Monday, March 24, 2008

Wrong Prayers

When You Pray: Part 1

Christmas is a favorite holiday, if not the favorite holiday, for many people. As you know, one of the traditions that we have is to prepare lists of what we would like to have for Christmas. With the children we usually have them address their lists to Santa Claus and then we will take them to the mall so they can sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what they would like for Christmas.

I believe that we often do the same thing with prayer. We would never admit it, because we have been told somewhere along the line to say, “not my will but Your will be done.” Yet if we were truly honest with ourselves we would admit that our prayers are about God providing for us, watching over our loved ones, and keeping us safe. In short we use prayer to convince God to create the type of life that we want to have. I believe that when we do this we miss out on the true purpose of prayer in our lives. The question I would like for you to consider is: Does my prayer life resemble more of a list for Santa Claus or a child having a relationship with their parents?

Many of us don’t remember the first prayer we prayed. Prayer has always seemed to be part of my life. There are two prayers that I vividly remember from my going up years. The first one I prayed when I was in 3rd grade. As a 3rd grader I was somewhat of a ladies man. I was constantly being chased around by the girls because they wanted to kiss me. As an eight-year-old boy this was a problem because girls were still…yucky. One of the things my best friend David and I would do was to pretend to spray for “cooties” where ever a girl had been.

As I thought about my problem something occurred to me. David and I were very similar. When we were at Church Camp people assumed that we were twins. We looked and acted very much alike, yet David did not have the problem that I had. What was the most noticeable difference between him and I? David wore glasses, and so I realized there was the answer to my problem. I prayed and I asked God to give me glasses so that the girls “wouldn’t like me anymore.” As you can see from my picture I have my glasses (Though I also have to admit that for just the second time in my life I have a girlfriend, so this isn’t as funny as it has been).

The second prayer that I remember praying was when I was in 7th grade. Our Jr. High jazz band was scheduled to go to a jazz band contest at Wayne State College in Wayne Nebraska. Music was something my parents thought would be good for us, but I didn’t practice like I should. The result was that I was bad. I began to become very self-conscious about the whole thing and I prayed and asked God to allow me to go on the trip, I wanted to get out of school, but not play in the contest. A week or so before the contest we were playing basketball in P.E. For whatever reason the teacher left and one of the other boys began knocking down the girls and playing very out of control. I told him to stop, we got into a little scuffle, and I threw a punch at him. He put up his arm and my first barely caught it, but the result was that I broke my hand. Since I had a cast on my hand I was able to go on the trip but I was not able to play my trumpet.

As we look at these two examples two things jump out at us. First, they are very self-centered. The sad thing is that nothing much has changed. Sure the language I use may be different, it might sound more spiritual, but my prayers are still overwhelmingly concerned with God fixing or changing my life so that it will be more pleasant for me.

The second thing is that they are both unimportant in the larger picture. They have been unimportant in the larger picture of my life, let alone in the larger picture of eternity. When our focus is on such a tiny bit our our lives our prayers will tend to be more selfish.

There is a right and wrong way to pray. Jesus told this parable:
10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed, ‘O God, I thank you that I'm not like other people—thieves, dishonest people, adulterers, or even this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, and I give a tenth of my entire income.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and would not even look up to heaven. Instead, he continued to beat his chest and said, ‘O God, be merciful to me, the sinner that I am!’ 14 I tell you, this man, rather than the other, went down to his home justified. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the person who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14; ISV)

Jesus says the Pharisee prayed the wrong way and the tax collector prayed the right way. What made the difference? Their focus. The Pharisee was focused on his life and the tax collector was humbly focused on God. Where is your focus when you pray?

  • Point to Ponder: There is a right and wrong way to pray.
  • Passage to Remember: Luke 18:10-14
  • Question to Consider: Where is your focus when you pray?

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