Prayer and Praise, Part 1
I’ve been wanting to write a series on prayer and praise, but I keep getting occupied with other things. But today, I’ve determined to at least start this series while I’m also continuing the series on Prophecies of Daniel 2. Clearly, both prayer and praise are such important parts of our relationship with God. However, too often, praise tends to fall by the wayside, with the Christian favoring prayer instead. We spend our time asking God for things, many of which we have no clue regarding His thoughts or desired outcome. Yet we continue to storm the gates of heaven with our requests 90% or more of the time, with praise itself taking up 10% or less of our time with God. I think that has to do with how we view prayer over against praise.
It is almost becoming the new mantra among Christians today. You’ve heard it and so have I. That mantra – Prayer is a powerful tool! – is supposed to get us on our knees, to help us focus on the God of the universe. Prayer is supposed to put us in the mindset to ask of God and expect Him to respond to our requests in the way we want Him to respond. That is what I think of when I hear “prayer is a powerful tool.” But is it supposed to be that way?
In some ways, it almost borders on the “name it, claim it” type of theology, that teaches people just that. We should focus on something that we want (or ostensibly believe God wants for us) and by continuing to pray about that situation, event, or item, we then “claim it” in Jesus’ Name. This, we are told, will bring that about because of the “laws of the universe” or some such theology that is so loosely built on the biblical pattern that it can actually be done without even referencing the Bible at all, except for a verse here or that one there.
Let’s first talk about prayer, what it is and why we should practice it. Then, we’ll discuss praise and how, when, and why to use it.
Prayer: Conversing with God
I hope you would agree with me that at its root, prayer is talking or conversing with God. It is not talking at God. Certainly, prayer is not meant to treat God as though He was some Celestial Genie only on hand to provide answers to our prayer requests.
I would also hope you would agree with me when I say that most of the time, for far too many Christians, prayer is used as a means to get what we want. This should not be, yet it persists. The latest saying or meme that I’ve noted above – Prayer is a powerful tool! – speaks to this point. Is prayer a powerful tool? If it is, then it can actually be divorced from God Himself. After all, it’s just a tool, right?
A hammer is a tool. A knife is a tool. A power drill is just a tool. Those tools are important depending upon what is needed for the job at hand. We use a saw to cut wood into pieces that we can fit and nail together with a hammer. When we’re done, we have a doghouse, or a toolbox, or a bookcase or whatever is needed. It all depends upon our needs or wants at the time.
I believe too often (and I include myself in this as well), Christians tend to write-up our want/need list. We then take that list to God, presenting it to Him in flowery language and felt humility. We implore Him to provide, to do as we ask. We wrap everything up with the words, “in the precious Name of Jesus” and then we close out that session to the Living God with a hearty “amen,” which literally means so be it!
In reality, the reasons we pray are many, at least they should be. It is clear from the Bible that we should actually spend time in prayer. But why? What should the overriding reason for praying be? What should it involve?
For one thing, prayer is a form of serving God (Luke 2:36-38) and obeying Him. We pray because God commands us to pray (Philippians 4:6-7). Prayer is exemplified for us by Christ and the early church (Mark 1:35; Acts 1:14; 2:42; 3:1; 4:23-31; 6:4; 13:1-3). If Jesus thought it was worthwhile to pray, we should also. If He needed to pray to remain in the Father’s will, how much more do we need to pray? 
Our model should be Jesus, but too often our model is some preacher who tells us that we don’t have “things” or the answers to our prayer because we are not believing God for the outcome. While the Bible talks a great deal about our faith (as it does about prayer), we should probably look a bit closer to see if these preachers who teach like this are correct or might be missing something.
One of the examples I like to use from Scripture and specifically from the life of Jesus is found in the instance of prayer while in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night He was betrayed by Judas and spent the remainder of the evening being hustled from one illegal trial to another. The next day, He was taken before Pilate who – against his own better judgment – pronounced the judgment of death on the God/Man who was absolutely and completely free of any wrongdoing.
If we take the time to look at Matthew 26:36-46, we read of Jesus’ battle in prayer and how agonizing it was for Him. As He knelt to pray, He prayed the following words from verse 39b:
“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”
Please notice that Jesus did ask God the Father to do something – to “let this cup pass from Me” – so that much is certainly clear though scholars disagree over exactly what the “cup” Jesus spoke of actually represented. But it was obviously something horrendous that Jesus preferred not to have to deal with in His humanity. We can understand that feeling, being so overwhelmed by something that you wish anything that you would not have to experience whatever it was or deal with it. Asking God to let the cup pass was not sin. Jesus did not demand anything. He simply asked, but please note that just as He made His request known to God the Father, He appended that requested with the words, “yet not as I will, but as You will.”
This is extremely important and something that too many of us Christians fail to notice and live by. We might give lip service to it so that we appear to do what is right, but do we really want that?
In James 4:3 we read the following words:
You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
I like the way the King James Version words it: “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”
We ask, but we do not receive because we ask “amiss” or with the “wrong motives.” That’s very important to realize. Are you willing to admit that at times, you pray and ask God for things that are probably not in your best interests to have, but you ask anyway?
What is our problem anyway? Why do we do that?
I believe we do it because we do not properly understand our relationship to God in Christ. We tend to think of God still as that Celestial Genie who longs to grant us our every request and if we do not receive the answers to our prayers, we think we simply need to keep on asking for the same thing, until we get it. We become like the child who wants a special toy and doesn’t stop bothering mom and dad until that toy becomes theirs. For some, there is Scripture that supports that view, but it is usually taken out of context and wrongly applied. We’ll deal with that in an upcoming article in this series. Does God want that for us – to ask, ask, ask for anything that comes to our minds – and to keep on asking until He “gives in”? I don’t see that in Scripture, though I understand how people get to that point.
Is prayer a powerful tool? If so, in what way is it a tool and what are the results of that tool if used properly?
Join us next time when we ponder this question: is prayer to be used to get what we want or to get what God wants in and through us?