Deciding whether to join a prayer

group prayer

Look at this remarkably diverse group prayer! If you happen to be passing by, are you obligated to join it?

I have the unique ability to be late to ANY live sporting event.  I’m often sprinting to the stadium just before kickoff (tip-off, first pitch, etc.), and I usually hear the national anthem ring out somewhere between the parking lot and my seat.  There are only a handful of acceptable behaviors during The Star Spangled Banner.  Jogging is not one of them.  In those moments, I ponder this question: at what distance from the stadium should one stop and properly recognize the anthem?  If I’m a few blocks away but still faintly within earshot of the song, should I stop and stand at attention?  If I’m driving when I recognize those patriotic notes on the radio, do I steer with one hand and place the other hand over my heart?  What’s the right thing to do if I’m watching the pre-game festivities at home on my TV?

More difficult than figuring out my proper response to the national anthem before a sporting event, however, is knowing how to respond to a nearby group prayer in a church or ministry setting.  In other words…if I’m walking by a group prayer, what’s my proper response?  Should I walk up and join it, bow where I am in silent respect, or simply keep moving?  And what role does proximity play in the decision-making process? Do you need to be within a certain radius of the group prayer before you’re compelled to join it, or should you walk over and join every group prayer within your field of vision?

If your church pipes its live worship service audio into the lobby, you probably have to make a go/no-go group prayer decision every Sunday morning. A tornado of awkwardness blows through the lobby any time the pastor or worship leader utters the phrase, “Pray with me.” You heed the call and respectfully bow your head, believing the lobby to be within the geographic confines of the mandatory group prayer zone. An oblivious friend, on the other hand, ambles up, slaps you on the back, and booms, “HOW WAS YOUR WEEK?!?!” At this point you can either bail out of the prayer (prompting some theologians to ask if you were ever REALLY in the prayer at all), or you can stick it out and give the poor interloper the “holdonjustaminuteI’mprayingrightnow” hand signal (which, of course, is the equivalent of saying, “Please note that I am much holier than you”).

So…am I the only who struggles with figuring out when to join (and how to respond to) a nearby group prayer?  If not, can we agree on a defined set of rules?  Post your suggestions in the comments section below (no need to register)!

[photo © | contributor: monkeybusiness]

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