Prayer is God getting our attention

Doug Campbell - Contributing columnist

“Room! Ten-hut!”

Try that on some active-duty members or veterans, and watch them snap to!

After having been “enlisted” during the war, it was a bit disorienting for me in later years when some NCO would give that command as I entered a room.

“As you were. Seats.” And then all eyes and ears (if not minds) were on me and whatever I had to say to inspire, instruct and so on.

If one can remember/imagine a scene like this, then he or she may begin to understand prayer. Prayer is usually less a matter of our getting God’s attention than it is God getting ours.

Back to the military, briefly: The really good officers always have an ear for those they lead. Like the two-star I served at Chanute AFB who regularly showed up at the Airmen’s and NCO’s Clubs (in mufti) to listen to the troops – much to the consternation of some of his senior staff. (My brother-in-law had served under the same general in Thailand and confirmed that he did the same there.)

We so often perceive prayer as our talking to God, which God does relish and invite. Jesus did advise, “Ask for anything in my name,” after all.

But our petitions, however sincere, without our attentive silence, short-circuits communication.

My Friends (Quaker) friends are onto something: Starting meetings and prayers with silence, waiting for the Spirit to move and speak to and through them.

One of the difficult parts of training worship leaders is getting them to allow sufficient silences at certain places in the service to give God the opportunity to get a word in edgeways.

In the Confession, the “silence for self-examination,” should be long enough for the worshipers to wonder what the pastor/leader has been up to that week, and then a little longer for the Spirit to remind them of what they need to admit about themselves.

In the Prayers of the People, the silence needs endure so the congregants can get beyond wondering whether they set the oven at the right temperature, or kvetching about what so-and-so is wearing.

Then in the silence, God whispers: “Turn this petition into concrete action,” “Rest easily; I still love and support you,” “Remember what I said about ‘loving those who despise you,’ and ‘praying for those who persecute you’?” or whatever is on His almighty mind.

Prayer works as it should when we come to attention, and give our eyes, ears, minds and hearts to the Person in the “front of the room.”

Pastor Doug Campbell is a retired Lutheran pastor and a member of Faith, Wilmington. He currently is supplying pulpits in the Southern Ohio Synod. He was formerly Deputy Wing Chaplain for the Civil Air Patrol in Ohio. Before seminary he worked for the Chillicothe Gazette, and as the editor of the Chanute AFB newspaper in Rantoul, Ill.

Doug Campbell

Contributing columnist