Americans are very polite pray-ers. We say a cursory prayer before meals and at the appropriate times in Sunday services. We pray at the beginning of football games, at least in Texas, and we pray when our lives are spinning out of control. But when we pray, we pray politely. We take turns if we are in a group. We predetermine who will pray at specific times. The entire idea of planned, polite prayer is quite possibly not what Jesus had in mind when he commanded us to pray.
I first had a Cambodian lesson on prayer many years ago when our team hosted a women’s conference. Hundreds of women came to the conference. Some came for discipleship and teaching, but many came because we offered free meals and they were hungry. At the conclusion of the conference our American team spent a few hours washing the feet of the women and praying over them. The first year we did this we each had an interpreter with us and so she translated our prayers to the women. The second year we did not have translators in the room so we prayed and something remarkable happened. The women whose feet we were washing started to pray in Khmer, the Cambodian language. They prayed at the same time we were praying in English. They prayed over our voices. We could not understand each other’s words, but yet we understood what was taking place. It was a sacred moment and one that I will never forget.
This year I had another poignant lesson on prayer but this time it was from a sixteen year old teenager at Imparting Smiles Children’s Center. I first met Peak and his sister Ry when they arrived at the center in 2012. Their only living relative was their mom and she had recently died, so the orphaned children were brought to Imparting Smiles. I instantly fell in love with them! Ry was the same age as Avery and Peak was the same age as Cooper so they had my heart from the first time we met. Over the years I have watched these shy children become confident teens. Ry has graduated from high school and Peak is in 11th grade. They both love Jesus, speak English and smile often.
Last week when the team visited the new Antioch School where Peak is in English class, we asked the kids if we could pray for them. Many raised their hands and asked for prayer and I asked team members to pray for each student by name. In typical American fashion, I suggested that I start the prayer, team members could pray for one of the student’s prayer requests and another team member could close the prayer.
As I began to pray I heard someone praying loudly at the same time as me. Soon another teen began to pray. I was startled and looked up to see what was going on and it was then that I realized that Peak had put his hand on the student that I was praying for and he had joined me in praying. He prompted others to begin praying so there was a beautiful combined prayer being lifted up. I knew instantly that this was a prayer that touched the heart of God.
The last night we were at the children’s center, Steve Hyde asked the American team to get in a circle which we did. Immediately we were surrounded by all the children and teens as well the Cambodian adults and they all began to pray. They put their hands on us and prayed and prayed. All at the same time! It was a moment I will never forget. We think that we go to offer what we can to them, but the reality is they are often the teachers. I love the lesson that I learned about prayer and hope that as I am back in America that I will move from being a polite prayer to an unabashed, passionate prayer. I want messy, imperfect prayers that are genuine, spontaneous and prayers that I know move the heart of God.