The United States Postal Service is considering eliminating Saturday delivery of residential mail. They are also raising postage rates. Both of these measures are a direct result of a serious drop in the number of pieces of mail being sent in the United States. Perhaps the biggest reason the USPS is hurting right now is the increase in communication by tweets, Facebook posts, and especially e-mail. We have less to say and are saying it more often and cheaper.
God wants us to communicate with him, and doesn’t care that it is not delivered by a postal carrier. God likes to get knee-mail. While e-mail has become ubiquitous, knee-mail should be equally so. There are some reasons people have taken to e-mail over snail-mail. Some of these same reasons may apply to prayer as well.
Before the twentieth century it was popular to publish the correspondence of a celebrity, often after the person had died. Some of the collected correspondence encompasses several volumes. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, letter writing was apparently not considered the chore that it was when I was growing up. The collected letters of John and Abigail Adams, for instance, reveals a couple who communicated with each other frequently and in depth. Of course, this was before the telephone. What would later become a nightly call wasSometimes prayer is truly knee-mail. While driving, it might not be appropriate to kneel. carried on through the written word. One reason that such correspondence is valuable to historians is the length of the letters. Much of what we know about the deliberations of the Continental Congresses comes from men like John Adams writing the details of the events of the day to their spouses. We know the personalities of the Founding Fathers of the United States from what they wrote in letters, or what was written about them. It seems that when a man sat down at night to write to his wife it was wrong to write a short note. If he was going to take the time to write, he was going to make it worth the time by writing a long letter.
It is a good thing we don’t have to do that with God. Thanks to e-mail we can shoot off a short note several times a day, or an even shorter tweet. Some people think their prayers have to be long. They wait for the end of the day, and then unburden themselves on God. Maybe they just don’t take the time until their set prayer time. Maybe they think he won’t notice them if they toss off a one-liner. Jesus talked about this latter attitude. “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” (Matt 6:7-8) He says we don’t have to use long prayers for God to hear us.
When I played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, I was struck by the man’s prayers. Sometimes they were long and rambling (making memorization hard), and sometimes they were spur-of-the-moment comments. Sholom Aleichem’s character knew about prayer. Like John Adams writing Abigail, he carried on a conversation. But it was more like an e-mail (or a knee-mail) conversation. When something came up, it became a matter for prayer, whether it were the injury to his poor horse or the nagging of his wife. Maybe that is how we should be with God. Prayer can be a quick comment. You see something beautiful, like the way the sun shines on the mountains through the clouds, a quick “thank you” or “that was nice” might be appropriate. You are running late for an important appointment, maybe a short “find me a close parking spot” is sufficient. There are times for long prayers, just as there are times for long conversations with a significant person in your life. There are times when prayer might be truly knee-mail. On the other hand, there are times when you can’t kneel and pour out your life story. After you narrowly escape an accident on the freeway, it might not be appropriate to close your eyes, kneel on the floorboard, and neglect control of the steering wheel. God listens even to your shortest tweet.
I was in the U.S. Navy long before e-mail became popular, or even available. (Yes, young people, there was a time BE—before e-mail.) On a six-month deployment, like John Adams, I would write long letters to my wife. Actually, they were long because I would add a little every day until the day we knew mail was leaving the ship (sometimes once a week, or even less often). I would send a letter, and then get two or three from home. Some people numbered the envelopes before sending them, so the spouse could know in what order to read them. It might take a couple of months to get a response to a question raised in a letter. Sometimes I would get an answer to a question I forgot I asked. Sometimes I would get something in the mail the day I sent off a letter that made comments in the outgoing letter unnecessary. Communication was spotty, at best.
Prayer is not like that. God gets the message immediately. As Jesus said in the passage from Matthew quoted above, he got the message before we even sent it. Nor do we often have to wait for an answer. Yes, some people question whether God even answers prayer, but that may be because they are not checking their knee-mail inbox. It is amazing how often God answers prayer by showing you something in your Bible reading that you had not seen before. But if you don’t open God’s communication to you, you can’t find his reply. That’s not to say he only answers by showing us appropriate scriptures. Sometimes the answer comes in a more direct way, either as an immediate yes or no. Sometimes he even slaps us upside the head to get our attention. But he generally answers right away. Maybe sometimes the answer is not immediate, but then we need the patience of a sailor. If the answer is urgent, we will get it right away. But sometimes it is like those letters that crossed in the mail; if we wait long enough, he will have answered by not answering right away. God doesn’t use the excuse that “the check is in the mail” because his mail always comes on time.
There is a problem with any written mail, and sometimes even with a telephone conversation. It even comes up, more rarely, in face-to-face communication. That is that communication is not pure. Even in person, what is intended by the speaker is received through the filters of the experience of the listener. The choice of words, even, may not have the same meanings or emotional content to both parties of the conversation. Early in my Navy career it was common for the inspecting officer in a uniform inspection to identify “Irish pennants.” (These were strings hanging loose on a uniform, such as the untrimmed ends of a seam.) To most people this was simply Navy slang; to an O’Hearn it was an implication that all Irishmen were sloppy. I quickly expressed my concern, and now the term is rarely used.
When the conversation does not have the advantage of visual cues to the intent of the speaker, misunderstandings happen. What may be intended as a joke may come across in writing as bitter or insulting. That is why the new language of Text includes LOL. That is why e-mail may include emoticons. People want to be sure that they are not misunderstood. (Today some people use LOL so often that it has become meaningless; what used to take an LOL now requires ROFL.)
God always understands our knee-mail perfectly. He has the perfect filter between us and him.
Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to God. (Romans 8:26-27)
God does not need emoticons in our knee-mail, because he sees our emotions. He understands not only what we say, but what we don’t say. Sometimes what we say is what we think he wants to hear, but what he hears is what we don’t want him to hear. The danger of prayer is that God understands. We can lie to other people, even to their faces. We cannot lie to God. Maybe we don’t intend to do so, but sometimes we even lie to ourselves. Our communications to God are not subject to misinterpretation, except by us.
This can be good as well as bad. When we don’t know what we want, God answers with what we need. He could even operate without receiving activeGod gets the message immediately. He got it before we sent it. communication from us. Perhaps the communication is more for our own benefit than for his. When we try to communicate we get better at understanding our own needs and desires.
A few years ago a company called NetZero began with the concept that e-mail, indeed the internet, should be free. Juno offered free e-mail that did not require connection to a costly Internet Service Provider. Before long Juno limited the free e-mail to late-night hours, and then eliminated it altogether. The company that thought the internet should be free now charges for most of their services. (They do offer an extremely limited free package.) When we were deployed overseas into a combat zone one of the perks was sending letters postage-free. While you could say that while we are in this world we are always in a combat zone, communication with God is always free and unlimited. In fact, Paul tells us to take advantage of that benefit of prayer (1 Thes 5:17).
Have you ever received an e-mail from yourself, which you never sent? Have you had your e-mail account hacked? Then you know another advantage of knee-mail. It is absolutely secure. It uses an unbreakable encryption key, known as the Holy Spirit. You can be sure that God does not interpret your prayers as coming from someone else, or that someone else is not praying for something harmful to you in your name.
Much of what we get in our e-mail inboxes is unwanted spam. Some people dread opening their inbox, knowing they have to weed through a lot of unwanted junk. In addition to all the other advantages over e-mail, we are assured that God wants our knee-mail.