Today’s Scripture Reading (September 30, 2016): Ecclesiastes 5
I love the 19th-century evangelist J. Edwin Orr’s advice regarding prayer at meetings. According to Orr, a good prayer at a meeting is a short one. He said that “when one prays in a meeting, for his first three minutes everyone prays with him. Should he continue a second three minutes, everyone prays for him. Should he continue for a third three minutes, the others start to pray against him.” With our shortened attention spans more than a hundred years later, I am not sure that we have even three minutes before the tide in prayer begins to turn against us.
But I am not sure that this is necessarily what Solomon has in mind here. Probably more of Solomon’s concern was that we are often very opinionated when it comes to what we think it is that God should be doing in our world. But what we lack is God’s vantage point. God knows and sees more than we do. We lack his perspective, so how do we think that we have anything to say from the valley to the one who is standing and watching from the mountaintop.
So Solomon says let your words be few. The prophets of Ba’al on Mount Carmel prayed and pleaded with their God for hours, while Elijah’s prayer was short and sweet. And it was Elijah’s prayer that was answered. Jesus advice on prayer was very similar to Solomon’s. “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8).
Don’t bother starting off your prayers with thirty different names for God. As silly as it might sound, Dad works. And then tell him what you are feeling. He will hear you. And to be honest, sometimes that is all we need – the knowledge that we have been heard, and the understanding that God knows more about our situation than we could know. Even in our darkest moments, we are safe in his hands.
Tomorrow’s Scripture Reading: Ecclesiastes 6