If you look over the 20 or 25 articles on prayer in this blog, you will see I have sometimes taken people to task for their faulty prayers. I’ve teased them about silly prayers and laughed at their funny mistakes and grown exasperated at what I considered foolish, Pharisaical prayers.
May I apologize?
After all, a prayer is directed to the Father not to the children. None of us has been commissioned to or gifted for the task of correcting the prayers of our sibling
I’m impressed by how little criticism of actual prayers we find in Scripture. In Luke 18:10-14, our Lord did say that the tax-collector went home “justified” (forgiven, made right with God) that day. But He did not say a word about the Pharisee and his prayer. Granted, it was implied that the boasting prayer was rejected, but the Lord sure let that fellow off easily, I’ll say that.
And in James 4:3, we’re told that some prayers are offered from wrong motives, resulting in silence from Heaven. And Isaiah 59:1-2 says our sins separate us from the Lord and prevent our prayers from getting through. But in neither case did they criticize actual prayers.
I hereby promise to stop criticizing prayers.
Today, a minister friend in the Washington, D.C. area had lunch with well-known Pastor David Jeremiah. He said, “Jeremiah says the theme of his ministry is that God loves you, always has and always will.”
My immediate reaction was to pause and reflect. What is the theme of my ministry? That is, is there a recurring theme in my sermons? Is there a unity in everything I say to congregations?
God is on your side. God is for you. He has shown it in a thousand ways.
That’s my theme, the note I sound consistently in sermons and conversation. It is the message taught in this Holy Book from cover to cover. This theme is rooted in Romans 8, the entire chapter, but specifically verse 31: “What then shall we say about these things? Since God is for us, who can be against us?”
I am well aware that our English translations say “if God is for us,” not “since.” However, that is the sense of what Romans 8 has just established. For 30 verses, Paul has made the point that the Father is for us, the Son is for us, and the Spirit is for us. That being the case, then, “since God is for us,” who can be against us? The answer of course is a lot of people can be against us, but it doesn’t matter. When God is for you, you are set.
God being “for us” means that He is a God of grace. He loves and receives, He gives and forgives, He accepts and blesses. It does not mean you are automatically “in.” No one gets a free pass without repenting and believing, coming through the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 13:3,5; Acts 4:12; etc). But according to Revelation 3:20, Jesus Christ brings the blessings of Heaven right up to your front door and makes Himself available to you on one condition: that you open the door.
That’s what it means when we say God is for you. He wants you to do well in life. He is far more interested in your ultimate success than you will ever be.
When it comes to our prayers, our gracious God is not nearly as nitpicking as some of His well-meaning but misguided disciples–like myself–who would tell their siblings in Christ all the errors they are making in their prayers.
Do people make mistakes in praying? To be sure. In a hundred ways, we err. We overtalk and underbelieve. We ramble and pile up words. We try to impress Him by our truckloads of words when a few simple statements from the heart of the child would have sufficed. We don’t pray as much as we should and when we do pray, we stray into weird areas.
No wonder. We are flawed beings, residents of a fallen world, who see through a glass darkly, know in part, prophesy in part, and do not know how to pray as we should (all of that is Romans 3:23; I Corinthians 13:9-12; and Romans 8:26).
The last thing we need is for self-righteous siblings to become self-appointed critics and point out our mistakes, then take it upon themselves to set us straight.
Often, when I’m sketching large numbers of people (church settings, block parties, children’s camps, etc.), kids will crowd around behind me to watch the process. Invariably, some of the older ones will begin bossing the little ones. “Smile, Jeremy.” “Come on, you can smile better than that.” “Sit up straight!” “You can stop smiling now; he’s already drawn your mouth.” All their feeble attempts to help accomplish is to intimidate the subjects.
Over the years I have spotted a childish tendency in myself to boss my spiritual siblings, to tell them to sit up straight and smile, and when they can do something else.
It brings memories of something that happened when my children were small. Marty was 8 or 9 and his little sister about 6. They were eating cereal, sitting across the table from each other. Dad sat at the end of the table with the newspaper and my coffee. Marty looked at Carla and said rather unpleasantly, “Would you close your mouth when you chew!”
I said, “Son, may I give you a suggestion? I’ll be her daddy and you can be her brother. So, I’ll give her instructions and you encourage her.”
Good advice, but easier said than done.
The Apostle Peter grew uncomfortable from all the things Jesus was saying about his future. Seeking to change the subject, he pushed the Apostle John forward. “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said, “What is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:21-22)
From here on in, I plan to take my own counsel. I’ll be your brother and try my best to encourage you.
So—are you praying at all? Good for you. Keep it up. God loves it when we pray.
While you’re at it, will you pray for me? Thank you.
And if you’d like, I’ll pray for you. That’s a nice arrangement, isn’t it?