Why should we pray? What are some terrible reasons to pray? What are the right reasons to pray? In the second part of our Why Pray series, Pastors Wyatt Martin and Steve Brooks look at what the real and right motivation to pray really is in our lives, and what God desires.
Narrator: Purposely. Your life. God’s purpose. Listen at onpurposely.com.
Narrator: Welcome to Purposely Equipped. We want to help you go deeper in your faith by learning truth from the Bible. Our new series, Why Pray?, will help us discover what the Bible has to say about the importance of prayer in building our relationship with Jesus. Pastors Wyatt Martin and Steve Brooks from Alderwood Community Church, will be helping us with this five-episode series as we look at Why Pray?
Wyatt Martin: Steve we’re back. Why Pray? That’s our series. And we’re really diving just specifically deep into that question for this episode. Why. Should I pray last time we talked a little about what prayer is. We looked at Jesus’ example of prayer in the sermon on the Mount and kind of took some of the aspects of that as our paradigm of prayer. But we get what it is. Why, why should I pray?
Steve Brooks: Yeah. There’s more than one angle we’re going to look at this, and let’s start with the issue of motives. You know, what, what drives people to pray? And honestly, I mean, I just have to look at my own life to recognize there’s sometimes some really lousy motives for praying. I mean, Jesus talked about it in the passage we looked at there in Matthew, of people who just want to go on and on to show their righteousness to everybody who’s looking on to impress people.
Wyatt Martin: Yeah. I mean, I think looking good in front of spiritual people is one of the motives for Why Pray? That is not a very good one, but a totally real one. I mean, I remember even just, I grew up in a Christian home. Most of my extended family were Christians, and it didn’t take me too long to figure out that if I prayed out loud at the dinner table or whatever, these family members that I love, my grandparents, my parents, my aunts, and uncles, they were pretty pumped about that. They thought highly of me if I could pray. And so, I learned that man, if I pray, like people will dig it, you know? They’ll, they’ll give you some praise for that. They’ll talk about what a nice little Christian kid I am, and you know, all that kind of stuff. And so, but that’s not a good reason.
Steve Brooks: Well, it’s actually kind of cute if you’re four. I can recall sometimes, like growing up in church meetings that went maybe a little bit long, late into the night. So many waxing on and on with this long wind bag King James prayer with thee’s and thou’s, and I was just like, oh my goodness, who are you trying to impress? You know, like God had some really harsh words actually in the old Testament. I, I was just recalling this it’s from Isaiah, let’s see, it’s Isaiah chapter one. And he, like castigating him, he says your new moon feast and your appointed festivals, I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me. I’m weary of burying them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you. Even when you offer your many prayers, I am not listening. Apparently, God wasn’t impressed with those.
Wyatt Martin: Uh, Yeah. I am not listening. Like it’s God with his fingers in his ears going, I can’t hear you. Yes. And, you know, Jesus continues that same thing, even just before he teaches us how to pray in the sermon on the Mount. You know, he compares how we ought to pray with how you shouldn’t pray. And he says, when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think that 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. So, you don’t have to come up with some big eloquent speech. And that might impress some people, it’s a very real thing. Some people might be impressed by your eloquent prayer and how heartfelt it sounds, and you know, your theological words and all that, but it doesn’t impress God.
Steve Brooks: God is not impressed. And you know, I mean, let’s take another closely related motive. Maybe you’re praying in your closet by yourself, as Jesus instructs, but you are wanting to have God view you as good. You’re wanting to somehow impress God, as if you can somehow, you know, turn about this transaction that if I pray hard enough or long enough, God will give me what I want or do what I want.
Wyatt Martin: Yeah. So yeah, those aren’t good reasons. I mean, I think so to look good… not a great reason. Another reason is just to be good. The reason why you might pray is because you think that that’s just what you have to do as a Christian. It’s kind of this rote obligation. You know, just to be honest, I think for most people, praying before you eat is purely that obligation. Like it is just, this is what Christians do. So, before we eat, let’s say a prayer and no, like no thoughts going into the prayer. Totally. It’s honestly, I think for a lot of people, it’s not even a real moment of actually praying. Like there’s no attention given to God. It is just, we say these things before we eat food, and that’s just what you do.
Steve Brooks: Yeah. Which, you know, I would quickly follow up with, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It means you should check your motives. Jesus, like constantly in the gospels, is giving thanks before he eats. But when it becomes just rote, meaningless.
Wyatt Martin: Absolutely. So, I mean, We pray before we eat every meal, our family, that’s what we do. So, I I’m not against it. Right. I, but one of the things that we’ve just noticed is that there’s just a big difference between sitting down and going, okay, we gotta pray. God, thank you for this food. Thank you for this day. Amen. And then start eating and saying, okay, actually before we eat, let’s take a moment to actually be in God’s presence together. To really think about what he is doing in our life and thank him. And, you know, there’re just totally different things and, and it’s, it’s easy to slip from one end into the other.
