What Christians Don’t Understand about Prayer

Joe McKeever
By Joe McKeever

Joe McKeever says he has written dozens of books, but has published none. That refers to the 1,000+ articles on various subjects (prayer, leadership, church, pastors) that can be found on his website — joemckeever.com — and which are reprinted by online publications everywhere

I had led a family to Christ. They soon joined our church and were baptized the following Sunday. My notes remind me of something the grandfather said. He was chairman of deacons in a church three hours away, and of course, they were excited about what had happened. He said to me, “We’ve been praying for this family, but one by one. We had no idea they’d all get saved at the same time!”

Expectations. Dale Caston told me something that took place in a high school class when he was a teen. The teacher asked the students, “What do you expect to get out of this class?” She looked at one student: “Eddie, what do you expect?” Eddie said, “Well, I’ve had you before–and I don’t expect nothing!” — What do you expect when you pray? The curse of modern Christianity is that we expect little from the Lord, too much from the church, and nothing from ourselves.

“Thou art coming to a King; Large petitions with thee bring; For His grace and power are such, none can ever ask too much.” –John Newton

Now, some quick thoughts on what the Lord has taught and is teaching me on pray

1. You don’t have to be perfect to pray.

That’s almost funny; it’s so obvious. But you might be amazed to know how many of us shirk from praying because “I’ve sinned.” Well, duh. “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). He is under no illusions about us, friend. He who created us knew He was getting no bargain when He saved us. When we sin, the only one surprised is us. So, go on and pray.

2. You don’t have to feel like you deserve to pray, have lived so righteously that you have a right to have your prayers answered. It’s all of grace, friend. How we feel has nothing to do with anything.

3. The best advice I was ever given–and the best I have ever doled out–on this subject is: “Pray Anyway.” In spite of how you feel, what others say, what you know about a situation, how little or much you know on what the Almighty wishes to do in a situation, or a thousand other things, it is alright to pray.

It is urgent that we pray. See Luke 18:1. “Pray or quit.”

4. Honesty in prayer is always best. If you don’t feel like praying, tell Him that. He who created you understands tiredness. If you have a fear or doubt or question, He can take your admitting that in your prayer. We worship in Spirit and in truth.

5. Do not try to judge your own prayer. Don’t measure your praying by how long or how intense or whether you used certain words. We are not the judges of anything, least of all our own service, worship, and prayers. (I’m remembering an email from a pastor’s wife not long ago, who complained about her man: “He’s not spending an hour in prayer each morning.” So, she’s got the clock on her man. Talk about a recipe for misery in a marriage!)

6. Pray your own way. Don’t let anyone–me or your pastor or favorite teacher or anyone–dictate to you on the best way or the only way to talk to the Father. Some of us love the little ACTS method. We start with adoration, go to confession, then to thanksgiving, and end with supplication.  It’s a good form, but there’s nothing that says it’s best. Sometimes, we want to start with confession (making this CATS!).

However you pray, just do it.

7. You will change how you pray as you grow in the Lord. Warren Wiersbe says that when we are new believers, we wrestle with the world in prayer. As we grow, we wrestle with our flesh in prayer. In time, we will find ourselves wrestling with God in prayer.

My observation is that sometimes I wrestle in prayer, but most of the time I just talk to the Father with no struggling, no resisting, and no hurting, but only loving and thanking and blessing.

8. Varying how we pray is often a good thing. Beginning with different words, ending with a different formula (for lack of a better term), that sort of thing. We all know some people who have used the same format and same expressions in prayer for so long, one wonders if they even think about what they are saying, it comes so effortlessly.

9. Nothing says you have to end your prayer with an “amen.” In fact, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) might imply we should never bring our prayers to an end.

When I was a kid walking to school up that West Virginia mountain, I would often talk to God. I’ve long since forgotten anything specific about my prayers, other than one thing. I didn’t want to say “amen,” because that would feel like hanging up the phone and ending this call. I wanted the phone to be off the hook all day long, the Lord to always be there, and for me to always be able to talk with Him. My understanding was that of a child, but the point is as valid and solid as it can be. There is no time in my day when I do not want to be in touch with the Father.

10. Pray about everything, no matter how large or small. After all, the God of the infinite is also Lord of the infinitesimal. The God of the universe also originated and planned the operation of the atom and molecule. So, clearly, nothing is off limits to His all-seeing eye and far-reaching care.

11. Don’t go around talking about your prayer life, about how much or how often you pray, or what the Lord told you in prayer. Go back to Matthew 6 and see how the Pharisees prayed and why they did it, then guard against the same tendencies in yourself.

Prayer is like–please pardon the expression–making love to your spouse. It’s something best done in private and not referred to in public unless the situation calls for it. (Yikes, did I say that?) The point is to beware of becoming the type of person who spends more time talking about your prayer life than you do actually praying. Scripture has a word for it: hypocrite. Let’s try not to be one of those.

12. As often as you can when praying, allow time to stop talking and sit quietly. In fact, I strongly recommend you alternate between a) talking to the Lord, b) reading a few verses of Scripture, and c) sitting quietly listening to Him. Keep a notepad handy to jot down things that come to mind.

13. Guard against legalism. Of requiring yourself to do so many minutes (hours?) a day, of praying over your entire list every day, of praying a certain way, or in a particular place. Pray while waiting on the phone, while driving, while sleep deserts you at night. All the time, as often as you can.

14. If it is true that “in Thy presence is fullness of joy,” according to Psalm 16:11, then we should enjoy our prayer times. See if you can do that.