Weekly Edgework #8 - Aug 23, 2004
The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply (Matt. 6:7-8, The Message).
According to Jesus’ teaching, prayer is a simple form of communication between a loving Father and his children. It is a relationship that does not require one to “…keep on babbling like the pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matt. 6:7, NIV). Prayer is a present-tense conversation – a live event in which Father and child engage.
For most of the Christian Era the notion that prayer is part of a “family dynamic” was understood by most earnest believers. It was relatively easy to distinguish authentic, heart-felt prayer from the incessant babbling of pagans who saw prayers as rituals to persuade reluctant deities to grant them their wishes.
That is until the technological advances of the twentieth century threw a monkey wrench into this concept of prayer as a familial conversation. It came with the advent of technology that allowed sound to be duplicated. With the invention of the tape recorder it now became possible to “record” one’s prayers. Once they were stored on tape, it was possible to “re-pray” that prayer by simply turning on the recorder. You could even send this tape to a friend, who likewise could start up the recorder and hear you “pray,” even though in fact you might be sleeping at the time.
This prayer game took a giant leap forward with the advent of the radio. Now you could record your prayer, and send it to radio stations all over the world. In each station a technician could start up your recording and send your prayer into the atmosphere to be picked up by radios wherever its signal reached. Imagine the advance! Now you could offer one prayer, send it away, and then go on vacation. Meanwhile that prayer would be repeated thousands of times via thousands of radios for weeks and months to come. Now “…the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man” (James 5:16, KJV), could be duplicated mechanically without end.
How clever we have become in modern times! But on second thought, this new possibility of multiplying our prayers raises a few conundrums. If prayer is basically a present-tense relationship with God, are the duplicated “prayers” really prayers? Or do they come closer to what Jesus described as “babbling?”
Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that all these techno-prayers heard all over the land are in fact real prayers. That is to say that every time the technicians turn the right buttons and send John’s recorded prayer into thousands of homes, God perks up his ears again, just like when he prayed that prayer into the microphone. Of course he would already be able to decipher the prayer from the encoded radio signals bouncing through the atmosphere. “`Listen,” God says to the angels, “John is praying again. It sure sounds like his voice.” And sure enough, when the signal is decoded in someone’s living room, it is John’s voice, praying to God via the radio. The fact is that that very moment John is intent on reeling in a big fish somewhere in the middle of a lake.
But, never the less, John is heard to be praying, and God is listening. Not only in one home, but in thousands of homes across the land. God’s throne is being bombarded with requests equivalent to a thousand sincere saints on their knees praying to God in the present tense. With our technology we have found a way to keep God’s attention and to remain persistent in prayer.
By now you must be thinking that I am being irreverent. I might as well ask the old question of whether a falling tree in the forest makes a sound if there is no one to hear it. Get serious already! I am serious. If recorded prayers that are repeated by means of technology are considered to be valid, then we should be playing recorded prayers in our churches twenty-four/seven. On as many tape players as we can afford. Bombarding heaven with our praise and prayer. God would have a lot to listen to and consider.
I suppose a case could be made for prayers offered “live” on radio. It would in fact be prayer in the present tense heard by many, just like in a congregation. Listeners would be praying along with the one praying. It could also be argued that if the recorded prayer coming over the radio induces the listener to pray, that prayer would be valid. In that case, however, we would view the “prayer” coming over the radio as a technique used to encourage those who hear to actually pray.
But now, let us suppose, again for argument’s sake, that in the ears of God all those techno-prayers are simply the rattle and hum of speaker systems manipulated by technicians. Sound waves bouncing off walls where radios are left on with no one to listen. If that is the case, does it mean that the marvels of modern technology have played tricks on our concept and experience of spirituality?
I have a hunch that Christian spirituality would not really suffer that much if all techno-prayers were suddenly eliminated. We could still use modern technology to communicate with one another, encouraging each other to stay the course of our personal pilgrimages -to pray live, in the present tense, to a heavenly Father who is more interested in our hearts than our many words.
Has Christian spirituality really benefited from a century of techno-prayers? How did the church survive before this marvelous, technological innovation? Personally, as I go deeper and farther on my spiritual journey I am becoming less impressed with techno-prayers. Too often they sound to me like a “…resounding gong or a clanging symbol” (I Cor. 13:1, NIV). Could it be that more prayers in the closet and fewer techno-prayers on the street corners of radio-land might do us all good?