As I've previously mentioned in a couple of blog posts, our church is reading the New Testament together as part of a new sermon series. One thing from my reading that God has laid on my heart recently is the topic of praying. Sometimes I have been guilty of thinking that my prayers aren't being answered (or being answered in the way I want) because of the WAY I am praying. Deep down I know God hears all prayers, and that He isn't sitting on His throne in heaven holding up scorecards for each prayer we offer up to Him. I also know that prayers aren't always answered for a variety of reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with HOW we pray. More times than not, our answer is just to "wait."
If I'm utterly honest, I sometimes feel inadequate in knowing how to offer up my prayers to God. More than that, I know I've been guilty of trying to manipulate God, thinking that He'll give me what I want because I have stated my prayers in such a way that He won't be able to resist (shame on me)! Or along that same line, I find myself thinking that maybe I'm not wording things in just the right formula to get the answer for which I'm looking (shame on me, again)! I've even been guilty of fretting that if I don't word things carefully, God may answer my prayer, but it won't look like I'm wanting it to look because there was some loophole in my prayer that I didn't cover, and He tricked me. Such ridiculous, controlling, doubtful, and horribly negative thoughts to have about God and His character (and I wonder why my prayers don't always get answered--duh)! When my thoughts go to these sinful places, I end up spending my prayer time confessing this manipulative behavior instead of getting to my actual prayer items. In that instance, there is really no point in lifting up any other needs when my heart is in such a stinky, self-serving place, in general.
I am reminded of the verse in Romans 8:26 that states, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans." Based on this verse, God is well aware of what we need and His very Spirit is right there with us, fully understanding and comprehending the true meanings of what we desire and the needs in our lives. God is the most intelligent being ever--He doesn't need us to cover every possible detail of each supplication. Prayer is not some magic trick where if we fail to follow a rigid, step-by-step formula, we ruin the entire outcome. God already knows our hearts and minds. Furthermore, He knows what is best for us and what we truly need in our lives. I know the enemy tries to lie to us about our prayers being ineffective and insufficient because the last thing he wants is for us to have a close, personal, intimate relationship with God. He would rather we feel alone, doubtful, and defeated. He wants us to believe that trusting God to do anything for us is pointless and hopeless. The enemy wants us to be our own "god" and rely on ourselves.
In doing the New Testament reading, I was reminded that praying is simple, intimate conversation with God--not a great deal different than the type of conversation we have with others we deeply love and trust. In Matthew 6:5-13 (NIV), Jesus states, "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, Who is unseen. Then your Father, Who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. This, then is how you should pray: '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.'" What a great model of how we should speak to the One Who saved us.
Just as we speak honest, transparent words of adoration, praise, and vulnerability (sharing our deepest thoughts and needs) to those who we hold closely in life, God wants the same thing from us. Obviously, our God, as Maker of the Universe and the Sovereign Entity of all that is in it, does deserve our highest praise, adoration, and deep reverence--far above anyone else in our lives. Let me be clear, in saying that we should give God the same, honest communication we give to others, I am not trying to lower God to the status of my personal "buddy" or dumb Him down like He is as common as the flawed humans in our lives. Likewise, I am not trying to turn Him into some "genie in a bottle" for my own dispensing and benefit. But on the flip side, we are wrong to view Him as a strict dictator Who judges our prayers with a rigorous grading scale to the point that they get ejected if they don't meet perfection. People always jokingly say, "Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it!" There is some truth to that because we need to make sure our hearts are in the right place when we pray, and we need to make sure what we think we really need in our lives are truly needs. But our God is not a trickster Who seeks to woo us to His throne just so He can throw daggers at us or "teach us a thing or two!" God is a God of mercy and love--He isn't just a disciplinarian, and though He is perfect, He knows we are not. He wants our prayers to stem from love, faith, trust, and an utter need and dependence on Him.
Based on the Matthew 6 verses above, in the model Jesus gave us for praying to God the Father (A.K.A., "The Lord's Prayer"), our prayer time needs to be personal, private talks with God. It first requires faith on our part, because our Father is "unseen," as is initially stated. Our prayers don't need to be "do lists" for God, or repetitive in nature. He knows our needs from day to day, and doesn't expect us to restate everything constantly in order to be answered. He also doesn't require or want some religious, pious, ritualistic "chant," or some impressive, well-worded delivery. He desires genuine, honest prayers. At the very start of Jesus' example, He says we are to call God, "Father." That right there tells us clearly that our prayer life is supposed to be intimate, not fearful and distant. God, being called our "Father," shows us that we are to feel we are talking to our actual parent. Also in His example, Jesus tells us that we should begin our prayers with worship, adoration, and thanksgiving. We are to have our hearts set upon God's kingdom and for God's will in our lives--this is from where our prayers should derive. Then we are to share our needs with God, confess our sins, ask for His help in forgiving others, ask for His protection from the enemy, and ask for deliverance from our struggles and battles. Our prayers shouldn't be rote pleadings for our immediate needs and self-serving supplications. Even when I have a prayer item that is somewhat self-serving, I still readily say to my Father, "Lord, if this isn't your plan for me or will bring harm to what Your perfect will for my life is, please help me to let it go." I can easily say this and mean it because I've had enough life experience to know that if God is not in something 100%, it ends up being a total curse.
When we speak with those we intimately love, we don't quickly rattle off a list of things we want from them and then walk away. We share our thoughts and feelings. We thank them for things, and give words of adoration or praise to them. We confess things to them that we need to confess. We are concerned for their needs and their desires--their "will," essentially. We even ask for their help at times. Doing all that requires giving others quality time, and that comes quite naturally and simply for most of us in our relationships with people (at least this is how we should treat and speak to those we deeply love). Therefore, we should give God that same quality time and simple, personal genuineness in our conversations with Him. He deserves all that and more. How else can we have a real relationship with God? How can we say we know Him and live for Him if we don't actually treat Him better than the people in our lives? We can't. Honestly, God is much more approachable than even the people we value with great esteem in our lives and to whom we easily give our time and intimate conversation. God should be no different, and should actually rank higher than others. There is no place for fear or distance with God if we truly know Him and walk with Him. Hebrews 4:16 (NLT) states it nicely: "So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most." We are essentially being told not to fear, but to approach the throne of God with utter confidence. God doesn't expect or want cleverly designed prayers. He desires an honest, simple heart of praise that acknowledges a great need for Him. He simply wants our hearts and to be in close relationship with us--it is the very reason He created us in the first place.