands in a circle and joins hands as the lead pray-er takes charge at lightning speed, “Lord-I-just-want-to-justcome-to-just-experience-just-we-just-just-just-in-justliness-andjustification . . .” And I’m thinking to myself, Just finish the prayer. You’re just not ready for this. Start stacking chairs.
My dad does this when he prays, but in a different way. The whole family gathers around the Thanksgiving table to give thanks for the bounty before us. The hallowed patriarch of our clan slowly pans across the many faces surrounding him. Some young and ruddy with hope. Some etched with the laugh lines of many good years lived. The old man’s eyes well up with gratitude as his heart reflects upon times past and the foundations laid before him that have led to this overwhelming moment of blessing.
He calls his precious family to join hands. Tiny fingers grasp wrinkled ones as each generation looks to Dad at the end of the table for guidance and reflection in this most sacred moment. Heads bow and eyes close as the whole family opens its collective heart for a well-articulated prayer to encapsulate the beauty of the spirit everyone is feeling.
Dad sighs in a moment of silence. Finally, he begins to pray with, “Father . . .”
There is a sense of awe in the room. This is going to be rich.
Dad continues with yet another, “Father . . .” One of the young ones looks up with one eye. It’s beginning. Again. Dad finally erupts. “Father, we come to you, Father, in the Spirit, Father, you are Father, Father . . . father-father-just-just-fatherfather-just-just-father-father . . .”
Yep. Dad prays those “father-father” prayers.
We don’t talk to our friends like that.
“Ed, Ed, come over, Ed, Ed-Ed-Ed-Ed-Ed-Ed-Ed.” Ed wouldn’t be your friend anymore if you did that. “He keeps saying Ed. My name’s Joe!”
Prayer can be a funny thing indeed. But even if we don’t repeat certain words like just or father, we do have some strange phrases we use.
The funniest is the way people pray over food. “Lord, bless this food and the hands that have prepared it.” The hands that have prepared it? Why not the whole body? Nope. Just the hands.
Sometimes we pray over food and ask God to make up for our bad choices. “Lord, bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies.” [See Tim’s blog on Krispy Kremes and bacon consumption]. But sometimes we have to admit, what we are choosing to eat has no nutritional value in any sense of the word. “Lord bless this… this bag of Cheetos. And this jumbo Dr. Pepper. Lord, somehow make this nourish us in some way.”
As the need for the miraculous surrounding our request grows, so do the intensity and volume of our prayer. “God, I don’t know how you’re gonna do it, Father, but we just trust in you now. Father, change the molecular structure of this food . . . this complete trash we’re about to shove in our gullet. Transform the Cheeto into a carrot stick with fat-free ranch dressing on the way down. Spirit of low carb, reign down on me now! I pray a hedge of protection around my pancreas, Lord. Right now. Intervene!”
All joking aside, though, I suppose any prayer is good. Well, maybe that’s not true. I think there are some truly bad prayers out there. The worst prayers? The ones parents pray with their kids at bedtime. No wonder kids don’t want to go to sleep.
When I was a kid, my lovely parents would sit on the end of my bed to pray with me. My memory may be tainted a bit due to posttraumatic stress syndrome, but to my best recollection, our prayer time went something like this.
“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul… to keep.”
By this time, sharp devil horns had sprouted out of my dad’s forehead as the red lights of his neon eyes cast dancing shadows upon the melting walls.
“If I should… die. Before I wake. I pray the Lord my soul… to take.”
I lay shivering in both figurative and literal puddles as my parents left the room.
“Sweet dreams. See you in the morning. Maybe. I’d say it’s fiftyfifty. I can’t guarantee. Oh and don’t let the bedbugs bite.” And then the parental psychopath would trail off into maniacal laughter. My brother polished off the whole future therapy session by making up his own little psychotic lullabies when they left the room. “Go to sleep. Little creep. Close your big bloodshot eyes. Go to sleep little creep. Or your teddy bear will die.”
You know, bedtime prayers.
Excerpted with permission from Diary of a Jackwagon by Tim Hawkins, copyright Rockshow Comedy Inc.
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Have you ever chuckled at some of our funny Christian traditions about prayer? Do you pray for blessings over your food at restaurants before or after the appetizer? Leave your comment with us today on prayer!