Misconceptions About Prayer

When it comes to prayer many of us have learned different things at different times that have led to a lot of misconceptions about what prayer is. We pray in groups and feel the pressure to perform because in those settings we are not really praying to God but we are speaking to one another. In those times of prayer we are concerned with saying something profound or something that will actually have an effect in the lives of those we are praying with. Over time we get focused on the outcome and forget that prayer is about a relationship with God and our communication with him. As a result we develop different misconceptions about what prayer is about and it leads us to a place of not really wanting to pray or seeing the purpose of it. Here are a few of the misconceptions I have seen:

Quoting Scripture Leads to More Effective Prayers
One misconception is that quoting scripture in our prayers makes them more powerful or more effective. This misconception comes from how we have experienced group prayer. Have you ever noticed that we tend to all pray based on the way the first person who prays in a group starts? So if the person quotes scripture we think we have to too. Since most of us can only think of John 3:16 on the spot, we sit there trying to figure out how we can make that verse fit our prayer. If you have ever prayed with Pastors we tend to use scripture in our prayers from time to time. Because we see a Pastor using scripture we begin to feel like quoting scripture in our prayers is what makes them more effective. So we stress out over whether we know enough scripture off the top of our heads to use in our prayer life. This eventually leads us to a place where our prayers are dry and repetitive instead of from our hearts. There is no where in the Bible that says we have to use scripture in our prayers. We are asked to come to God with an open heart and have an honest dialogue with him. If we want to use scriptures in our prayers to remind us of who God is and what his promises are to us, fine. But those scriptures are for us not for him. He already knows what he said so we don’t have to feel like we need to quote scripture to him in order for him to hear our prayers.

Effective Prayers Lead to the Answer You Want
We have this idea that if we just learn how to pray right, our prayers will be more effective. “More effective” is usually code for getting what we want. We all want to pray knowing that God will answer those prayers in the way we want him to answer them. But we figure we need to perform the right kind of prayer to get the answer we want. So we look for ways to pray better and angles we can take to get what we want. We hear of “prayer warriors” who seem to be really effective in prayer and we want to be just like them. The problem with all of this is that prayer is not about getting what we want. Instead prayer is about a relationship with God and a desire to have our wills aligned with his. For most of us, we look at how Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane when he said, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26: 39). We take that to mean that we ask for what we want but then we hedge our bets by saying, “But God if you want to do something else then your will is ok too.” The reality is, Jesus was not hedging his bets or telling God he was ok with his will if he didn’t want to take the suffering away from him. He was really saying, “I want your will to happen no matter what. Since I am weak, please align my will to yours so I make sure I go through with the suffering ahead of me.” Effective prayer is ultimately about aligning our hearts and wills with Gods so much so that we stop asking for things that we want and starting praying for things that God wants.

As Long as I’m Thankful God Will Answer My Prayers
Some of us think that it is the attitude of our hearts that determine if God will do what we want him to or not. So we make sure we thank God for what he is going to do for us. In some way, we think that if we thank God ahead of time for something we want him to do he is obligated to do it out of politeness. After all, what are we thanking him for if he doesn’t come through and do it? We point to passages like Philippians 4 where it says in verses 6, “Be anxious for nothing but in everything with prayer and petition with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,” and we figure that the passage is telling us to thank God ahead of time. The problem is, the word in that verse for thanksgiving is past tense. It literally means thank God for all the things he has already done. In doing this we can trust him more because we know he has been there for us in the past and will continue to be there for us in the future. Our thankfulness is a remembrance of who God is and what he has done and that is what leads to his “peace that passes all understanding.”

Get a Head Start on Praying for What You Need
Most of us are concerned with making sure our future is secure. There is nothing we can do to control the future so we worry about it and stress about it all the time. This spills over into our prayer life. We figure it takes a number of prayers for God to know we are serious so we better get a head start and pray and ask for everything we need for the future instead of always waiting until the last minute and hoping for a miracle. So we tend to pray “Costco Prayers” where we ask God for what we need for the month or year and then come back to him later for the next installment. Yet the Bible tells us that we are to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” In other words, we are to pray for what we need just for that day not for the whole month or year. The reason God asks us to do this is to remind us of our dependency on him. If we got everything up front we would only remember our dependency on God once a month or once a year. Instead we need to be aware of that dependency on a moment by moment basis.

Prayer is something that all of us struggle with from time to time. We have misconceptions about prayer that come from our experiences with public prayer and some of our own anxiety when it comes to the things we worry about in this life. But prayer really is a time of communicating with God and getting to know his heart so well that our very wills are aligned with his so that we are more concerned with doing what he wants us to do than getting him to do what we think is best.

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