Pastor Joe Nelms, NASCAR and Prayer

Back in 2011, a Tennessee pastor by the name of Joe Nelms drew quite a bit of attention with his pre-race prayer at a NASCAR Nationwide Series race. In his prayer, Nelms thanked the Lord for (amongst other things) Dodge cars, Goodyear tires and his “smokin’ hot” wife, before wrapping things up with “Boogity, boogity, boogity, amen!” (a nod to longtime NASCAR broadcaster Darrell Waltrip). It was captured in a YouTube video and quickly went viral, and it certainly received mixed reactions to say the least.

I suppose I’m five years late to the party by commenting on it now, but I’ve found myself watching the video several times recently. Initially I just found it funny, but then it got me thinking more seriously about prayer and our perspectives on it.

While many people (mostly non-believers) found Nelms’ prayer to be cool and inspiring, some thought he was being inappropriate – misusing a slot that’s intended to be dedicated to the divine, by trying to attract attention (often citing Matthew 6:5 as the reason why Nelms was out of line). I can see where both sides were coming from – as humorous as the prayer might have been, it didn’t seem to show a whole lot of reverence to God. Yet seeing people criticising Nelms just for praying ‘differently’ caused me to reflect on how we can often find ourselves judging methods of prayer that differ from what we’re used to or what we like, and even judging those who use such methods themselves.

With all the various formats of prayer available to us in the 21st century, we often run the risk of believing that some formats are more or less presentable to God than others. Does God prefer Pentecostal megachurch gatherings or middling Methodist chapels? Is it better to use liturgy or open prayer? The truth is, as long as it corresponds with Scripture, it really doesn’t matter. Obviously all of us are going to have our preferences (read: methods that help us communicate with God better), but as long as God’s being addressed correctly, He couldn’t care any less which methods are being used. The last 2000+ years have seen numerous styles of theologically spot-on prayer come and go, and all have been equally acceptable in God’s eyes. So if you’re worried that you’re not praying in the ‘right’ way, then I’ll leave you with this – as long as you’re doing it with the right state of heart and mind, you’ve got nothing to worry about. (In fact, some would say that if you’re worried that you’re not praying in the ‘right’ way, it’s a sign that you are praying in the ‘right’ way…)

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