2005-01-18 - Rethinking Prayer
Psalm 66:18 If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear.
I have been thinking about this for several months. I was reading a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and I came upon a section that has, over the last few months, changed my thoughts on prayer, and even changed the way I pray. I will quote it first.
"Prayers need not be fine. I believe God abhors fine prayers. If a person asks charity of you in elegant sentences, he is not likely to get it. Finery in dress or language is out of place in beggars. I heard a man in the street one day begging aloud by means of a magnificent oration. He used grand language in very pompous style, and I dare say he thought he was sure of getting piles of coppers by his borrowed speech, but I, for one, gave him nothing, but felt more inclined to laugh at his bombast. Is it not likely that many great prayers are about as useless? Many prayer meetings' prayers are a great deal too fine. Keep your figures and metaphors and parabolical expressions for your fellow-creatures, use them to those who want to be instructed, but do not parade them before God. When we pray, the simpler our prayers are the better; the plainest, humblest language which expresses our meaning is the best."
When I read this, my heart sank, because not only was Spurgeon right -- I was guilty of the very thing he spoke of. I knew it. When I pray in public, I pray flowery prayers, or I used to. It is not uncommon that someone mentions how much he/she enjoyed my prayer when praying in a group. For two years, I did the pastoral prayers every week at my church, because people liked them. But my prayers were often as much for show as they were from sincerity of heart. I gained acceptance and honor by praying piously. This makes me nothing better than a Pharisee: "They do all their deeds to be noticed by men." Matthew 23:5
Frankly, I never really thought about it until I read this paragraph. It had never crossed my mind that my prayers, while sincere, were also full of pride. It is never easy to have your heart exposed to yourself so that you see its true nature, but it is part of growing in Christ, and for that, I am thankful.
I must admit that I still enjoy praying long, theological, even pious prayers. But for me to continue to do this, I have learned that I save those prayers for my private prayer times. For the last couple of months, I have been trying to learn to pray prayers of a more basic and simple nature when I pray with others. I have found it is not an easy task to change the way you pray. It takes concentration, effort and determination. But I feel that my prayers are more genuine now.
A short time ago I was in a room with three pastors, and we went to prayer. They prayed great prayers, and I prayed a simple prayer. Truthfully, I was embarrassed. I could only think about what they might be thinking about my simple prayer. "This guy doesn't even know how to pray. I wonder if he even has a prayer life." But I know this: My prayer was from my heart, and to have broken into a prayer for show would have been nothing but sin. It is hard to admit to being a simple beggar. But when we come to God in prayer, we come as needy beggars. We need His provision, His mercy and His love in every way. Beggars don't need to be eloquent; they simply need to communicate their need and apply to the source for help.
Long, complicated, and theological prayers are not wrong in themselves. There is something wonderful in a well-organized, deep conversation with God. There is also something helpful when someone who has a deep prayer life models that prayer life to others. When a person of prayer shows dynamic communion with God through prayer to someone who lacks that close, intimate communion, it can be a good thing. However, in my case, motives were mixed. There was too much of an element of self in my prayers, and they needed to change. I don't suggest judging those who pray well, or long (Matthew 7:1), but rather I suggest examining your own heart concerning prayer. I failed this examination, and I hope to do better on a retest.
Soli Deo Gloria,