If there’s a “Greatest Prayer Bloopers” show in Heaven, I’ve gotten more than 15 minutes of fame on celestial theater screens. The most embarrassing blooper happened when I was assigned to a prayer team a few years back. Our team was given the responsibility of praying over speakers at a spiritual retreat.
At the time, I hadn’t had much practice praying out loud — except in my home — but seeing how I’d been assigned to pray, I thought I ought to give it a try. Surely, God would equip the called, and I had been called to this.
We were standing in rows, three deep, heads down and eyes closed. We laid hands on the backs of one another, a prayer chain of souls reaching the man at the kneeling bench.
As others prayed poetic for this man, beads of sweat beads formed on my brow. My mouth went dry. I opened my eyes to search for the Chicken Exit. But it was my turn to speak, and I felt a pesky nudge in my Spirit. I couldn’t ignore it.
Before I prayed for the man kneeling, I prayed mentally for myself: “Oh God, don’t let me sound stupid.”
Then before uttering a word, I strung a prayer together in my mind: “Heavenly Father, as Ken delivers this message of grace, be with him from start to finish.”
Yes, that would do.
And I opened my mouth.
This is what came out: “Be with Ken from fart to finish.”
I was mortified. But the prayer veterans extended grace to me. No one laughed at me, this crimson-faced prayer rookie. Later, I quietly thanked God for unanswered prayers: Ken delivered the entire message without any noticeable gastro-intestinal issues.
Despite my foul-up, I’d done it. I’d prayed out loud. You’d think I’d never try again after that verbal fiasco. But even the most committed prayer warriors are intimidated by praying out loud.
I have one friend who, when asked at Bible study whether she can lead us in prayer, always chuckles then responds with this: “I’ll have to pray about that first.”
But when we avoid praying out loud because of our fears, we make prayer less about God, and more about us. In our fear, we might try to script prayer, to make our words prettier, and we turn the altar into a stage. I know, because I’ve done that.
Public prayer is supposed to be a two-way conversation with the Father — not an oration for an audience of flesh and bone.
When we remember that God wants our hearts, more than our poetic words, we take a lot of pressure off ourselves.
Plenty of my well-intentioned prayers are Blooper-worthy, even after years of praying out loud.
Still, I’m going to take the risk. I’m going to pray out loud, and when I foul up, I’m going to remind myself that God is the originator of laughter, and the Author of fun. I picture Him laughing with me, and instructing celestial cameramen to roll tape. We’ll get a kick out of it later.
And even when my words don’t make sense, this I know: God makes sense of my words.
“God can pick sense out of a confused prayer.” — Richard Sibbes