I’ve been struggling with prayer. I haven’t spent as much time in prayer as I would like, as I need to, or as I think I should. So I’ve taken the time to stop and think about prayer and what it means to the Christian life.
So, so many Christians have misunderstood prayer. We’ve turned prayers into a quick poem we recite before dinner, or a rushed murmur for energy before we start the day. We’ve forgotten what prayer is and what it’s supposed to mean.
God created us to glorify Him, to worship Him, and to delight in Him. He loves each of us enough to send His only son to die for us. He knows us personally, but he also wants us to know Him personally. To get to know someone personally, we communicate with them. We have conversations, we ask them question, we listen to them. We spend time with them. How are we going to know God better when we don’t communicate with Him or spend time with Him?
Prayer is this means of communication. Prayer is talking to God. However, so many people have taken this for granted. We’ve turned it into something it was never intended to be. We’ve turned it into being about us instead of Him. How did we do this? I want to look at a few ways that we do it without even realizing it.
So many of us don’t set aside the time for prayer. We pray when we feel like it or when we have the time. It’s become an obligation for most, another check mark on the list. When we set aside time for prayer, it becomes something important to us. If we just do it whenever it suits us, we do it to fit our time schedule, and we put ourselves first. This isn’t how it was intended to be. We’re to put God first in everything – this includes our time, and our “schedule”. If we really want to know Him better, we aren’t going to shove prayer to the bottom of our priority list under the excuse that we “don’t have the time”. We’re going to desire to spend time alone with Him, talking to Him.
We view prayer as another chore. We don’t want to tack on an extra thing to the day. A lot of the time, we often don’t see the benefits straight away, and it seems pointless. We get upset when we don’t receive the answers we wanted, and we want to hear responses instead of feeling like we’re talking to the air. Therefore, we pray with a grumbling heart, wishing we could be doing anything else. We go into it grudgingly, feeling that it’s something that every good Christian does, and so we should do it whether we want to or not. God wants us to pray because we want to get to know Him, not because it makes us look like or feel like a better Christian. He wants us to pray because we love Him and desire to be with Him, instead of doing it because we’re told to have a “quiet time” or because we feel obligated to do so.
We don’t give Him our attention. We would rather be doing other things instead of talking to someone who doesn’t respond audibly. While we pray, our minds wander to other things we want to get accomplished, other projects we have yet to do, or other activities during the day. Then, when we actually do try to put some effort into praying, we begin to feel proud of ourselves and begin to think of how spiritual we must appear. God wants our hearts. He wants our undivided attention, our full focus, complete concentration. He doesn’t want our distracted hearts and wandering minds. He wants us to give Him our broken and contrite hearts.
Then we go and spoil it by praying for stuff. We live in such a materialistic age. Our prayers are often devoted to whatever it is that we want. Even things that truly matter can become our sole focus in every prayer. There’s nothing wrong with praying for ourselves, as I’ll mention in a bit, but it shouldn’t come to the point where every time we pray it’s all about us and what we want. God wants to see us praying for others’ needs as well as our own.
Jesus gave us an example of how to pray. In Matthew 6: 9-13, he says what most people refer to as “The Lord’s Prayer”. He prays: “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, for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (NIV) I want to break this down into a few sections and look at the construction of this prayer a little closer.
V. 9: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Here, Jesus begins His prayer honoring His Father’s name. It begins the prayer with respect and reverence to the Father, and it begins with a form of worship. It also serves as an example that He comes first in everything.
V. 10: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
This shows that it is to be the desire of our heart that God’s will is to be done, not ours. Just as His will is done in heaven, His will is to be done on earth. His kingdom – His children – are to be on the earth just as in heaven. A kingdom is made of “subjects”. We are His subjects, He is our King. He wants us to add more souls to His kingdom.
V. 11: “Give us today our daily bread.” We are to trust God with the nourishment we need for each day; both spiritual (Matt. 4:4) and physical (Matt. 6:26). We should pray for every need, trusting Him to provide.
V. 12: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
This one kind of caught me by surprise when I looked at it closely. (I’m sure everyone else saw it long before I did.) We are asking God to forgive us in the same way that we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. Ouch. Imagine how many times we have held a grudge, refusing to forgive someone in our hearts even if we said “I forgive you” on the outside? God knows our hearts; we can’t hide anything from Him. How often do we really want Him to forgive us in the same way that we forgive others?
V. 13a: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
We have to desire to flee from temptation if we are really going to ask this. God will always provide a way out from temptation when we are tempted; we only have to choose it.
V. 13b: “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” He finishes the prayer with worship and honor again, an example that everything is solely for God; He is the Alpha, Omega, beginning, and end. It also ends with us asking that all we have just spoken please God, and may His will be done.
So back to the main question: How do our prayers end up being all about us? It’s simple – we put ourselves first in everything instead of the other way around. Is it wrong to pray for our own needs? Absolutely not. You should definitely pray for your own needs; it’s even fine to pray for things that you want “just because”. Just don’t turn your prayers into miniature wish-lists. Remember that God comes first in everything, and our point in praying is to communicate with and grow in our relationship with Him.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Rev. 22: 13
“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16b