Prayer, Plain and Simple

Prayer, Plain and Simple

Putting the Screws on God

posted by Mark Herringshaw

Last year, my poet/blogger/cultural-critic/brain-trust behind “Popthought” friend Alex Ness, ran an interview he did reviewing “Six Prayers God Always Answers” the book I wrote last year with Jennifer Schuchmann. Alex has a poignant way of cutting through the “c” to get to the heart of matters of things “spiritual.” Over the next couple days I’ll post some excerpts from this interview. Toss in your comments as well… You can read more of Alex at “deadtomyflesh”.

Alex: You seem to imply that we can “test” prayer. Really? Under what conditions can we test prayer without putting the screws to God?

Mark: What’s wrong with testing, or as you say, “putting the screws to” God? The Bible is full of stories of people who put his promises on the line, stepped out and forced God’s hand. He seems to like that kind of boldness. He respects it and often responds. Look at Jesus. He’s at his best when people get desperate and impose on him – the men who tear the roof off Peter’s house to get their sick friend in front of Jesus, the sick woman who crawls on her hands and knees to touch Jesus. That touch secured her healing but as a sick woman she had no right to impose like that. It was audacious and rude. She was testing Jesus. It worked.

“Testing” crosses the line only when it becomes “testy” – an presumptuous provocation. If I take God up on something he’s already said, something he’s promised to do or said he prefers, he respects that immensely. He’s already said he hates injustice. I’m not “testy” if I put God on the line with a prayer about feeding the hungry and oppressed in Darfur. That’s a test God would love to take, and pass.

Testiness is different. In the Gospels the Devil tempts Jesus to jump off the roof of the temple so God can rescue him. This is showy manipulation and God won’t have any part of that. That’s a test he won’t take. If I fall off a roof, I can cry out and expect his help, of some kind, though perhaps in a surprise way. If I jump off a roof just to force God’s hand I’ll likely end up a pancake. God doesn’t take to the circus bit.

Thoughts? Do you ever “test” God? How has God responded? 

Praying from the Gut

posted by Mark Herringshaw

Sometimes I “try” to pray, with a deliberate discipline and effort. Well and good. But other times I find that prayers come bursting out of me accidently. I wonder, is reaching out to God when I’m at the raw edges of my life really the most natural way to live and the most natural way to pray? Do I pray best when I’m praying most naturally?  Here’s another piece from my book, Six Prayers God Always Answers.

Prayer can and does flow deliberately from discipline or habit, but it can also burst through instinctively. Real prayer hides.


Often the most precious prayers don’t look like prayers at all. They come out unbidden. They accidentally rupture, impulsively burst forth, or covertly distance themselves. They are buried in our unfiltered reactions to the joys and pains and fears of typical days in typical lives. If such prayers could find a voice of their own they may not even realize they were prayers at all. They sound unassuming, unpretentious, brash, down-to-earth and often shockingly irreverent.


A near miss at a busy intersection and someone screams.  

An employer breaks a promise and the victim mumbles.

A patient hears a medical report, covers her mouth, and weeps.

A soldier deployed in the desert holds a perfumed letter and pounds his helmet against a cement wall.


“Oh, my god.”


It is hardly an exaggeration to call prayer an instinct. Before we think, consider the implications, weigh the probabilities, or balance our philosophic algebra, we pray.


It seems our prayers well up around the things we love: love of a child, love of a spouse, love of beauty, love of our own lives. And conversely, around those things we fear–the fear of losing what we love.


Consider these expressions:

God, help me, I’ll never do it again.

God, are you there?

Goddamn it!

Save me, God!

Please, God!

Oh, god, you’re beautiful.


Whether on TV, in the movies, or in conversation, people thoughtlessly invoke the name of God into the mundane (“Oh, my God!”) and the profane (“Jesus Christ!”). Believers are offended–convinced it is disrespectful, even blasphemous. Nonbelievers toss it up to a slip of the tongue or simply “cultural expression.”


But what if these were really prayers?

Have you ever prayed without knowing it was prayer? Have you ever intended to pray and failed? What if the best way to communicate with God is to do it most instinctively, to stop intending and trying and to simply speak honestly to God out of the raw moments? What do you say?

