Let’s talk about clichés when it comes to prayer. I must admit I am an expert on overused and meaningless jargon when praying. I find myself using the same phrases, requests and terminology over and over again without giving much thought to what these words actually convey. And that is the crux of the problem about using clichés – they lead us into mindless repetition instead of a sincere heartfelt talk to God.
As a child I always thought it was funny every time a certain elder in our church would pray for people to be able to rise up off their, “beds of sickness.” In the 1970’s “beds of sickness” was a common expression in the arsenal of clichés used by church elders to convey the need for healing. We all know beds aren’t sick, people are. So why don’t we just say what we mean when talking to God?
Being specific in our prayers is important because it zeros in on the heart of the matter. I know from experience that it is easy to state the obvious without really telling God what the focus of your prayer really is all about. I use expressions like, “God please be with me today,” and “God I lift this person up,” or “God hear my prayer,” as if I’m asking God to do something He isn’t already doing.
I don’t need to ask God to hear my prayer or be with a certain person today, or accompany me throughout the day because He is already doing those things. Instead we need to pray to be aware of God’s presence in our life and that His will be done in all that we do throughout the day. “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 One of the names for Jesus is Emmanuel which means “God with us” and in John 14:18 Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
Instead of repetitiously asking God to “please be with Tom, Jane or whoever, we need to zero in on what is needed in their life. If Tom needs to have a relationship with God let’s present that request to God. But, we could even be more focused if we drop the clichés and really think about what we wish to say to God. We might say something like this, “Dear Father, my friend Tom needs to have hope and assurance in his life and only you can give that assurance. I’ve been talking to Tom and he seems resistant about the place grace plays in his life so I ask that you make that aspect of your love clearer for him. Use me Lord to speak the proper words to him so the Holy Spirit can open his mind and heart to your love.”
Well, you get the picture of what I’m saying. Instead of saying, “be with Tom” we are now zeroing in on what needs to change in Tom, what we are asking God to do and what we see as our role in ministering to Tom.”
Prayer comes from the heart. When God puts someone in your mind to pray for it is because He believes you are the person to pray for that person. Take the responsibility seriously. Don’t just rush through the name with a quick cliché but think about what it is you wish to see take place in the life of that person and then pray accordingly.
Prayer changes things. People are healed through prayer. People come to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior through prayer. People make life choices such as career moves, marriage and educational decisions through seeking God’s will and direction. We must take prayer seriously if we except serious answers.
Another thing about prayer that is important is to wait upon God after you pray. Most of us want answers right now and we want those answers to be what we have already predetermined how God should answer us. The key is to pray “God what is your will for me” and then wait for God to speak to your heart. It might be spontaneous or it might be weeks but when God reveals His will for your situation you will know it is God speaking.
It’s not easy to break out of the cliché habit in prayer because most of us are in a hurry and we want to be faithful to the person we are praying for so the compromise is to throw out a platitude and move on. But, if we really want to intercede for our friends we would do well to slow down, take time to think through what the needs are and then seek God’s will for that person. Most of all, however, regardless of how muddled or organized our prayers might be we simply need to pray trusting in God to answer.
* Once again I would like to remind you to pray for the thousands of Christians who are suffering persecution for their faith in Christ, for many even unto death. They need our support. Go to http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ for some of their stories.