My first cassette tape - yes, cassette tape (for any of the youth who might read this post) - was “Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em” by the great M.C. Hammer. This was the album with “U Can’t Touch This,” and “Have You Seen Her,” so it’s not surprising that it sold 22 million copies by the time the 90's had finished its reign of strangeness. Buried toward the middle of this tape was a song that seemed weird to me at the young age of seven. The track, titled “Pray,” is a 5:15 tour de force with a music video you really need to see; here’s a link. It’s so 90's it hurts.
As for why the song seemed odd to me as a child: I had never really thought of prayer being something that happens outside of traditional worship settings or beside a bed at night. To hear this mainstream entertainment superstar talking about prayer being something we need to do every day just to “make it” was kind of mind blowing. The music video shows Hammer talking about prayer with gamblers on the street as well as drug dealers in seedy warehouses. My mind was blown that prayer belonged not only in the pews of the church but also in the streets of America’s biggest cities. Sure, the song is extremely cheesy and Hammer’s flow is very bad by today’s hip hop standards. But I still think of it almost any time I stop to reflect on the nature of prayer and my early understanding of when and why to do it. So, thank you, Mr. Hammer; in a roundabout way, you played a role in my development as a Christian.
My understanding of prayer has greatly increased since those days of being a naive seven-year-old with a tape deck, but the message rings true: We do need to pray. And we need to pray every day.
This has been an incredible, formative time for all of us at Embrace Church, as we’ve embarked on a full week of prayer: twenty-four hours a day, for seven days. Over eighty individuals have spent at least one hour in the prayer room at our church office at Oak Park Nursing Home and Independent Living. People have spent their lunch hours, afternoon nap hours, Netflix hours, and even their it’s-the-middle-of-the-night-I-should-be-sleeping hours in the prayer room. And everyone I’ve talked to has said the same thing upon leaving: “The last hour FLEW by.”
Indeed, the thought of spending an hour in prayer can be daunting. What do you talk about for an hour, after all? But we’ve learned during this week that a single hour with God is nowhere close to enough. We’ve left hungering for more … more words of comfort spoken into our hearts, more heavenly peace, more assurances, more challenges, more love from the Father. We’ve left the prayer room with great clarity not only that we as a body of believers are working toward something great but also clarity in our individual lives. The dozens of pieces of art and messages crafted from people of all walks of life can attest to God working in all of us. There is great power in prayer, as supported by one of the most reassuring verses in the Bible: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” - Philippians 4:6, NLT
We as a church are learning and/or being reminded of the truth in that verse: We should come to the Lord in prayer before we do anything else. Spending our time over-analyzing and worrying will never result in the same peace and closure that prayer can provide.
Although I am a devout Christian and adore being in and around Christian settings (i.e., churches, church conferences, church fellowship gatherings), I have a longing to apply the lessons of the Bible in all areas of my life. I’m interested in engaging with the unchurched and with those who have some interest in knowing God but have been hurt in previous church settings. So, where do Americans in general stand on prayer, then? A recent study found that although 55% of Americans pray every day, the percentage of those who seldom or never pray has grown over the course of the 21st century.
I’m noting these statistics neither to congratulate nor condemn the American population; instead, I see it as an opportunity. We have an opportunity to share the gift of prayer with our close friends and family members who might not see the value in it anymore. We’ve learned this week about the wonderful visual, musical, lyrical, and personal applications of prayer that we can produce when we open ourselves to spending time with God. Why, then, should we keep the lessons of this week to ourselves? When conversations about prayer come up and friends say things such as “Man, my prayers are always the same” or “I just don’t pray anymore unless something big is going on,” let’s share how praying in a dedicated, peaceful setting changed our hearts this week. Let’s share this peace that only God can bring.
Indeed, M.C. Hammer, “you’ve got to pray just to make it today.” Preach it.