In the spiritual formation class that I teach we explore different approaches to prayer.
Most of my students are familiar with extemporaneous spoken prayer and liturgical prayer. Fewer are familiar with the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me [a sinner].” This prayer is most commonly associated with the Eastern Orthodox Tradition and is said to trace back to the Desert Mothers and Fathers of the 5th century, but biblically you can say its origins rest in Mark 10:46-52, when Bartimaeus cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
I asked my students for other short, memorizable prayers that are familiar to them.
Some said, “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food. Amen.”
Others, to the tune of “The Theme from Superman:”
“We thank You Lord for giving us food (put one hand in the air), We thank You Lord for giving us friends (put the other hand in the air), (with both hands up swaying back and forth like flying) For giving us food, for giving us friends (hands up standing still) We thank You Lord, (both hands to hips in superhero pose). Amen.”
But one of my students raised his hand and said, “I know it’s kinda morbid, but…’Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.'”
Yesterday I stopped off at my local haircut chain. I’ve identified a couple of people on the staff at this location who do a great job. I’ve identified one person who doesn’t. As luck would have it, when I walked in, the fates aligned, I had a decision to make. Do I roll the dice one more time, advocate for my next best cut, pray to God I’ll be spared bad lines and uneven layers, risk numerous missed strands of hair I’ll later have to cut myself, and then likely visit a different stylist for a major fix a few days hence?
I didn’t have the energy. I walked back out the door.
Getting your haircut shouldn’t feel like playing Russian roulette. But for me, sadly, some days, it does.
I’ve been poking around the Paul Powell Legacy Library, an online resource that contains audio, video, and writings from the aforementioned Texas Baptist preacher, who served as pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas for seventeen years. Paul was and continues to be an influential person in my life.
Paul sets up one of these jokes by inviting the people of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas, whom Paul was then serving as interim, to pray for the pulpit committee. Paul said that it is harder to get rid of a preacher than it is to find one, and that’s why it is important to call a good one, and to pray for those who are responsible for the search.
Paul then said:
A church had a pompous preacher they wanted to get rid of. They prayed that he would leave. They recommended him everywhere. But no one would call him.
Finally he received a call to be a pastor in another place. The Sunday he resigned he said, “When I came here five years ago, Jesus led me here. And now Jesus is leading me away.”
When he was finished the chairman of the deacons stood and said, “Let’s all sing, ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus.’”
I think humor is such an indispensable quality to look for in a leader, not only for the capacity to make others laugh, but in the ability to laugh at your own goofs, mess ups, and mistakes. When I find a good joke, I like to hang on to it.
In 2011, the last time inflation was on the rise, the then-president of the New York Federal Reserve, William Dudley, ventured into a working-class neighborhood in Queens, New York, to give a speech explaining why inflation wasn’t a big deal. Finding that he wasn’t making an impact, Dudley famously picked up an iPad 2 and told his audience, “Today you can buy an iPad 2 that costs the same as an iPad 1 that is twice as powerful.”
“I can’t eat an iPad!” someone in the audience shouted back.