How NOT to Pray Part 10: Don’t Change
I’ve been writing my first book for about 150 years now.
This is Part 10 of 10. Now I’m going to go back through all 10 parts, rewriting and developing the content. When I’m done, I hope to have something that’s helpful. I hope it’s at least worth putting together into an eBook format.
How NOT to Pray Part 10: Don’t Change
You know what happens when you don’t change?
Eventually, if you dig in your heels for long enough, you’ll calcify. You’ll rust tight. You’ll stop moving forward and you’ll rust tight.
By now it’s safe to assume you’re reading this because you want your relationship with God to go somewhere. At least I hope that’s why you’re still reading, and it’s not just because, like me, you have this weird thing about finishing every series you start, no matter how terrible it is.
I promise not to tank this last chapter. But I’m going to need some participation from you too. It’s time to put hands and feet to your prayer life. It’s time to pull all of this talk about prayer out of the theoretical realm and secure its impact in the here and now. It’s time for you to change.
Ready? Let’s go.
Let me ask you a point blank question:
Does your prayer pass the “so what” test?
What I mean is, “Is your life changing as a result of your prayer?” If it’s not, you’re doing it wrong. If you learn “how to pray”, but don’t ever change as a result of connecting with God, then “So what?” It’s all for nothing.
The fact that it’s possible to pray without changing should make you sick to your stomach, at least a little bit. But it is. It’s possible to “pray” all the time and not change a bit.
Jesus actually pointed out how NOT to pray:
5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. (Matthew 6:5)
The Jews didn’t have a word to accurately describe the spiritual fakers Jesus was talking about here. So he called them “hypocrites”. It means “stage actor”. You think, “That doesn’t sound too bad. Actors are celebrities!” It wasn’t a compliment. In fact, it was a pretty harsh insult, a slap right in the face.
In Jesus’ day and culture, actors were considered professional liars. The Jews looked down on the Greeks in more ways than one. The “pretending” that actors did was despicable. So to refer to someone praying as a “hypocrite” was about as big of a slam as you could imagine.
Jesus says, essentially, “Don’t be a pretender when you pray. Don’t pray for show. Pray for go.”
So, if you don’t want to fall into that category, maybe you should take a minute and do some evaluation.
You’ve got to answer these honest questions about prayer:
- What if I DO hear from God?
- What if I come to Him in prayer, and He speaks to me?
I don’t mean, “speak” like an audible voice. But what if you pray and God answers? Are you prepared to change what you’re doing and how you’re doing it? Are you move-able? Or is all your prayer just your effort to act spiritual?
As we pray, God might ask you to:
- Stop sinning
- Leave your life as you know it and start following Him
- Sever ties with a toxic person
- Develop a new habit
- Answer the call to ministry
- Ask forgiveness from someone you hurt
- …and a thousand other things, all requiring you to respond
God seldom says, “Stay the course.”
It’s not because that’s never the answer. But it’s usually not the answer you’re looking for. What I mean is you’re typically approaching God about things you know you need help with.
You come to Him with a problem you can’t fix. You need God to open His toolbox and do the work you can’t. You approach Him with a sin that you’re stuck in. You desperately need His mercy and grace. You call on Him to be our GPS when you’re peering down two roads that take you to very different destinations.
- You ask God for guidance.
- You place our problems in His lap.
- You go to God for the power to change.
Be honest. Sometimes you hope He won’t answer.
Why? Answered prayer comes with a whole new set of consequences. And you and I, being human, would often rather stay put, mired in our misery, than risk the unknown. Even when we ask for God’s help, we’re often unwilling to change in order to step into His new reality.
Don’t think so?
- Ever heard a teenager whine about not having any money?
- Ever heard a Dad say, “I’ll give you a few bucks if you mow the lawn”?
- Ever seen said teenager roll their eyes in response?
Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.
In spite of your most impressive spiritual gymnastics, if you’re not ready to actually move in response to God when you pray, you risk short-circuiting the whole process. Prayer requires response if it’s to foster close relationship. Remove real-life response from your prayer life, and it’s pointless. Or worse.
Prayer without response can be hazardous to your spiritual health.
Solomon put it this way:
Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed–without remedy. (Proverbs 29:1)
“Stiff-necked.” Not a term we throw around at the office. Stubborn. Unchanging. Un-lead-able. You get the idea.
My point? If you come to God, asking for help, you’d better dang-well be ready to be helped. And if you’re not, you’d better start moving anyway. Otherwise you’re just flapping your gums. Praying to the God of action (Creator, Healer, Comforter, Sustainer… He is a doer) often requires you to move in ways you’re not prepared for, that aren’t easy, and that cost you something.
Consider Jesus’ prayer life.
Jesus was in constant communication with His Father. And I don’t think anybody could make a case for his life being a cake-walk. But the intensity of His life and ministry necessitated constant communication with God Almighty. The mission He was on required Him to be constantly responding to the leading of the Lord.
It it’s true that Jesus prayed to and responded to His Father in Heaven, then it’s all that much more applicable to us.
You were not designed to just float through this life.
