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.


The Power of Prayer

Today I read Exodus 39-40, Psalm 15, and Acts 12. One phrase that is sticking with me this morning was in Acts. James is killed and Peter is taken to prison to eventually be killed after the Passover. Right after these facts are laid out, the passage says, “but the believers were praying (loose paraphrase)...” This was not saying they were hoping something would happen or they prayed as a normal fact of life as a follower of Jesus Christ. It said “but” which means that even though Herod had plans he wanted to execute, prayer was there to foil his plans. Prayer is something that has impact and God works in and through prayer as a way to show his mighty power. In this passage he really showed his power by having an angel show up and walk Peter right out of prison. He goes to the house where the believers are praying and when they are told Peter is at the front door, they don’t believe it.

Several things strike me here. First that prayer has power. There are things that God chooses to do through prayer as we petition Him and seek His face. That means prayer changes things and is something we should do on a regular basis. It should be the first thing we think of when we encounter trials and issues and need wisdom to make decisions. Second, we need to believe that our prayers can actually have an impact and believe that God can and does work through our prayers.

So often I think we don’t really believe that prayer is worthwhile or that it really works. I think many people think prayer is just a way to calm us down and distract us from the thoughts and feelings that flood us when we are in trouble or need help. And even if we believe that prayer has some effect on circumstances, we don’t really believe it will happen for us and our prayers will be answered.

I struggle with prayer in my own life partly due to thinking I don’t have a lot of time and partly because I feel like prayer is about making sure I cover everyone and that can take forever. Now I know that those things are not true. I have time for prayer or more importantly I can and need to make time. I also know that I don’t have to cover everything because God already knows what is going on. But I need to make sure that I am talking with God not only to intercede for myself and others, but also to connect with Him and to hear from Him in ways that reading scripture alone won’t do. As I have said in other places, this journal is a way for me to pray and process what the Holy Spirit is doing in my heart and life. It is such a blessing to have my schedule set in such a way that spending time with God starts my day at least 4 days of my work week.

Lord, help me to see prayer as having the power I need to make it through the day. Help me to have the passion and desire to pray so that I will automatically think of prayer when I am facing the various circumstances of life. Amen.

The Power and Importance of Prayer

Today I read Exodus 33-34, Psalm 16, Acts 9, and chapter 1 of “With Christ” by Murray. The theme this morning is prayer and the importance and power of prayer in my life. Prayer is something I struggle with a lot. I think it is because I don’t slow down enough just to focus on the Lord and also because I don’t always see immediate results to I can tend to want to act instead of seeing prayer as the act. Moses spent a lot of time talking to God. As the passage says Moses talked with God like someone would talk to a friend. He got to go into the tent of meeting, up to Mount Sinai, and he even got to see the back of God (he couldn’t see his face or he would die). In everything he did he sought the Lord’s guidance. In chapter 34 he pleaded with God to go with them when God was thinking of abandoning them and letting them figure it out on their won because they were so stubborn. Every time Moses met with God there was evidence of it because his face would glow and they would have to cover him up with a veil because the people were so afraid. Then in Acts, Peter goes into the room of a dead woman and prays and she is brought back to life. So prayer has incredible power in life that I miss by not doing it on a more consistent basis.

I have found that when I pray regularly (and when I say regularly it is like I am having a continual conversation with God throughout the day) my entire outlook and attitude changes and I have more faith in the Lord to take care of things instead of taking care of them myself. This then shows to others because of my attitude (if my face glows it is because I have a sunburn!). At the Men’s Conference this weekend I spent a lot of time in prayer for my talk on marriage and for my friend who was struggling with his worthiness to serve in light of his struggle with sin. Those prayers lead to great benefits in both areas and keep my eye on what the Lord wanted me to focus on instead of myself and my own insecurities. So I believe there is power in prayer, I just forget so often that I don’t pray nearly enough. These journal pages are in some ways a prayer time for me as I allow the Lord to speak to me as I process on this computer the things I read in scripture. I need to sit at the feet of the Master and make prayer a big piece of my life.

Lord, help me to be a man of prayer. Teach me to pray like you taught the disciples. Help me to see prayer as an important work and stay connected to you so my steps are guided by you. I want to serve you with everything I’ve got. Amen.