Prayer meetings in a lot of Christian assemblies have become more like madhouses, with people shouting, screaming, vibrating and convulsing during prayers, all to draw God’s attention. It’s as if God’s ability to hear and answer prayers now depends on how loud people can scream and shout, and how much frenzy they can display. Praying has become a circus show and a public nuisance. Is that what biblical praying is supposed to be? What does the Scripture teach us about prayer, especially the prayer that moves the hands of an omnipotent God? Let us examine relevant portions of Scripture to find out the biblical views on prayer.
Matthew 6:5 And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Truly I say to you, They have their reward.
Matthew 6:6 But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly.
Matthew 6:7 But when you pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
There are some important things the Lord teaches us about prayer in the passage above. Let us examine them closely. First, praying should not be a hypocritical show off. We shouldn’t do any thing in prayer to impress people. Prayer is not a religious ritual to impress or please men. It is supplication to God! Any act in prayer meant to affect others and show off our skills and abilities is vain and counterproductive, and will not receive any reward from God.
Second, prayer is a secret communion with God. It is communication with God alone, not with men. God knows and hears the secret whispers of our hearts. Since genuine prayer is the outpouring of the heart to God, it does not need to be raucous or noisy. In prayer, rather than call attention to self and the world, we are to shut out the world and connect to God. Prayer is a secret business with God, not a public display of oratory and knowledge of Scripture, or a garrulous contest to determine who can shout or scream the loudest at God!
Third, we are not to use vain repetitions in prayer, like the heathens do. Vain repetition means to mechanically regurgitate a particular phrase, request or thing over and over, believing God hears us better the more we scream at him or repeat ourselves! It’s as though we’re praying to a God who is hard of hearing, or one that sleeps off occasionally and needs to be awakened with loud, vociferous jolts! The posture and attitude of most Christians in prayer reminds one of the prophets of Baal in their contest with Elijah on Mount Carmel.
1 Kings 18:26 And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped on the altar which was made.
1 Kings 18:27 And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleeps, and must be awaked.
1 Kings 18:28 And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out on them.
1 Kings 18:29 And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
Here, we see Elijah mocking the prophets of Baal to pray the same way a lot of Christians pray today: to scream and shout inorder to catch the attention of a sleeping god or one who’s switched off because he’s busy doing some other things. The picture of the prophets of Baal screaming, shouting, leaping and performing all forms of gymnastics can be mistaken for Pentecostal and Charismatic prayer meetings of today. There is absolutely no difference between our prayer warriors of today, who believe God can only be moved by raucous rowdiness in prayer, and those prophets of Baal jumping up and down and tearing themselves apart to draw the attention of a dead, deaf, dumb and blind god! What a rebuke to our brand of Christianity, that it should find such striking similarity with the worst of paganism!
Matthew 6:8 Be not you therefore like to them: for your Father knows what things you have need of, before you ask him.
Isn’t it wonderful and reassuring to know that true Christianity worships the living, omniscient God who knows our deepest secret thoughts and desires? God knows the things we have need of before we even pray about them. Prayer is not the bringing of our desires to the awareness of an ignorant God. If it were so, then all our vain jangling and delirious hyperactivity might be justified. But, Jehovah is not deaf, and he neither sleeps nor slumbers. God sees, hears and knows every secret thing.
Psalms 121:4 Behold, he that keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
Psalms 94:9 He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?
Ecclesiastes 12:14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
If Jehovah is the living God who sees in the dark, hears our silent whispers and knows the secret thoughts of every heart (and he is!), why do some people expend so much physical energies in prayer and turn praying into a physical combat with demons and other imagined enemies? Does it mean God cannot hear and respond to a silent whisper?
1 Samuel 1:9 So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat on a seat by a post of the temple of the LORD.
1 Samuel 1:10 And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD, and wept sore.
1 Samuel 1:11 And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your handmaid, and remember me, and not forget your handmaid, but will give to your handmaid a man child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come on his head.