Steve Brooks: Totally. So, so there’s trying to look good. There’s trying to be good. Maybe impress God. Then I think a lot of people just pray to get stuff. Yep. You know, they, they want to get good stuff from God. They want the good stuff. They don’t want anything else. They just want God to give stuff. I I’ve often noticed that this is kind of like the way people diet, like, you know, you’ll know some people, I’ve known people over the years who. For three months before their wedding, they basically starve themselves. You know, they’re drinking protein shakes and that’s it. Or, or they have a job interview for two months, you know. They lose 25 pounds, but the rest of their lives, when they’re not chasing those things, they just live and eat however they want. I think that’s how prayers for a lot of people.
Wyatt Martin: Like when we really want something, we’ll spend a lot of time praying. But then if everything’s fine, we’ll stop praying. Yeah. No, I agree. I don’t, I mean, this is kind of the model in my mind that’s kind of like the genie from Aladdin, you know? Yeah. Like the idea is God’s all powerful. He can do anything he wants, and he may grant a wish. You, so let’s ask him for anything. I remember as a kid, you know, learning about prayer, figuring out prayer and reading some of these passages that you read in the new Testament that are kind of astounding where God says, you know where Jesus says, if you ask anything in my name, it will be done for you. You know, like this, these, these radical promises, trying to wrestle with that. I mean, I, I remember praying for some really crazy things as a kid in the thought that, okay, if I just, if I just muster up enough belief, God will do anything. I asked him to do. I mean, I prayed for Corvette’s. I, I couldn’t even, I couldn’t even drive. I don’t know what I was thinking that that was gonna happen with that.
Steve Brooks: And now you drive a little electric golf cart. What a shame. Yeah.
Wyatt Martin: Yeah. That prayer still has not been answered. But you know, just pray for these wild things, but I think that’s a real motivation. I can get whatever I want. I, I can get the deepest desires of my heart and I’m actually kind of speaking facetiously because often these aren’t real important spiritual things.
Totally. They’re just good stuff. It’s yeah. Bigger house. It’s good stuff. A new job, which is, can be important and all good. But I, I think that motivation, it’s not a good one, but it is kind of a complex thing, because like we said, the last episode, Jesus really does invite us to ask for things. So, you know, Jesus says that God is our father in heaven who delights in giving us good things that just like an earthly father loves to give good gifts to his kids, that our father in heaven delights in giving us the things that we need. So, is that actually a bad motivation or is that the right motivation? How do we put that together?
Steve Brooks: And I think the order of the Lord’s prayer is, is really important. You know, we start with our father, we start with trying to align our desires with God’s desires. When I was a kid growing up, scripture I use to hear all the times, I Psalm 37:4, delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. I tried that one the same way you did, you know, Okay, Lord, I’ve been really good this week on my quiet times. Now I need the girl. Or whatever, you know, now she’s gonna like me. I mean, and, and I think what that, that verse really means is when you delight yourself in God, your heart actually changes. Like you have different desires, and you desire God above all else. That’s just a game changer.
Wyatt Martin: Yeah. I mean, I. If, if we’re gonna talk about why pray, what the actual right motivation is for praying, I think there’s, there’s something that kind of can hold some of these other things intentionally with each other. And that’s the idea of relationship. That prayer ultimately is about a relationship with God to have more intimacy with God. To know more of who God is and his desires for you, and to be able to bare your own soul to God, and to be honest about where you are and what you care about and what you’re struggling with. But it’s this relational intimacy that is the real why behind prayer, to know Jesus.
And that’s where some of these other things, they kind of fit in more neatly once you understand that as the real motivation. Like asking God for things, that’s a absolutely real part of, of intimate relationships. I mean, if, if you have close friends, if you have a spouse, if you have somebody who cares deeply about you, I, I bet an aspect of that relationship at times is asking for the things that you need from somebody else. But if you flip those, if your relationship kind of devolves to purely asking someone for stuff or for things that you get, like that actually ruins the relationship. I mean, that becomes a clingy friendship or a, you know, a needy romantic partner, or whatever like that, that the ordering is super important. Like you said.
Steve Brooks: Yeah. I heard an analogy on this one time, of like a little kid comes to their parents and asks for a quarter. And they go and spend the quarter and buy mom and dad a gift. You’re just delighted.
Wyatt Martin: Was this story from like 1930? What were they buying for a quarter?
