Prayer is such a vital part of your walk with Christ and yet sometimes we get it all wrong. Some people find prayer easy to engage in, but honestly many people struggle to pray. Regardless of where you are in your prayer life there are some common mistakes we can make in prayer (by the way I have made all of them.) So out of my own failures I want to share with you seven mistakes people often make when they pray.
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1. You Forget the Purpose of Prayer
Too often people view prayer as drudgery. It’s something you have to do. It’s not that you really want to do it, but it’s part of the discipline of being a Christian. If you are in this place, I know how you feel. However, this is the wrong approach and the wrong understanding to bring into prayer.
Prayer is all about relationship and communication. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he started with Our Father because it’s is about maintaining a relationship. When you view prayer from the perspective of going to spend time with your father, it takes on a whole new meaning. Instead of it being something you think you must do, it becomes something you look forward to doing.
If you could shift just one thing in your thinking about prayer let this be it. From this point forward as you pray remember it’s not about responsibility, it’s about relationship.
“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the Lord. With my whole being, body and soul, I will shout joyfully to the living God” (Psalm 84:1-2).
2. You Try to Pray Perfect Prayers
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say I can’t pray because I don’t know what to say. For some reason, there is this mindset that to pray effectively, you have to do it in a certain way. You have to say the right words, at the right time, in the right sequence in order for God to hear your prayer. You fall into the trap believing you have to pray perfect prayers. Nothing is further from the truth.
There is no such thing as a perfect prayer. People who try to pray perfect prayers have no real understanding of what prayer is really about. Prayer is less about what comes out of your mouth and more about what dwells within your heart - when you understand this it will free up your prayer life.
When you pray, God is not just listening to the words, he is considering what is in your heart. God responds to the sincerity of your heart, not the eloquence of the words that come out of your mouth. Long, distinguished prayers are ok, but simple heartfelt prayers move heaven and earth just as well. So don’t get hung up on the perfect words, just make sure your heart is right, because that is what God responds to.
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:6-7).
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3. You Forget to Be Honest
A common mistake people make is they feel like they have to filter their emotions when they come to God in prayer. You don’t. You can be raw, open and honest with God and tell him exactly how you feel (he already knows anyway). Trust me, God can handle your emotions. And more importantly, he wants you to bring them to him. Listen to 1 Peter 5:7:
“Casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully]” (AMP).
Regardless of how you feel, let God know. If you are hurt, angry, depressed, sad, frustrated, lonely, excited, worried, nervous, happy, or whatever emotion you are feeling, you can let him know. Here is the reason why – because he cares for you and cares about you.
When you get to this place, this is when prayer moves from a religious ritual to a relational necessity. You pray because you want to share your heart with God, not because you have to. This is what God wants all along.
4. You Give Up Too Soon
The truth about prayer is some prayers will be answered quickly and some will not. The struggle comes when you pray and you don’t see an immediate answer. The tendency can be to give up. I have done it before and God has had to remind me about it. That’s why in prayer, God is not only desiring you to ask but to keep asking. Consider Matthew 7:7-8:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
When you read this, you might think Jesus was saying to ask once and then stop. However, this is not what Jesus was saying. Look at the same verses in the Amplified version.
“Ask and keep on asking and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking and you will find; knock and keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who keeps on asking receives, and he who keeps on seeking finds, and to him who keeps on knocking, it will be opened.
This means that some prayers will require continuous asking, seeking, and knocking until God answers the prayer. I can’t tell you why God chooses to answer some prayers in this fashion but he does. That’s why Jesus encourages you to always pray and never give up (Luke 18:1). Sometimes this is the only way you will see the answer you are looking for.
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5. You Try to Impress People with Public Prayers
I remember going to a church service one time and the pastor, who was a guest, was asked to pray. I know this pastor personally so what I am about to say is based on truth and not speculation. When he got up to pray, the show started. The tone of his voice changed. He made it a point to kneel in front of the congregation to look more holy. He then proceeded to use every spiritual sounding word to show everyone in attendance he knew how to pray. It was quite the spectacle; however this is not what prayer is about.
When you pray, there is only one person you need to pray to and that is God himself. This is true whether you are by yourself or in front of people. What good is it to try to impress people with your fantastic prayers if they don’t move the heart of God? After all isn’t God the one who can answer the prayer? Shouldn’t what he thinks matter more than what anyone else thinks?
If you are ever asked to pray in front of a group of people, don’t worry about what they think of your prayer. Focus on talking to God and touching his heart and nothing else. Trying to impress people with your great ability to pray will not move God’s heart and it will not get your prayers answered.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:5).
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6. You Treat Prayer as a Last Resort
Sometimes you can make the mistake of treating prayer as the last option after you have exhausted all your other resources. You have tried everything else and it didn’t work so you might as well pray. What have you got to lose? However, imagine what would happen if instead of looking to prayer last, you looked to God first.
I cannot tell you how many mistakes and bad decisions I have made because I treated prayer as the last resort. Instead of worrying how it’s going to work or how you are going to figure it all out, God wants you to seek him first.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
It is amazing how your vision, your clarity, and your perspective changes when you seek God first.
7. You Don’t Pray at All
Perhaps the biggest mistake people make is they remove prayer completely from the equation. When you pray, you are inviting all of heaven’s power, authority, and resources to invade your earthly situation. However, when you don’t pray you are telling God you are big enough to handle it yourself. If you don’t mind me asking, how has that worked out for you?
As a Christian, you have access to the all-powerful, all-knowing, ever present God who can speak and things happen. The God with whom nothing is impossible. The alternative is you can depend on yourself. When you consider it from this perspective then it makes absolutely no sense not to pray. I know you can get frustrated, especially if you feel like nothing is happening. Know today that even when you don’t see it or feel it, God is working on your behalf. Keep praying and don’t give up.
Prayer is such an important part in your journey. Let’s keep it in the right perspective and most importantly let’s keep praying. God wants to do great things in your life and he will accomplish those things as you continue to pray.
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.