Checking our attitudes before we pray
Our prayers are sacred to God. He values His time with us in prayer fiercely – so much so that Jesus publicly rebuked the money-changers and priests for turning His house of prayer into a “den of robbers.” It was at this point that the priests decided to destroy and kill Jesus. Jesus was not afraid to risk His life to protect our prayer time with God the Father. What does that say about the attitude we should have towards prayer?
Mark 11:15-18 ESV And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.
The reality is that most of us choose to talk to God when it is convenient or when we want something from Him. Contrast this with how Jesus prayed.
Our Saviour prayed even when life was very busy for Him and He always prayed both before and after all major events of His life.
- Jesus would intentionally withdraw from people and seek God in prayer on His own, despite all the demands of ministry and from people | Matthew 14:23 ESV After He had sent them away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone,
- He prayed often | Luke 5:16 ESV Yet He frequently withdrew to the wilderness to pray.
- He prayed first thing in the morning | Mark 1:35 NIV Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
- He sometimes prayed all night | Luke 6:12 NLT One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night.
If the Son of God felt the need to pray often, then we probably ought to as well.
Jesus shared life with God the Father through prayer
Jesus’ prayers were not repetitive or boring. We see that Jesus shared life with God the Father through prayer.
- He rejoiced in His Father’s will | Luke 10:21 ESV In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
- He thanked Father God for His miracles so that other people would see the work of God | John 11:41-42 ESV So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
- He gave thanks for His meals | Luke 22:17,19 ESV And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it …
- He prayed for Father God’s continued work | John 17:15-19 ESV I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
- He prayed for His disciples | Luke 22:32 ESV but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
- He prayed to forgive those who abused and stole from Him | Luke 23:34 ESV And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.
- He confessed that His soul was troubled | John 12:27 ESV “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?
- He wrestled to fulfill God’s will and submitted His live to God | Matthew 26:39,44 ESV And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again
- He anguished and told God He felt abandoned | Matthew 27:46 ESV And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
- He even prayed with His last breath | Luke 23:46 ESV Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.
Now notice what Jesus did not pray about. Jesus did not give God a sundry list of the supplies He needed. He did not ask God for favours, but rejoiced that God had a plan for Him. He did not bring accusations against other people but instead, asked God to forgive them.
None of these types of prayers are wrong in themselves, but they become a problem when they are the usual type of prayers we pray. We can pray like the world prays to idols, rather than to the One True God.
How our attitudes towards prayer can be corrupted
We are not always aware of the worldly influences that can corrupt the way we pray. Here are a few examples:
- Popular culture – We observe how the world irreverently treats God and pray to Him with a similar attitude | Romans 3:11,18 ESV “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
- Religious culture – We follow whatever religious groups do through ritualistic prayers, rather than simply pray from our hearts as His children | Luke 18:11-14 ESV The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 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!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other…
- Temple culture – We treat God as a good luck charm and turn to Him whenever we want something, rather than seek to truly follow Him | Luke 6:46 ESV “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?
- Competitive culture – We ask God to help us with our personal goals, instead of asking Him for His will | James 4:3 NIV When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
- Asian “face” (shame) culture – We talk to God only when we feel good about ourselves and avoid Him when we don’t | Isaiah 50:7 ESV But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
- Materialistic culture – We ask God for earthly blessings and neglect the more important eternal things | 1 John 2:17 ESV And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
- Work culture – We present our good deeds as if presenting our performance reports to God. When we pray this way, we actually expect that we have the right to ask for reward or compensation from God. But God gives us good gifts out of His own wisdom and generous nature; He does not ask us to work for His favour | Ephesians 2:8 ESV For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
- Philosophy and worldly systems – We may buy into certain philosophies and worldly systems of thought and pray according to human wisdom instead of seeking to know God’s will | Colossians 2:8 ESV See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
Such worldly influences are more prevalent in our prayers than we are consciously aware!
Understanding the attitude we should have
God has been by our side ever since we were in our mother’s womb and even before we accepted Jesus as our Saviour. He has personally witnessed every second of our lives, is completely aware of whatever is happening to us now, and knows what is going to happen every second of every day for the rest of our lives.
How do we pray to Someone who understands us better than we can and who knows what we need better than we do? Even before a single one of our thoughts is formed, God already knows them all. So, what is the point of prayer?
Psalm 139:4 ESV Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
Prayer is a time for us to connect with God, heart to heart. If we pause to think about it, there is nothing man can really control except for our own hearts. God leaves us to decide what we will or will not do. Everything else is in His control; our bodies, the weather, our circumstances, our jobs, the future, and so forth.
Each time God calls us to seek Him, we are told to do so with all our hearts. We have a make a choice. Prayer is a form of offering and worship where we present our hearts to Him.
