You’re praying wrong!
It was a provocative title to one of our recent weekly emails. I wonder what you thought if/when you read it. Would it bother you for someone to challenge your prayer life or would you be quick to concede that they’re probably (okay, likely) right. Prayer is a lightning-rod sort of subject. There are volumes written on it, Jesus taught us exactly how to do it in less than 100 words, it seems like the simplest thing to do, and yet there’s a great chance that you’re doing it all wrong. Well, this week in the People Are Talking series, we’re taking on the subject of prayer. We hope to keep it simple and open your eyes to a few fundamental questions you should ask yourself regarding your prayers. Let’s jump right in!
Me, me, me, meeeeee
When you hear a singer belt these words they are warming their vocal chords, but all too often this phrase is a perfect description of how we pray. We dive right into prayer, and most of them begin as requests or pleading for things someone (most times, us) “needs.” We fuss a lot over the right words, when prayer isn’t about words … it’s about our heart. Authentic prayer comes from a place deep within us; a place where God is recognized for who He is and we get quiet and humble in speaking to Him. So many prayers are off the cuff, and before we pray, we’d do well to simply take a breath. Take a breath and quiet ourselves and our heart before speaking.
We’d like to share three questions you should ask as you prepare to pray. Begin this week, and in asking, we believe you’ll find them purifying your prayers and re-orienting your heart. And if they don’t, you’ll probably experience a “discomfort” that things aren’t quite right. Let’s start with the first one:
Why am I asking?
This question is really quite normal, and mirrors something you likely already do when someone asks something of you. If you look at the part of your prayers where you are asking something of God, think of things from His perspective. CAPTAIN OBVIOUS SPOILER ALERT: He already knows why you are asking, but when you ask this of yourself, you begin to re-orient your heart to this being a God-thing. What is God doing in the world, and how does my request line up with that? What is God’s heart and purpose for me or for the person who I am praying for, and does my request line up with that? In asking, we begin to remove ourselves and our own desires from the request, and we begin to see our motive(s) in asking. God sees them, but He also wants us to see them.
You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
As we said before, prayer is a heart thing. Authentic prayer is asking with the right motives; motives that line up with God’s heart and purpose.
One of the biggest issues in our culture today is our obsessive pursuit of happiness. It’s written in The Constitution, but we’ve taken it to an unhealthy extreme. One of the most prevalent motives in prayer desires happiness as the outcome. I don’t believe it’s wrong of me to say, God isn’t interested in your happiness. Your’s or anyone else’s happiness is not even remotely near the purpose and plan of God. Does that mean He doesn’t want you to be happy? Equally strongly, I say “No,” but it is not one of God’s purposes for the world or for your life. Authentic prayer asks with the right motives.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
1 John 5:13-15
If I get what I want
This is the heart of the second question you should ask as you pray. Namely:
What will happen if I get what I want?
What would actually happen if God gave you what you were asking for? What a great question which plays out the “consequence” of our prayers. What I have experienced so often is my answer to that question is so much smaller than what God actually did in that situation. I asked for comfort and God healed. I asked for money, and God worked maturity in having to walk through the money not being available. So many times what I ask for is the equivalent of a used Chevy Chevette, and what God can do is a Chevy Corvette. In Matthew chapter seven, Jesus says this:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
If we’re mortal and flawed and we still know how to give great gifts, how much more capable is God? When we begin to reorient our heart to God’s in our asking, the question transforms into:
What will happen if I pray for what God wants?
It’s all about God
And finally, and most importantly, we should ask:
How does this make God’s name great?
If our prayers are ultimately for us, or even those we love, they don’t really amount to anything. If we become more, our prayers become infinitely less. I have prayed many times in my life for someone to be healed or saved from a life-threatening situation. In effect, my prayers were really that they stay alive. But in all honesty, is that the high bar? This is an uncomfortable thing to say, and I say it with great sensitivity, but great sincerity. What are we desiring in this life? Is it success in this life? Is it happiness or comfort in this life? Is it “this life?” The truth of scripture is clear that we exist to bring glory to God. Our true purpose here is a kingdom one. It is not to achieve or accumulate for here, it is to make God’s name great. It is to add to His kingdom. What would our’s and other’s lives look like if we began to pray like that? What if our heart was in perfect alignment with His, and we were not praying for ourselves or others just to be alive, but that God’s name became greater through what we or someone else was going through?
Jesus gave us the model for prayer. He taught us how to pray. May we pray as He did, and for what He did. May His words be the final punctuation on what I desire to communicate on prayer today:
This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.