I admit that sometimes I like to be provocative in these articles to make a point. I want to stir you up to think about life’s hard questions in light of the Bible. It’s okay to be passionate about your opinions if your opinions are biblical. But it is also okay to challenge our convictions in light of the Bible. We often get in trouble, however, when we become passionate based on traditions and feelings.
One time, I preached a message which stirred some of the listeners up. The message included a section about praying in accordance with God’s will. The Bible assures us that when we pray according to God’s will our prayers are heard and answered (1 John 5:14-15).
The controversy began when I brought up well-meaning people on the radio and TV that say things like, “Let’s remember so and so in our thoughts and prayers.” I suggested that that might not be good advice to just pass out to everyone listening. Let me walk you through my thought process before you decide if you agree with me.
First, let me say that I think praying is a good thing. God hears and answers prayer. Second, let me assure you that I don’t doubt the good intentions of media announcers who say such things. In times of crisis, I think people instinctively think about God and encourage others to do the same. That’s a good thing.
But their good intentions get tricky, however, because the “thoughts and prayers” bit is so general, that many people who listen and may actually pray won’t have their prayers count towards God’s final answer. I’m suggesting that everyone’s well-meaning thoughts and their well-meaning prayers are not equally good.
Most would agree that it is important to pray to the right God. In John 14:6, Jesus is very clear that he is the only way to God the Father. You can have another opinion, but you must realize that your opinion is different than what Jesus taught. “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” So anyone who is praying to another god is not connecting with the God of the Bible in those prayers.
But what about those who basically believe that the God of the Bible is true, but they just don’t care about him except during a big crisis? Should we encourage people like that to remember hurricane victims, for example?
Perhaps some of their prayers would be like, “God, I haven’t paid you much attention. I don’t love you or even want to. I don’t care about obeying your commands. I’m actually pretty happy just doing my own thing. But, uh, will you help the hurricane victims?”
If I was a well-known rebel in a country with a fierce dictator and was actively rejecting his rule, how would it go if I showed up in his throne room dressed in my ‘I hate the dictator T-Shirt’, and then asked him for a big favor? I might be executed before I even finished making my request!
The big reason why I think it might not be such a good thing to tell everyone everywhere to prance into God’s presence and flip him up a prayer request is that God is a fiercely holy being. He hates sin and rebellion. His wrath is boiling right now against all of those thoughtlessly living only for themselves. There is a reason he made hell. It was not an afterthought.
There are sentences in the Bible which actually give warnings to those too casual about entering the presence of Holy God carrying their wickedness with them. “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him” (Proverbs 15:8). “The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous” (Proverbs 15:29).
It would be far better to come into God’s presence with a prayer of personal repentance. The tax-gatherer in Luke 18:13 is a good example. “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” That is a prayer that will be answered.
So far are you following my thought pattern? I want you to pray to the one real God, but I don’t want you to stagger into his court room drunk on your sins. He is just, but he is merciful. Come to him confessing your sins and ask for his grace based on the work of Jesus. He will not reject those kinds of pleas. And then he will consider your requests for others in need.
More controversy actually comes in when we start pushing things out to logical ends. What about teaching our children to pray before they are Christians? It is a fair question. The Bible says that all of us are born sinful, and it doesn’t take long for even the cutest baby to prove it. So technically, if we teach a toddler rebel to pray, aren’t we teaching them to be hypocrites at best and endangering them at worst?
The Bible teaches Christian parents to raise their sons and daughters in the fear of the Lord, and to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Even a non-Christian can be taught to respect God, not perfectly but truly. I think the non-Christians living among the Pilgrims and Puritans of New England had a higher view of God than some church members do in our day.
If a child is raised to respect the one true God and is learning truth about God from the Bible in their home and church, I think it is appropriate to teach them to pray. I have been careful to correct my children those times that it seemed like they were playing instead of praying. I do think such warnings are important; God really is that holy.
But as parents we are called to seek to bring our children to Jesus. It starts with training wheels, but we pray for that day when our faith becomes their own, and they ride the two wheeler by themselves. In the meantime, teach them to respect God, and pray for their prayers. And may God be merciful to us all.
If you have been guilty of flippant prayers, pray about it. Seriously. Ask Holy God to forgive you right away. He is just and holy, but he is also full of grace and mercy. He loves to answer those kinds of prayers.
By: John Crotts