Pointless Prayer, and why prayer will never get you what you want.

about-his-hands

I posted a while back about prayer, and received some exceptionally insightful comments. I learned a lot. I confess that, even though I write this blog, I don’t really understand prayer very well. I usually feel like I’m talking to the backs of my eyelids. That’s starting to change.

Perhaps “pointless prayer” is too strong a term. But let me explain my thinking. I have always prayed because it was a means to stop doing something I shouldn’t do. Or start doing something I should do. Or get something I don’t have. Or get rid of something I don’t want. I understand that the Bible says we are supposed to bring our requests to God. But this was different. My thought was, “Prayer is the key to getting this result that I want.” That sounds true. Why else would we pray? But it’s not true. Prayer gets you only one thing: A relationship with God. From there, amazing things happen.

I can already see the comments flowing in, but you need to understand how this worked in my head to see that I’m right about this. Those of you who disagree with the title of this post probably just have a more mature level of prayer than I do. I literally thought that the act of prayer was the key. This action of speaking into darkness behind closed eyes was going to change me. And the center of my prayers was always the same: Me. Sure, I would pray for other people. But the prayer was still, “This is what I want for this person I am praying for.”  I wasn’t praying in order to be close to God.  I was praying because I thought that saying a bunch of words with my eyes closed would be like flipping a switch and things would happen.  Things didn’t happen.

It would be more accurate to title this post, “Talking to the backs of your eyelids will never get you what you want.”  That’s all I was doing.  I was not seeking a conversation.  I was not seeking a relationship.  I was just seeking results.  It was no different than a stranger walking up to you and asking you for things.

Prayer wasn’t getting me anywhere so I wrote this post a while back. And I put a poll on there asking how you pray. Since I have a personality disorder that causes me to think everyone in the world is just like me, I assumed the overwhelming response would be people confessing that they wished they were more disciplined in their prayer life. But I was wrong. The overwhelming response was that most people reading this blog just pause momentarily throughout the day and pray about whatever moves them at the moment.

This was surprising to me. I follow a lot of the blogs of the commenters and these are people I respect. People doing really cool things in the world for God. People I should listen to. So I did. I stopped trying to jam prayer into a specific spot in my day like it was a chore and started praying whenever I felt moved to do so. Or whenever I felt a moment of weakness. Or a moment of particular strength. Mostly just whenever. I started praying a lot. Far more than I ever did in the days of setting aside a half hour at the beginning of the day. My prayer became more focused. That first half hour of the day was riddled with internal distractions and spinning thoughts of everything from breakfast, to work, to the kids, to whatever. But these little moments of prayer were highly focused.  My prayer became pointless.  It was not meant to deliver a result that I wanted, or even desperately needed.  It was simply to build this amazing relationship.  Sure, I know I can ask for things in prayer.  But I want to ask them of a Father that I know.  That I spend time with.  That I care about, and who cares about me.  That’s a different level of asking.  And it needs to come first, I think.

Something interesting happened that started to reveal this truth to me. I ran out of things to ask for. When you pray a lot, all throughout the day, you kind of run out of the standard shopping list in your head. I started asking God for a closer relationship. I started thanking Him for even hearing my prayers at all. He’s God after all. I started seeing images of me walking along side, and get closer over time. That blackness on the backs of my eyes was being replaced with images of a God who, for whatever reason, wants a relationship with me. It makes no sense to me how this could be, and it never will. I am starting to give up on trying to get it to make sense and instead just being amazed that it happens.

So there you have it. This blog you read is written by a guy who in currently in 3rd Grade Prayer. But a month ago I was in Pre-K so I’m moving up. And I mostly have all of you to thank for it. Things take a long time for me. This skull, with all its fourteen screws holding it together, is pretty thick. But with you along for the ride with me, I feel like some things are starting to come together.

Next step… dealing with the interaction with God and how it freaks me out a little. Overall, the realization that asking God to change everything in your life might actually result in Him doing so. That’s awesome when you write a theoretical blog about things that other people should do. It’s scary when it happens to you. But I can do scary. With you folks along for the ride, I can do scary.

We were built to be heroes. It’s about time we started acting like heroes.

Photo credit: stallkerl / Foter.com / CC BY-ND
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23 thoughts on “Pointless Prayer, and why prayer will never get you what you want.

  1. Jim, this is now the third time I have read this piece. And it get in under my ribcage each time – and as powerful as the first. I think it needs some sex and rock and roll tags – this one should go viral!

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  2. Maybe what I’ll point out might help. Prayer is a lot more than what most think. Prayer is not only ‘asking’ God for things but is a lifestyle based on obedience. It is simply a form of communication (akin to worship as well) whereby we respond to God’s word. Every time you say to yourself, I won’t do (or will do) this or that because God says I shouldn’t (should) do this, you’ve prayed. You are responding to what God said to you. Prayer is not limited to only supplication. Prayer is constant communion with God by one that is being filled with God’s word. It is a natural response of the new man. God speaks to us through his word (prophecy) and we respond to God through our obedience and agreement to same (prayer). It’s really not a ‘bow your head and close your eyes’ kind of thing even though that ALSO is prayer (you are communicating to God in that fashion). Praying without ceasing (praying without stopping) is living a life in response to God’s word.