Bare Naked Prayer

posted by Mark Herringshaw

I’m feeling vulnerable in my relationship with God today. I began by asking him for wisdom about our family finances, which – with two kids in college and a couple boys eating us out of house and home – are looking a bit depleted. So I’m praying for wisdom and for blessing. I’m asking God to provide. Well and good. He promises to do just that.


But the dangerous thing is, as I ask for answers, God starts digging deeper into my soul, uprooting underlying issues like my fear of failure and my fear that I can’t provide for my family. Once I dare to get honest in prayer, God ups the ante and goes even deeper, to the real issues.


Prayer is dangerous. I start in and God ends up stripping me down to basics. That’s happening to me right now. Here’s an excerpt from my book, “Six Prayers God Always Answers” that talks about the vulnerable dangers of prayer.   

Like sexual intimacy, sometimes prayer means we get naked. We reveal parts of ourselves that no one else has ever seen. The only reason we can do this is not that the lights are turned off, but because there is trust.


The best abstinence program for a teenage girl is the fear of what her boyfriend will tell his friends about what he saw and what they did. But couples celebrating silver or golden anniversaries don’t worry for a minute that their partner will share intimate details of their sex life because there is trust that comes from commitment and time spent together.


God doesn’t ask us to undress in front of him and then, in the middle of the night, get up and share the details with his buddies–he doesn’t abandon us even when we’ve shown him everything. Prayer, like comfortable conversation, is a safe place to be vulnerable. And whether or not we get enough A and C before our T or S–God will still be there in the morning.

God is safe, but prayer is dangerous to our “feeling” of safety. God will lay us bare as we lay bare our soul. It’s really the only way to living up to our destiny. Getting honest with God culminates with God being honest with us about ourselves and about his high calling for our eternal destiny.


Prayer is…

posted by Mark Herringshaw

God is teaching me to talk. Like a parent patiently listening and answering a stumbling and fumbling 18 month old child who is just learning the ropes of human language, God sitts with me as I bumble my way through the process of learning to communicate. It’s a slow process, learning the ropes in this spiritual world of words, the ones I’ll be using for the next million years. I’m just a toddler in this matter of prayer. But God is patient, and actually completely delighted with the fits and starts of my first efforts. After all I’ve only been at this for 45 years or so.


Here’s an excerpt from my book, “Six Prayers God Always Answers” about this simplicity of prayer as a dialog with God

Prayer is a conversation with God.


Real prayer has the same elements as a real conversation–bold questions, bursts of emotion, and room for silence. Think of the times you have real honest-to-goodness conversations with those you love. They can happen at anytime, when your teenager comes home from school, over the dinner table, in bed with your spouse, or in the middle of the night when your toddler wakes up from a nightmare. Conversation isn’t rehearsed; it just bursts forth as a response to the situation.


Ellie bounces into the kitchen where her mom and dad are finishing their dinner. “Can I go to a friend’s house tonight and take the car?”

“Whose house?” asks her mother.

“What time will you be home?” asks her father.

“I’m just going to Sarah’s, I’ll be home by ten.”

“Is anyone else going with you?” asks Mom.

“No, just me, but Cindy’s meeting us there.”

“Is there gas in the car?” Dad asks.

“I’ll check,” she says and runs out the door. A few minutes later she’s back in the kitchen with a report that the gauge is almost on “E.”

Her dad hands her some cash, tells her he loves her, and asks her to be careful driving.


There is no formal presentation to this encounter. Neither party carefully planned their words. Ellie, in a hurry to get to her friend’s house asked the most direct question she could. Everything else that took place in the exchange was a result of that first question.


Ellie’s conversation wasn’t self-conscious or insecure.


Prayer shouldn’t be either. We don’t carefully calculate our words into some sort of exploitive formula, instead we’re entirely focused on the person we’re speaking to and our responses, as well as theirs.


Good prayer is like talking with our child. We’re more interested in hearing what they’ve said or how they’re reacting to what we’ve said than we are in carefully selecting our words.

Question:  When have you had a ”conversation” with God, and experienced prayer as an exchange? Talk about that…


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