How Not To Pray

What are some things to avoid in prayer? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Sometimes, I hate public prayer at a church service. I say this as someone who has to do it as well. You never really feel genuine doing it. You know people are watching you to see what you have to say. It’s awkard.

Then there are the people who do these public prayers and they go on and on and on. You can say they’re real men of Jesus, but most of us just find them annoying. I find it interesting that the Lord’s prayer can really be said in under a minute. When the closing prayer starts to go longer than the sermon itself, we have a problem.

Jesus had a few statements about things like this. He never said to not pray in public as He sometimes did this as well, but He did say to watch your motives again. Some people do make a show of public prayers. They pray showing off their eloquence and their devotion to God, which if that is what you’re doing, we can call your devotion into question. Let’s look at verses 5-8 of Matthew 6.

“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.

One of the rules for giving a sermon is to KISS. It has two meanings. “Keep it simple, stupid” and “Keep it short, stupid.” Prayer is done to talk to God. It’s not done to show others how awesome you are.

This is why also your devotion is not meant to be measured necessarily by how long you pray. I know some people who are true prayer warriors and they can pray for a long time. I’m not one of them. I know I need to work on that. Those like me need to start simple as well. Don’t say you’re going to build up prayer and then say you’re going to start with an hour a day. You’ll burn out and give up. If anything, start small. Maybe 3-5 minutes even.

Jesus also tells us our Father knows what we need before we ask. If so, why do we ask? We ask not to make something known, but to show that we are realizing our trust and dependence.

One of the problems I have with many prayer studies is they treat prayer as if the only goal is to get something. It also treats God as if He is obligated to answer a prayer. Many of us were devoutly praying for the healing of Nabeel Qureshi. It never came. Does that prove God doesn’t exist or that God doesn’t or didn’t love Nabeel? Not at all. It just shows for whatever reason we don’t understand, God chose not to heal.

It’s also too easy for prayer to become just a wish list. There’s not enough time spent in thanksgiving and adoration. I remember J.P. Moreland once saying he thinks in a worship service, the music should come after the sermon. Why? Because then we have heard the Scripture and the good news and we are giving thanks and celebrating about what we have heard.

Yet keep in mind, Jesus still points us to the reward. Our true reward is from our Father in heaven. It’s not in the praise and adoration of men. It’s in the approval of our Father. That is the praise we are to have.

Prayer is something important and we need to work on it, but one of the first things to do is to learn what not to do.

Let’s try to get it right.

In Christ,
Nick Peters