A Few Words From Pastor Brian
One day Jesus was praying in a solitary place. When He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
- Luke 11:1
As our summer series on prayer concludes this month, I hope you have been growing in your understanding and practice of prayer. It is worth noting that even the disciples didn't know how to pray at first. Prayer is something that is learned and grows with practice throughout one's lifetime. This month we'll explode a few more myth conceptions about prayer. Some of these may resemble ones we looked at in June, but the devil isn't very good at coming up with new stuff, just tweaking, rehashing, and corrupting that which is done by others.
Myth #1: The more prayers you offer, the more likely you'll get the result you're looking for.
This one goes back all the way to Jesus and probably before. In His discourse on prayer in Mt. 6, Jesus talks about those who “think they will be heard for their many words.” This is the “cluster bomb” approach to prayer – simply inundate God with prayer requests from many different directions and He'll be forced to listen and respond as we want Him to. We see this with prayer chains, prayer lists, Facebook posts asking for prayer, and many other ways. Almost as if each prayer was a coin dropped into some kind of holy slot machine and if enough coins are dropped eventually the wheels will spin to the jackpot combination.
Now it should be emphasized that there's nothing wrong with asking for prayers or for many people to come together to lift up the needs of others. But if it simply stops at prayer, then we've fallen for the myth and not really understood the full impact of prayer. It's good to know of someone's impending surgery and to pray for God to bless the doctors, nurses, etc. But if there's no follow up on the part of the pray-er (no phone call to see how the surgery went, no visit in the hospital, no offer of help with day to day tasks during recovery), then what was the point of enlisting so many to pray? Intercessory prayer also assumes that those praying will also be active in love and service to those for whom they were praying.
Myth #2: Those who believe the most, receive the most in prayer
This is perhaps the most insidious and dangerous of all the prayer myths and is usually expressed in words like, “If your prayer wasn't answered, it's because your faith is too weak.” or “If you didn't get what you prayed for, it's because you don't really believe.” This is to misunderstand what prayer is and why we do it. Prayer is a conversation with God (see # 5) and God hears every prayer. We must also remember that sometimes God's answer is “no” or “not yet.” This sort of prayer attitude imagines God as some sort of engine and faith as fuel. If we fill up the tank full enough, the pistons will fire and God will give us what we ask for. It ignores the fact that we may be asking for things which God knows are harmful (or of less benefit to us) and / or are out of accord with His holy Will.
It takes very little faith or belief to talk to God, but it can take a lifetime to build a relationship which trusts that He is always acting in our best interests. Faith and trust are two very different things, though often lumped together. Our prayers are not heard on account of our faith but on account of Christ's suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension on our behalf and Jesus Himself as our mediator and petitioner to the Father for us. In all we pray that His Will, not ours, be done.
Myth 3: Prayer as a magic incantation
If we say the right words, in the right way, with our hands held in the right position, or chant them in the right tones, or _____; then God will be forced to act in the way we want Him to. This is a far more prevalent practice than most Christians would care to admit. We cannot control God (that would make us God, and God the lesser being), nor should we even try to do so. We return again to Jesus' words in Gethsemane, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
Myth 4: Prayer is about getting what you ask for
We probably all have that friend / person who, when their name comes up on the caller ID, we say, “Good Lord, what does he /she want now?” That person who only talks to us when they need us to lend them something or do something for them. Be honest with yourself and ask, is this my prayer life with God? Do I only talk to Him when I need something?
Now God does tell us to call upon in our every need to be sure, but prayer is so much more than a laundry list of what we think God should or should not do for us. There's nothing wrong with bringing our needs before God (though often they are wants, not needs). But we are also to call upon Him in praise and thanksgiving for all He has done, is doing, and promises to do for us. In our daily prayers, the format includes not only supplications or things we ask for (ACTS or PRAY), but the bulk of our prayers should be thanking God for what He has already done for us in Christ Jesus, in whose name and according to whose will we are praying.
Myth 5: Prayer as a monologue
How much of your prayer time is spent listening? We do a lot of talking to God, but do we embrace the times of silence when we quiet our hearts, minds, and shut out the world's distractions to really listen to how God is speaking to us through His Word and Spirit? Truly the corporate prayer time of the church and her worship service should be 3 or 4x longer with the vast majority of that time spent in silence – but such a practice would make the service go too long (break the 60-min. max).
Luther saw all of the Christian life as one of prayer, and indeed St. Paul also has this in mind when he tells us to “pray without ceasing”. We do not talk without ceasing (though some of us come close:)) but we are to spend more time listening than speaking. Luther divided the Christian life into three parts: oratio, meditatio, and tentatio; which loosely translates to speaking, meditating / listening, and working. We are to hear God speak and put our prayers into practice as much as we do the talking.
Myth 6: “Arrow” prayers or “Prayers on the go” are enough for a full prayer life
These are the quick prayers done in a reactionary way; the “God help me” prayers when faced with life's crises. While there's nothing wrong with these and we should pray as the first thing when faced with a challenging situation, they should not be the only prayers we offer. This is much like pulling through the drive through to pick up an egg McMuffin when we don't have time to fix and eat a full breakfast. It's OK once in a while, but what do you think your heath would be like if the only food you had was the “grab and go” fast/preprepared foods? It might get you through in the short term, but it's not healthy to do that long term.
The same holds true with our prayer life. We are so busy in today's world and culture that blocking out a significant amount of time to devote to prayer seems impossible. In addition to this, we need to take time to prepare for prayer – just like we take the time to cook a meal before diving into it. Prayer is best when it's a multi-course meal, like the 4-part prayer acronyms we've been using. We need to take the time to feed our souls well every bit as much as we need to take the time to properly care for the body. That's why a prayer “feast” (or break-feast) is a good idea. To gather with others like we do for a good meal is also something we want to do with prayer.
Myth 7: Prayer is a standalone ministry
While we do pray alone and corporately, we should never view prayer as a ministry unto itself. Prayer is always part of and conjoined to other things we do as Christians. In Acts 2:42 the apostles were devoted to prayer AND other hallmarks of the church. To say that one will pray, but not attend corporate worship or Bible study, is to isolate prayer and make it a private enterprise.
Hopefully this has been helpful as you continue to develop your skills at praying. Keep looking for the weekly prayer sheets and other helps as we grow together in prayer.
Peace in Christ;