When I was around eleven years old, my Sunday School teacher gave a profound lesson about prayer that stuck with me for a very long time. It just happened to pop into my head today.
He was teaching us how to organize our prayers and explained that, after beginning by respectfully addressing God the Father, we needed to express gratitude before asking for anything. He illustrated his point by role-playing how the beginning of our class could have gone.
TEACHER: Good morning, Danny, it's great to see you. How are you?
DANNY: Um...good, thanks.
TEACHER: I'm glad to hear that. Would you mind saying the opening prayer for us?
Our teacher then proclaimed that, if Danny hadn't wanted to give the opening prayer before, he was more inclined to give it now, after he'd been treated so nicely. This immediately clicked with me--it made so much sense! Of course that's how you should organize your personal prayers! How could it have ever been any other way?
I have two problems with this.
First, that makes God sound like a little snot-nosed brat that you need to butter up before you can expect him to lift a finger. If he's an omniscient, benevolent God (like we'd been taught he was), he shouldn't be the kind of being to require brown-nosing.
Second, why the hell was he teaching us the "correct" way to pray? This was the last year before I was given the Priesthood--we weren't toddlers anymore. Why was he wasting time teaching almost-deacons stuff that really has no value? Is God going to return your prayer, marked insufficient postage, because you asked for help before you thanked him for your family? This is the equivalent of an English teacher focusing her class on proper citation of references and skipping the vocabulary and the grammar.
But then again, the church does have a thing for focusing on superfluous exactness. The sacrament prayer has to be exactly right or it doesn't count. There is a precise limit to the number of earrings you can wear. And the debate about whether caffeine is against the Word of Wisdom rages on.
None of that seems right to me.