4 Things to Stop Doing in Prayer

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.

  1. 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.”
  2. To depreciate yourself: “There’s nothing special about me. I’m just a mom, who’s just a sinner saved by grace.”
  3. 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? 
  4. 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.

Sources: Stop Praying Powerless Prayers” Sermon by Eric Knopf from Epic Life

 

 

 

Love, Fear, and College Hoops

A college basketball perspective on love, and fear of the Lord.

Today’s post is based (loosely) on parts of a sermon by Eric Knopf at Epic life about the fear of God. This blog/podcast has two parts. The analogy, and the Kingdom connection.

Part I- The AnalogyFear or Love?  Which team do you play for?

Fraidy Cats on the Court

The Fraidy Institute of Trepidation, also known as F.I.T college, takes great pride in school sports. They are represented in mascot by the timid and skittish domestic animal, the cat. When prospective student-athletes visit Fraidy for recruiting trips, the athletic department treats them like royalty. Showering recruits with attention and kindness, the coach projects a future picture of a college experience rich with belonging, expert mentorship from team captains, and erasing of student loan debt via scholarship money. After the student signs the contract, however, the mentality shifts and the coach begins using  fear as a behavior management technique to improve the team’s performance. And, in the short term, it’s quite effective.

The ever-lingering punishment of “suicide liners” drives the players to arrive at practice 15 minutes early, like clockwork. Echoes of slammed clipboards and humiliating midgame berates, keep team members practicing their free throws daily. The fear of losing educational enrolment—as it rides on the fragile foundation of merit-based scholarship money—lights a haunting fire in the eyes of every Cat on game day. On weekends, fear of coach’s wrath ensures a dutiful, albeit bitter, team-wide abstaining from intoxication and other campus party chaos. The athletic director deems the basketball the most polite in the whole school.

With the intense emotion of fear always on their heels, the cats never lack in performance motivation. Indeed, Fraidy qualifies for the playoffs every season and has earned a reputation for running a systematic and clean game with minimal on-court errors. And yet, just below the surface of the seemingly flawless tight ship, an infestation of problems eats away at the team like termites. By sophomore year, most players find themselves plagued with burnout and stress fracture injuries. On the emotional front, ongoing jealousy corrodes the team spirit. No one celebrates in another’s individual scoring victory as they believe coach can only shine the spotlight on so many players at once. Ultimately, for those who choose to play for Fraidy, fear rules over every aspect of their lives.

Agape Takes Possession

Standing beside Fraidy, in stark contrast, is Agape Pacific University. The athletic department at Agape meets prospective students with a genuine kindness, which only increases after the recruiting trip. The players at Apage Pacific still pursue excellence on the court, however, unlike the cats, their motivation is NOT fueled by the fear of the consequences of failure. Team discipline and exemplary attendance records serve as a mere bonus byproduct of their love of the game, respect for the coach, and commitment to each other.

While other conference teams attempt to get away with as much foul play as possible, Agape Pacific refuses to “play dirty.” Sure, they still make mistakes and chuck their mouth guards into technical foul territories from time to time, but they find no satisfaction in throwing sharp elbows or holding jerseys behind the ref’s back. Quite simply, that would take the joy out of the game; and in regards to Joy, Agape goes big.

     From the shrill whistle of tip off to the blare of the final Buzzer, Agape Pacific takes ownership of the court, electrifying the arena with passion. The team chemistry, love of the game and desire to honor their coach, cancels any fear of making mistakes. Ironically, some of the other teams are afraid of Agape, They say the bright intensity is “too much,” and they can’t take the heat. But Agape does fear such competitors. They press on, with a full court press, and continue bravely with alley-oops, high fives, half court shots, and slam dunks. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Agape wins, every time.

Part II: The Kingdom Connection

The “fear of the Lord” is a widely discussed and often misused phrase in today’s church. The book of Proverbs states that the “Fear of the Lord” is the beginning of wisdom. And at the same time, Jesus frequently commands His disciples NOT to fear. When facing this apparent contradiction, we must first recognize the multiple definitions of the Greek noun phobos. According to the New Testament Greek Lexicon, phobos can mean either “fear, dread, and  terror,” or, “reverence for one’s husband.”

These definitions are not interchangeable, and they require a contextual distinction for accurate understanding. Since the majority of Christians have not studied Greek in depth, the word “fear” tends register far more readily with the dread definition. And sadly, while the church does focus on the Grace of God to bring people in, they often use the “Fear of the Lord—with an emphasis on the terror based definition—as a sin prevention and behavior grooming tool. In doing so, the church unintentionally disciples followers into a faith damaging, fear-based relationship with their loving Father. In the words of the original sermon, “it’s impossible to authentically love someone you also fear.”

