Yesterday we continued our series at Mosaic entitled, Practical Atheist. The premise for the series is this: according to a Gallup Survey a few years back, as many as 94% of people in the U.S. say they believe in God, but many live as though He doesn’t exist. Many will say they believe in God, even call themselves “Christian,” but for all practical purposes, they live like an atheist. They are practical atheists.
This week we explored our third characteristic of a practical atheist: “I believe in God, but pray like He doesn’t exist.”
In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells us there are some prayers that God accepts and others he rejects. In saying this, he presents us with the radical idea that prayer, in and of itself, does not bring us closer to God. It doesn’t necessarily make us more spiritual. It doesn’t necessarily grow our faith. It doesn’t necessarily accomplish anything helpful in our relationship to God. In other words, how we pray matters to God. Yesterday, we looked at three common pitfalls in prayer:
Pitfall #1: Self-centered prayer.
“I pray, but it’s really about me and what I want from God.” In our passage, Jesus shows us that it is possible, if not common, for us to pray in a way that has everything to do with us and very little to do with God. Like the Pharisee, we can get so consumed with ourselves and what we want God to do for us, that we completely miss Him and what He desires for us. This is missing the point of prayer altogether. Powerful, effective prayer always begins with complete honesty and humility before God.
Pitfall #2: Misaligned prayer.
“I pray, but don’t ask me to change my lifestyle.” Lets be honest, most of us want God to be intimately involved in our lives, we just want him to stay out of our business. We want his help over here, but to leave us alone over there. Misaligned prayer is when we continually ask God to say yes to our requests, while repeatedly telling Him no with our lives. When we allow God to align our actions with what He desires, we posture our prayers to be answered.
Pitfall #3: Unexpectant prayer.
“I pray, but I don’t really believe God will respond.” In Hebrews, we are told that when God speaks to us, if we do not obey, that our hearts become hardened and our ears become dull of hearing. Ignore that still, small voice for long enough and before long, you’ll live as though you were deaf and God were silent. Perhaps the reason you don’t expect God to move is because you’ve been walking so far from Him for so long that you have lost your ability to hear his voice. Perhaps you’ve been saying no to God for so long that you’ve forgotten what it sounds like to hear Him say yes! When we come before God humbly, allowing him to align our actions with His desires, we can pray with great hope and expectation.