Who taught you to pray?

Published 9:20 am Wednesday, August 17, 2022

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Our most kind and gracious heavenly Father”. I remember those words as a young child in my home church. First Baptist Church of Cottonwood, Alabama. Mr. Killingsworth would always begin his prayers with those words when called on to pray by the preacher. Decades later, I found myself using those same words when I would be called on to pray in public.

In those same early and formative years, I remember Mr. Joe Calhoun jingling the coins in his pocket during prayer. He owned the 5 & 10 cent store when a nickel and dime really meant something. He sat on the third row from the back on the left side. Funny what you remember 60 plus years later.

Mr. Windsor spoke in a soft voice. He whistled when he said a word with an “s”. If you sat in the back of the church, you might only hear the soft whistle sounds as he prayed.

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Dr. Cory Smith asked the congregation of Auburn United Methodist Church the simple question in his sermon this past Sunday. “Who taught you to pray?” I immediately pulled out the card I always carry in my pocket and wrote those words down. I already knew the answer.

I came from a family where the women offered grace at the dinner table. When my father said the blessing, I knew it was a special occasion and I listened. Yet, I can still remember him being called on to pray during church services. I can almost hear his words to this day.

At the same time, my grandfather did not pray in public. He lived across the street from the church and was the first visitor to every minister that was called to that church. He offered his assistance in any way possible before informing the minister that he did not pray in public.

Somewhere along the way, a minister decided that he knew more than my grandfather. The preacher called on him to give the benediction. My grandfather discreetly shook his head as I watched him. The minster called his name again and even as a tender youngster, I knew how this was going to turn out. Eventually, the Reverend called on someone else. Otherwise, we would all still be sitting there.

My grandfather owned one of the first color televisions in Cottonwood. We would go to watch Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color at my grandparent’s house on Sunday evening. With his grandchildren sprawled out on the den floor, he would ease out of the door and go alone to the Sunday evening service. My grandfather taught me how to pray, quietly.

Along the way our church had a revival. The visiting minister seemed to feel like the validation of his message was measured by the number of people that answered the alter call. Night after night.

My Mother and Father talked to us young kids about rededicating your life to Christ and what that meant. It was in your heart and not something that you did because of the person in the pew next to you. If you felt the call, then scurry on up to the altar, but otherwise keep your seat.

During one revival the minister decided to test my dad. My recollection was that we may have sung 10 verses of Just as I Am. It may have been another song, but it could have been a thousand verses. At some point, it was only my Dad, Mom and us three children remaining in the pews.

That is the way the service ended, just as I knew it would. On that night, my father and mother taught me about faith. They taught me how to pray, while holding on to your own personal convictions.

I remember the words spoken by my grandmothers as they prayed. I remember the enthusiastic prayers of the young ministers that came over and over to our wonderful church home for 40 plus years, The First Presbyterian Church of Donalsonville. I remember especially the words of Martha Nell Spooner, as close to a saint as I have ever known, who could say a prayer that could melt the hardest heart.

After almost 68 years, I realize that much more than a village taught me to pray. It was a doctor when I was ill. It was a friend when I had a financial turn for the worse. It was a family member when I needed a hug, a hand, a kind word. It was all those who prayed for me when I did not know it and did not deserve it.

Most of my prayers have been quiet, along a country road, or watching a sunset at the lake. There is no perfect model to prayer. The words do not even have to be spoken. It can just be the simple awareness and acknowledgement that God is listening, always listening. Always.

Dr. Smith asked two questions. First, who taught you to pray? Second, when was the last time you prayed? Two good questions for all of us to reflect on during these troubled and challenging times.