Prayer. As Christians, it is something we practice, something we believe in, something that has great power. We pray because we know that God hears our prayers and wants to answer them. Prayer unlocks potential. Anyone who knows me, knows that I believe in and practice prayer. When someone asks me to pray for them it is my practice to lift up a prayer immediately. Yet, all too frequently, our prayers become mindless incantations devoid of power and purpose. I submit to you that there are at least four kinds of useless prayers.
The first useless prayer is a prayer for God’s presence. In Hebrews 13:5 we read (NIV) “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Forsake means to renounce or give something up. God has promised He will always be there for us, He will not give up on us. So it is useless to pray for God to be with us – he is already here.
Instead of praying for His presence we should be praying for an awareness of His presence. As someone once said, “If God seems far away, guess who moved.” God is always present. What is needed is an awareness in our lives that He is there. We are human. That means we are not perfect, so there will be times in our lives when God seems distant. But He is always there, always for us.
The second useless prayer is a prayer for mercy. This prayer implies that God may or may not want to give mercy. But He has bestowed abundant mercy on us through Jesus Christ. What greater mercy than the laying down of a life for me?
We should pray, instead for a removal of the barriers that keep us from fully experiencing God’s mercy. Michael W. Smith sings a song “Lord Have Mercy,” which would seem to negate my argument. But as we examine the words, the song is a plea that God remove the barriers to us receiving God’s mercy:
Jesus, I’ve forgotten the words that You have spoken
Promises that burned within my heart have now grown dim
With a doubting heart I follow the paths of earthly wisdom.
Forgive me for my unbelief
Renew the fire again
I have built an altar where I worship things of men
I have taken journeys that have drawn me far from You
Now I am returning to Your mercies ever flowing
Pardon my transgressions
Help me love You again.
Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy on me.
The third useless prayer is one petitioning God to give us peace. In John 14:27, Jesus is giving the disciples His “farewell” speech. He states (NIV) “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” God has granted us peace. Similar to not feeling God’s presence, we don’t feel His peace when obstacles get in our way of feeling God’s special, perfect peace.
The fourth useless prayer is one that we have the means within us to answer that prayer. Prayer is not only a means of asking God to act, it is also a means of asking God to give us opportunities to act. Prayer is the first step, but it is not the final step. We pray as we move into action. It is somewhat like the parable of the rich young ruler. He came to Jesus seeking eternal life. You might say he was praying about it. Jesus told him what needed to be done. Verse 22 of Matthew 19 is probably one of the saddest verses in the Bible. (NIV) “But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” He asked Jesus for eternal life but was unwilling to take the steps necessary to achieve it.
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