Originally published May 26, 2017
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When I was a little girl, I remember one of my Sunday School teachers saying, “Prayer is just talking to God.” With all the complex, confusing, convoluted, and even conflicting resources out there today on prayer, that sounds rather simplistic to our adult ears, but it’s still the best definition of prayer I’ve ever heard. Prayer is, indeed, simply talking to God.
And, along with studying God’s word and being a faithful member of a local church, it’s one of the three legs of the stool we call sanctification, or growth in Christ. Yet prayer is the leg that tends to be most neglected in our churches, our families, and our personal walk with the Lord.
Why is that? Why don’t we want to sit down and just talk – no frills, no weird machinations, just talk – to the most interesting, powerful, loving, and kind Being in the universe? If you received an invitation to sit down and chat with the President, your favorite celebrity, or a long lost loved one, you’d jump at the chance, right? I would, too. So what is it about our broken brains and hardened hearts that causes us to say, “Nah, not today,” to a simple monologue with our King? Those broken brains have learned some unbiblical things about prayer, and those hardened hearts have some ungodly attitudes toward prayer.
1. We don’t NEED God enough
Western Christians are pretty prosperous and self-sufficient people. We don’t have to cry out to God to provide food so we don’t starve. We have jobs and grocery stores. We don’t have to pray that we won’t be arrested for reading our Bibles or going to church, because that’s not happening where we live (yet). Except in the most dire of circumstances, we don’t have to plead with God to heal. We have doctors, hospitals, and medicine. Don’t get me wrong, those are all tremendous blessings, but one of the pitfalls of being blessed is that we start trusting in the blessing rather than trusting in the Blesser. And when that happens, we tend to pray less often and more superficially. Daily prayer is part of our battle to be dependent on God.
2. We’re idolaters
My husband’s uncle used to say, “You do what you want to do.” In other words, you spend your time and resources on the things you value most. I’m a Type A personality: workaholic, git ‘er done, ain’t got time to die. One of the reasons I neglect my own prayer time is that I don’t want to take time out of my busy schedule to stop and do nothing but pray. When I operate that way, I’m demonstrating that I don’t want to pray- that I love something else more than I love obeying God and spending time with Him. That’s idolatry.
3. We don’t trust God and His prescribed methods
When we’re in need, when we want to commune with God, when we want to grow in holiness, God’s way is for us to pray. Not climb the highest mountain or offer some amazing sacrifice or fulfill a bunch of items on a checklist- pray. But, to our fleshly hearts, this just doesn’t compute. It’s not enough. We’ve got to conjure up our own efforts and do something worthy of God acting on our behalf. Our hearts don’t trust God enough to simply take Him at His word, bring all of our requests to Him, and believe that He will take care of us. We don’t pray because we don’t trust God to follow through on His Word.
4. “Fervency” in prayer is qualitative, not quantitative
Sometimes we get it into our heads that being “fervent” in prayer means we have to constantly voice that prayer over and over in order to get God to give in and do what we want Him to do. But God’s provision isn’t dependent on our prayers. He truly does know what we need before we ask. In other words, you could stop praying right this minute for that thing you desperately want, and never pray about it again, and God is not going to forget that that’s what you want, or move it to a lower priority level on His prayer-answering list, or punish you by denying your request simply because you stopped praying about it. There are things God blesses us with that we’ve never spent a moment praying for. There are things we stop praying for that God finally gives us years later. And there are things we pray constantly for that God says “no” about. God is going to do what is best for you and what brings Him the most glory, and that doesn’t hinge on whether you pray about that specific thing every day or not. “Fervency” doesn’t mean repetition. It means an intense trust and dependence on God to do what is right in His eyes in response to your prayer. Sometimes it helps to examine a few good translations side by side:
5. Prayer isn’t a letter to Santa Claus
Back in the stone age of my childhood there used to be this thing called the Sears catalog. It was kind of like Amazon, but on paper. Every year, a few months before Christmas, they would publish their “Wish Book” edition that had all the toys in it. My sister and I would go through that catalog and circle all the things we wanted for Christmas and then hand it back to my parents, hoping that, this year, we’d get everything we asked for (and we asked for practically everything).
