Engaging in prayer is engaging in battle. Like any powerful weapon, to treat prayer carelessly only increases the danger of the given situation. I might think that I have done all I can because I have prayed, but if I am not praying with power, the words I utter on my knees may give a false sense of assurance that I have truly asked something from God in faith. Over the years, I have discovered some subtle ways that I can become careless with my prayers.
If I am not mindful of how I pray, I can lapse into empty “cliche” prayers. Like the pious leaders in the time of Jesus, my prayers can sound more like the words on religious bumper stickers as I “heap up empty phrases” (Matthew 6:7). I might be tempted to pray the “public prayers” dripping with carefully-scripted and highly-ceremonial words that I would never use on any other occasion. At other times of carelessness, my prayers are not mixed with deep faith and eternal truth but are sprinkled with best hopes and good wishes for how God will answer. And even when I do go to the Bible to pray the words of scripture, I can easily fall into the trap of merely parroting the text instead of allowing the text to shape my understanding of how to pray. If the words are in our mouths, but not in our hearts, our prayers will be only lip-service.
How can we avoid these prayer traps? We must stay mentally and spiritually alert when we pray. Jesus’ warning to his disciples is applicable to our lives too: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Keep laboring, wrestling and struggling in prayer, regardless of the opposition.
Being clean before God is a prerequisite for effective prayer (1 John 1:9). So often we forget that our spiritual lines of communication can be hindered by unconfessed sin. We can’t hear God clearly or know how to pray rightly if our hearts and minds are clouded with sin. We often spend more time on prayers of blessings than prayers for repentance.
Finally, one of the best ways we can focus our prayers is by praying scriptural truth. This is more than finding a verse and repeating the words like a magical spell. We must understand the truth of God’s Word, allow it to change our hearts and minds and then humbly pray those truths back to God. Scripture is not wishes and cliches, but is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12).
If we serve a living God who speaks words of life, our prayers must reveal the power of the same eternal truth and life.
We will seek the things that expand and glorify the kingdom of God. – Matthew 6:10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
We will know the true power of prayer as we depend upon God’s Spirit. – Ephesians 3:16 That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.
We will persistently pray and ask that God would answer in his perfect way and time. – Psalm 69:13 But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.