Last week we talked a little bit about repetitive babbling and unnecessary prayer language. This week we’re going to continue to talk about vain prayers. Why talk about how not to pray? Well, Jesus did, so he must have thought it an important subject to study. And I’ve come to believe that many many people’s prayer lives consist in large part of prayers that, if I’m being totally honest, affect no change in their life, or anyone else’s. I don’t know about you, but I want to come to a place where I can feel the presence of God and the power of the Holy Spirit in my communication to God, and His communication to me.
First, let’s look at the word vain.
1. excessively proud of or concerned about one’s own appearance; conceited.
2. proceeding from or showing personal vanity.
3. ineffectual or unsuccessful; futile.
4. without real significance, value, or importance; baseless or worthless: vain pageantry.
5. Archaic . senseless or foolish.
As I’ve already said, I believe many of our prayers are in vain. Meaning, they are ineffectual and unsuccessful. They are without real significance; they’re basically worthless.
I know that’s a bold claim to make, and I know that God loves everyone regardless of if I think they’re praying “wrong”, but that’s no excuse for keeping on in our ignorance. Shouldn’t we want to seek an intimate and powerful relationship with God through our prayer? And to get to that place, we have to weed out the ineffectual prayers. I’m going to talk about 1 kind today.
1. Asking God to do what He’s already doing.
How often have you prayed for God to “be with” a person who was in need? Have you ever considered that is sort of a silly request? Literally the very last thing that Jesus said to his disciples was that surely he would be with us until the very end.
Billy Hybels in Too Busy Not to Pray
“I sometimes hear a mature Christian say very earnestly, “Dear Lord, please be with me as I go on this new job interview,” or “Please be with me as I go on this trip.” When you first hear it, this request sounds holy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make any sense. I’m often tempted to ask the one praying, “Why do you ask God to do what he is already doing?’
We don’t need to ask God to be with us if we are members of his family. Instead, we need to pray that we will be aware of his presence, that we will be confident because of it. Asking God to be with us when he is already there is one kind of “babbling”.
The next time you’re in a gathering of believers, notice how much of their prayers consist primarily of asking God to “be with” people. So, what should we do instead?
Say you get a feeling about Mr. So-and-so. For whatever reason, you were sitting around and something pinged your Holy Spirit radar. You know Mr. So-and-so has been depressed lately, but you’ve been busy doing all your life’s stuff and honestly you just forgot because you only see him for a few hours one day a week anyhow. So what do you do? You pray about him, of course. You say something like, “Lord, please be with Mr. So-and-so. He’s having a hard time right now, please just let him know that you love him. Amen.”
Or, if you’re really moved, you’ll “bring it before the church”—aka: mention it—and get everyone to pray for Mr. So-and-so. They’ll all pray about the same thing that you did probably.
But if you keep in mind that God already knows everything (so you don’t need to “tell” him when someone’s in trouble because he already knows what we need) and he’s already “with” us, you begin to see where we may have messed up.
If God has actually indwelled you with his Holy Spirit, then whenever something is “pinging” your Holy Spirit radar, it’s God. That’s Him. Trying to tell you something. But if you get confused and forget who God is, then you’re bound to misunderstand him when he talks to you, in fact you won’t even hear him at all past that first ping, because you’re too busy talking. Because you’ve decided already that you know exactly what to do: pray!
Let’s look at that prayer (talking and listening to God) from both sides of the Holy Spirit walkie talkie:
“Please be with Mr. So-and-so.”
“I already am.”
“He’s having a hard time right now.”
“I know, that’s why I just reminded you of that.”
“Please just let him know that you love him.”
“I’m trying to do that right now, by giving you the chance to go over there and tell him that. Or just call him or something. Really, interact with him in any way at all.”
We’re not understanding what’s happening. We’re letting our religion get in the way of our relationships. Between us and God. Between us and us. Just imagine how close-knit a church would be if they responded properly every time God spoke? If we immediately reached out to the Mr. So-and-so’s and helped them through their hard times?
Imagine if you showed up at someone’s door right in the middle of their deepest depression and said, “God told me to come here and help you. He cares about you and he wants you to know that.” That would freak some people out! That might start a real church.
God isn’t sitting “up there” on his throne saying, “I would love to help Mr. So-and-so, but the other people haven’t asked me to yet..”
Surely you’ve heard the concept that as followers of Christ we’re all parts of His Body. No really, it’s true. It is our job to do his work here on earth. He gave us the authority and the glory to do that work, and even left us with the Holy Spirit to always ping us in the right direction.
So, Church – instead of praying ineffectual prayers, maybe we should go be the body. Makes sense to me.
And here’s a semi-cheesy video of a good song to drive the point home for us. :)
*I couldn’t have written this without the help of my awesome Husband