If this is how you approach prayer, you’re doing it wrong. God is not looking for you to provide Him with a list of stuff your greedy little heart desires so He can wrap it up in a bow and leave it under your tree. He’s not a wish-fulfillment center.
6. Weird stuff and unbiblical beliefs- knock it off
♦ Prayer is not a two-way conversation. We talk to God through prayer. He talks to us through His all-sufficient Word. Yes, while you’re praying, the Holy Spirit may remind you of Scripture that’s relevant to what you’re praying about, or bring to mind someone you should pray for, or you might think of a way you can help or bless someone, but prayer is not a dialogue. You don’t say your piece and then sit there and wait for God to say something back. That’s often called listening prayer or contemplative prayer, and it’s unbiblical. Likewise soaking prayer, sozo prayer, etc. In fact, if you see the word “prayer” preceded by an adjective not found in Scripture, it’s most likely not biblical.
♦ Prayer doesn’t require any special accessories. You don’t need to draw a circle to stand in, build a “war room,” blow a shofar, stroke a prayer cloth, or lay your hands on a prayer list, picture, object, etc. Scripture doesn’t tell us to do any of these things, and many of them are patently unbiblical.
♦ Prayer is not about you doing something, it’s about humbly beseeching God to do something. Nowhere in Scripture does God say that the purpose of prayer is for us to assert any power over anything through our words. He does not give us the authority to “bind” Satan, demons, or anything else, or “decree” or “declare” anything as though we could make something happen by doing so. These are false and unbiblical teachings of the heretical Word of Faith and New Apostolic Reformation movements.
7. Watch your language
♦ Having a “private prayer language” (speaking in “tongues”) as it is practiced today has zero basis in Scripture. None. When the disciples point blank asked Jesus to teach them to pray, there wasn’t a single “honda shonda” in His instructions, and nothing in Scripture says your prayers will be more meaningful to you or more likely to be heard by God if they’re in gibberish than if they’re in your native, real language.
♦ If you grew up fundie or old school, you might feel like you have to use “King James” lingo when you pray. You don’t. If you want to use “thee’s” and “thou’s” when you pray, you can, but you don’t have to. You can use the same vocabulary – respectful and pure speech, of course – you’d use when talking to a friend or loved one.
♦ If you’re tacking the phrase “in Jesus’ name” on to your decreeing and declaring and binding and rebuking as some sort of way to harness the power of God into making your words a reality, you’re taking God’s name in vain because you’re doing the same thing witches and pagans do when they use incantations and cast spells. “In Jesus’ name” isn’t the Christian version of “abracadabra.” To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray that what God wants – not what we want – will be done.
8. It isn’t about getting what we want. It’s about God getting what He wants.
We tend to think of prayer as a means to an end that centers around us. It’s a time to tell God what we want and need and for Him to fulfill those wants and needs, and that’s that. But is that how God thinks about prayer? God tells us to come to Him, to present our requests to Him, ask Him for daily bread, forgiveness, give thanks to Him, and a number of other things. But we also know that He is sovereign. He already knows what we need and what’s best for us, and He does what He pleases. So if God knows better than we do what we need, and if He’s going to do whatever He wants anyway, why bother praying, right?
We say things like that because we think the point of prayer is to get God to do what we want Him to do. But it’s not. The point of prayer is for God to get us to do what He wants us to do. He wants us to pray, not because He needs a “honey do” list, but because coming back to Him time and time again in prayer teaches us to depend on Him and trust Him. It strengthens our understanding of His power and sovereignty. It grows us in humility and submission. It conforms our will and our wants to His. It reminds us of our sin and the cross. It keeps us from taking God’s blessings for granted as we thank and praise Him. It helps us to want what God wants more than what we want.
Ultimately, prayer is not about what we want God to do for us. It’s about what He wants to do in us. So bow your head and close your eyes and make that daily time communing with the Lord your highest priority. God working through prayer to conform you to the image of Christ? That’s not something you want to say, “Nah, not today,” to.
After this Manner, Therefore Pray
Listening to God Without Getting All Weird About It by David Appelt
Praying Backwards by Bryan Chapell