People often ask is there a right or wrong prayer? I wouldn’t say there is a right or wrong prayer, I would rather say that there is a wrong way to pray and there is a right way to pray. The reason being that prayer is not just about the content – what you are asking about, but also about the approach – the way you pray, the things you don’t even say during your time of prayer, yet they are closely connected with your prayers and can affect your prayers.
Prayer is not about going through a religious routine or having something crossed off from our to-do list, prayer is for relationship; relationship with our Creator and Father (Psalm 42:1-2). So first and foremost, prayer is to develop and maintain a close relationship with God. Secondly, it is for God to hear us and answer us as we call out to Him in prayer (Psalm 65:2). Thirdly, prayer is to bring glory to God. According to John 14:14, answered prayers bring glory to God. All over the world countless numbers of people pray, but not everyone that prays, prays for the right reasons or in the right way. Any prayer that won’t strengthen and build our relationship with God, any prayer God won’t listen to, and any prayer that won’t bring glory to God is a wrong type of prayer or should I say a wrong way to pray.
Let me start with praying to develop a relationship with God. Psalm 103:7 tells us that God made known His ways to Moses while His acts were made known to the Israelites. The Israelites were just seeking after God’s acts; seeking God’s blessings. They had no real desire or interest in knowing God’s ways, in having a close relationship with Him. Moses on the other hand, discovered not just God’s acts but also His ways. If all the time I come to God in prayer, all I do is ask Him to give me things, all I want is a new car, good job, get married, have children, have more and more money, then I am using God, and it is wrong to use people. It is wrong to be just a seeker of the acts of God; it is wrong not to be interested in hearing God out; hearing what He has to say about every area of my life, habits I keep that are bad, or decisions I take that can land me in trouble. It is wrong to not care about what God likes, what He dislikes, or about what He needs at every point in time, yet I want Him to fulfil my own needs. It is wrong to not discuss my life with God, to tell secrets and details of my life to people who don’t have any lasting solution to what I am going through, yet I expect God who I haven’t made an insider to the nitty-gritty details of my life, to be just dishing out blessings to me. It is wrong if all I want from God is for Him to give me things but I’m not ready to give Him anything; I don’t give Him my life in worship and surrender, I don’t give Him my time, gifts, skills and resources. This is what I will say is a wrong way to pray; prayer that is one-sided, prayer where you are just on the receiving side, never on the giving side. Yes, God wants to give us things. He tells us ask and it will be given to you (Matthew 7:7), but prayer is more than just asking and asking for things; things that will one day fade away.
What was the first thing Jesus said when he taught us how to pray? He said “Our Father’’ (Matthew 6:9). So before the give me my daily bread and all those things we come to God asking for, there must be a relationship of Father and child established. Paul echoes this is Galatians 4:6 when He says the Holy Spirit helps us to call God “Abba Father”. In other words, the Holy Spirit helps us to develop an intimate relationship with God. It is this relationship not just obtaining material, temporal blessing from God that helps an individual to have an effective prayer life and to remain standing in the place of prayer even in the face of extreme adversity.
So basically, a prayer life that is just focused on self, on your own personal needs is a wrong approach to prayer, it is a wrong way to pray. Yes, you can ask God to meet your needs, but that can’t be all you do whenever you pray. There must be a place in your prayer for God’s own needs which Jesus put this way when teaching us about prayer “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth” (Matthew 6:10). Don’t use prayer to build your own personal kingdom, to focus on just your ‘daily bread’, prayer is also for the establishment of the Kingdom and will of God. Prayer is for those things that are dear to the heart of God.
Moving on to the second reason why we pray, Psalm 65:2 says “O You who hear prayer, to You all flesh will come.” Why waste your time talking to someone, if the person isn’t even going to listen to you? We come to God because we believe we are coming to a Living God who hears prayers, we are not just talking in the air to a lifeless God that can’t hear His people no matter how long and loud they shout (1 Kings 18:26-27). Therefore, any prayer that God does not hear and listen to is wrong. 1 John 5:14 tells us that the confidence we have in God when we pray is that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. It’s a give in that if what I’m praying about is in line with the will of God, He will surely hear that prayer. But if a married man is praying that God should touch the heart of a lady in his office he wants to approach to have sex to agree, God won’t bother Himself with such a prayer, God won’t listen to such a prayer because adultery is not the will of God. Apart from this, even when what I am praying about is in line with the will of God but my motive for wanting that thing is wrong, God won’t listen to the prayer. For instance 3 John 2 plainly tells us that it is the will of God that we should prosper in all things and be in good health. If I am praying for prosperity, praying to have a particular car but my motive for wanting this car is to have something I can use to show off and intimidate some people I know can’t afford such a car, God won’t listen to that prayer. Furthermore, in Psalm 66:18, the Bible says “If I cherish iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” To cherish sin in my heart is to act like a son who without his father’s permission takes his car, bashes his father’s car, then comes to the father not to say sorry about what happened to the car, but to ask for money to go on a trip. The son is indifferent and not remorseful about what he has done. Do you think such a father would be pleased? This is what it means to cherish iniquity in our heart; to have done things that are offensive to God, then treat them like it’s nothing, act like we haven’t done anything wrong, and just be asking God for things. God won’t listen to that kind of prayer. The prayer He will listen to is not the prayer of a perfect person who never sins, but of a person who falls into sins, acknowledges his sin, is sorry for the sin and asks God to forgive and wipe away his sin so nothing stands between him and his prayer to God.
Finally, the right type of prayer is the prayer that when answered will bring glory to God. God wants to be glorified through our prayers (John 14:14). It’s funny that some armed robbers have the effrontery to pray to God that their operation will be successful. This is an abuse of prayer; this is a wrong way to pray, to pray about things that will not glorify the name of the Lord. God certainly can’t be glorified in a successful armed robbery attack, it brings no honour whatsoever to God.
The key then to a fervent, effectual prayer life is seeking God’s glory. When the glory of God is uppermost in our heart, we are on the right prayer track. So, we must seek after and pray about those things that will bring glory to God, and when God listens to us and answers us, we must return all the glory to Him (Psalm 115:1). We must never ascribe the glory due to God to ourselves; to our prayer capability and proficiency (Isaiah 42:8), if we want to see more of His glory, more of His power, more of His loving-kindness as we pray, if we want to pray aright.