I like the story of a little boy who prayed beside his bed one night and said, “God, I will tell you what I did, but I won’t tell you who I am.” Prayer is an extremely important activity, and it is doubtful that anyone prays enough. However, prayer is widely misunderstood and often abused. There are many misconceptions of prayer.
For one thing, prayer does not guarantee that one will receive his selfish desires. James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” God knows the motives behind our prayers, and He never promised to grant our selfish desires.
People often pray for things that are not good for them. God, like earthly fathers, answers “No,” to such requests. Jesus said in Matthew 7:11, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” But when He knows something is not good for us, He will not give it to us. Time often reveals that God’s “No,” was a blessing for us. A song rightfully says, “Thank God for unanswered prayers.”
Second, prayer does not guarantee a quick release from trials and troubles. Jesus prayed three times for the cup of suffering to pass, but it was still necessary for Him to die on the cross. Similarly, Paul prayed three times that his thorn in the flesh might be removed. God’s answer was that His grace was sufficient for him, and God gave him strength to deal with his problem. God’s answer may not be what was expected.
Third, some think of prayer as an emergency switch that can be turned on when trouble comes. One who ignores God day after day should not expect deliverance from some calamity just because he suddenly decides to pray. In Proverbs 1:25-28, God says,
“Because you disdained all my counsel, and would have none of my rebuke, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes, when your terror comes like a storm, and your destruction comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.”
Fourth, prayer is not a substitute for obedience. Jesus said in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” If one is not willing to obey God, he should not expect God to answer his prayer. God cannot be used in that way by those who do not love Him. John writes in I John 3:22, “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”
After God gave Joshua and the Israelites the city of Jericho, they were defeated at Ai because Achan had sinned by taking some of the spoils of Jericho. Joshua fell to the earth and prayed to God, but God told him to get up. He was to stop praying because there was sin in the camp. Their sin had to be taken care of before God would accept their prayers. Read carefully Isaiah 59:1-2.
Proverbs 28:9 says, “One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” This makes it clear that people cannot reject God’s commands and make up for it through prayer. It is great that many Americans are turning to prayer again, but we must open the Bible to see what God wants us to do. Jesus promises in John 15:7, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”