One memory I have about church as a child was prayer requests. In most every Sunday school class and frequently in “big church” requests were taken for prayer. To me God was still an abstract entity. Without a personal experience with the living God, it seemed that prayer was just a thing to be done in church. More over as I struggled through the awkward teenage years it appeared prayer was for little old ladies and church gossips. Prayer was not a way of life as much as it was a lifeline. Having heard many testimonies of answered prayer caused me to think that prayer is something to be used only in times of trouble. I wanted to be in control of everything in my life except the problems. I did not know God wanted a personal relationship with me. Maybe the reality is I did not know I could have a personal relationship with God.
As I have grown in my faith walk it is easy to forget how prayer was so mysterious to me before. When someone asks me to pray to God on their behalf I tell them they can pray for themselves. Frequently the response is “I do not know how.” My answer is almost always to talk to God like you would a friend.
On any given week many prayer requests are brought to my attention. The vast majority of them are about problems in need of resolution. The remaining requests are almost always about a crisis elsewhere in the country or the world. A fraction of a percent of prayer requests I receive is from someone wanting to know God better or in a more meaningful way. The requests that tug at my heart strings most are the “I don’t know what God’s will is in this situation. Can you pray with me for understanding?” Without a doubt most people do not know what or how to pray. It has been stated that if prayer is our response to all God has revealed himself to be, then a good question to ask might be, “What does my prayer life say about who I believe God to be?” Belief in a second-rate, impersonal God will result in a second-rate, impersonal prayer life.
For many who follow Christ prayer is still an untapped power source. Much of the mystery of prayer is directly rooted in misconceptions. Recently I read a teaching on five misconceptions of God that impact prayer negatively and what makes them invalid. They are as follows;
Misconception 1: God has more important things to bother with than me. This belief is invalid because the prayers of the Bible reveal that God responds to prayers requesting help. Even the Lord’s Prayer taught by Jesus includes a plea for daily bread. Prayer is the primary way we build a relationship with God. If we filter out what we consider not spiritual enough, we can block potential intimacy with God.
Misconception 2: God could not love me as I really am. This concept is invalid because the Bible gives a detailed record of God listening to prayers of decidedly unworthy people such as short-tempered Moses and self-absorbed Samson. Unworthiness should be considered a motivation for prayer, not a hindrance.
Misconception 3: God will require me to do things I do not want to do. This belief is invalid because when we experience closeness with God we will be prompted to change.
Misconception 4: God is a harsh taskmaster. This concept is invalid because if we think that God is an angry tyrant, we will keep our distance and avoid asking Him for mercy.
Misconception 5: God either cannot or will not answer my prayers. This is invalid because at some point we must move beyond believing in something because it is what we have been taught or because it is what scholars say, to believing it because we have experienced the reality of it.
When asked by his disciples about prayer Jesus gave them a model to follow. The model prayer is found in Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV) 9 This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For centuries the Lord’s Prayer has been recited and memorized by followers of Christ. Many books and articles have been written about it. Much teaching has been given on it. Yet we still have not fully grasped the incredible power of prayer. For consideration of the model Christ gave us, here is five different expressions of prayer found in the Lord’s Prayer are;
- Praise and adoration. “Or Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Through adoration and praise, the Holy Spirit shifts our focus away from ourselves and onto God. Praise lifts our eyes above the futility of life and sets the tone for meeting with God.
- Intercessory prayer. “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” An accurate understanding of intercession is developing quietness in the heart, listening for God’s voice, and aligning ourselves, our prayer, with God’s will and purpose.
- Prayer and petition. “Give us today our daily bread”. Bringing our requests to god reminds us of our dependence on Him.
- Prayer of confession. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive.” Sin puts a wall between us and the holy God. This wall must be torn down if we are to experience intimacy with God.
- Spiritual warfare. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Satan (or the evil one) is depicted as a master of disguises, presenting himself as an angel of light. To counter his schemes, we must be well acquainted with the truth. Our battle against Satan is a spiritual battle and must be fought in God’s strength.
What does your personal prayer life say about who you believe God to be? Are you willing to let go of long held views of prayer so as to gain greater intimacy with God? My prayer request is for you to strive to improve your prayer life each day.
Rev. Burt Schwab