Silence Before God vs. ‘Popcorn Prayers’

It’s really not all that difficult to find someone who simultaneously claims the title “Christian” and yet has a life of prayer that boils down to…well, basically zero. We are all so prone to living out a frenetic lifestyle that consists of 1) wake up, 2) chug some coffee, and 3) get moving. We may kick-start our day with every good intention to pray “at some point, once things slow down a bit.” But more often than not, we arrive at the end of yet another day having had absolutely no time alone with God. (Believe me, I understand this particular problem all too well!)

Whenever I am talking with someone who is struggling in their faith, asking “How’s your prayer life going?” just seems to be the quickest method for discerning whether or not someone is perhaps a bit too busy, too distracted or (as Charles Anderson pointed out this past Friday) just plain old angry with God.

Last week, I was reading a retired pastor’s blog on “popcorn prayers,” which he defines as those quick, one-sentence exclamations we might toss up to God from time to time without a whole lot of thought, Bible study and/or heart preparation. “Help me, Lord!” or “God, what are You doing with my life?” might be two quick and relevant examples of what is meant by “popcorn prayers.” Perhaps not surprisingly, this pastor was very much against popcorn praying; he finds them more than a little offensive for their general lack of reverence and submission.

OK, fair enough. While I am inclined to strongly agree with the notion that none of us shows adequate respect and awe toward God, I found myself wanting to ask this retired pastor if he would be inclined to go so far as to say that it would be better not to speak to God at all rather than engage in popcorn praying?

While I am certainly open to the idea that I’m wrong about this, I’d nevertheless like to suggest that any relationship with God – even an angry one – has got to be better than what I most often see in our American culture, which is “no relationship whatsoever.” In his sobering book Respectable Sins, author Jerry Bridges does an excellent job of speaking to the widespread sin of godlessness, i.e. not that we necessarily love God or hate Him (both of which imply relationship), but that we simply move from day to day without thinking about Him at all. A godless life is one that doesn’t include any thinking at all like, “Gee, I wonder what God thinks about this?” We might even go to church on Sundays, but spend more of our time living as functional atheists; God does not enter into our daily decision-making in the slightest.

For that reason, I will often encourage a person toward popcorn prayers if, indeed, his existing prayer life consists of unbroken silence. These might be newcomers to the faith, or Christians who are so busy serving the Lord that they find scant time in their planners to sit at His feet (Luke 10:38-42). It is never my intention that anyone would stay stuck in a lifetime of popcorn praying, but that they would instead be drawn more deeply into daily conversations with God and that He, in turn, would respond even to “disrespectful” prayers by offering more of Himself, along with an invitation to bring absolutely everything we encounter to Him for praise, blessing or comfort.

With that, I’d like to offer up a few examples of popcorn prayers that have actually been helpful for me personally, especially during the inevitable “dry seasons,” along with some ties to Scripture such that we can allow our hearts to go deeper with God even if our mouths can’t keep up and our minds can’t quite form the words (Romans 8:26).

  • “Lord, please help me.” This is simply one way of acknowledging that we are not in control, but we know Who is, and we seek His help.
  • “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This is the simple prayer of the tax collector (Luke 18:13) who knew his own poverty of spirit in front of the living God. This prayer shows humility and utter dependence upon God’s mercy. It quickly acknowledges Christ for who He is, our need for grace and our position as desperate sinners.
  • “OK. What are you calling me to here, Lord?” This is a simple acknowledgment that our very lives and every interaction we have is within God’s plan (Romans 8:28).
  • “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” Prayed by the thief on the cross in Luke 23:42 – a common criminal who had chalked up only a few minutes of repentance prior to his death – this is a desperate call for Christ’s blood to cover our own sins and grant us access to God’s kingdom.
  • “Lord, please use this situation to reveal hearts.” I think of this prayer as simply asking God to shine light into darkness and confusion, something His truth always does. This is my go-to prayer whenever faithful believers enter into any sort of disagreement or conflict, and it is prayed with a precommitment to gratitude if the result is that God graciously reveals something previously-unknown about my heart.
  • “Show me Your glory.” Prayed by Moses in Exodus 33:18 when he was just about at the end of his rope with being called to lead the stiff-necked Israelites, this is a simple-yet-powerful way of asking God to reveal Himself to us in the details of our lives this side of Heaven.

It seems to me that many of us carry around in our heads a mental picture of “what proper prayer ought to look like,” and this media-influenced construct usually consists of being on our knees, surrounded by wooden pews and Gothic-style crosses, with a leather-bound Bible clutched to our chest as the perfect amount of daylight streams in through a stained-glass window. And sure enough, there is nothing wrong – and many things absolutely right! – with getting on our knees, having a Bible close at hand and bowing our heads. But for many of the folks that I speak with, this mental picture of “the right way” to pray has had the unfortunate side-effect of making them feel like they could never find the time and proper setting to speak to God.

It is always the right time to talk with God. You are always in the exact right setting to talk with the Lord. If you do not have 15-30 minutes for deep, contemplative prayer, take advantage of the fact that this universe belongs to God, “every square inch” of it, and Jesus always waits patiently to enter into a relationship with the creation that He loves (Revelation 3:20). You are part of that creation, and you are part of His world. Don’t wait for the perfect time and setting for prayer. Dive in, use short bursts of prayer if you must, and trust Him to pull you in deeper.

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