God has in mind for you a life that is filled to the brim with adventure. Hang with me. I’m not suggesting everybody is destined to be Indiana Jones. But I do know this: Developing a responsive relationship with God is the most invigorating thing you can ever do.
Your joining God in this adventure has little to do with your outward circumstances. It has everything to do with your inner response to Him.
Whether you’re a sky-dive instructor or a desk jockey, the one thing that is guaranteed to fill your life with a sense of purpose is an authentic, responsive relationship with Almighty God. Only He can bring a Universe worth of purpose to what might otherwise be a very vanilla life.
If you’re in constant communication with the God who holds your days in His hand, you enter into a whole new realm of possibilities. Suddenly, the sky is the limit for your life. No matter what your outward circumstances, your relationship with God gives you the opportunity to soar!
Do you know what this means?
Your limitations do not limit your life nearly as much as you thought they did!
Maybe you’re __________. (Insert disability / limitation here.)
You’re fat. Skinny. Hurt. Sick. Poor. Dyslexic. ADHD. You were born at the wrong time… in the wrong place… to the wrong people… to really live a life of significance.
Or maybe your life, full of bright promise, took a terrible turn. You were sideswiped somewhere along the way, and things will never be quite the same. The hope of the perfect life has been snatched away. You’re forever on plan B.
Do not define yourself by your limitations.
This is not a pep talk. I’m not going to promise you that God will magically whisk away all your hardship. Instead, I’ll point you to the fact that a full-contact prayer life is vital for a life full of challenges. Take a quick look at the numerous examples in Scripture, and you quickly realize you’ve got no reason to count your obstacles as larger than God’s grace and mercy.
Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul… take a look at their lives and it gets squirrelly quick. They were some messed up guys whose one redeeming quality is that they learned how to live out an authentic walk with God. In-between outrageous obstacles and personal failures they learned how to God to God honestly, and respond as He spoke.
You can do the same. In fact, you can do better because you have some advantages over those guys.
Did you ever stop to think that Abraham didn’t have a Bible? Or a church. Or a pastor. He worshiped God, served Him, moved when He said to move, all by discerning God’s will through prayer.
So, what’s your excuse?
If these guys managed to live a life connected with God, through prayer, you can too. And you can do it with the advantage of a Bible that God wrote down and packaged together for you. You can do it in the context of a body of believers that’s as messed up and in need of Him as you are. So do not act like just because we have challenging lives you cannot hear from God in prayer. You can.
And as if that’s not enough, consider your Savior.
You serve the God who was dead. Yep, dead. Jesus died. Talk about a show-stopper. The God of our salvation, the Messiah that came to save the world from sin, experienced death. But he also experienced resurrection. Don’t lose sight of this fact. This is the game-changer for you.
The fact that Jesus, God in flesh, died on the cross, means that your stupid sin habits are not only forgiven (1 John 1:9), but their power is broken! I don’t know if you’ve realized it yet, but you’re free (Galatians 5:1)! You just need to start stepping into the freedom that was purchased for you with Christ’s blood.
So since you’re free, you no longer have any obligation to sin (Romans 8:12-13). There is literally nothing holding you back from accessing God directly (Hebrews 4:16).
So start praying like you can step right into God’s throne room. Because you can. If you are in Christ, and Christ is in you, then you have been granted access to the Father. You are His child. You have been adopted into the family.
So pray. Pray like you’re asking your Dad for advice, for what you need. And then do what He tells you to do.
Each “Yes” leads to the next “Yes”
Prayer, coupled with response, opens up the next opportunity for you to respond to your Father’s will.
God’s revealed will is clear. It’s found explicitly in the pages of Scripture. This incredible gift is under-utilized by many Christians. We have exponentially more access to God’s Word than any previous generation. It’s all laid out in black in white, just waiting for you to open the book, or the site, or the app.
God’s Word is clear on so many things. You certainly do not have to guess who God is, what He is like, and what He desires for you. You can open up the Bible and see, page after page, what He’s all about. Exposure to God’s Word, over time, will reveal to you an accurate picture of Who He is. Then you’ll know better how to interact with Him.
God’s discovered will is different. There’s no app for that. It’s unearthed one conversation at a time, in the context of a life that’s continually responding to God’s revealed will. How do you find out what God’s discovered will is? Through prayer.
The Bible isn’t going to tell you who to marry, where to apply for a job, or how to respond to a nasty email. But your Father in Heaven cares about all those things. So, after you run your day-to-day decisions through the filter of God’s Word, then you take them to prayer. As you repeat this process, you will discover His guidance is ready and waiting.
You will grow to daily pray within the boundaries of God’s Word as a constant discipline. Then, all you have to do is respond as you hear His voice.
- So, are you prepared to move when God answers your prayers?
- Your answer to this question will either inhibit or accelerate your growth in Christ.
My final advice to you? Pray. Respond. Repeat.
Step into the adventure one prayer at a time.
“How NOT to Pray” is my first awkward attempt at writing a book. It’s taking me forever and I’m not sure it’s any good. With any luck, it will be available by mid-2050. Thanks for reading so far.