“You couldn’t make something up like that if you tried.”
I’ve heard that phrase a billion times, but only recently did I really understand it. A pastor sent me an email and, after I read it, I realized in my wildest brainstorming sessions I couldn’t have come up with this one. Try as I might, this idea would not have emerged from my writing cave. I couldn’t have made something up like this if I tried.
In his email, he told me what one member of his church had written on a prayer card. Do you have those at your church? They’re tiny cards that you write prayer requests on. One Sunday, after going through a stack of prayer cards people had turned in, the pastor came across this one:
“I know our real home is in Heaven, but it would be nice if the lawn at our home at (INSERT CHURCH ADDRESS) could be mowed so it would be more presentable to visitors.”
I didn’t make that up. I just quoted it verbatim. And at first, I was thrown for a loop. It felt a little like a Jesus Juke but I don’t think it is. A juke is when someone unexpectedly slams some Jesus into a conversation that wasn’t initially about Jesus. For example, if your Facebook status on Super Bowl Sunday was “I’m so excited about the big game tonight” and one of your friends responded, “I wish you were that excited about church on Sunday,” then you’ve just been juked.
This was different though. This was a “prayer demand.”
A prayer demand is when someone prays something or writes something on a prayer card instead of saying it directly to someone. Let’s imagine you’re a counselor at camp this summer. Before the cabin goes to bed, you pray for them and end up offering a prayer demand instead of a prayer request. Here is what that would look like:
“Lord, I pray Tim Johnson would not think it’s OK to sneak out of his cabin this summer unless he really wants to get all his privileges taken away. I pray you would remind him that he’s an example for the younger campers, and filling a counselor’s shoes with honey, mayonnaise or really any other condiment is a tremendously unkind thing to do.”
And the prayer demand can be applied to groups too, not just individuals. Let’s say you’re a small-group leader, and none of the other couples are reading the book they’re supposed to be reading each week. Maybe, they’re doing the “in-car skim,” which is where your wife reads all the subheads in a chapter to you while you drive to small group. Here’s what your prayer demand might sound like when everyone sits down together that night:
“Dear Lord, I pray that you would give us the energy and enthusiasm needed to read the material each week before small group. I pray that in the midst of our busy weeks we would remember our per chapter commitment and not sit out in the driveway frantically flipping pages trying to find one nugget we can all talk about as if we’ve read the entire chapter. Amen.”
The prayer demand also works with kids too. As a parent, you can pray with your kids and say something like this:
“Lord, please remind my two angels that asking them to wash their hands before dinner is not an invitation to stage an all out sprint to the bathroom, in which they slam into each other running down the hall like NASCAR racers going after the checkered flag. Please remind them that the first will be last and the last will be first, and that includes at the sink in the guest bathroom.”
It’s really quite a versatile little prayer if you think about it. I still think it’s whack though. I’m not sure that prayer is the place for us to make our demands of other people who are in the room. Especially if they’re delivered passive aggressively. So how do you tell the difference between a prayer request and a prayer demand? Especially with your kids, because there are times when you’ll pray something like, “Lord, let my daughters have kind hearts to each other.”
The easiest way to tell the difference between a prayer demand and a prayer request is to see if the person praying has their eyes open. And is looking at you while they’re praying. Checking to make sure you’re listening to what they’re praying to God but really directing to you. You getting this? You listening to this demand? This one’s for you. Pay attention. I’ve got something you need to hear, but I have decided to enrobe it in a prayer.
Have you ever experienced a prayer demand?