Intercessory prayer has never been a respectful way to speak to God and it has never been effective in changing the way God that works with other people or demons. We only think it has because humans are obsessed with the notion that they can find a way to lead their Creator instead of following Him.
Here’s a critical point to realize: you will not find good instruction on prayer in the Bible. What you’ll find instead is a bunch of examples of how to pray wrong. This is because the folks who do most of the praying in the Bible were not mature enough to model treating God with the proper respect. The ancient Jews were obsessed with “the power of the spoken word,” verbal cursing and blessing, name claiming, and other such nonsense. They had no use for reverential submission and they spent most of their history embracing defiant soul attitudes. Today in the Church, you’re being taught to imitate folks who were acting like sorcerer wannabes and treating God with gross disrespect. If you want to improve your treatment of God, you need to abandon the idea of imitating the ancient Jews.
Now when God is working with spiritual infants and rebels, He does not bring up concepts which He knows they’re not ready for. This is why you’ll find Yahweh and Jesus being very gracious in Their responses to a lot of bad prayers in the Bible. Moses was being obnoxious to side with snarky Israelites against Yahweh when he pleaded for Yahweh not to kill everyone off in the desert. Abraham was totally out of line to suggest that Yahweh was an unfair Judge when he and Yahweh were discussing the fate of Sodom. The book of Psalms contains many bossy prayers and a bunch of irreverent criticisms of God. Jeremiah says a lot of things in Lamentations which are very insulting to Yahweh. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Moses all get reprimanded by Yahweh for making inappropriate requests of Him. The apostle Paul is a disastrous model of prayer. But the good news is that we can learn from both good and bad examples once we understand a few basic facts. So what are those facts?
- God says He is all-knowing–this rules out the need for us to inform God of what’s going on in the world.
- God says He is all-powerful–this rules out the need for us to try and boost God’s abilities by flinging holy water and chanting verses.
- God says that He wants people to have the option of defying Him–this makes it inappropriate for us to ask God to force people to choose salvation or obedience.
- God says that He is infinitely wiser than we are and that He does not welcome advice from created beings–this makes it inappropriate for us to try and instruct God, especially when it comes to managing the world and other humans.
- As the Supreme Authority over all created beings, God says that He will never submit to anyone while He demands total submission from us. This makes it utterly inappropriate for us to try and lead God in any area or to try to coerce Him into aligning with our agenda through nagging, bribes of money and service, verse quoting, or ganging up against Him with other Christians.
Praying correctly comes down to the very basic principle of respecting who God says He is. While God certainly wants us to share our thoughts and concerns with Him, we need to be speaking to Him as the subordinates that we are–not as His equals, assistants or supervisors. Because intercessory prayer is all about trying to intervene in Divine affairs and instruct God on what He ought to be doing, it is absolute garbage. When we don’t know better, God does not take offense. But once He opens our eyes to understand how disrespectfully we are speaking to Him, then He wants us to be eager to change.
A valuable tip in learning to pray better is to slow down. Instead of just firing off the usual requests, stop to contemplate the facts about God that we stated above. Then think about the way you are phrasing your prayer and ask, “Am I speaking to God as the wise, all-powerful, all-knowing Being that He is? Am I respecting His desire for humans to have the option of rejecting Him? Is my language dominating or submissive–am I trying to take the lead or am I embracing my role as a follower?”
Often we do a much better job of respecting rank with other humans than we do with God. A low ranking soldier knows better than to try and instruct a general on battle strategies. But when it comes time to address the Maker of all things, we often act as if God’s Supreme Rank over us is meaningless and we frequently talk condescendingly to Him. We let the criticism freely flow, we blast Him with orders, and then we keep repeating Jesus’ Name as if that will somehow add leverage to our requests. The popular style of praying among Christians comes down to trying to guilt trip God into doing what we want. We are very coercive and manipulative in our approach. When we quote Bible verses at God, it’s because we are trying to make Him feel obligated to fulfill promises that we’ve decided apply to us, and that we’ve decided cannot be broken. And while it’s highly unlikely that any Christian would try to suggest that God doesn’t already know the contents of the Bible backwards and forwards, we still find ourselves constantly throwing verses in His face. It’s a guilt trip, and a pretty twerpy one at that.
It is an awesome privilege and a humbling honor that Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit make Themselves available to us. It is not a right. The Creators and Sustainers of all things owe us nothing. They do not have to ever look in our direction, yet They choose to be near, not far. If you were to give someone a priceless gift, would you want them to set it on a distant shelf and say, “It’s too good for me to touch?” No, and in the same way, our Creators do not want us to back away from Them just because we are so undeserving of Their Company. But we are undeserving of Their Company, and this should certainly impact the way that we treat Them. We should be clinging to Them as our most cherished Treasures. When we pray to Them, there should be great respect, bundles of gratitude, and total honesty.
It is not a difficult thing to learn how to treat our Creators better. We just need to be willing to stop and think about what we’re doing, then we need to be receptive to Them giving us pointers on how we can improve our treatment of Them. Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit love to teach souls who sincerely care about pleasing Them, and for us humans there is no greater reward than succeeding at pleasing our Makers.
Christian Prayer Groups: Why God Isn’t a Fan
Improving Our Treatment of God: Why We Shouldn’t Pray for the Lost
Asking & Aligning: The Two Stages of Prayer
Praying for Your Flock in a Way that Honors God (Guidance for Pastors & Priests)