“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”
See Ephesians 6:18
Before I began to truly understand God’s grace, I always felt obligated to pray. I had the incorrect mindset of, “I have to pray or God will be very upset with me.” Because of terrible teaching, my prayer life was chained down with legalism as I had created time slots in which my prayer sessions had to fit into:
And if I forgot, I would feel extremely guilty and shameful. Ha! I can chuckle at this now because it’s so stupid! My old unrenewed mindset about prayer had made a law out of praying! Also, I had made God out to be a terrible Father, as if He was either going to be furious with me or give me the silent treatment if I didn’t pray!
Just imagine if I did that to my daughter! If Grace walked up to me and asked for something she needed or wanted, and I immediately barked at her, “NO WAY! You ain’t getting nothing from me until I see you’ve come to talk to me a minimum of five times a day! Until then, you are out of luck! Get out of here!” Then I turned around and ignored her.
You’d think I’d lost my mind! This is called mental abuse! Grace-confused Christians teach mental abuse and it’s not okay! God does not mentally abuse us! What a wacko idea of “I’m not taking care of my daughter unless she talks to me regularly.” Friend, God is not like that either. We must stop making laws out of simply talking to Dad.
Jesus poked at the religious people of His day for legislating their prayers (see Matthew 6:5-8). If you look at how Christ prayed, He just, prayed. He talked to His Father. There was no forcefulness in His prayers unless He was trying to set up the self-righteous people by teaching them how legalistic prayers will leave them far from God (see Matthew 6:9-14).
Sometimes Jesus prayed in front of people and sometimes He didn’t. He never stopped to think, “Should I pray?” No, He just prayed. Sometimes He even went off in private to pray alone (see Luke 5:16). For me, once I began to understand Christ’s example of prayer, the cogs started to turn in my mind toward grace. But first, I had to unlearn the lies of, “I’ll be more holy if I pray more,” or “God will love me more if I pray better,” or “God will show me more favor due to my scheduled prayer life.”
In regard to my so-called prayer life, it was so jacked up, sometimes I’d pop up out of bed in the middle of the night, having panic attacks because I forgot to pray.“God forgive me!” Then I’d say my prayers, “Whew…almost ticked off God there. Glad I remembered. Thank you God for reminding me.”
What I didn’t know was that it wasn’t God who was reminding me to freak out and pray. It wasn’t God who was trying to legislate our relationship through forceful, repeated begging. It was my unrenewed stinking thinking–my mindset. I WAS TAUGHT WRONG. TERRIBLE EXAMPLES WERE SET FOR ME THROUGH LEGALISTIC PEOPLE, AS WELL AS THROUGH WELL-MEANING CHRISTIANS WHO WERE TAUGHT WRONG TOO.
I was also taught the lie that God won’t even hear my prayers because, “You got sin in your life, boy!” as if He sticks His fingers in His ears, saying, “La la la la laaaaaaaaaaa,” ignoring the sacrifice Jesus made because I still make mistakes. This was coming from the same people who taught me that God will only bless me with money if I give at least ten percent of my money to them.
To top it off, they’d say, “Oh, but that’s just the tithe, you’re simply giving back to God what God has loaned to you. Your tithe doesn’t even impress God! If you really want to be blessed financially, you’ll give above the tithe, with an offering! Only then will God open up the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing in which you can’t handle!” GARBAGE!
Again, imagine if I said to Grace, “Now baby, I’m going to give you this twenty dollars for the movies, but you need to give me ten percent of this money back, or I’m not giving you dinner tomorrow.” MENTAL ABUSE! These were the same hypocrites who said God will only bless my life if I pray harder! No wonder my prayer life sucked!
The truth is, there is no wrong way to pray or wrong time to pray. Once we begin to understand God’s unconditional love for us we even start to realize He isn’t so much paying attention to our words or length of prayers, as He is listening to our hearts. “What is it my child really needs from me?” This is how God thinks of you as you pray, which is in a loving way.
The Holy Spirit was trying to teach me this but it would have been easier for Him to lasso a cheetah. Yes, I know He’s God, He can do anything, but because of hearing sermons where the preacher had no self-control as he legislated–not only prayer–but tithing and church attendance, I was trained to freak out about such stuff. There is a lot to unlearn as Christians.
