Common Problems in Prayer
We see someone praying for a long time, saying many things and speaking pleasant words, and we believe them to be a spiritual person who has a normal relationship with God, and that God will surely hear the prayers of such a person. We therefore learn to pray in this way, too, and we often pray to God, saying: “Dear Lord Jesus, we give thanks and praise to You! You were crucified for our sakes in order to redeem us. O Lord! Your love is higher than the heavens and deeper than the seas, Your deeds are wise and wonderful, and Your holy name deserves to be extolled and worshiped by thousands! O Lord, You are the lamp that lights my way, the light upon my path. I ask that You guide me and help me to avoid temptation. I wish to dedicate my true heart to You, and to love You and be loyal to You forever! …” Although we may say many pleasant-sounding things in prayer to praise God and express our devotion, after we’re done praying, however, our spirits feel no enjoyment, our relationship with God has not drawn any closer, we still feel flat and we have no faith in God. This shows that God does not listen to this kind of prayer. Why does God not commend such prayers? This is a problem we urgently need to seek the answer to, so let’s search for the answer below.
Reflecting on Our Prayers
Let’s read a passage of God’s word: “There is nothing God despises more than the prayers of religious ceremony. Prayers to God are only accepted when they are sincere. If you have nothing sincere to say, then keep quiet; do not always speak false words and blindly make oaths before God, trying to deceive Him, talking about how much you love Him, about how much you wish to be loyal to Him. If you are incapable of achieving your desires, if you lack this resolve and stature, do not, under any circumstances, pray thus before God. That is ridicule. Ridicule means making fun of someone, trifling with them. When people pray before God with this kind of disposition, then at the very least, this is deception. At worst, if you do this often, then you are of utterly contemptible character. If God were to condemn you, it would be called blasphemy! People have no reverence toward God, they do not know how to revere God, or how to love and satisfy Him. If the truth is not clear to them, or their disposition is corrupt, God will let it slide. But they bring such character before God, and treat God as the unbelievers treat other people. Moreover, they solemnly kneel before Him in prayer, using these words to try and wheedle God, and when they are finished, they not only feel no self-reproach, but also have no sense of the seriousness of their actions. That being the case, is God with them? Can someone who is utterly without the presence of God be enlightened and illuminated? Can they be enlightened with the truth? (No, they can’t.) Then they are in trouble. Have you prayed thus many times? Do you do so often? When people spend too long in the outside world, they reek of society’s stench, their scummy nature is amplified, and they become suffused with satanic poisons and ways of living; what come from their mouths are words of falseness and deceit, they speak without thinking, or else speak words that always contain nothing but their own motivations and aims, and seldom have the proper motivations. These are serious problems. When people take these satanic philosophies and ways of living before God, do they not offend God’s disposition? And what will be the consequence of this? On the surface, these prayers are attempts to deceive and fool God, and are incompatible with His will and requirements. Fundamentally speaking, this is caused by human nature; it is not some momentary revelation of corruption.”
This passage of God’s words reveals the essence and the resulting consequences of this kind of prayer. If, during prayer, we say many things in praise of God, and we say how much we are willing to love God and satisfy God, but we don’t actually mean it with our hearts and, once we’ve finished the prayer, we don’t put our words into action or practice, then that is a religious prayer. No matter how much we say during prayer, how pleasing to the ear our words are or how spiritual they may be, in God’s eyes, if we aren’t sincere and we don’t put our words into practice, then all we are doing is trying to cheat God and fool God. Not only does God not listen to such prayers, but He also hates them. God is holy and faithful, and everything God says and does devotes particular care to being real. God is never false or deceptive, and God requires that we conduct ourselves honestly and reliably, that we tell the truth and engage in activities that are useful and practical. After we were corrupted by Satan, however, our nature became incredibly deceitful, and lies and deception became common practice. When we associate with other people, we all pursue such satanic worldly philosophies as “One accomplishes nothing without fawning and flattery,” and “It is better to have a slick tongue than to have strong arms and legs.” We like to say flattering, pleasant-sounding things in order to curry favor with people and fawn upon them so that we can then get what we want. After we begin believing in God, we also take these worldly philosophies in our approach to God, believing that God enjoys our flattery and lavish praise, as though the more nice things we say, the more God will accept us. Therefore, when we pray, we often make empty promises and speak empty praise: “O Lord, Your love is higher than the heavens and deeper than the seas, and Your embrace encompasses all. I wish to expend myself for You, I wish to love You all my life, and dedicate my heart to You. I wish to serve You loyally and obey You till the end….” After praying, however, we still can’t do what we’ve said. To list a few examples: When something happens that is not to our liking, we still cannot help but blame God; those who are in pursuit of money keep on pursuing money, and those in pursuit of the good life continue in their pursuit just the same as they had before; when performing work in the church, we are just as slipshod as we always were and we just go through the motions. Praying in this way shows that we do not sincerely wish to satisfy God, but instead just wish to use the fact that we pray for a long time, or that we speak words that are spiritual and pleasing to the ear, in order to please God. Sometimes, we even wish to use this kind of prayer to get God’s grace and blessings and a share in the bliss of heavenly kingdom in return, and this is us trying to cheat God. We treat God as though He is a corrupt human being and we treat Him in just the same way as we treat other people, and this is blasphemy against God. Therefore, no matter how nice a religious prayer might sound or how many years one has been praying, that kind of prayer cannot bring us closer to God. All it can do is make us become more and more false and take us further and further away from God, and God will detest and condemn our prayers. So in what way should we pray so that God listens and so that we can establish a normal relationship with God?
