Is there a Wrong Way to Pray?

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Last summer, a friend from Hoboken Grace sent me a copy of With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray. I started it a while ago, but it’s the kind of book where each chapter is so rich, your mind feels overloaded by just one chapter. Since starting my new job, I’ve taken to reading about two chapters a day on my commute back and forth into the city.

Chapter 5, “The Certain Answer to Prayer” (based off Matthew 7:7-8 and James 4:3) completely bowled me over this week, and I have been mulling it over ever since. Here are the main passages that stuck out to me:

Prayer accomplishes a great deal. Ask and you shall receive; everyone who asks receives. This is the eternal law of the Kingdom. If you ask and receive not, it must be because there is something wrong or missing in the prayer. But do not lose the confidence He wants to give you, that everyone who asks, receives. (p.40)

By His Word and Spirit, God will teach those who are teachable and who give Him time, whether their request be according to His will or not. Withdraw the request if it is not according to God’s will or persevere until the answer comes. Prayer is supposed to have an answer. It is in prayer and its answer that the interchange of love between the Father and His child takes place. (p.42)

Your words are faithful and true. It must be because I am not praying correctly that my experience of answered prayer is small. It must be because I live too little in the Spirit that my prayer is too little in the Spirit, and my power for the prayer of faith is lacking. (p.44)

I was struck by the idea that maybe over the past year, my prayers were misdirected. While Christian-ese includes cliches like, “there’s no wrong way to pray,” James 4:3 reminds me that somebody probably made that up because it sounds good. That’s not biblical truth – and as far as my recent prayer life goes, I have been doing it wrong.

It’s not that God will not listen to me when I am praying somewhat haphazardly, listing off the things I want Him to do, the people I want him to take care of, and to grant me that elusive perfect job. God delights in giving his children good gifts, but His greatest desire is that that I would live my live by the Spirit, completely trusting in and depending on him.

While I made progress in this by leaps and bounds from 2008 – 2010, I felt like I majorly backpedaled when I moved here. I don’t know why it became harder to trust God. I had experienced his love and grace and blessing in such richness, but somehow my heart seized up, unable to believe that He would truly meet me here.

I will venture to say my experience of God last year was most likely limited by my unwillingness to communicate with him after my prayers were not answered. I think I can point out a handful of occasions where I know He directly answered a prayer, whereas during my time in Tennessee, answered prayer was my weekly reality – not only in my life, but in so many of the lives around me. That had become the norm, so I was hoping that somehow, that would continue. But I found that it didn’t. So I largely ignored him. I barely opened my bible last year. I became a former version of myself that I hated – the one that would run to him only in my desperate need. I have not been living the majority of my life “in the Spirit,” and instead have allowed myself to be ruled by anxiety.

At Hoboken Grace, we’re two weeks in to a conversation about being “Fearless.” This past Sunday we talked about what it looks like to fear God, and I think it ties in well with what I am wrestling through this week. We were given 1 John 4:18 as a memory verse: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

My view of God as of late has been too small. I know in my mind that He is all powerful, but I want to experience that again. I want to regain my trust in Him. I do not want to live my life by making the “safest” or most practical decisions. Running from him is an act of fear. He is my Father and has only His best in mind for me. I want my faith to grow to the point where I am living out of that reality every day. Spewing my anxieties heavenward isn’t going to make that much of a difference in my life. It is more important for me to be in sync with God in prayer and asking him to teach me how to pray, and what is on His heart, than it is for me to just unload what is on mine.

What do you think about there being a right and wrong way to pray? How did you come to that conclusion? When have you seen your prayers answered most blatantly? What do you do when it seems like your prayers are not being answered?

4 thoughts on “Is there a Wrong Way to Pray?

  1. Huh… My immediate visceral reaction is, “No way, God is just happy when we communicate with him”, but I’m having a hard time separating that from all the little lessons I was taught in sunday school.
    Maybe I’m interpreting it wrong, but I feel like the snippets you’ve outlined are sort of saying that if God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we would like him to, that it’s our fault for doing it wrong… and I’m not sure I agree with that. I think when we say a prayer, we’re letting God know the things we want and need… I guess in my head, I’ve always seen it like a kid wanting a bite of food that just got off the stove. While the food is good and healthy, God knows that we could burn our mouths (maybe the timing isn’t right) or maybe He’s baking a pie for a neighbor down the way (It’s just not what he has in store), and thus reserves the right to say “No”, or “Wait” based on what is best for us.

    1. I felt when I posted this that I didn’t manage to say exactly what I was trying to communicate. It’s about praying with the wrong motive or praying for the wrong thing – often times unknowingly. To go with your analogy, I think that praying for what we want and need is a great starting point. That is definitely what we were taught as children. But as we grow in faith, those prayers should shift – more towards His heart and desires and purposes than our own. I’ve found my prayers are both answered more profoundly and quickly as I have learned to pray in agreement with the Spirit… instead of whining and saying, “Daaaad, but I want this!” Does that make more sense?

  2. Erika, I am reading “With Christ in the School of Prayer” for the 3rd time since 2011, and this chapter always stops me. The notes I have written around almost every paragraph show my growth and yet still some of my questions about praying right or wrong. When I first read this in 2011 I wrote, “I am actually afraid to believe ‘ask and you shall receive’ because I don’t want God to fail.” (I actually cringe as I write that now.) I saw God as the Father that I want on a pedestal, not as a relationship. Times have certainly changed for me, and I am learning daily to just believe that He answers and when I am praying wrong, if I remain in communication with Him, he will either (a) say “no”, or (b) encourage me in waiting – he doesn’t even let me have to wait alone – he gives me perseverance or (c) he shows me how to pray different. That is what most has excited me – he’ll show me where the prayer is selfish or self-centered or just not good, because he loves me enough to teach and grow me. I’ve written too much already. Thanks for sharing and letting me share, hope to stay in touch.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts on this Sheila. I really get the sentiment “I’m actually afraid to believe ‘ask and you shall receive’ because I don’t want God to fail.” I think where I find myself is that I don’t want to ask boldly for things because I don’t want to deal with the disappointment of them not panning out the way I want. I don’t want to be angry with God. I spent a lot of 2011 angry with him for not providing on the timeline I wanted and I find myself afraid to go back there, to revisit those requests because what if its the same story? What if I’m told no or asked to wait? I know he loves me and wants to give me good gifts, but I also know that may look really different than what I have in mind.

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