At some point along the path of maturity, you need to start giving serious thought as to why you do what you do. As Christians, we’re taught to develop certain habits. We’re then praised for maintaining those habits but we’re discouraged from ever questioning them. This is no good. Spiritual maturity involves a whole lot of questioning.
Every belief is built on certain assumptions. Wrong assumptions lead to wrong beliefs. Wrong beliefs lead to bad habits. Bad habits lead to delusions and spiritual stagnation. To break you out of bad habits and get you moving forward in an area that you’re currently stalled in, the Holy Spirit will start to challenge your beliefs by pointing out flaws in the assumptions those beliefs have been built upon. In this post, we’ll talk about one of the biggest flawed beliefs that we cling to in the Church: the idea that we should be constantly praying for each other.
In the Church, we talk a lot about lifting each other up in prayer. But what does this mean exactly? We say that prayer changes things. But what exactly does it change? Suppose your brother in the Lord is going through a rough patch. You start praying for God to be with him and help him. Why? Don’t you believe that God is already with him and helping him? Obviously you don’t, because we don’t ask for things that we know we already have. Well, this is a wrong assumption on your part. God is with your friend and He is helping him. In fact, God is taking the best possible care of all His kids all of the time and He isn’t going to alter His behavior based on what some little human wants. God is infinitely wiser than we are, and if He were to set His wisdom aside and start taking our advice on things, we’d all be in a major mess.
It’s a misunderstanding about how God works that leads to so much disillusionment when God doesn’t do what we ask Him to do. Maybe a woman at church is struggling with despair. You ask God to help her and then you hear she committed suicide. What went wrong? Nothing. You were not praying in alignment with God’s will, so He didn’t give you what you asked for. See, we don’t lead God—ever. He leads us. When we start peppering Heaven with requests that are based on our human preferences, we are not praying in alignment with God. Instead, we’re attempting to lead God. “Heal her. Help him. Fix that. Stop that. Do this. Undo that.” We’re rather bossy, aren’t we? We have an endless list of instructions, corrections, and criticisms for God to attend to.
God teaches us in the Bible that He is intimately involved in everything that happens down here, and that nothing happens apart from His will. But we blow this all off and shamelessly label much of what God is doing as a terrible blunder. “Lord, save the victims of human trafficking. Save those children from that abusive home. Get the homeless off the streets. Bring peace to those warring countries.” When do we ever get around to acknowledging that God is doing these things on purpose? When do we acknowledge that He has a good plan which He is unfolding right in front of us? Certainly there are many aspects of the Divine plan that look very disturbing to us. But should we be trusting our assessment more than God’s wisdom? No, we shouldn’t.
When you go lifting your brothers and sisters up in prayer, you are hoping for one of two things to happen: you are hoping to either force a change in God’s will or force a change in the human’s will. You are trying to control the situation. You’re trying to butt in and manipulate the circumstances. Now you might find such a description quite offensive, but this is what you are doing and you need to start being honest about it.
What God is doing with someone else is between Him and that someone else. God is not going to change what He’s doing to suit your preferences, nor is He going to allow you to take away that other human’s option of choice. You have not been given authority by God to force an unsaved person to submit to God. Whether they get saved or not is entirely up to them. So when you start asking for your father or cousin or neighbor to come to the Lord, you are really asking for God to override that person’s will. You are trying to take away their option to rebel. If this isn’t what you’re really after then why are you praying such things?
“God, I pray that Mary will come to know You.” This request is utterly useless. God says that Mary gets to decide what Mary wants to do. You don’t get to make the decision for Mary. You are stepping out of bounds here and God is not going to honor your request. He’s not going to force Mary to do anything because you are refusing to respect her God-given option to choose Hell over submission to Jesus. When you then pray, “God, please show Mary who You are,” you are making some pretty insulting insinuations about how God operates. Do you really think God is ignoring Mary? Do you think He forgets about some of His creatures or that He shows favoritism to those who happen to have a lot of human friends? This is not at all who God is.
We humans are the ones who obsess over how many friends and followers we have. God is utterly unimpressed by hallways that are stuffed with prayer warriors the moment some famous personality falls ill. He doesn’t heal people because they are popular or because they have a lot of fans, and He certainly doesn’t dump people by the side of the road because the whole world has forgotten about them. Remember Noah? How many people did he have interceding for him in the midst of a population that had completely turned its back on God? Did God forget that Noah existed because no one was sending up prayers on his behalf? Did He just not bother to put that much effort into taking care of Noah because no other believers were lifting him up? These assumptions we make about who God is and how He operates are utterly irreverent and completely wrong, yet we cling to them fiercely and refuse to really question why we pray the way we do.
Prayer is not about controlling God, nor is it about trying to control the choices that other humans make. Ah, but if prayer is so ineffective in these areas, why do we feel so warm and fuzzy when others are praying for us? Because our egos love it. We all want to know that other people sincerely care about us and “I’m praying for you” is the Christian’s code phrase for “I care about what you’re going through.” Now is it wrong to express love and concern for each other? Certainly not—this is what God tells us to do. We should care about each other and we should soak in the very real comfort that someone else’s empathetic love can bring. But let’s not go dragging prayer into it, for then we are creating a cocktail of deception that only leads us astray.
Let’s be honest about what happens when we all squeeze into that hallway and pray for that popular personality. First, we spend hours exalting ourselves as potent little sorcerers. Then when God delivers the miracle cure, we start taking the bows for making God do what we wanted. We talk about how we were nagging God around the clock without even owning how disrespectful we’re being. Well, a powerless prayer doesn’t suddenly become powerful just because we are bratty enough to repeat it a hundred times. And while we’re busy straining our emotions and feeling ultra-holy for our altruistic focus, we’re treating God like He’s some deaf half-wit who has no short term memory.
Do we really think we need to tell God that our loved one is in the hospital? Let’s at least show God enough respect to bring this topic up in a way that acknowledges He’s already aware of what’s going on. “Lord, I’m so worried about my husband,” is far more appropriate than an informative, “Lord, my husband has fallen sick and the doctors say it looks bad.” We need to stop talking to God like He has just returned to our planet after an extended leave, therefore He has no clue as to what’s been going on in His absence. We need to stop telling Him what to do and how to do it. We need to do a lot less directing and a whole lot more reflecting on who God is and how He is already taking the best possible care of us. Then we can move forward in our relationship with Him and start using prayer the way He wants us to use it: as a means of practicing submission to our Creator and as a means of communing with Him. Through prayer we are supposed to be seeking to strengthen our bond with God by allowing Him to control us, yet the Church promotes prayer as a tool which we can use to control God. If you’re currently in a habit of bombarding God with instructions on what to do in other people’s lives, it’s time to ask Him to help you improve the way that you pray.
Praying for the Sick