I believe that our prayers matter. I believe that God wants to hear even our silliest, most selfish requests, simply because he loves us. I believe we should pray as individuals and as a community of believers. But sometimes our prayers bother me. Sometimes our prayers are shallow. And sometimes they start out with good intentions but slowly descend into something that only resembles prayer, but really isn’t. We should guard against such things because of the dangers they present to our spiritual health.
Here are a few problems with the way we pray that I have both encountered and participated in (to my shame) that bother me:
1. When prayer becomes gossip.
I have sat in many a circle where people use the facade of prayer requests to engage in a time of gossip about the latest goings on of people’s lives. Some even pride themselves in knowing more about what is happening and the latest news than everyone else does. So many people let their time that is supposed to be focused on interceding for people and praying for their struggles and illnesses be warped into gossip time that is more focused on hearing all the latest updates and being “in the know”. When you see people bouncing the latest news back and forth and talking about people’s lives but doing very little actual praying for them, you might be doing more gossip than prayer.
2. When prayer requests take more time than actually praying.
When we spend more time talking about prayer requests than we actually do praying, we have a problem. When we spend 20 minutes talking about people and their illnesses and struggles and spend 3 minutes actually interceding for them, we have a problem. More time should always be spent praying for people than was spent talking about prayer requests. There is a difference in asking for prayer and actually praying and we shouldn’t confuse the two. When in doubt, keep your requests brief and your prayers long.
3. When prayer time becomes self-pity time.
Of course we should speak openly and honestly about our struggles with God and with our church family, but we should not allow our prayer times to become pity parties. Don’t let prayer times collapse into whining and complaining about how tough your life is or how awful someone else has it. Prayer time should not drive us into self-pity but into reliance on God and trust in him. Again, let me be clear – God wants us to be open and honest and share our pain and hurt with him and with each other. But he wants the realization of that pain and hurt to drive us into dialogue with him, not into self-pity. Be careful that your prayer times and prayer requests don’t become focused on getting pity or attention from others.
4. When prayer is one dimensional.
Prayer has many aspects and many forms. It bothers me when prayers are perpetually and primarily one form of prayer. I have been in too many groups where “prayer” seems to only mean asking God to make sick people feel better. Though we should ask God for healing and we should pray for pain to be relieved, if our prayers are limited to only that, we are praying shallow prayers. Where is adoration? Where is praise? Where is confession? Where is repentance? Where is asking for forgiveness and reconciliation? Prayer so much bigger than we usually think. One dimensional prayer robs God of the praise he deserves and prevents us from engaging in a more full, complete, and healthy relationship with him. There are many forms of one dimensional prayer. Some people pray only for the sick. Some people pray only for themselves. Some people only confess but never repent. Some people only praise, but never petition or intercede. Try to expand your prayer life and don’t limit conversation with the Creator and Sustainer to one type of conversation.
Prayer is such a vital component to healthy relationship with God, and I believe healthy relationship with other people as well. Our prayers should not be mindless, hollow, one dimensional, self-focused, or shallow. Examine your prayer life and the prayer times with your brothers and sister in Christ and make sure that it is a time that brings glory and honor to God.
What else would you add? How can we protect ourselves from these hindrances to healthy prayer?