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When we make our prayers weapons—not against the enemy, but against one another—then we have stepped outside of what Jesus calls us to in prayer.

I vaguely remember once sitting around the dinner table as a child after the family meal and my dad asking me to close in prayer. My brother and I were two years apart, and, like brothers, we got into it once in a while. So I prayed, “God, help Jim to be nice to me.” And then Jim interrupted: “God, help Jon to be nice to me first.”

Those prayers weren’t really meant for God to hear, but rather to get another jab at the other in our ongoing squabble. We might excuse a couple of kids who pray that prayer at the dinner table because they haven’t quite learned that prayer is not for calling others out but for seeking the presence of God in our lives. But maybe we adults need to return to that lesson. When we make our prayers weapons—not against the enemy, but against one another—we have stepped outside of what Jesus calls us to in prayer.

Jesus’ Warnings About Prayer

Jesus teaches us to pray, but he also gives us some warnings about how not to pray.

In Matthew 6:5, before teaching the Lord’s Prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns against praying like the hypocrites, who posture themselves to be seen by others. These are people who make sure everyone knows they seem to have prayer figured out.

And in Luke 18:11-12, Jesus warns us not to be like the self-righteous Pharisee who thanks God that he has it all figured out and makes sure everyone knows it.

As we read these two warnings about prayer, our reaction is most likely, “I don’t do that.”

But instead of seeing ourselves as the ones who actually get it right—the one who doesn’t pray to show off for everyone and the one who humbly begs, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner”—maybe we should ask the searching question, “How do I pray like the hypocrite and the Pharisee?”

When my prayers are self-focused, self-centered, all about me and getting my way, then my prayers are in the realm of those prayed by the hypocrite and Pharisee.

When we ask God to do what we want God to do instead of praying “Your will be done,” then our prayers have become manipulative.

Our prayers become weapons against one another when we seek to make a point to the person we are praying for and with instead of seeking God’s grace and love to be at work.

In any conflict between people, whether it is between friends going through a challenging time, a marriage argument, a church council disagreement, or our denominational conversation about human sexuality, it is easy to unknowingly turn our prayers into weapons to use against one another.

On the surface, our prayers might seem like good prayers:

“God, help us to uphold the centrality of your Word.”

“God, help us to boldly obey your Word.”

“God, lead us to be more loving to the world around us.”

“God, help us to forgive as you forgive us.”

In and of themselves, these are important requests to pray. But in the argument of the day, whether it is in friendship, marriage, church council, or our denominational conversation, we can easily guess which side the praying person might have come from and the point they were trying to make to the other.

How, Then, Do We Pray?

If prayer is seeking the face of God and God’s transforming presence, how do we pray so we don’t posture ourselves in an argument, so we don’t portray that we’re the ones who have it all figured out, so we don’t clobber each other with our prayers?

Pray as Jesus taught us to pray. Pray the Lord’s Prayer. Pray it not just in rote recitation, but with the rhythm* of what Jesus teaches.

Reverence: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Jesus teaches us to begin our prayers by focusing not on ourselves, but on God. We are to seek God’s presence, to seek God’s face. When we spend significant time in prayer praising God for who God is and thanking God for what God has done, it begins to shape us.

We often quickly jump over this part to get to our requests, but when we linger in the presence of God, when we focus on the incomprehensible triune God, when we recognize in thankfulness all that God has done, it tunes our hearts to sing God’s praise.

Response: Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

When we catch glimpses of the greatness and glory of God, we quickly realize that God is God and we are not. That seems obvious, but sin continuously tries to put us in God’s place and God in our place. So we pray, in submission to God’s goodness and greatness, that God’s will be done.

It takes humility to recognize that we have little control of this world, our denomination, our churches, or even our own lives. But when we pray in submission to God, we recognize our limitations, our lack of understanding of the full story, and our complete dependence on God.

Requests: Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Out of the understanding that God is God and we are not, we then bring our requests to God with a transformed perspective. We can ask God to be at work in our lives, in our relationships, in our conflicts, and in this world, with the posture that God sits on God’s throne, high and exalted, and that though we are limited in our understanding, God wants to hear our heart.

We bring our requests after our prayers of reverence and response, when we are transformed by who God is. Our abiding with God informs our asking. Our prayers are then guided by God.

Readiness: Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

When we pray this part of the Lord’s Prayer, we recognize our own inability to overcome the sin we face in our daily lives. We must trust our welfare to the one who has overcome sin and death already and is doing so in our lives as well.

When it comes to our arguments, conflicts, and divisions, this prayer is vitally important as we seek not to use prayer as a club to clobber others. We are asking God to deliver us from using prayer as a weapon against one another, such as by asking God to “deliver us from this evil.”

Trusting the Result to God

When we seek God and experience God’s transformational presence, we are changed at the deepest level. Our posture isn’t about being right; it is about God’s glory. And when it is about God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Eph. 3:21), then we can hold our requests loosely, trusting in the One who is head of the church.

* The rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer as Reverence, Response, Request, and Readiness comes from Daniel Henderson’s book Transforming Prayer: How Everything Changes When You Seek the Face of God (Bethany House, 2011).

Discussion Questions

  1. Recount an incident when you experienced a prayer that was used as a weapon against someone. How did you feel? Why did you think it was inappropriate?
  2. Besides the Lord’s Prayer framework suggested by the author, what other prayer frameworks or guides have you used? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  3. Why do you think we often skip over reverence in our prayers and go straight to our requests? How does starting with a focus on God’s glory change our prayer postures?
  4. How can we examine ourselves to know if we are trusting the result of our prayers to God or if we are still trying to “play God”?

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