Keep It Short


“Keep it short.” These were my instructions before praying at a recent gathering of faith leaders. While it is not unusual to be advised regarding the time constraints of an event or the page length for a presentation, this was the first time I had been told this about prayer. To be clear, it is not because I have a habit of “going long” and this was my first opportunity in front of this distinguished audience. Instead, there had been a change in the program and the keynote speaker needed to leave early.

Persons had come to hear him and I was being asked to accommodate his schedule. There had been presentations, remarks, song selections but now, time was running out. A planner walked over with this simple instruction regarding my role. She leaned over and said, “Keep it short.” I assured her that this was not an issue.

I delivered the prayer and as is custom, there was a holy hush. I had invited a response from God and since God had not been given the same instructions from the planner, the prayer time was extended. And apparently, the conversation continued after the event as attendees came up to me in tears to profess their need for this conversation. It seems my “little talk with Jesus” was not enough. They wanted God to say more.

But, this story is less about my experience and more about the reduced role of prayer in the lives of believers. With or without a keynote speaker, we frequently cut off conversations with God. We fill the one-sided conversation with our requests and needs, leaving no room for response. However, Eugene Peterson reminds us that not only does prayer not end when we are done speaking but it does not begin with us.

He writes in Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, “Prayer is never the first word. It is always the second word. God has the first word. Prayer is answering speech; it is not primarily ‘address’ but ‘response.’”

Our prayer is a response; prayer is a reply—not to adversity, desires, needs, plans, or pain. Prayer is given in response to God. We speak to God because God first spoke to us. And God did not speak to fulfill a divine need or out of pain. God spoke out of love and I am so glad that God did not keep it short.

Reverend Starlette Thomas* is an associate pastor at Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland and the Minister to Empower Congregations at the D.C. Baptist Convention. She writes on the social construct of race and the practice of faith at Her hobbies include reading, writing, and Starbucks.

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