Praying for NASCAR
The media world is frenzied this morning with the story of what is commonly being deemed as "the best prayer ever." The prayer in question was voiced by Pastor Joe Nelms of Family Baptist Church in Lebanon, TN. He opened the prayer by calling attention to the fact that the Bible instructs us to give thanks for all things. He then began to thank God for several of the sponsors, the engines, an alliance between owners, and quoting the movie Talledega Nights he thanked God for his, "smoking hot wife."
The prayer has been received with mixed reviews. From the footage I saw it sounded as if his prayer was met with a loud cheer from the fans. The drivers and their crews thought it was funny. Sports reporters are having a field day with it. Robin Meade on HLN said that NASCAR should consider taking Pastor Nelms with them wherever they go, as if his prayer was some comedy bit they needed to take on the road.
The Christian community is vacillating between considering the prayer harmless to calling it blasphemous. Some say that the pastor was trying to connect with a secular audience. Others say that he offended God. Which was it, an irreverent moment or just silly fun?
It is interesting that a man can pray to God irreverently and we cheer, but Roseanne Barr sing the National Anthem off key and we boo. For those who think that pastor Nelms did a righteous deed in trying to connect in prayer with a secular audience I offer only one question, who exactly are we praying to, NASCAR fans or God? I think Pastor Nelms succeeded in reaching his audience.
When the apostles asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, Jesus didn't have fun with the moment, he taught them. For an audience that does not understand prayer, there is no value in dumbing down the moment, the point is to invite a world that is disconnected and lost into something more sacred. When we pray, people are not our audience, prayer is an address to God. When Jesus taught the apostles to pray his opening phrase was, "Father, hallowed be your name (Luke 11:2)." Jesus set the precedent in prayer that whatever is to follow is to have the concern that God be reverenced in the moment, that we recognize who He is, and that our concern be for His glory. It seems that Pastor Nelms was more concerned for comedy than for God's glory.
I know that the reaction to all of this will be that the church has been more prude, unforgiving, and judgmental about this than the sportscasters, reporters, and the drivers themselves. The inferences will be that the church, in denouncing this prayer, will have made it unholy, that it is we who need to lighten up, and that somehow we are Pharisaical, hypocritical, and completely out of touch with God. In the end they will say that it is those who thought it was funny who are closer to God than those of us who do not find the humor in all of this. Indeed we have had our fair share of terrible moments, but I do not think this is one of them. If anything Pastor Nelms has done, he has exposed the fact that we grossly misunderstand prayer. We have made prayer more about our enjoyment. We believe prayer is for us, about us, and that whatever we say God is obligated to think it is cute and listen. Hopefully we will get something good out of it all, like a win on the track and a bigger beer company as our sponsor. Pastor Nelms and all those who applaud his prayer only serve to demonstrate what America has become, irreverent, uncivilized, indecent, and without any concern that we need to correct our course. Pastor Nelms' prayer is as a prime example that we have lost our way and that we haven't a clue how to return to right. A cursory glance at Scripture will reveal that the heart of prayer is that God would hear us, respond to us, and meet our needs. The concern was not that we, or God, be amused.
God is no joke and there is something in the idea of hallowing His name in which we need to be careful. Prayer is not about submitted God to our humor, it is about us submitting ourselves to His will, "your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10)."
Pastor Nelms may be a great man who has done a lot of great things for people. All I am saying is that his prayer was not a great moment, one that we should not applaud, but rather mourn. I do not know Him, but I do wonder what he is all about if a prayer so off base could be birthed in his soul so easily. The people of God ought to know better. This weekend, the name of God was profaned, and He was masqueraded as an impotent idol of comedy and secular connections. When compared to Scripture and the sacred awe of worship found the Jewish roots from which Christianity was birthed the conclusion can be easily drawn that Pastor Nelms' prayer was pagan and profane. There was nothing about it that was funny. It was blasphemous indeed.