Prayer in Conflict

The Liturgy as Narrative

Part V

Act II Scene II

The Prayers of the Church

Prayers often tell a story. When we pray together we hear the concerns and hopes of those around us. Together we lift up our praises to the Lord and cast our cares upon him (1)Psalm 55:22, 1 Peter 5:7. Hearing the cares of others can shake us and bring us into conflict with our own sense of safety.

In the Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker travels to Dagobah to be trained as a Jedi Knight by Yoda. The training is physically and mentally demanding, but it’s all happening in a safe bubble. Luke still thinks of the Jedi as great warriors, skilled in fighting the Dark Side. He wants to be a great warrior and save the day … again.

There’s that moment when Luke sees his own face in Darth Vader’s mask. He isn’t sure what it means, but it begins to open his eyes to the real purpose of his training. He has a vision and sees his friends in danger and isn’t sure if they’ll survive. Even Yoda isn’t sure if they’ll survive. Luke’s bubble of safety is burst open and he needs to put that training to use.

The Prayers of the Church come after the readings, the sermon and the creeds. We’ve been through the training, but we’re still in our bubble. The Prayers of the Church are about to burst that bubble.

In the Service, we’re still standing. We just finished reciting the Nicene Creed. The pastor leads us.

The prayers are basic at first; Thanking God for his provision, for our leaders to be guided in wisdom, for our church to uphold Christ’s mission, for the world, and for our communities.

After each petition the congregation and the pastor say together, “Lord, hear our prayer.” Because the power isn’t in the prayer, but in the One who answers the prayer.

The prayers become more topical; for missionaries, for specific causes, and for well known concerns of the day.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Then the prayers become personal. Before the service started we each had the opportunity to pull a “prayer card” from the back of the pew and write down our particular concerns. These are handed in during a break in the service and now the pastor has them in his hands and is about to read them, maintaining privacy where he can … and interpreting handwriting where he must.

These prayers can vary from “thank you for the birth of a healthy baby” to “my loved one found out they have cancer.” Moment by moment we are elated, terrified, encouraged and conflicted.

It’s easy enough to offer congratulations for the newborn, but how do we handle those things we can do nothing about and those things we can do something about?

In story structure, this is the first conflict. This is where the hero gets the motivation to continue the story. It’s also the midpoint of the story, the end of the first half of the second act. The stakes go up and the real struggle begins.

Luke Skywalker’s reaction can be a lesson for us. There’s more to Luke’s story, of course, and that adds to the drama of the movie. In our case, prayer ought to lead to action.

Each prayer from the basic to the specific to the personal, ought to push us toward doing the good works Christ prepared for us (2)Ephesians 2:10.

The prayers create the conflict, but when the prayers are over the real challenge begins.

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