Summary: Men can pray in their own way by doing what they know is right to do, by listening to the Lord as well as speaking, and by holding others and God Himself accountable to keep promises.
The young Australian pastor had just received his first assignment. It was to a remote sheep-ranching settlement deep in the Australian outback. He had arrived during a period of prolonged drought, and was making pastoral calls to his far-flung flock of ranchers, who were trying to keep their flocks of alive in this desolate land.
One rancher took the pastor to an area where most of the sheep lay, weak and sick from thirst. They were bleating and bellowing with the most mournful, pitiful sounds the pastor had ever heard. It was a horrible thing to listen to animals about to die and who had strength enough only to lift their heads and groan.
When the rancher explained that the sheep had had no water for weeks, and that without it they would soon die, the pastor, in his pious way, asked the rancher if he had prayed for rain. "Why," he said, "If you would only lift your prayers to the Lord for rain, this would all be over."
The rancher’s reply was a classic. He looked his new pastor up and down, then pointed to those pitiful animals, and said, "A God who cannot hear that prayer is not worth praying to."
There are, you see, other ways to pray than to flog the gates of heaven with words. There are other ways to pray than to polish phrases and multiply sentences. There are other ways to cry to the Lord besides talk, talk, talk.
Can it be that the special spirituality God has offered to men is that men, more than women, find ways to pray other than with words? Men offer the sacrifice of silence. Both men and women could do so more effectively. Let’s explore together the sacrifice of silence.
In our Biblical story, it’s clear that Elkanah was a good man, a solid man. Elkanah was dependable; he knew what he was supposed to do and he did it. We know absolutely nothing about what Elkanah said in his prayers; but we do know that he prayed with his feet. "Now this man used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh".
There is something right and worthy about this. Elkanah just did what he knew to do. He went to worship and to sacrifice, year by year.
Prayer, men’s prayer, often begins with this kind of investment in duty. The men I know whose spiritual lives I trust and whose prayers I would covet are the men who simply show up to do what is right and do it without asking a whole lot of questions. Prayer, male style, is sometimes just showing up to do what God wants done, whether you feel like it or not.
Back in the mid-60’s, when I was campus minister at Berea College in eastern Kentucky, I went through a little episode of stress. The Baptist Student Center where I served got some hate calls and suffered some minor vandalism, stemming from our involvement in some civil rights activities. Nothing much, just taking some students to hear Martin Luther King speak; but that was enough to generate a little heat in those days.
In our church there was a man named Hugh Byrd. Mr. Byrd was an FBI agent; why the FBI had any sort of operation in a little eastern Kentucky town I never knew, but there he was -- as strong and silent a man as I have ever known. And, as you might suspect, given the time and the place, about as conservative as they come. Hugh Byrd put the gold in Goldwater and took the fun out of fundamentalism, he was that conservative. And, unless I miss my guess, Mr. Byrd had little stomach for Dr. King or for the civil rights cause.
But one afternoon, not long after these incidents at our Center, I was heading for home, and, as I turned out on to the main street, I spotted Hugh Byrd, slouched down in his car, watching. Just watching. So I parked and went over to find out what this was all about. (I guess I blew his cover!). He said, "Don’ t worry about me, I’ve come to protect life and property, I’ve come to protect the Lord’s work.” It didn’t matter whether Mr. Byrd agreed with us or understood us. He just came to do what he was supposed to do, to protect the Lord’s work.
I think that’s a form of prayer. That’s a man’s kind of prayer. That’s Elkanah at prayer. "Now this man used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice". Men pray well when they do what God calls them to do, not necessarily with fire and eloquence, but just with simple faithfulness. The sacrifice of silence.