Misunderstandings About Prayer
When I was five years old, I had a lot of misunderstandings about prayer. You see, I really, REALLY wanted to have a pet. I begged and begged my parents for all kinds of animals to come to live in our home. I remember being allowed to babysit the pet gerbil from my kindergarten class over one weekend and sitting in my room for hours and playing with that little critter. You would think that would be the tipping point for my parents and persuade my parents to run out to Petsmart to buy something. Anything. They could ignore me all weekend! I kept to myself. No arguing with my brothers. No whining that I had nothing to do. I was a happy camper. But then the little critter had to go back to school and I kept up the fight. I enlisted my two brothers.
When the little critter went back to school, I kept up the fight. I enlisted my two brothers alongside me. My parents were outnumbered. We thought of all the reasons why a pet was a necessity in our home. It would teach us responsibility. It would be a companion for us. We would teach it tricks. We would somehow get jobs and pay for the pet food and supplies.
An Attempt to Convince God
And then a lightbulb went off in my head. I would get God on my side. I would ask Him for a pet too.
“Dear Jesus, I want a pet. I want a kitten. A cute, cuddly kitten that I can sleep with and eat with and push around in my doll stroller. But if that’s not okay with you, a puppy is fine too.”
And then I started bargaining with my parents and with God. I will be obedient. Take out the trash and set the dinner table. Keep my room clean. Be nice to my brothers. Say “please” and “thank you.” Just tell me what you want from me and I will do it. I will earn a pet with my good behavior.
Funny how much our prayers sound like my childhood prayer.
God Doesn’t Need Our Prayers, We Do
One common misunderstanding about prayer is that we feel like we have to convince God to do what we want Him to do. As a result, we feel compelled to explain to God all the reasons why we need Him to answer. And we think we have to prove ourselves. Maybe we need to give God some new information or inspire Him with some fresh ideas. Maybe if we talk more, He will listen. We feel like God is holding out on us and we have to put up a fight. We have to pray harder and longer and maybe…just maybe, He will see our side. This kind of praying puts a wedge between God and us…as if God were some kind of hoarder and we have to win His will.
The problem with this kind of praying is that it has an unbiblical view of God. It portrays a view that God is stingy, ornery, stubborn, and unkind. It makes one think they have to do something to earn God’s favor. Like He is an ogre and you have to steal your blessing from him or somehow get Him to release it.
But there’s more. This kind of praying also has an unbiblical view of self. It puts you in the driver’s seat. It makes you think that you can do something to get God to give you what you want. You can build a better argument as I tried with my parents to earn a pet. If you have the right words. The right formula. Right posture or put your words in the right order…then maybe, just maybe God will act on your behalf.
The Right Way to Pray
There’s a lot wrong with praying this way. For starters, it is burdensome and anxiety-prone. It puts a burden on you to be more clever, wiser, and persistent. This person believes they have to work hard to get God to answer prayer…and they are left always wondering if their prayers will be heard.
The truth is God thought of prayer, not humans. We have many misunderstandings about prayer and must remind ourselves that God loves answering prayer. And God longs to do His work here on earth by involving us, humans, in the process.
God answers prayer…but He doesn’t always follow our instructions.
What are you praying for? Do you have a proper view of God? Do you have a proper view of yourself?