Even though much of today’s so-called “prayer” offends God, He’s big enough to handle it! Our heavenly Father is great enough to put up with some immaturity in His beloved children.
Everything I’m teaching against, I once did. God tolerated and even blessed me while I still prayed these ways. He wasn’t mad at me, but many of my so-called “prayers” went unanswered.
When I confront one of the ways you pray, please don’t think I’m saying that God is mad at you. He’s not! God’s a good God; but if you are like I was, you’re snared by the words of your mouth.
I discovered that there are right and wrong ways to pray. Through His Word, the Lord radically changed my view and practice of prayer over the years. I’m so glad He did because my mindset needed to be changed.
As you read this book, keep an open heart and an ear tuned in to the Holy Spirit. He’s your Teacher and Guide who leads you into all Truth. Don’t let an occasional offense stop you from reading this through all the way to the end. By continuing to hold on to unproductive prayer patterns, you have much more to lose than gain! In fact, your humility and willingness to consider before the Lord what I am sharing with you could mean the difference between life and death for you or someone you love. Trust me, it’s not worth the risk!
I don’t claim to have “arrived” concerning prayer, but I’ve definitely left! I regularly see miracles of every kind happen in my life and ministry. My own son was raised up after being dead for five hours. I’ve seen many blind eyes and deaf ears opened, not to mention all of the cancers healed, people coming out of wheelchairs, and demons cast out. Also, our ministry experiences a constant flow of abundant provision to do what God has called us to do. I don’t mention these things to condemn you or exalt me, because all of the glory belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ!
However, I do want to challenge you to consider these results compared to what you’re getting. If you aren’t seeing these kinds of things on a regular basis, why would you want to keep holding on to a less productive form? Honestly evaluate your prayer life as I confront different attitudes and popular understandings. This is your chance to recognize and root out unwanted hindrances that have been choking your effectiveness in prayer. Remember, growing pains just mean you’re being stretched as you mature!
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
People have actually challenged me, contending, “You should never pray in public!” Jesus prayed in public. The parallel of this passage begins in Luke 11:1 when Christ’s public praying caused the disciples to ask, “Will You teach us to pray?” If the Lord literally meant to always pray in secret so that nobody ever heard you, then He broke His own instructions. Here in Matthew 6:5-6, Jesus basically declared, “Don’t be like the hypocrites who pray for the attention and recognition of people.”
Having been to many churches, I’ve heard all kinds of public “prayer.” People often speak loudly in a form of King James English, thinking it’s more spiritual. I’m not against the King James Version of the Bible (it’s actually my favorite), but I don’t feel like I have to talk that way to God in order to truly pray. I’ve met individuals who never talk King James style, except when they “pray.” They become all religious sounding and speak in a different tone of voice, “Thou musteth doeth this and that for me!” That’s hypocritical!
It may shock you, but God doesn’t enjoy many of our prayers! I found this out the hard way. When I first became really excited about the Lord, people told me I needed to pray an hour a day. I thought, If an hour a day is good, then two or three would be even better! So I disciplined myself to pray for one to three hours daily. For months, perhaps even years, I began this regimented prayer time at 7:00 sharp!
Trying to spend a certain segment of time each day praying greatly frustrated me. In fact, it never really seemed to produce any good results. Many believers have started and stopped this not only once, but multiple times. For me, it just never seemed to flow.
Many people who truly love God with all of their heart find it difficult to pray in such a prescribed manner. Their once vibrant relationship with the Lord becomes stifled, mechanical, and lifeless instead. Despite what’s been taught, this rigid model of praying for a certain period of time each day is not consistent with the whole of God’s Word. If you’re attempting to pray this way, perhaps the reason why it’s not “flowing” is because the Holy Spirit is trying to talk you out of it!
This practice did help me learn to discipline myself. I wasn’t spending my time watching television or doing something else harmful to my faith, but overall, this prayer time was a real drag!
I remember first starting out. I closed my eyes and prayed for what seemed to me to be an extended period of time. After a while, I wondered, How long have I prayed? Looking up at my clock, I saw that five minutes had passed—five minutes! I thought it had been at least thirty minutes, perhaps even an hour. Disappointment set in as I continued praying, “God, this hour is never going to pass!”
I’d be enjoying the Lord’s presence and great things would be happening each day while studying the Word and worshiping. Then it would be time for me to go “pray.” Finally, around 6:45 a.m. one day, I confided, “God, I don’t mean this to be bad. Really, I love You. It’s not a problem with You at all, but this prayer time stinks. I hate it! This time seems like the slowest hour of my whole day! I don’t mean to be critical, but I’m just telling You the way it is. Beginning at 6:30, I start dreading it!”
Promptly, the Lord spoke to my heart, “I start dreading it at 6:00! Personally, I can hardly stand that hour!”
Immediately, my lightning-fast mind reasoned, If God isn’t enjoying it and I’m not enjoying it, then why am I doing this? So I quit praying like that and my spiritual life greatly improved!
Jesus addressed this very thing in Matthew 6:7:
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
From God’s perspective, praying an hour a day has no value in and of itself!
Most people basically believe, “The longer I pray, the better it is and the more God will answer. Therefore, praying longer is the solution to everything.” Brothers and sisters, there is absolutely no virtue in long praying!
Jesus normally kept His prayers short. Only twice in the whole New Testament did He pray all night. Since both are recorded in all four Gospels, you might think it was eight. Really, it was just two different occasions. The Lord didn’t usually pray for extended amounts of time.