To finish with a verse, I leave you with 1st John 4:18. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”  

Greater Is He

Enjoy a musical morning devotional by way of the Sing-song memory method. Simply click on the bolded lyric line for the related scripture passage.

Greater is He, Blanca

I face a giant
In over my head
Help me to look up
I take a deep breath
And take the next step
Though I may be weak
I know who is with me
[Chorus:]
And greater is He living in me. Than he who is in the world

 Whatever may come, his strength is enough

My heart is at peace, for greater is He

I face an ocean
The waves are raging

You’ll do what I can’t

And I’ll walk on dry land
I’ll step out on the sea
[Chorus]
And in His name, giants will fall
And in His name, oceans will part
And in His name, there’s nothing we won’t overcome
This is our God, this is our God
This is our God, this is our God
[Chorus]

*All passages are from the NIV translation and are best read in context.

The Sing-Song Memory Method

How I use song lyrics to memorize scripture.

Memorizing scripture is a spiritual discipline recommended by church leaders everywhere, and rightly so. Internalizing God’s word renews our minds, transforms our prayers, and gives comfort and encouragement to others. Yet as I say this, I admit, it has not always been my strong suit. I think I memorized The Beatitudes at a church camp contest at age 8–because I thought the prizes were so cool–but other than that,   I neglected to commit verses to memory for about 23 years.  The reasons behind the recommendations as to why I should made sense, but the practice itself always felt like a painstaking discipline, that required staring at text, and repeating verses out loud over and over again in a monotone voice. When I first listened through the New Testament, however, something changed. A number of “new” verses registered as familiar because I could match them up with a line from a worship song. I began to wonder if songs could make scripture memorization a more dynamic, and even fun process. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most people can easily recall lyrics from the hit songs in their middle school days, or that the advertisements use catchy tunes to grab our attention.

Words strung together in lyrics and paired with a melody will adhere to the mind and the soul like gorilla glue. Picking out verses in songs isn’t meant to substitute the contextual read, but it can certainly provide a starting place for depositing verses to your memory word bank. In my experience, the sing-song method works in two ways: while reading the Bible, words on the page will trigger a song. And in turn, when singing the songs, the lyrics will trigger a verse.

Enjoy the links and lyrical analysis below, and expect more songs to come.

Copy Right- For King & Country

“Shoulders” Lyrics

When confusion’s my companion  Psalm 77:1-2
And despair holds me for ransom  
I will feel no fear Isaiah 41:10
I know that You are near Psalm 34:18

When I’m caught deep in the valley Psalm 23:4
With chaos for my company Psalm 42: 6-8
I’ll find my comfort here John 16: 33
‘Cause I know that You are near

[Chorus:]
My help comes from You Psalm 121:2
You’re right here, pulling me through
You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders 1 Peter 5:7Psalm 81:6
Your shoulders 

My help comes from You
You are my rest, my rescue Psalm 71:1Psalm 62:5
I don’t have to see to believe that You’re lifting me up on Your shoulders Matthew 11: 28-30

You mend what once was shattered Psalm 147:3
And You turn my tears to laughter Psalm 30:11
Your forgiveness is my fortress  Ephesians 1:7-10
Oh Your mercy is relentless Ephesians 2: 4-5

[Chorus:]

Repeat
My help comes from You
You are my rest, my rescue
I don’t have to see to believe that You’re lifting me up on Your shoulders Hebrews 11:1

*all further lyrics have already been quoted above*

Your shoulders
My help is from You
Don’t have to see it to believe it 
My help is from you

Don’t have to see it, ’cause I know, ’cause I know it’s true
My help is from You
Don’t have to see it to believe it
My help is from you
Don’t have to see it, ’cause I know, ’cause I know it’s true

[Chorus:]

My help comes from You
You’re right here, pulling me through
You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders
Your shoulders

My help comes from You
You are my rest, my rescue
I don’t have to see to believe that You’re lifting me up on Your shoulders
Your shoulders

My help is from You
Don’t have to see it to believe it
My help is from you
Don’t have to see it, ’cause I know, ’cause I know it’s true

[x3:]

My help is from You
Trying to see it to believe it
My help is from you

Trying to see it, ’cause I know, ’cause I know it’s true