The prayer Jesus never asked you to pray

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Chances are if you’ve ever been to a youth group or Christian camp function you’ve heard someone lead a group of sniffling teenagers at an altar in “the prayer.”

Youth evangelist Eastman Curtis, before his fall from grace, used to call the repeat-after-me moment where hundreds of young adults said “the prayer” the most important event in the history of the world when I heard him speak at the Creation festival in the late ’90s. (“Turn to the person next to you and tell them the most important event in the history of the world is going to happen in 10 minutes,” he would say).

My big brother once even warned my little brother that if he stayed up at the altar at camp too long people might think he was saying “the prayer,” and therefore “getting saved” when what he was really praying through was much deeper and more personal than a public declaration of faith an evangelist or camp staff member could later document in his Bible or fill out on an index card.

While the act of confessing your sins, accepting the teachings of Jesus and “asking him into your heart” before a corporate body has been and can be a very profound thing for many people, it’s interesting that there is no account of Jesus asking anyone to say this prayer in scripture. This dawned on my wife and I as we were walking home from church Sunday and started discussing one of our favorite topics: formulaic Christianity.

Apparently we were onto something in our talk. John Greco does a great job tackling the subject of “the prayer” in this article at Burnside Writers Collective. If nothing else, it is good food for thought, especially for those of us who have in one way or another been entrusted with offering spiritual guidance to today’s youth.

-Matt Ralph

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