The Lord Jesus said: “When the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23–24).
The Bible says: “Jehovah is near to all them that call on Him, to all that call on Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of them that fear Him: He also will hear their cry, and will save them” (Psalm 145:18–19).
God’s word says: “The minimum that God requires of man is that man be able to open his heart to Him. If man gives his true heart to God and speaks what is truly in his heart, then God is willing to work in him. What God desires is not the twisted heart of man, but a pure and honest heart. If man does not speak from his heart to God, then God will not move his heart or work in him. Therefore, the crux of prayer is to speak to God from your heart, telling Him your shortcomings or rebellious disposition, laying yourself completely open before Him; only then will God be interested in your prayers, or else He will hide His face from you” (“Concerning the Practice of Prayer”).
From these verses and passages, we can see that God loves honest people, and that God requires us to be honest people and to pray to God with an honest and pure heart. When we pray, therefore, we must speak to God sincerely and from our hearts and say whatever is on our minds. For example, when we encounter some practical difficulties while we are serving God or we encounter practical difficulties in life or in our jobs and we don’t know how to handle them or solve them, then we need to bring these practical difficulties into our prayers to God and seek His will. When we are unable to get along with our brothers and sisters or with unbelievers, we should still be totally honest in our prayers to God and seek God’s help. When we sin and we go against one of God’s teachings, or we do something which God hates, then we should be completely open with God, holding nothing back, and seek His will. When we pray to God with such an honest heart, God then sees our sincerity and will listen to our prayers, He will guide us to understand His will in the things we have asked of Him, or He will enlighten us and guide us so that we come to understand the problems that lie within ourselves and know what to do in accordance with God’s requirements. Therefore, only by coming before God and being totally open with Him will He listen to our prayers. Conversely, if we don’t speak sincerely from the heart, and instead always say nice-sounding words in an attempt to flatter and cheat God, then God will only hate that kind of prayer.
Let’s take a look at a couple of examples and then we’ll understand better. We all know the story in the Bible of when the Lord Jesus exposed the prayers of the Pharisee and the publican: “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank You, that I am not as other men are, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote on 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: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:10–14). The Lord Jesus hated the Pharisee’s prayer and praised the publican’s prayer. This was because the Pharisee did not speak sincerely and especially chose pleasant-sounding words to say to God, he flaunted and claimed merit for his seeming good behavior and for the donations God required people to make, and he made a show of himself as someone who was loyal to God. Yet he said nothing about the sins he’d committed and instead he disparaged the publican before God, and God does not listen to this kind of hypocritical prayer. Although the publican, on the other hand, said only a few words, these words were filled with a deep sense of self-reproach and shame for his sins; he acknowledged that he was a sinner and he considered himself unworthy to meet the Lord because of his filthiness and corruption. His words were a call to God made from the bottom of his heart and they were a true confession and repentance, and the Lord Jesus consequently accepted his prayer.
We can see from the different attitude the Lord Jesus had toward the prayers of the Pharisee and the publican that a sincere prayer made from one’s heart is much more real than a prayer in which one just reels off lots of nice words and heaps praise on God. From this, we also come to recognize that a prayer said in self-awareness is considered more praiseworthy to God than a senseless prayer in which we exalt ourselves. When we pray, therefore, we have to pray with an honest heart, be pure and open, speak sensibly to God, and speak real words from our hearts. Only in this way will our prayers meet with God’s acceptance and be answered.
In fact, we will come across many practical difficulties and problems in our lives and in our journeys as we follow God, such as the temptation and seduction of evil worldly trends, being intolerant and impatient with other people, and easily losing one’s temper, and so on. When we encounter these issues, we can become very weak and dispirited, and sometimes we are unable to put God’s words into practice despite the fact that we know them well, and we cannot help but sin. If, during prayer, we can bring these difficulties before God without holding anything back, and seek God’s mercy and aid, then God will surely enlighten us and guide us. When we are shackled and bound by money, fame and gain, and we grow apart from God, we can pray in this way: “O God, though I wish to pursue the truth and put Your words into practice, I have been so deeply corrupted by Satan and I treasure money, fame and gain too much. O God, I am of small stature, and I ask You to guide me so that I might see clearly the emptiness of pursuing money, fame and gain, and have the determination and the strength to cast off the shackles and bonds that money has laid on me….” When we pray in this way, God sees our sincere hearts, He will listen to our prayers, and He will enlighten us to think of some verses of Scripture or some of God’s words which concern the issues we encounter. He will also enable us to understand the truth and to have the strength to rid ourselves of the control which money, fame and gain have over us.
In summary, whether or not God listens to our prayers does not depend on how long or short our prayers are, nor on how pleasing to the ear our words are, but crucially it depends on whether or not we speak to God sincerely and from the heart. The more we speak sincerely and truthfully to God, the more we will obtain the enlightenment and guidance of the Holy Spirit. When, during prayer, we experience the guidance and leadership of God, not only do we gain a sense of release and peace in our spirits, but we also come to understand God’s will more and more and become ever clearer on the truth. When this happens, we truly feel that God is our help at need, and that God is the One who is worthy of our trust and worth relying on.
Brothers and sisters, it would be well for us to lay our empty praise and empty promises aside and try to open our hearts, be open to God about every instance of our weakness, every practical difficulty we face and every expression of our corruption, and seek God’s guidance and help, and I believe that we will then surely reap a different harvest!