Transform your prayer life by eliminating these 4 types of problematic prayers.
15-minute Audio. 12-minute Read.
For every Christian, prayer is a vital ingredient to a robust faith and relationship with God. If you want to transform your faith, you can start by taking a look at your prayers. Prayer is both our starting battleground and our place of worship. With prayer, we contend for one another; we rally for the Kingdom, and we deepen our intimacy with Christ.
Our prayers also act as a mirror, reflecting what we believe about God, and ourselves. We can pray from a position of doubt and lack, or we can pray from a place of Truth and authority. Prayer is meant to be powerful enough to move mountains, but sadly, many of the prayers echoing through our church walls today are laced with lies and uncertainties.
Below are four things to stop doing in prayer, and ways to pray powerful prayers instead
#1 Petitioning for Proximity and Permanence (ie God be near me, God stay with me)
In popular culture, it’s not uncommon for relationships to exist somewhere on a sliding continuum of together and separate, creating enough sparks of uncertainty to fuel entire albums of musical expression. Just listen to pop radio for a few minutes, and your ears will be flooded with lyrical stories about the whole spectrum of proximity. For example, we have titles such as…
- “Closer” by the Chainsmokers and “Far Away” by Nickelback
- “Next to You” by Justin Bieber and “Without You” Avicii
- “Contigo” by Enrique Iglesias and “Donde Estas Corazon?” Shakira
In addition to the desire for close proximity, the longing for relational permanence, is so universal, that there’s a particular one-word wish that Sam Smith, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Zedd, and Alessia Cara have each dropped an individual title about. And that word is…“STAY.”
Despite the romantic sounding melodies, the hidden commonality across all these songs is an undeniable fear of loss. You wouldn’t sing your heart out asking for someone to stay unless there was also a possibility they might leave.
Thankfully, our relationship with God isn’t like that because we’re inseparable for eternity. But unfortunately, some of our prayers sound just as insecure as a top 40 pop song, and we pray from a place of spiritual separation anxiety.
Perhaps you ask God to stay with you as you drive Tioga Pass in the icy conditions, or maybe you ask God to be near you when your significant other is as far away as a Nickelback song. Or maybe, you feel so distant from God, that you just sent out the official smoke signal prayer crying “God, where are you?”
We hear prayers like this so often that they almost sound normal, but asking for God’s close proximity or his presence forever, perpetuate two core lies about Him.
- The first is that God exists separate from you.
- The second is that he could leave you at any time.
- The Truth is that God lives IN you, and you are united with Him in spirit. (1st Corinthians 3).
His word says He will never leave you or forsake you and that nothing can separate you from his love. Internalizing these truths will radically transform the way you pray and live. Declare them, and know that you are never alone.
# 2 Asking for What You Already Have
Now that you’re fully aware of God living inside of you, it’s important to know what that entails. You have been given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, and everything pertaining to life and godliness. And yet, it’s possible, to live spiritually asleep and starve while sitting at a feast. Consider the refrigerator analogy.
You and your spouse just moved into your new mid-town apartment. After surviving off of delivery pizza for several weeks, you decide to surprise them one day by stocking the fridge with all of their random favorite foods during your lunch break. You fill the shelves with chocolate covered acai power-berries, sugar snap peas, and triple strength cold brew coffee. Then you write a detailed love note about what’s inside, tape it to the fridge, and drive back to work giddy with anticipation for their reaction. But several hours later, much to your dismay, your phone lights up with a discouraged, hangry, text message.
“Spouse, I feel so weak. I just ask that you go to the grocery store. Get me power berries. Give me peas. I need triple strength cold brew. If you are willing, please provide for me. xoxo”
How heartbreaking. You are willing to provide, but your spouse is either unaware of the food — because they haven’t read the note — or they have read it, but they refuse to eat, or they simply don’t know how to open containers and use utensils.
As ridiculous as that text message may seem, many of us pray in a similar manner. Our spiritual fridge, so to speak, is stuffed with blessings and fruits of the spirit, but if we don’t open it, our prayers will originate from a place of emptiness, as though these blessings exist somewhere outside of us far beyond our reach. For example, you might pray:
- “Give me patience when there is horrendous traffic outside Golden One Center.”
- “Give me peace when the pedestrians are unruly”
- “Give me the strength to obey the speed limit when it is as slow as the pedestrians.”
It turns out, you already have peace, patience, and strength. Before asking God for something you think you lack, take inventory of what you have. In Christ, you are fully equipped, complete and lacking in nothing. You have been given every spiritual blessing—including love, joy, peace, kindness, self-control, and yes, even patience, during Golden One Center traffic chaos.
