20 Seconds

On Monday night I had the opportunity of a lifetime. With one foot after the other, I walked past multi-million-dollar athletes. I walked past faces of sports analysts, statisticians, photographers, and the frightening gleam of the television camera. I took a depth breath and released all of my anxiety to God. This was a roller coaster and I was going to keep my eyes open and experience every second of the thrill ride.

The task at hand was to walk to center court, stand in the middle of the “K”, and pray. The other task at hand was to not faint, not trip over my own feet, not forget my name, and not stumble through the prayer. The girl who once couldn’t be bribed to pray in public was now standing in front of thousands of Oklahoma City Thunder fans, not to mention feet from some of her favorite players, with a microphone and a prayer.

I looked out at the faces in the crowd. I saw children, young and old. I saw people of different backgrounds, different life experiences, different political opinions, and different expressions of faith. There were giants of the NBA on both sides of me, a choir of incredible women standing behind me, and what felt like all of Oklahoma watching me. There in the middle of the letter “K” I felt panicked, ecstatic, and extremely afraid I’d forget how to pronounce words.

With a deep inhale, I awaited the announcers voice introducing me as the person giving the night’s invocation. Then I exhaled, internally said “here we go, God”, and began to pray. Most of us preachers can be found rather long-winded. We love sermonizing, story-telling, and giving in-depth prayers. This was a different forum. I had twenty seconds to say something that mattered. I had twenty seconds to connect this eclectic crowd with their abundant God.

When I was first asked to pray, I began to think about what words God wanted me to share with those who would hear it. I thought of peace, hope, promise, grace, and love. I thought of many words. But then I learned that I would be given just twenty seconds. What in the world could I say that would make sense in twenty seconds? I believe that some of the most powerful prayers are the shortest ones, so I turned to them for some inspiration. Some favorites are: “here I am Lord, send me”, or “thy will be done”, or “forgive them”, or “forgive me”, or my favorite “HELP!”

I thought of children’s prayers, Jesus’ prayers, prayers previously given, and prayers that changed the world. Clearly, I was overthinking the whole opportunity. I began to pray to God and ask for what to say. It soon made sense to me, the very words I’ve shared with many people I’ve ministered to, “it’s not about the words, it’s about the heart.” Here I was overthinking the words, being a perfectionist, worried about what everyone else was going to think about the prayer. LIGHTBULB! The prayer wasn’t about everyone else. This was an opportunity to say something from my heart to the God I love and do it in front of all of these brothers and sisters. This was an opportunity to take twenty seconds and turn it into thousands of people connecting with their creator.

Twenty seconds was more than enough. I prayed the words in my heart. I gave God thanks. I asked for God to bless us all and for God’s grace to flow through our state. I asked for protection, energy, and tenacity. And, because I’m me, I asked for the spirit to RUMBLE. Then all at once, I heard this incredible sound, I heard thousands of people so different from each other say amen together. Here I was with the biggest spotlight pointed right at me and God was getting the amen. It was marvelous! In a moment, the arena was quieted, and thousands united in a heavenly exhale towards our incredible God. God is so good.

I’m pretty certain I didn’t change the world last night. But for a few moments, I got to share the God I love so abundantly with thousands of people. The prayer I so meticulously worked over, became exactly what it needed to be, from the heart. In fact, as it turns out, the words were perfect. Not because I’m a brilliant prayer writer, but because I let God hold the pen. And in the end, twenty seconds was more than enough. Turns out, a prayer shared with thousands, God’s name lifted up, only took fourteen seconds.

No matter where you are or who you stand before, even if you are by yourself, your words will be enough. Don’t be afraid to pray bold prayers. Don’t be afraid to lift up the name of your God before others. Don’t be afraid to stand in a spotlight in front of thousands or at a table in a restaurant and give thanks. Don’t worry about whether or not your words are perfect or your prayer good enough. Speak from the heart and give it all to God. All you’ve got to do is start. Start with twenty seconds. Here we go, God.

Rev. Dr. Tiffany A. Nagel Monroe is the Lead Pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church