Thursday, December 8, 2011

Is this a prayer or a talk?

Like many I enjoyed the music and talks and the short film in the First Presidency Christmas devotional Sunday evening. We watched via the internet in our family room, which was great because I couldn’t go to church that day since I’m recovering from surgery.

I had a bit of a struggle at the beginning, however. I shouldn’t have. I know I shouldn’t have. But I did. I know I’m not perfect, and Sunday night was just one more example of that.

It was Brother Beck’s opening prayer cum talk.

I’m old enough to remember Elder McConkie’s counsel on the length of prayers. Here are two quotations from Mormon Doctrine (I know it’s out of fashion, but these guidelines still stick in my head). The first is from Elder McConkie:

Certain proprieties attend the offering of all prayers. Public prayers, in particular, should be short and ordinarily should contain no expressions except those which pertain to the needs and circumstances surrounding the particular meeting then involved. They are not sermons or occasions to disclose the oratorical or linguistic abilities of the one acting as mouth. (2nd ed., p. 582).

In the second, Elder McConkie quotes Francis M. Lyman who was president of the Quorum of the Twleve:

It is not necessary to offer very long and tedious prayers, either at opening or closing. It is not only not pleasing to the Lord for us to use excess of words, but also it is not pleasing to the Latter-day Saints. Two minutes will open any kind of meeting, and a half minute will close it (Improvement Era, 50:214, 245; quoted in Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 583).

I don’t know where or when I first encountered these guidelines, but I confess that it’s now sometimes hard to listen to a prayer without measuring it against these. And I did it on Sunday night.

I had to consciously tell myself to knock it off. And it was hard to do. And so the opening prayer wasn’t as meaningful to me as it could have been.

And, by the way, that’s my fault, not Brother Beck’s.

A friend, jmb275, posted a great item over at Wheat & Tares yesterday on reigning in the analyst. And that’s something I need to work on. There are times – and I think during a prayer is one of them – when it’s a time for devotion, worship, and feeling the spirit, not analysis of the speaker’s motivation, education or erudition.


  1. Amen - to all the points in this post, those that you (and I) need to address and those that people who pray need to address.

    and, the post over on W&T really was excellent, even if I haven't commented on it yet.

  2. I too am with you, Paul, on all points here--except maybe letting him completely off the hook. ;) Sometimes it's just too hard NOT to analyze the obvious.

  3. Papa D and CC, thanks!

    CC, it's not for me to let him off the hook; I can only control myself. But I hear you. :-)

  4. Amen on the points about what makes an appropriate prayers.

    As to your (and my) reaction to the prayer, in instances like these I find it helpful to remember the counsel of Elder Dallin H. Oaks who cautioned against making "final judgements" (feeling certain that somebody is going to heaven or hell) while suggesting that we have to make "intermediate judgments" (the recognition that behaviors and actions are either good or bad). This comes from a talk entitled "Judge Not and Judging."

    So I can recognize that the prayer was somewhat inappropriate while at the same time not condemn Brother Beck as an unholy man doomed for a life in the telestial kingdom. I just recognize the mistake.

    But now you don't have to feel as upset with yourself, Paul :)

  5. Andrew, I don't feel upset with myself, but thanks.

    As for critiquing Brother Beck's prayer -- yep, I can certainly lay it against the standard published in MD and see where it's different. And in my view I can do that as a means of determining my future behavior. Brother Beck has plenty of people who will tell him if he needs to change. That's not my role.

    Frankly, it seems that in conference we've moved away from the BRM/President Lyman standard. It's not my role to call those folks to change.