Start from a foundation of gratitude, declaring His promises before sprinting to your complaints and requests. For example, instead of asking God for more power, thank God that the same power which rose Jesus from the dead lives in you, and ask Him to show you how to use it.
#3 Asking for Forgiveness…Over and Over
Asking God for forgiveness is not a sin, but the belief that we have unforgiven sins is. God calls us to trust Him, and our trust is revealed in the way we pray. We can pray in thanksgiving that He is faithful and just to forgive, or we can beg for forgiveness for the same sin, over and over, out of worry that we’re not covered by the blood of Jesus. Let’s take a look at the student debt analogy.
Angie, a freshman at a prestigious and pricey liberal arts college, takes out sixty thousand dollars in loans, to pay her tuition bill that year. Angie has angst. Drowning in debt, 20 units of coursework, and her on-campus job, she strives and struggles just to keep her head above water. But one day, she gets a call from the financial office announcing that a donor would like to pay off her current debt and fund the rest of her degree in full. Unlike most grants, this gift isn’t even merit-based.
You would guess Angie would feel ecstatic and walk around with a buoyancy in her step, just in knowing that she’s saved by the crushing weight of student debt and higher education inflation. But Angie still has angst and walks around campus with a weight of guilt as heavy as her 20 unit class load backpack. She can’t quite wrap her mind around the gift —she has to process it — and she doesn’t believe she deserves to go to school debt free. Thus, instead of accepting the generosity, she calls the financial office after every class to apologize for the cost of her education, the burden she is on the institution, and to triple check about whether her next semester is still covered. The administration office is kind, but Angie’s calls get old after a while because her debts have been deleted from the records. Whats the College/Cross connection?
When Jesus died on the cross, He forgave us our sins, past, present, and future. Yet many Christians, like angsty Angie, have trouble accepting His radical grace and thus ask for forgiveness over and over. In prayer, they sit glued to mental movies of their top ten sins of the week, making sure to replay the worst parts in slow motion for God — as though this is more honoring to Him. It’s not.
When we sin, the book of acts instructs us to “repent and turn to God, so our sins may be wiped out.” So the next time you catch yourself sinning, turn off the slow-mo sin jumbotron, and turn towards the God instead. Then remember, He will remember your sins no more.
# 4 Constantly Using the Word “JUST”
The word just is used so often in prayer, these days, that it has become somewhat of the spiritual version of ‘um.’ It can be used with fine intent or as mere filler, but prayers peppered with “just” should serve as a warning light on the dashboard of your beliefs. And it’s more than just a grammar issue. Consider the following reasons we use just in everyday speech.
- To make an apologetic introduction “Sorry to bother you but, just wanted to check in. I’m just wondering when will you respond to my email.”
- To depreciate yourself: “There’s nothing special about me. I’m just a mom, who’s just a sinner saved by grace.”
- To minimize a request: Can you just edit all the slides for next week’s presentation? And then just tie up all the loose ends?
- To downplay a situation: It’s not a big deal, I’m just sad. And I’m not sick, I just have mononucleosis.
Keeping that list in mind, take a look at the following prayer.
“God we just come before you now and just lift up Caroline. We just ask you just heal her fractured femurs. God, we just need you to just show up during her operation, and just give divine hand-eye coordination to the surgeons. We just love you. Amen.”
This prayer might fly under the radar at Sunday small group, but it sounds nothing like how Jesus prayed. In the gospels when Jesus calmed the storm, he did not say “Umm, just settle down just a bit.” No, he prayed with a bold and direct command, saying, “Quiet! Be still.”
If you feel the need to downplay your situation or diminish the difficulty of your requests when talking to God, you may need a reminder about who you are, and WHOSE you are. The Bible calls you a child of God, a friend of God, and a co-heir with Christ seated in Heavenly realms. As to how we should approach God, then, Hebrews 4:16 says “Let us approach the throne with confidence.”
It’s important that we pray with confidence, because faith is confidence in what we hope for, and assurance in what we cannot see. Just, is rarely a confident word. The stingy and vague nature of just-filled prayers insinuate the lies that we are a burden to God and that he can’t handle our requests.
The truth, however, is that nothing is impossible for Christ. He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. Don’t hold back. Cast your heaviest burdens on Him. Make your prayers specific, outrageous, and bold. And when it comes to just, just stop.
Action Plan Summary
Instead of asking God to be near you or stay with you, declare that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit, and forever united with God.
Instead of asking for what you already have, pray in thanksgiving for the blessings He has given, and ask God to teach you how to use them.
Instead of repeatedly asking for forgiveness, repent, turn, and praise Jesus that His death on the cross was sufficient for ALL sins.
Finally, instead of praying timidly, using just as every other word, pray with confidence. Thank God for what is already done in Heaven, and declare His will to be done on earth.