The shorter the prayer, the greater the faith! “Peace, be still” calmed a raging storm (Mark 4:39). That was prayer! “Lazarus, come forth” raised the dead with just three words (John 11:43). As you understand prayer more correctly, yours will shorten too. In fact, a friend of mine teaches that “HELP!!!” is a great prayer!
When I pray for longer periods of time, a significant portion is usually spent praying in tongues. I’m not so much petitioning God as I am promoting my own spiritual growth. I’m praying for and receiving wisdom and revelation from the Lord. Self-edification is an important New Testament purpose of prayer. (1 Cor. 14:4; Jude 20,21.)
However, the majority of the body of Christ views prayer primarily as an opportunity to petition God. They see it very narrowly as their time to plead with Him to meet their needs. Of course, there are scriptures which reveal that asking and receiving is a valid use of prayer, but you ought to confine it to 5 percent or less of your prayer life. Based on my relationship with the Lord, I believe this is best.
What would be left of most Christians’ prayer lives if all the repenting for sin, asking for things, and intercession were subtracted? Hardly anything! Most people’s prayers consist of, “Oh God, I’m so sorry because I’ve failed again. Help me overcome this problem. God, heal this and provide that.” And if they’re really spiritual: “Do this and that for these other people!” That’s about what it amounts to.
Adam and Eve prayed for none of those things! They had nobody to intercede for, no demons to cast out, and no kingdoms to tear down. They had no clothes, food, houses, or even jobs to believe for—no petitions at all—but yet they met with God every evening in the cool of the day and communed with Him. Their conversations with God had nothing in them concerning sin, lack, need, problems, repenting, begging, or pleading. Yet they prayed—communed with God—every single day!
Prayer becomes religious when you try to use it for something God never intended. That’s why it doesn’t flow. You can promise Him, “I’m going to pray an hour a day if it kills me!” and then do it for a week, a month, or two. But it never lasts because that’s not the way He’s leading you. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll be heard by praying long periods of time or using certain words to petition Him again and again and again. The Lord made it very clear that this isn’t what prayer is. (Matt. 6:7.)
A fellow from another church came to Colorado Springs to preach many years ago. His whole message and ministry centered on exhorting people to pray an hour a day using the Lord’s Prayer. I attended his meetings and received some benefit from what he shared.
Then he came over to see me in my office. Right away, he asked, “How much do you pray each day?”
His question took me entirely off guard! I’d never really sat down and figured that up before. As I thought about it, I wondered, Why does this guy want to know how long I pray each day? I could only think of two possible reasons: 1) He wanted to compare himself to me in the hope that he’d come out looking better (build up his ego and feel good about himself), or 2) He wanted to condemn me and use his apparent “spiritual leverage” to somehow start manipulating and controlling me to respond favorably to him. Those were the only two benefits I could see to his question.
While pondering how to answer him, the Lord asked me, “How much time did you spend with your wife yesterday?” I told Him we’d spent the whole day together doing different things. “If you were with Jamie all day long, how could you reduce your relationship down from that to spending just one hour with her and call it an improvement?” He continued, “I’m available to you all the time. I’ll never leave you nor forsake you. If you reduced our relationship down to just one hour of prayer a day, that would be a sorry relationship compared to what we already enjoy!”
So in like manner, I boldly responded to this brother, “Do you know what? I spend all day with God in prayer!”
A look of shock came over his face as he stammered, “N-n-no...you just don’t understand what I mean...”
“No, you don’t understand what I mean. I spend all day in communion with God. That’s prayer!”
Prayer is communion with God! If He’s with you all of the time, you ought to be praying all of the time. The expression of this communion isn’t limited to a particular set of body positions. In the Bible, people knelt, raised their hands, and even looked up into heaven at times, but don’t make a religious form out of these things and require their presence in order to consider something “prayer.” You can pray with your eyes open or closed, hands raised or down, standing, kneeling, or prostrate. Since meditation is prayer (Ps. 5:1), you don’t even have to talk out loud! Your communion with God should be constant.
There are “special times” when you have an intimate relationship with someone. My wife and I don’t have a schedule that allows us to have a “date night” every single week, but we go out and do things together regularly. The face-to-face time alone that we share helps build intimacy into our marriage relationship. Without setting aside these times, it’d be easy to get so busy with life that we’d never have time for each other!
Likewise, it’s appropriate to isolate yourself alone with God for special times of intimacy—but not all of the time! You must learn to relate to Him in the midst of your daily responsibilities and weekly routines because they occupy the majority of your life. It’s totally unrealistic for spouses to limit their relationship only to their “special times” together. Jesus, your eternal Husband, is the same! Don’t limit your relationship with Him only to “dates.” Walk and talk with Him all day, every day!
Some people try to make their relationship with God be this constantly spectacular thing. They think they must be screaming at the top of their lungs, kneeling, hands held high, tears rolling down their cheeks, lightning bolts flashing, and thunder crashing all around in order to really be “in communion with God.” If that’s what you consider “prayer,” you’re never going to prosper!
One of the things that made me certain that Jamie was the girl I was supposed to marry was the fact that we just enjoyed being with each other. Unlike other girls, I didn’t have to entertain or impress her. We could spend hours without saying a word and have a great time together. There’s a place for this kind of attitude in prayer.
God wants each of us to mature to the point where we can enjoy just hanging out with Him. He desires our fellowship when there’s nothing being said and nothing specific happening other than being together and loving each other.
Personally, I like to build my relationship with God through studying Scripture. Reading the Bible is prayer to me because I do it with my heart, not just my head. When I’m fellowshipping with God, one scripture can occupy me for hours! As I meditate, ask questions, and let Him speak, revelation comes. This is prayer!