Biblical Prayer:

How Not to Pray How to Pray Effectively More About Biblical Prayer

Copyright information, disclaimers, and sponsors
Return to homepage

How Not to Pray

Jeremiah 7:1-11; Matthew 6:7-8, Don’t babble.
Matthew 6:5; Luke 18:9-14, Don’t be self-righteous.
James 4:2-3, Don’t pray wrongly.

We are a can-do nation.  In the past few decades, we've also been a how-to nation.  Write a book on "How to Turn Dust Bunnies into Dust Rags," and it will immediately become a best seller.  This week we are looking at how to pray, starting with how not to pray. 

First, don't confuse incantation with prayer.  Repetition (not to be confused with persistence) isn't effective, particularly when repetition is substituted for righteous action.  Second, remember that God is good, and we are not.  Don't be smug in your prayers.  Third, don't pray wrongly; that is, don't pray for things you don't need and which, if you had them, would lead you to do things you shouldn't.  If you want something you don't need, work for it, don't pray for it.  If you want something that's just going to get you into trouble, pray for sales resistance.

How to Pray Effectively

Be persistent.
Luke 18:1-8, The Importunate Widow.
Luke 11:5-8, The Friend at Midnight.

Yesterday we learned not to babble – don't say the same thing over and over in the hope that mere repetition will get God's attention.  Nevertheless, the scriptures do tell us to be persistent.  If you are confident that what you are praying for is within the will of God, pray for it frequently, regularly, passionately.  Think about it this way.  If your boss, spouse, or child comes to you one day and says five times, "Type this letter," "Pay all the bills," "Buy me a Halloween costume," is it going to be done right that second?  No.  You have to have some time to get it done.  But if you get the same request on five consecutive days, isn't it more likely to get done than if you were only asked once?  I think maybe one difference between babbling and persistence is that even God has got to have some time to get things done.

Today’s Prayer: Dear God,  I know I've mentioned this before, but it's important to me.  If it's possible, please....     Amen.

Luke 11:9-13; Matthew 7:7-11, Ask, Seek, Knock. (10/15/08)

Jesus tells us to take our requests to our Heavenly Father.  On both observational and theological grounds, I doubt that this is a blank check.  First, Jesus' examples are practical needs – bread, fish, and eggs – not luxuries.  This does not suggest to me that I should pray for, say, a diamond necklace, or that if I did ask for such a thing, I would get it from God.  Probably better to get a job and buy one. 

Second, Jesus' assurance is limited to the Holy Spirit and to good things.  No point in asking for your neighbor to break out in boils.  But earnest prayers for necessities can get powerful results.  A few years back a food-bank lady spoke at our church about a pre-Thanksgiving crisis her group had had.  They prayed for God to make it "rain turkeys."  Very shortly – that very day, as I recall – a local distributor called to say he was having trouble with some freezers, and could they please help him by taking a bunch of turkeys off his hands.  Just remember – you might be the distributor who is God's answer to someone else's prayer.

Note that Jesus gave this example on two different occasions – in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Sermon on the Plain – with slight differences.

Today’s Prayer: Dear Lord, please give me what I need today.  Let me pay attention if you are directing me to be your instrument for answering prayer.  Amen.

Mark 11:12-14, 20-24, Believe. (10/16/08)

People who don't believe their prayerful requests will be granted are unlikely to have them granted.  Why not?  Why doesn't God just prove His existence by granting everybody's wishes?  Then they would believe in Him!  I think that's just the point:  God isn't going to cross your will by forcing you to believe. 

On the other hand, several passages say that your belief is somehow an essential part of the process by which God grants your petitions.  One of my Bethel students started keeping track of his prayers and what happened.  He became more confident as he noticed that his petitions were being granted.  You don't have to start with tree-withering, mountain-moving belief.  Thought-changing belief is okay and a good first step.  The first thoughts to be changed are your own.

James 5:13-20, Be Righteous. (10/17/08)

The real trick to effective prayer is to be righteous.  You can look "righteous" up in the dictionary and learn that it means moral, virtuous, or without sin or guilt.  Sometimes it does seem to mean moral or virtuous in the Bible.  Usually, however, I think it means "having a right relationship with God," as in the hymn below.  The opposite of "righteous" is not "wrong" so much as it is "self-righteous."  None of us are righteous of ourselves; we are only righteous in Christ, who has taken away our sin and guilt.  In almost the same breath, James tells us to confess our sins so that we can be forgiven and that the prayer of a righteous person avails much.   

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
            – Edward Mote (1797-1874)

P.S.  To save you the trouble of asking, it is not clear to scholars whether the multitude of sins that are covered in vs. 20 belong to the sinner or the person who brings him back.  Either way, if you have the opportunity to bring a sinner back to the Lord, you should definitely act on it!

Today’s Prayer: Dear God, I believe in you, but not enough.  Cleanse me of my remaining unbelief.  Amen.

More About Biblical Prayer

The Purpose of Prayer
Conversations with God – Abraham
Conversations with God – Moses
Conversations with God – David and Solomon
Adoration: Sing to the Lord a New Song
Liturgical Prayer
When God Speaks
God promises to answer all prayers…
… Except the prayers of the Wicked. But if the Wicked repent, God hears them, too.
Sometimes the answer is “No.”
The disciples talk about prayer.
How Not to Pray
How to Pray: Effectively
How to Pray – Privately
How to Pray – Corporately

Copyright 2008, 2011 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

Our Sponsors:

St. John's United Methodist Church, "Transforming Lives Through Christ."
2626 Arizona NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87110

St. John's Music Ministries now has a YouTube channel, bringing you free concerts and choral music. Check it out!

Traditional worship services are held Sundays at 8:15 and 11:00 a.m. in the sanctuary.  Casual worship services are held Sundays at 9:30 a.m. in the Family Life Center.  Jazz Vespers are held monthly on the second Saturday at 5:00 p.m. in the sanctuary. St. John's feels especially called to the worship of God and to the service of our neighbors through our music program.

Storm Dragon SoftwareTM

Ducks in a Row, Inc.

This website is supported in part by the generosity of Mrs. J. Jordan.