“Does God Answer Slurred Prayers?” the post¹ asked. Heather Kopp, an author and recovered alcoholic recounted the days of her alcohol infused prayers, those messy ones that didn’t hit the target as far as scripture goes. Those messy ones that would have sounded different from a sober soul.
The slurred prayers reminded me of others who struggle to think or speak clearly. What about the prayers of people suffering from symptoms called schizophrenia? How much clarity does God expect, how much theological accuracy?
Heather described her surprise at what she saw in recovery meetings: “People desperately groping about for God and finding him—even if they don’t yet fully understand Who they’ve laid hold of.”
God answered their “imperfect” prayers. Not quite Christian-enough prayers.
If anything describes the heart of someone suffering from schizophrenia, the word “desperation” fits perfectly. Desperately groping for God, for his help and for answers. Desperately trying to get the right understanding of scripture. Desperately praying, but with scrambled or slurred words due to medication side effects, inability to focus, and twisted lines of thought. Perhaps God waits for someone else to intercede, someone with a clearer mind and understandable conversation?
In the Old Testament Hannah prayed in a way that appeared messy – weeping, and “only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard.” Drunk, said Eli. No, said Hannah; this is a prayer of desperation and grief.
God heard her loud and clear.
Charles Spurgeon, British preacher and founder of Stockwell Orphanage and other institutions had robust words to say about perfection in prayer: “A manual, a handbook, indeed! Pray with your heart, not with your hands. … The prayers that come leaping out of the soul—the gust of strong emotion, fervent desire, lively faith—these are the truly spiritual prayers.”²
He seemed to describe prayers of the gut, blurted and raw. He placed high value on these short prayers, what he called exclamatory prayers. Yet I have described drowsy medicated men who might have a gut feeling somewhere inside, but can only utter a few slurred words. Does Spurgeon have any encouragement for them?
He found short prayers some of the most honest prayers of all and quite appropriate for certain people:
I believe it is very suitable to some people of a special temperament who could not pray for a long time to save their lives. Their minds are rapid and quick. . . . You who are either of so little a mind or of so quick a mind that you cannot use many words or continue long to think of one thing, it should be to your comfort that exclamatory prayers are acceptable. And it may be, dear friend, that you are in a condition of body in which you cannot pray any other way.
No, he did not address schizophrenia or the groggy effect of drugs, but he did address simple honesty. He compared punctual perfect prayers that have no life or spirit in them to sudden prayers from the deepest need of the heart.
“But he who exclaims—whose heart talks with God—he is no hypocrite,” said Spurgeon. “There is a reality and force and life in his prayers.” I believe Spurgeon would count a slurred plea from the heart equal to a clear one.
Spurgeon even commended silent short prayers (especially for individuals who need to put a check on their rash words and temper). In his opinion silent prayers not only prevent us from receiving the praise of men, their briefness checks our self-confidence. “It would show your dependence on God,” he said.
For any of us who cannot pray at length he offered an encouragement that each of us can apply silently or out loud, without guilt:
“Then, it is refreshing to be able again and again and again—fifty or a hundred times a day—to address one’s self to God in short, quick sentences, the soul being all on fire.”²
Lord, lighten my darkness.
Be with me Father. Don’t let me be alone.
Help me keep my mouth shut.
Leaping from the soul, or struggling to speak. On fire, or dampened by medication. Slurred, short, or silent. Let no one discourage you from lifting up your voice to God, whatever the word count, whatever the clarity of the sound. It is the sound of hammers at the Cross and the stone rolling away that God hears first.
¹ “Does God Answer Slurred Prayers?” by Heather Kopp, http://soberboots.com/2012/06/28/does-god-hear-slurred-prayers/
²Spurgeon on Prayer & Spiritual Warfare by Charles Spurgeon, pp. 90-93, Whitaker House, 1998.