taking the words of Jesus seriously

Many people are afraid to pray and assume it’s a complicated science. But trying to pray is better than not praying at all.

The following is meant to encourage and provide inspiration for people struggling with prayer. It’s not intended to discourage or critique those who enjoy their current prayer experiences or feel like they’re already communicating well with God.

For many Christians, prayer is often something we do thoughtlessly—and that’s our first mistake. Here are some things we carelessly do wrong in relationship to our prayer habits:

We Use Clichés:

Intentionality is often the difference between hollowed tradition and superficial laziness. When we talk to God, we need to honestly be ourselves and use our own words—not the pastor’s words, not what we think the audience around us wants to hear, and not what we think is the most politically correct and polite thing to say.

Too often, we turn prayer into a lifeless string of overused spiritual expressions—fluffy words we’ve all heard a million times in church services, during Sunday school, and countless Bible studies. They’re meaningless to us, and they’re often meaningless to God.

Related: Rethinking the $3000 Missions Trip

Prayer isn’t a show, but we often turn it into one. We deepen our voice, fold our hands, and mimic the process we’ve seen others perform countless times before us. For many, it’s easier to reuse old clichés than it is to be vulnerable, open, and transparent.

Mindlessly spewing familiar anecdotes to God is often an escape mechanism—a way for us to hide our sin, our fears, and withdraw from relational conflict. But Jesus wants us to cut straight to the truth, no matter how hard or messy that might be.

The next time you pray, practice being brutally honest—and purposely guard yourself from using clichés (Matt. 6:7-8)

We Turn Prayer into a Personal Wish List:

It’s amazing how often prayer devolves into a wish list—things we want from God. Sure, the requests are often legitimate—safety, healing, reconciliation, peace, happiness, and wisdom (among other things)—but we need to intentionally remember to use prayer as a form of worship and thanksgiving to God.

At least once a day, use prayer simply as form of worshipping God—and nothing else.

One of the hardest things about prayer—especially when we pray alone—is that it can quickly become narcissistic and selfish. We immediately center everything on ourselves, and it’s hard to think about God—especially if we can’t physically sense God in our presence—which leads us to our next problem…

We Don’t Use Our Creativity and Imagination:

There are more ways to pray than simply using audible words. You can pray in your mind (many Christians already practice this), you can pray using journals, and you can pray through poetry and music and liturgy. Take advantage of your creativity and practice using different methods of praying to God.

Additionally, many Christians have lost their ability to utilize their imagination when praying.

Theologian Greg Boyd recently did a sermon on this topic that changed my life forever (he also published a book on the topic entitled Seeing is Believing). To summarize, Dr. Boyd encourages people to use the power of their imagination during prayer—creatively visualizing everything from specific requests, to picturing God sitting in the room with them while they pray.

Vividly imagining that God is right there in the room with us adds a powerful element of reality—because He is there!

Instead of turning off our minds we should use our imaginations to pray to the best of our ability. The next time you pray, imagine God being right there with you.

We Talk But Don’t Listen:

Prayer is often one-sided—us talking to God. But we need to start using prayer as a time to listen. We’re good at telling God what’s on our mind, but what is God telling us?

Our culture has become so overstimulated by noise and activity that Christians have lost the ability to patiently—and quietly—listen.

Prayer is often the litmus test that determines if your relationship with God works both ways. Does God speak to you? If not, maybe it’s simply because you’ve stopped listening.

We Pray Alone:

Out of sheer convenience—and our fear of being transparent—we often prefer to pray on our own instead of within a community. But the Bible repeatedly gives examples of communal prayer and encourages people to pray with—and for—one another (Matt. 18:19-20; James 5:14-16).

If you aren’t already part of a small group (or prayer group) that meets regularly—join one. There’s something holy and powerful about being unified through prayer. It provides an opportunity to encourage, help, heal, reconcile, support, forgive, and inspire one another through Christ.

Corporate prayer helps bind Christians together by requiring emotional and spiritual investment. It’s often not the most comfortable or easy experience—but it’s worth it.

We Use “Inactive” Prayer (Actions Speak Louder Than Words)

Christians have sinfully used prayer as an excuse for being inactive. Prayer is meant to spark change, restoration, hope, and love. Prayer isn’t meant to be empty or meaningless, but too often Christians treat it as an excuse to do nothing. “I’ll be praying” has become the Christian way of saying “I’m not going to do anything about it.”

James 2: 14-17 (ESV) states:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled, ” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

If you pray for something, act upon that prayer. For example, if you pray for a friend that’s sick with the flu, go drop off some soup for them when you’re done.

Also by Stephen: Six Things I Wish Christians Would Stop Doing

As Christians, we need to stop praying for answers and start being the answers to prayer.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that we stop praying, but rather that we start coupling our prayer with an attitude of proactive help, service, and love towards others.

Prayer is essential to the Christian faith, but it’s often hard to find the time, energy, discipline, and patience to keep at it. Most importantly, don’t give up on it, no matter how dull, boring, hard, or fruitless it may seem (Philippians 4:6-7).

About The Author


Stephen Mattson is the author of "The Great Reckoning: Surviving a Christianity That Looks Nothing Like Christ." Follow him on Twitter (@StephenMattson_)

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