Having clergy pray for you.

One of my previous pastors was invited to a birthday party. So was I. So we’re all hanging out, chatting about something irrelevant; probably weather. And the lady of the house came out of the kitchen to tell everyone lunch was ready. So… “Pastor?”

Yep. It might be her house, her daughter who was celebrating the birthday, her lunch which she had put together. But Pastor, even though he was a guest, was expected to ask God’s blessings over the food.

Which he did, ’cause he knows how it works. It comes with the job.

It’s one of the things clergy regularly experience. Bishops, pastors, chaplains, friars, nuns, ministers of every sort: People expect them to lead prayer. They don’t even ask; they just take it as a given. “Pastor?” That’s your cue to pray.

I once had a pastor who grew tired of this, so he tried something which he thought was kinda clever: He turned to one of the other people in the room. Sometimes an elder in the church whom he knew could pray; sometimes one of the newbies or teenagers who was learning how to pray in public and needed the practice. “Kahurangi, could you lead?” With self-conscious teens, sometimes it took a little prodding, but young Kahurangi would pray.

And the host would be disappointed. And the one case of one hostess, not accept it. After the elder prayed, and everyone said amen, she said, “Thank you. Pastor?” Because Pastor hadn’t prayed yet, and it didn’t count till Pastor prayed.

Which is rubbish. Every Christian is a priest. Every Christian can lead prayer. Every Christian can pray like Elijah, and God’ll answer their requests same as everyone.

But same as people misunderstand what James taught about praying like Elijah, they presume they can’t lead prayers. Not like Pastor; not as good as Pastor. Because Pastor is more righteous than they, has a better connection to God than they, hears God better than they, and Pastor’s prayers will get answered. Theirs, not so much.

In other religions, and in Christian cults, clergy actually encourages this mindset. They want us to think they have a special access to God which others don’t. It helps keep ’em in power: You can’t overthrow the one guy who really connects with God! But it’s totally antithetical to Christianity, ’cause Jesus wants everybody to know him, connect with him, and get to the Father through him. Not just clergy. Not just Pastor.

Yeah, pastors know how to pray in public settings, and don’t (or shouldn’t!) seize up from stage fright when it’s time to bless the pizza. But they’re not the only people who can lead prayer, y’know. You can. Any Christian can.

Hannah’s prayer.

The books of Samuel begin with Samuel ben Elqana’s mother Hannah, miserable because she doesn’t have any children, going to temple to beg God for one.

At the time, temple was still held in a tabernacle, and the head priest was Eli, a man who let his thoroughly corrupt sons Khofni and Pinekhas run the place for him. The way Eli’s kids ran things alienated people from worshiping the LORD there. 1Sa 2.7 Eli should’ve fired them, but the most he ever did was give ’em stern lectures. (Eli actually wound up raising Samuel… which explains why Samuel was just as lousy a father.)

Eli wasn’t a righteous man. But he was head priest. And if Hannah held the attitude, “Gotta have the head priest pray for me, ’cause God must listen to his head priest,” man would she be off track. The fact the LORD had to warn Eli through two different prophets—an unnamed guy 1Sa 2.27-35 and later the child Samuel himself 1Sa 3.11-18 —shows Eli and the LORD clearly weren’t communicating with one another. The LORD was doing all the talking, but Eli just wasn’t listening.

So how’d Hannah get her request granted? Because she prayed like Elijah. She trusted God.

1 Samuel 1.10-11 KWL
10 Hannah’s soul was bitter, and she begged the LORD and wailed, wailed.
11 Hannah vowed a vow, saying, “LORD of War,
if you see, see your slave’s suffering, and don’t forget me your slave,
and give your slave a seed—a man—
I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life.
A blade won’t ever be raised to his head.”

Such was her bargain with God, and she did actually follow through with it when God gave her a son: Samuel was raised Nazirite, meaning uniquely holy.

Had Eli been on speaking terms with God, he might’ve been clued in that Hannah was praying; just not aloud. (People back then didn’t ordinarily pray silently. I know; times have changed.) Eli saw her lips move but heard no words, and presumed she was drunk in temple. No; she was just begging God really hard, and Eli muttered “May God grant your petition,” and that was the extent of their interaction. 1Sa 1.12-18

You realize some preachers actually claim it’s because Eli said, “May God grant your petition” that God granted Hannah’s petition? They actually endorse the idea we need to get the clergy’s stamp of approval before God can act. As if God’s in any way impressed by titles and positions and earthly authority, instead of faith. Methinks they’re projecting how they’re impressed by titles, upon God.

Samuel is the product of God’s power responding to Hannah’s faith. Not Eli’s faith. Not Eli’s anything.

Eli’s position put him in a great place to make contact with God… had he chose to. Had he wanted to. Had he been willing to listen. He didn’t, and his dismissive attitude towards God eventually got his descendants removed from being head priests. And sad to say, there are plenty of pastors and ministers who likewise dismiss their relationships with God, lead their churches wrong, and lack faith. You definitely don’t want these people leading your prayers; it’ll be pure hypocrisy.

I certainly hope the leaders of your church are nothing like Eli. (If so, get out of there!) More likely they’re good devout believers, and there’s no reason you can’t have ’em intercede for you if you’ve got a serious prayer request. Same as having any good devout believer intercede for you. They don’t have to be clergy! They just have to trust God. Faith’s what makes us righteous. Is Pastor faithful? Then Pastor can pray for you.

But more importantly are you faithful? Can you pray for yourself? Then do.

And if you can’t, now you know your homework assignment: Work on it.