Steve Brooks: It would need to be more than a quarter. So, well, I am a little old here Wyatt. But I mean, what if the kid takes the quarter or the $20 bill, buys mom and dad a gift and then says, okay, from now on, I am not cleaning my room ever again, and I can eat whatever I want for dinner. I mean, our motives really matter, even in everyday life like that. But God does delight to give good things to his, to his children.
Wyatt Martin: Yeah. And, and that’s where, if that’s, if the relational driver is the big thing, to see God as your father, to come to him as his child, then asking for things is just such a natural part of that. But it has to start with this desire for relationship. And I, I think this kind of gives us to another aspect of Why Pray? There really is, I think belief that people struggle with out there, which is I, I’m not gonna pray. It’s not that important. I mean, they’re maybe not saying I’m gonna pray, but they just don’t have much of a desire to pray, because of the belief that it’s not gonna do anything. It’s not gonna change anything. Like God’s just gonna do whatever God’s gonna do. Why bother asking him for something, because he’s got, he’s not gonna change his mind. So, I mean, how would you counsel somebody who is struggling with that?
Steve Brooks: That’s a tough one, right? Sort of fatalistic, deterministic. God’s in control, if you wanna put theological language on it. God’s sovereign, so, what is my little prayer gonna do to change god’s mind? God doesn’t change his mind. And people will quote that even from the old Testament/ there’s a scripture where God says he doesn’t change his mind. And yet, I mean, the first thing my mind jumps to is just. All the scriptures that show God responding to people’s prayers.
I mean, and some very heartfelt personal things. Like. I think of Hannah in the book of Samuel, you know, she plead with God just for a son. And God gave her a son. Naomi in the book of Ruth, you know, she pleads for her, her daughter-in-law to get remarried after her husband dies. I mean, these are just very everyday life, heartfelt things.
Then there’s bigger things, you know, like Elijah who prayed that it would rain when they were in the middle of a drought, and James says because he was a righteous man, God heard him. Not because of righteousness, we misunderstand. Righteousness is primarily about being in right relationship with God. It’s caring about our relationship with God. It’s not that he impressed God so much. But I think that’s so important, that we recognize of what the Bible’s saying there. God actually responds to our prayers. Now there’s a little bit of mystery there. Mm-hmm God knows what we’re gonna say before we say it. He knows what’s gonna happen before it happens. So, we, we don’t maybe understand how this works, but it is very clear… god does things on the basis of what his people ask him to do. Like it, the rain came because he was a righteous man who prayed and asked for it. It doesn’t say like, and the rain came because God was gonna do it anyways. And it just, coincidentally happened to be that, you know, Elijah prayed for it, but it was gonna happen. Don’t worry. No, like the Bible was just saying, Hey. Elijah just asked. He was righteous, man. The rains came because he asked for it. And, and again, this relationship idea to me, I, I just think that’s so important to understand this. Jesus is teaching us to see God as a father who actually cares about us. Who actually cares about what we ask for, what we want? He wants to hear it and he wants to respond to it and he will. Not always though. And that’s maybe where we have a hard time with this, because there are some things where the answer’s no.
Wyatt Martin: Yeah. And we’re gonna devote a whole episode to that a bit later on. But yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s difficult because we, we have our own timing. We want God to do it a certain way in a certain kind of timing.
Let me take it a little different direction. Wyatt I, I think another people, reason that people sometimes ask, why should I pray? Is, I mean, Okay. I’m talking to God. Maybe I experienced some kind of internal change, but a lot of times I just feel like I’m talking into the air. And you said earlier, something, I would say that prayer’s not just communication, it’s a conversation. Which points to maybe some of the things we might ask for, like, I might not ask God for something specific, like I need a new job. I might say, I need wisdom. How am I gonna hear from God? How’s God gonna speak to me when I need wisdom? You know, is it a conversation white or is this really a one-way conversation. That’s meant to be a good exercise for us who want to grow spiritually.
Steve Brooks: No, I think, I think that’s a really good question. I mean, just that idea of why would I pray if I never hear from God? I’ve never heard the voice of God, so, I mean, am I just talking to my ceiling? I mean, what’s going on here?
Wyatt Martin: Can I interrupt you for a minute on that? Yeah. Cause a really interesting thing about that is if you’ve read the old Testament, it’s startling, how it’s just stated so matter of factly, and the Lord said to Abraham, and Jeremiah heard the voice and you’re just like, How, how did that go down?