Jeremiah 29:13 ESV You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
Consider what distinguishes genuine friends from superficial acquaintances. True friends make time for us. They will be genuinely interested in what we have to say, will respond when we talk to them, and will in general, care sincerely for us. We can trust them to go out of their way for us when we need them. True friends make sacrifices for us because they love us.
Acquaintances, on the other hand, are more likely to engage in polite but superficial conversations, and make time for us only when it suits them. We can hold long conversations with them and yet not really connect in any meaningful way. It is easy to tell who are true friends and who are acquaintances by the way they open up to us.
Now, let us look at our attitudes towards God in our conversations with Him. How deep is our “friendship” with God? Or do we pray like we are just acquaintances?
John 15:13 ESV Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:15 ESV No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
If we open our hearts to God, our prayers will evolve into genuine friendships with Him. Otherwise, we only “honour God with our lips.” Jesus called such prayers hypocritical.
Matthew 15:7-9 ESV You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
Our friendship with God should not be taken lightly. He is the King of the universe who stoops down to speak with us.
The Bible shows that God spoke with Moses like a friend. Yet whenever our Almighty Father came down as a pillar of cloud to speak to Moses face-to-face at the Tent of Meeting, nearly two million Israelites would rise up and worship God from their tents. They did not dare go near because they were in awe of God and greatly feared His presence. In another instance, we see that the mountains shook greatly and the people trembled in terror at the presence of God.
Now, we don’t need someone like Moses to mediate between God and us, because Jesus has made it possible for us to speak with God face-to-face when we pray in His name. But do we have the same reverence and fear of God when we pray? Can we imagine two million people immediately rise up and worship God, as He comes to speak with us?
Exodus 33:10-11 ESV And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.
Exodus 19:16-19 ESV On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.
Gaining access to God in prayer is so easy for us to do thesedays and forget that it cost our precious Jesus His gruesome death on the cross. We can take our privileges very much for granted.
At the moment that Jesus breathed His last breath, God tore the massive curtain covering the Holy of Holies inside the Temple of Jerusalem from top to bottom, signalling that sinful people could now enter into His presence as a result of the sacrificial blood that Jesus had shed as payment for our sins.
To understand the significance of this, we need to understand what the Holy of Holies represented. It was the innermost and most sacred place in the temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. The curtain covering the area was huge. It was 60 feet long (about six stories high), 30 feet wide, and was four inches thick.
During that time, only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and he could only do so once a year, on the Day of Atonement, to present sacrificial offerings to God to atone or compensate for the people’s sins. Before the priest could enter the sacred place, he had to wash himself, put on special clothing, bring burning incense to let the smoke cover his eyes from a direct view of God, and bring sacrificial blood with him to make up for the atonement for sins (Exodus 28). If the priest was ceremonially unclean or made a mistake in any way, he would die immediately. It was not a job one would take on lightly!
Mark 15:37-39 ESV And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
Hebrews 9:11-14 ESV So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins.
All of us can now be in God’s presence without the threat of immediate death. We simply pray in the name of Jesus at any time on any given day. Once we accept Jesus as our Saviour and are baptised in Jesus’ name, His Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts and He makes our physical bodies His spiritual temples. But just like the priests purified themselves before presenting themselves to God, we too need to prepare our hearts for prayer.
The “blood” we offer is Jesus’ and the “special clothing” we put on are the robes of Jesus’ righteousness. If we recognise how terrifying God’s holiness is, we would also humbly wash ourselves of the impurities in our hearts before we speak with Him.
Romans 13:14 ESV But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Isaiah 61:10 ESV I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…
Psalm 66:18 ESV If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.
4 ways to check our attitudes
God’s Word shows us that before we pray, we ought to:
- Humility | Humble ourselves, putting aside our own (limited) understanding, expectations, and demands | 2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
- Childlike | Be like innocent, impressionable and obedient little children | Matthew 18:3-4 ESV And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
- Repentance | Repent of our sinful ways and ask God to purify us so that we can worship Him in His holy presence | John 9:31 ESV We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.
- Reconciliation | Reconcile with fellow believers, and not allow division in God’s Kingdom to linger and grieve Him | Matthew 5:23-24 ESV So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
We don’t need perfect words or perfect lives before we can pray. We simply need healthy doses of humility and reverence for God. Take a look at the hardcore criminal who hung next to Jesus during His crucifixion. He openly confessed that he deserved to be punished for his crimes and defended Jesus against a fellow criminal. Then he made a simple and direct plea to Jesus to remember him. Jesus responded with, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” The criminal wasn’t eloquent nor did he get a chance to get things right in his life. He just worshipped Jesus and opened his heart. Similarly, our prayers should always start with an attitude that reveres and honours God.
Luke 23:39-43 ESV One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
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