Recently I was in Ethiopia and was privileged to be part of a prayer meeting in which the people were praying specifically for missions. It really was an amazing meeting. There were pastors, missionaries and church members.
I was struck by how the different people in the meeting prayed. Keep in mind that I could not understand the words of the language. What I could understand, though, was the seeming attitude in their prayers that spilled out in the way they spoke.
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
God: Feared Ruler
A couple of people prayed in a way that seemed too familiar. They prayed as if they were carefully slipping into the room of a ruler whom they feared, but maybe not respected. It is a way many of us are taught to pray. We are given formulas for approaching God as if a protocol minister were preparing us to enter into the throne room of an angry king.
We should certainly take our prayers seriously and with gravity, yet we should also see God as someone who loves us. God is not looking for an excuse to beat us over the head with His scepter. He has invited us to approach Him with confidence through the authority of His Son, Jesus Christ.
One of the ladies who prayed sounded like a televangelist yelling at her audience trying to convince them of their wickedness and need for repentance. The problem is that she was speaking to God. It almost sounded like she was angry at Him and trying to coerce Him into granting her petition. This reminded me of the story Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14 about the proud Pharisee and humble tax collector in which Christ said the humble one would have his sins forgiven.
Approaching God with confidence is appropriate, but there should be some reverence mixed in. When you go to God flippantly, or with the idea that you are the boss telling Him what He should do for you, then you have crossed the line from confidence to arrogance. That is exactly the perceived attitude that came through this lady’s prayer. I say “perceived” attitude because I really don’t know the lady, her heart or even the words she was saying, but I think the way we speak tells much about our attitude and thoughts.
God: Respected Friend
One older pastor prayed as if God was in the room with him. He spoke in a respectful way that seemed to exude an understanding of holiness; yet his prayer was confident as if he were speaking to a friend.
I appreciated his balance of respect and closeness to God. Prayer was obviously not something new to this man. His prayer was like talking to a friend he greatly respected and trusted.
We should pray to God as a king, judge, respected elder and friend. The proper attitude in prayer is somewhere mixed into the middle of all those ideas.