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  3. Awesome post as always, bro. I hate when I’m in a big crowd, someone is asked to pray, and they start the same, stale, old, cookie cutter words that have been said in church over and over an over. One time while having small groups at One7, we asked some of the guys to pray, but to do it differently. Eyes open. Don’t use the same phrases and cliches that we have been taught to use. Pray out loud. They couldn’t do it. God has got to be tired of hearing “thank you for this day” “thank you for another day of life”, etc. Let me rephrase that. He might not be tired of hearing those, but He’s got to be shaking His head. Instead of programmed words He’s heard for thousands of years, I believe He wants us to be honest with him. Talk to Him like a friend and daddy. When my Dad died, I yelled, cursed, and blamed God for it. I’m human, I’m going to fail miserably. I’m not afraid to admit it. I have sense repented of those things and He has forgiven me. That’s how a relationship works.

    Great post

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  4. There are a few times in my life when I know, that I know, beyond any reason or doubt that I know my prayer was answered.

    Once when I was desperate for God to heal my mother of strep pneumonia in her blood and bacteria meningitis (she recovered, miraculously, after 3 days (I find that ironic since Jesus rose after 3 days). The Doc’s prepared us for the entire time to expect her to die. Out of the 12 people in the nation who had caught both of these together, mom was the only survivor and made quite a splash at John Cochran Hospital in St. Louis, MO. and the Center for Disease Control out of STL. The had no explanation for mom exiting ICU under her own power. They expected a body bag. Mom lived about 15 more years after that (she recently passed away).

    The second time was during a very sarcastic time in my life. Even though I was the “Chaplain” of the class I was in, I felt like my prayers hit the ceiling and fell back to earth. I wasn’t expecting God to heal a baby that was born so premature no one thought she was going to make it. When I prayed I tried to silence the sarcastic thought in my head, “Why do I even bother?” type of thought. I was surprised to read on Facebook how this little baby made a turn around in less than 24 hours and the doctors said they expected her to get out of the hospital sooner than they thought. All I could do was Praise His name.

    I pray throughout my day… I think I even voted in your poll… God does change us, but there are seasons when we think our prayers hit the ceiling and fall back to the ground… my suggestion is to pray anyway. There will be seasons of answered prayer, and there will be seasons where you’ll question your prayer life… but keep on praying… God is always up to something good and he delights in our prayers of thanksgiving, praise and petition. And then, sometimes, God surprises you completely by answering a prayer you cynically think he won’t.

    To God be the glory~!

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  5. This was just plain AWESOME!

    Following after God with all of me in messy abandonment even brought me into some “dippy-doodle” places. Get a hold of this: He joined me there and what I heard Him briefly say to me was, “I’m able to join you, even here…but do you REALLY want to go there?”

    This tickles me to bits, to be able to share such a crazy-wonderful thing about our astonishingly loving God!

    I love your blog. It triggers so many wonderful thoughts and memories…and makes me re-visit important issues. So, thanks!

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  6. Dear Jim – I want to jump into the computer screen here, pop out of yours – and give you a great big squishy hug! Not for finding “the answer” nor even for speaking words of wisdom (although you probably are). But simply for sharing something simply gorgeous, honest and real. Relationship, running out of things to ask for, “I am starting to give up on trying to get it to make sense and instead just being amazed that it happens.” This is one for the Wall of Heroes! I remember your poll and ticking “other” because I thought your were a little nuts. And then you come back with this. Just beautiful! A virtual squishy hug from another equally confused traveller!

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    • Under normal circumstances, I blog for free. However, I am always willing to accept squishy hugs as compensation. And they are tax free! But here’s the deal… if you ain’t bringin’ the squishy, don’t bother. Thanks for your ever-present encouragement.

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      • Under normal circumstances I squish for free, So here’s the deal … let me continue to share your journey, your growth and your gift. If you ain’t bringing the honesty don’t bother. You touch something deep inside. Thank you.

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  7. mammapropria says:

    Well said, James, very well said, indeed! I remember being a bit freaked out when ‘What A Friend We Have In Jesus’ went from being a classic gospel hymn to spending every minute of my life with my very best Friend ever. He is never too busy to listen, he never laughs at me, and he always understands what I’m trying to say, even when I mumble or yammer on and on about absolutely anything at all. And he listens patiently, waiting for me to slow down for a moment so he can share with me an important insight or understanding, or sometimes points my attention at something I’ve tried to avoid seeing. I no longer even turn on the radio in my car, especially when I’m traveling … that would just interrupt hanging out with my best Friend.

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