Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Praying to Impress God

Today we are back into our study on the Sermon on the Mount.  Last week we began the teachings of Jesus on prayer and today we will continue in that.
And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen [do]. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.  Matthew 6:7-8 NKJV
Today's lesson is simple.  It is merely to let your prayers be genuine.  As we learned last week, at that time, the Pharisees said specific prayers at specific times.  They were always the same prayers and always the same words.  This is much like today where certain churches say the same exact prayers week after week.  Some Christians say the same prayers each and every day. One example of this would be the Lord's Prayer, which will be addressed tomorrow.  The problem is that when we use a repetitive prayer over and over again, it loses its meaning.  It becomes a rehearsed set of robotic words that are said just to say them.  Our prayers to God become an empty recital much like a performer who performs the same routine time and time again.  Can you imagine if you gave the same speech to your husband or wife each and every day and counted that as conversation?  That would be silly and you would soon have spouses who question just how you feel about them.  Remember, prayer is our conversation with God.  It is a time of closeness with a God we love and Who loves us.  To come to Him with the same set of words over and over again betrays that relationship.  It is no longer a conversation with God at all.  It becomes cold, empty, and meaningless. 

Another issue the idea of repetitive prayer brings to mind are those who use prayer as some kind of a spell.  Some take verses in the Bible way out of context and teach that if we use specific words or a specific prayer, things can and will happen.  We take things like the  Prayer of Jabez and turn it into a whole theology based on that one short passage.  We quote other prayers we read others say in the Bible and expect the same the same things to happen to us.  Prayers become spells or incantations where it becomes about our words and not about Whom we speak them to.  Please note that our prayers have no power in and of themselves.  If they did, then it would not matter to whom you prayed.  You could pray to Jehovah, Buddha, Hugh, or even a head of cabbage named Ralph.  It would not matter.  The fact is, though, our words do not have any power.  Remember, it is God who is sovereign, not us.  It is God who has the power and it is He who decides whether and how to act on our requests.  Please do not ever think to use your prayers as incantations or spells.  First of all, it will not work.  Secondly, you are trying to make yourself lord over God. 

Jesus brings up another point in this short lesson.  Last week He addressed showing off before man.  This week He is addressing showing off to God.  Jesus says "For they think that they will be heard for their many words."  Many are very good at not praying before men, but even before God they can not help but to show off.  They will recite not only long prayers that I mentioned earlier, but they will spend a very long time doing it.  Please do not think I am saying that it is wrong to spend a long time in prayer.  What I am saying is that it is wrong to spend a long time in prayer for the sake of spending a long time in prayer.  If you do spend a long time in prayer, it should be natural and not forced.  God is not impressed with how long we pray, He is impressed with the heart behind our prayer.  Just like any of our conversations, sometimes those prayers will be very short and sometimes they will very long.   If you look at the examples of the prayers recorded for us in Scripture, you will see that they are generally not very long at all.  You can read just about any of the Psalms in a matter of a minute or two and the other recorded prayers really are not all that much longer.  Extending your prayer as some obligation you think you have do to impress God will do nothing for your prayer life.  Would you want to spend time with someone who was "forcing" themselves to spend additional time with you?  Of course not and God is no different. 

Jesus is not only speaking of the length time time we spend in prayer, but the amount of talking we do during that time.  Jesus continues "For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him."  We often think we need to make sure we recite each and every item on our celestial shopping list before God and if we forget we can not expect to receive it.  This is even taught by some false teachers today.  People in the Faith Movement often teach that you must be very specific in your prayers, telling God exactly what it is that you want.  Apparently they did not read this verse.  Apparently they think that God is some sort of Star Trek Replicator where if we ask for the wrong thing we will get the wrong thing.  Apparently, they think that God has no ability to think for Himself.  Even worse, they think that if you do not tell God what you want, He has no way of knowing.  I am glad we do not have a God like that!  If I knew everything I needed or what the answer to all my prayers should be, I would not need God nearly as much as I do!  I praise God that He knows what I need before I even ask for it and that despite my feeble brain trying to figure things out, I have a God who already knows and will answer to needs I do not even know that I have.  We should not spend so much time in prayer focusing on each and every thing we feel we need to ask for.  We should spend time talking to Him.  He knows what we need.  He knows what we want to ask for.  As we pray and talk to Him, most of things will come up anyway.  If they do not come up, we can rest in the faith that God does not rely on our memory.  Please do not fall into the trap of thinking that if you do not remember to ask, that God will not give it.  Just spend that time with God without worrying about what is on your list and you will see those things taken care of anyway. 

The main theme behind today's lesson is just to be genuine in your times of prayer.  Do not try to impress God with long flowing words or by staying in prayer for an exceptionally long time as those do not impress God.  What we need to do is just spend time with our Father.  We need to speak to Him and hear from Him.  Sometimes we will pray for a few minutes and sometimes we may pray for a few hours. The point is to not time yourself but just to pray.  When we do pray, we also should not recite some repetitious prayer that we say time and time again that has lost any semblance of meaning, if it ever had one to begin with.  What we need to do is just speak our hearts to God.  We also need to understand that we are speaking to a Person and to our Father.  We can not use our prayers as some kind of a spell in order to compel God to act in a certain way.  God is not some celestial miracle machine just waiting for us to input our requests.  We need to humble ourselves to God and accept that He will act however and whenever He desires and trust that His answer is always the best answer.  Finally, we must not make our times a prayer just a time to recite our honey-do list for God.  We all have requests, but you can not say you are developing a relationship when all you do is recite some list of requests and demands.  God knows what we need and what we desire and we just need to have that time of fellowship and conversation and trust that God knows all those things.  Do not plan your prayer or make sure you are hitting on everything you wanted to hit on.  That makes the conversation cold and loveless.  Can you imagine the only time someone you loved talked to you was to give you a list of requests or that whatever list of requests they had was all they seemed to be thinking about?  It would be hurtful and even offensive.  

All in all, what we learned today was to just spend time with your Father.  We can not impress God with shallow representations of what we believe a righteous person would do because God sees the heart behind the show.  We can not tell God something He does not already know or ask for something He does not know we need.  And so when our focus is on the show and we fill the time with our words, we miss something very important.  We miss God speaking back to us.  We miss God telling us answers to questions we did not even know to ask, telling us things we never knew we needed to know, and showing us things we could never have imagined seeing. 
Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God [is] in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few. Ecclesiastes 5:2 NKJV

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