The truth about the gospel is that there is no law in any New Testament epistle which states a Christian must pray a certain amount of time each day, or tithe, or attend any actual building–only when the gospel is twisted are laws created.
As a result of today’s Christians mixing in the Old Covenant with the New Covenant, modern-day church laws have grown in our congregations like ugly warts. In the first century, the Galatian Christians tried to do this very same thing and Paul called them fools (see Galatians 3:3). So what makes us any different?
Because of legislating prayer in my own mind, the Holy Spirit kept trying to say, “Hey, Matthew, relax. Just talk to me.” But no! Off my mind would race into the wrong direction again with lighting speed! “Prayer can’t be that easy! Bye!” To that, He’d reply, “But it is. Come back. Sit down. Let’s have a conversation.”
My prayer thoughts were so warped, He was working overtime in order to make things simple. “Matt, it’s okay you’ve not prayed today. I’m still here. I love you. I’m not staying with you based on your amazing prayers, but because I live here now. Also, try to remember that when you pray, you don’t have to keep giving me the same exact list each time. Just talk to me. I’m here for you.”
Friend, when you pray all you’re doing is having a one-on-one conversation with your Creator. It’s not a trade-off system, a check-list or a duty, it’s just talking to Dad. No matter what you say or don’t say, or how often you say it, He will always be your Dad, He will always be available to talk, and He will always do what’s best for you and humanity as a whole.
Soon enough, as my mindset began to transform, I started to realize the reward I was getting from praying was simply growing in trust with God. As the years went by, I figured out that even if He decides to not give me what I’m asking Him for, I can rest assured that I’m better off not getting it at that particular time, or ever. But no matter what, I still trust Him.
By growing in the knowledge of God’s grace, He helped me whittle down my long, pitiful prayers, to mostly sporadic thoughts and short sentences directed at Him all throughout my day. You know, how we mostly talk to people–which is quickly and simply?
Yes, of course, sometimes we sit down at a meal or have a cup of coffee with someone for longer conversations, but most of our human communications are based on quick chats or low amounts of sentences. This is the same type of relationship God longs to have with you–a normal one, not a religious one.
God has no interest in a relationship with us based on fear, guilt, or obligation. After all, no good relationship is constructed on such a terrible foundation. Instead, God’s desire is to have an alliance with you which is based on love and respect–both Him for you, and you for Him.
This teaches us that we don’t have to continually spout off fancy prayers or get loud and out of control. His Spirit also teaches us that we don’t need to use a middle-man in a wooden room, with a little window between us. Further, our geographical and physical positions are of no importance, and we don’t have to use language and accents from the 1600s. All we gotta do, is talk. Just talk.
Honestly, and this is going to sound strange, sometimes you don’t even have to say or think words because God hears even the unspoken words of your heart (see Jeremiah 17:10). He knows everything about you deeper than even you know it. And on the days where it feels as if you don’t know what to pray or how to pray it, the Holy Spirit will actually step in and pray for you (see Romans 8:26)–so there is never any pressure on you to pray.
God just wants to have a continual “back and forth” with you through His Holy Spirit from sun up to sun down. The Bible says, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), this simply means to have an attitude of prayer all day long.
So today, my friends, do this: Pray. Talk to Dad. Present your requests to Him. Run things by Him before making decisions or saying something. Tell Him what you want. Tell Him what you need. Ask Him for advice. Ask Him for wisdom. Thank Him all the time in all situations. Listen to Him when He tries to guide you into peace and confidence. Eventually, as you continue your life talking to Him, you will get to a point where you don’t even notice your own prayers. Your relationship with God will be like breathing.
A prayer for you: Heavenly Father, thank you for the ability to be able to talk to you. What a good God that you would invite us into an actual relationship! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. Touch their souls today and begin to teach them just how much you love them. Teach them that prayer is meant to be a good thing, a relaxing thing, a comforting thing. Continue to guide us all day long as we talk to you. We love you. Amen.
This devotional is from 60 Days for Jesus, Volume 1. Get your copy here!