Steve Brooks: Yeah. Yeah. So, there’s, there’s a level of conversation happening in, in stories like that in the Bible that I’ve never experienced. Or Abraham and God are talking back and forth to each other, kind of like you and I are talking to each other right now. And if, if the question is, is sprayer conversation like that, I at least have not experienced that. Clearly it happens. It’s recorded in scripture and, and other people maybe have experienced that. And you know, we could talk about that more, but when I’m talk about prayer, being a conversation, what I simply mean is just that there is a real back and forth happening. There is a two- way communication happening. Not in the same way of two people talking to each other, carrying on a conversation, right? But where it isn’t just one directional. Prayer is not just you throwing out your thoughts and ideas to God, and God just kind of stoically receiving those things. That’s not what a father and child relationship is like that Jesus is describing. In a real way, god is going to communicate with you through his spirit. Now, what might that look like? I think it might look like a lot of different things. I think it might look like him using the scriptures that are his voice to us as you pray and read the Bible, and understand new insights about him, that the Holy Spirit are bringing to you. Not just that you’re reading words on a page, but that his spirit is actually teaching you something new actively, as you read the scriptures.
I think it could be that the spirit changes your attitude. Changes your thoughts, changes your desires, and that is a real response to your prayer that is a back and forth. I, I think God may communicate to you through the church, through brothers and sisters in Christ, that he may bring a word to you. That is a response to your prayer. That is a part of the back and forth. But he’s using the instrument of his people to do that. And I say, God could audibly respond to you. I’m I’m not discounting that as a possibility, right? I haven’t experienced it personally, but, but that’s a very real possibility as well. But one way or another, this heavenly father who loves you is going to be in communication with you as you’re in communication with him.
Wyatt Martin: Yeah. I, I mean, just to maybe start giving some concrete examples here too, which I’m a little hesitant to do because the way God answers prayer for me, looked very different than other people, but circumstances are one of the ways that God speaks.
I, two times in our lives, this is almost funny, we felt God was calling us to do something as a family. One time was to go to this summer Christian camp with some friends. It was really gonna be a great time. Hearing some speakers, having some great time with other brothers and sisters. And another time we got invited to go back to Taiwan where I had served as a missionary, and to, to go as a speaker. Both times we needed a lot of money that we didn’t have. Wyatt, we prayed earnestly both times and both times here’s how God chose to answer us; we got in a car wreck. Wow. Both times we got in a car wreck, and we got this big insurance payout, and in one case I chose to not even fix the car, cuz it still drove. It was more important to me to go to Taiwan. But it was just, it was almost funny. But literally that was part of the conversation. Like, I just couldn’t deny the timing. Yeah. Like the amount of money we got on the one pay was exactly how much we were short. It’s just, God does work in so many interesting, amazing ways. The reason I was hesitant to share that is cuz we’ll talk more later about the times when God doesn’t answer. You know, those, those are hard, and it might feel like you’re talking to a wall, but it’s important to just remember that we serve a living God who really does respond.
Steve Brooks: Yeah. And I think one of the things that’s so important there, as we pray in answering this question of Why Pray? It’s for relational intimacy, to communicate with a God who loves us, to know him more, to experience more of him. If, if that’s gonna happen, then I think one of the things you have to do as you enter into prayer is to communicate and then to be watchful. Then to actually look for God to respond, and not to look just for God to respond in specifically exactly the one way that you ask him, but to, to actually be seeking God’s will to say, okay, God, show me what your desire is for me in this prayer. If I’m, I’m asking for a new job, which I’m not, don’t worry anybody at all church, but if I’m asking, you know, maybe I’m, I’m in a season without work and I’m, I’m asking God that this interview that I’m in would, would be successful, that I would get the job… I hope that as I’m having that conversation with God, I’m also gonna be looking for his work in this area of my life beyond even the exact interview that I was praying for. If it’s a no, that I, that my answer, isn’t just like, well, God just didn’t care, didn’t hear me. But I’m seeking more of, okay, what is it then, God? What do you have for me? What are you trying to teach me? What, what you know, what other opportunity are you drawing me to? That there’s an ongoing conversation relationship that’s happening beyond just the one specific thing that you have asked for. Cuz it’s about relationship.
Wyatt Martin: The answer might be yes. Might be a no. Might be a way, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Steve Brooks: So, to wrap things up, why pray? if you want a relationship with God, if you want intimacy with Jesus, if you want to experience God in your life, that’s the why. Prayer is one of the massive ways that you are going to experience that relationship with God that Jesus offers us
Narrator: Again, special thanks to our hosts for this series, Wyatt Martin and Steve Brooks from Alderwood Community Church. Don’t forget to follow their podcast, native exiles, in any podcast app, or go to native exiles.com, where they look at living as everyday followers of Christ in the world today. If you are looking for a church to call home, check out Alderwood at alderwood.cc.
Thank you for downloading, Why Pray?, a Purposely Equipped series. Let’s keep growing in our faith together. Purposely Equipped is part of Purposely, a podcast network with practical podcasts to help you find, and live, in God’s purpose for your life. Find more podcasts and faith resources at onpurposely.com.