|MISTAKEN IDEAS ABOUT PRAYER
Like most Christians, I have been aware for a long time that prayer is an important part of my life as a follower of Jesus. The problem was that I didn’t like to pray. I didn’t enjoy prayer, whether in the context of corporate prayer meetings or in my virtually non-existent personal prayer life. Although my heart was stirred by the testimonies of others about prayer, my motivations were almost always in the realm of guilt, shame and religious pressure.
When I first began to hear about people who would give themselves to prayer in an extravagant way, I vacillated between holding those people up as heroes in my mind and succumbing to a self-condemning attitude of hopelessness. Since I really don’t enjoy being depressed, I would simply put the matter out of my mind and get on about the business of ministry. When I did pray, I focused almost exclusively on what I needed God to do, either for me personally or for the ministry in which I was involved.
My suspicion is that many believers find themselves in this same boat. We know we should pray but we don’t like to pray, and the fact for 21st century Americans is that unless something is enjoyable at some level, or unless it has a relatively quick payoff, we simply won’t engage in the activity long term. In order to address this dilemma, I want to present some suggestions of what intercessory prayer is not, so that we might then be able to look with clearer eyes at what it is.
Prayer as Christian Duty
Perhaps the most common misconception about prayer with which believers struggle is the idea that prayer is our duty. Somehow, we have gotten it in our minds and hearts that God is a religious entity Who, unfortunately, just happens to be the all-powerful Lord of the universe. Therefore, though we don’t really like to talk to Him, we sort of need to anyway. We don’t really understand why God wants us to beg Him for our provisions. Our emotional perception is that since He is somewhat disinterested and distant, He must be persuaded by our dutiful faithfulness to give us what we need.
In reality, this kind of dutiful exercise is completely opposite of God’s heart for His people in the place of prayer. We are told through the prophet Isaiah that at the end of the age even those who are foreigners to God’s covenants will be brought to a place of joyful prayer. Consider these words:
Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, And to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants-- Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant-- Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations." Isaiah 56:6-7
Notice the themes. Prayer will be initiated by God. It will be about loving the name of the Lord and experiencing joy in the house of prayer, a ministry in which all the nations of the earth shall participate. Religious duty is not the motivation for intercessory prayer.