1 Samuel 1:12 And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli marked her mouth.
1 Samuel 1:13 Now Hannah, she spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken.
1 Samuel 1:14 And Eli said to her, How long will you be drunken? put away your wine from you.
1 Samuel 1:15 And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD.
1 Samuel 1:16 Count not your handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken till now.
1 Samuel 1:17 Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant you your petition that you have asked of him.
1 Samuel 1:18 And she said, Let your handmaid find grace in your sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.
The passage above is a remarkable record of the desperate prayer of Hannah, when she was crying to God for a child. It is instructive to note that she neither shouted nor screamed at God in her desperation. Heart broken and contrite, she couldn’t even open her mouth to voice any words. Only her lips moved wordlessly as she poured out her heart to the Lord, to the extent that the high priest watching her thought she was in some drunken stupor! However, not only was her voiceless and wordless prayer heard in heaven, she received a swift response as she conceived immediately thereafter, and gave birth to Samuel some nine months later. Hannah didn’t have to roll on the floor, trip chairs and benches, tear herself to pieces or shout herself hoarse before God could hear her. She spoke in her heart to God, and the God who sees every heart heard her silent whisper and responded swiftly from heaven!
Isaiah 59:1 Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:
Isaiah 59:2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
The Prophet Isaiah, in the portion of Scripture cited above, explains why God does not answer some prayers of his people. The problem is not that God is hard of hearing and needs supplicants to shout louder for him to grasp what is being said. It is not also that God has lost his power to save and deliver. The problem lies, not with God, but with the people! The problem is that most people come to God with impure hearts and unclean hands. Approaching God in that condition will not get God’s attention, however much we scream and shout! God cannot be bullied into capitulating to our demands if we don’t meet the conditions for admittance into his court.
Psalms 24:3 Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place?
Psalms 24:4 He that has clean hands, and a pure heart; who has not lifted up his soul to vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.
Psalms 24:5 He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
The psalmist clearly spells out the condition for approaching God here. Whoever comes to God must come with clean hands and a pure heart. God is holy and cannot behold iniquity. For us to be given a hearing in heaven’s court, we must approach God’s holy hill with purified hands and sanctified hearts. Thank God for the blood of Jesus Christ which can cleanse us from all unrighteousness. However, we must confess and forsake all known sins and apply that blood to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7-10). Only then can we confidently approach God with the hope of receiving from him. This is exactly what the Apostle Paul admonished.
1 Timothy 2:8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.
The petitioner must approach God’s holy hill with holy hands and without wrath or doubting.The hands must be clean and the heart pure and devoid of doubt, for unless prayer is said in faith, nothing should be expected from God! That’s exactly what the rest of Scripture teaches.
James 1:6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
James 1:7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
James 1:8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
James 4:8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded.
Mark 11:24 Therefore I say to you, What things soever you desire, when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them.
In addition to praying in faith from sincere and purified hearts, we must ask according to God’s will, for God will only respond to prayers made in obedience to his will. If we ask for things that are in harmony with God’s will, he will grant our requests, all things being equal. However, if we ask amiss, in opposition to his will, we can be sure that however long and hard we scream concerning it, God will not answer us. We can shout like the prophets of Baal, and roll and convulse like possessed heathens, yet will he not hear, for he is only obligated to perform his word and do only those things that please him.
James 4:2 You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war, yet you have not, because you ask not.
James 4:3 You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it on your lusts.
1 John 5:14 And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he hears us:
1 John 5:15 And if we know that he hear us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.
In conclusion, prayer is not the bombardment of an unwilling God to give ground to persistent and raucous suppliants! It is not the arm-twisting of an unyielding God through bluster and noisy babbling! Prayer does not depend on the volume of things said or the length of time spent in reciting them. The prayer that God respects and honours can be just a whisper or a mute cry, but it must come from sanctified and faithful hearts, pass through cleansed lips and be directed towards heaven by holy hands. Above all, such prayers must be grounded in the will of God. Heaven respects and honours such prayers as much as hell fears and detests them. Such is the prayer that avails much, though short and silent it may be. May we be properly guided to pray aright that we may prevail with God and man!
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