I’m embarking on a new book project examining the prayers of the Bible. Inspired by hearing a preacher state that our prayers are vastly different from those found in God’s Word, I began looking into it. While only in the early stages of my project, the evidence is already overwhelming that we don’t pray as we should. We know humans are prideful and selfish, but nowhere is that more obvious than in the content of our prayers.
This is especially true in the Western world, but I fear it is becoming more widespread as the teachings of Western Christianity spread throughout the globe. Knowing prayer is fundamental to our growth in Christ, we will do well to revisit the examples of prayer given by those who have gone before us.
To begin my research, I selected thirteen prayers at random, though I tried to distribute them somewhat proportionately across the spectrum of scripture (Genesis 18:23-32; Exodus 32:11-14; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; 2 Samuel 7:18-29; Nehemiah 1:4-11; Daniel 9:3-19; Isaiah 6:1-8; Matthew 6:9-13; Mark 14:32-42; John 17:1-26; Acts 7:59-60; Acts 9:40; Ephesians 3:14-21). Of those thirteen prayers, eleven easily broke down into 5 categories: intercession, thanksgiving, confession, dedication, and the glorification of God. The two that did not were the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4) and Jesus’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). The Lord’s Prayer has elements of confession, personal requests, and the glorification of God, and while Jesus’s prayer in the garden included a request for relief, His prayer was ultimately about humbling Himself in obedience to God.
With this presentation of facts, I hope it is already obvious to you we don’t pray as we should. Of the thirteen prayers, not one has its primary focus on personal health, fortune, or happiness. The closest we get is when Jesus instructed us to ask the Father for our daily bread, but we cannot in any way construe asking for daily provision as extravagance. Jesus teaches us to ask for the minimum we need to survive. Such teaching harkens back to the Proverbs where the writer asks God for just what he needs for the day, wishing for neither poverty nor riches (Proverbs 30:7-9). His fear is having too much and becoming prideful, or having too little and falling into sin. Asking for one’s daily bread is a far cry from what we typically ask for ourselves.
Examine the content of your prayers. Do they consist primarily of confession, adoration, intercession, and thanksgiving? If you are anything like me and most of the rest of modern Christians in our culture, the answer will be a resounding, “No!” We pray for our health, to be blessed, to find favor in the eyes of the world, for success, and happiness. We pray for trivial things while neglecting the weighty matters on which we should focus our prayers. What percentage of our prayers are for the well-being and spiritual encouragement of others, and what percentage do we focus on ourselves? Don’t answer that out loud, as it will be embarrassing.
It’s obvious we don’t pray as we should. The question is, “Why not?” Why do we neglect the overwhelming examples given to us in the Word of God in favor of the shallow prayers of our culture? A more frightening question to contemplate is, “How much do our prayers disappoint or even disgust God?” We are prideful and selfish people content to squander our time in God’s presence talking about ourselves. Is it any wonder the world is in the state it is? The Church has become an inward-focused bride, consumed with our own beauty and well-being. Something has to change, and I believe it must begin with the way we pray. We don’t pray as we should. Isn’t it time we began?