Three Signals You May Be Praying to the Wrong God

Last week Ron offered a helpful post on prayer.  I appreciated this as I was preaching on prayer this weekend.  I thought I’d follow up with a provocative little title and post on the same issue.  Here’s the synopsis of my message from Saturday:

Who you are talking to influences how you talk to them.  So which God you are praying to is massively important.  I offered two versions of God.  The first is the God Glen described recently as the OmniBeing.  This is the God defined by beginning with “In the beginning God created,” the God who is primarily power, the God Mike described at the recent conference as God defined without the Son.  This is the God described in many systematic theologies via a list of attributes that can go on for tens of chapters before the Son or the Spirit are brought into the discussion, sort of a God in essence that is agreed upon by philosophers and Christians alike.

The second is the God defined by beginning with “In the beginning God.”  The God we glimpse in John 17:24 offering glory to the other, motivated by love, before the foundation of the world.  This is the God who is eternally Father, and eternally Son, and eternally Spirit.  This is the God is who is not defined primarily by power, but primarily by love (not denying that He is powerful, nor denying most of the standard list of attributes, but recognizing that those attribute lists tend to skirt around or overlook His love, which surely should be first on the list).

I noted the text in 1st Peter 5 that Mike pointed us to at the recent conference as a contrast between the two images of God.  We cast our cares on God our Father because He cares for us.  However, the image of the monadic power-hungry “god” in the Bible is the devil himself who prowls like a lion seeking someone to devour.  Strong stuff.  Then I went on to show that every New Testament writer speaks of God as a loving Father, as approachable, as loving, as tender, etc.

So, what about the three indicators that we may be praying to the wrong version of God?  Here are my suggestions, you may have more:

1. When we start thinking we have to “get it right” in order to twist His arm. You know what I mean?  Beginning and ending the prayer the right way, praying in the right position, trying to find the way to wrest God’s power into action.  Of course we want to pray in a way that pleases and honours Him, that is only natural for those that love Him.  However, if this becomes arm twisting because He inherently doesn’t want to hear or answer us, then something has skewed in our hearts and minds.  So we will pray persistently, but not so as to force Him to do what He essentially doesn’t want to do, but because we are absolutely leaning into and onto Him, a faith-fuelled reliance.

2. When we start praying to “be something” ourselves. After all, if we’re made in the image of a God defined by His own capacities and commodities, then we will naturally pray for our own capacities to increase.  Make me better at this, make me richer, make me significant.  If we view God as the top of a pyramid, then we will start to pray for our own ascent up the pyramid.  This doesn’t reflect God’s heart for the other person, His spreading goodness, for that would surely be reflected in a different tone of prayer life.

3. When we barely pray because our “little stuff” can’t really matter to Him. A child with a loving Father doesn’t feel daunted by the size of their parent.  But a little person around a primarily power-driven figure will.  Does God care about the parking spaces and little details of our lives?  Depends if we are talking about the God of the Bible or not.

One Response to Three Signals You May Be Praying to the Wrong God

  1. David July 7, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    I think you’re right about what you’re saying. The discrepancy between our theology – however correct or incorrect – and our actual way of approaching God often reveals a gap, one that I find a constant struggle in terms of who I believe God to be (Trinity) and what I actually find myself praying to in the act of praying. For myself, I take it as a given that my beliefs and/or general ideas about God don’t exactly match with who God is, and this shows through in all those things you mention; meaning that often I am praying to an imaginary, or partially imaginary, “God”. This is where I would say that my prayer life takes on its most dialogic character, in that the struggles I encounter in my relationship represent God’s unwillingness to live up to the idea I have of him in my head in terms of how he answers my prayers. sometimes this must mean that my prayers from my point of view remain unanswered simply because they have no answer that the true God could give. So, although on one hand this gap between my beliefs and ideas about God is a failure of my own, it also represents the opportunity for God to reveal himself more genuinely in that it is in the struggles of prayer, and those prayers in which God seems most absent, that God is most clearly drawing near to me, because it is there that he is most manifestly resisting my attempts to appropriate him for my will. The same is true of any relationship, in that it is when we encounter genuine resistance between who someone is and who we think they are or should be that we most genuinely encounter that person as an other. I suppose then that this must rely on my part in a willingness to acknowledge that who God is will always exceed my expectations and desires.
    I did find your post very challenging though, because I find it hard to imagine that God would be keenly interested in every part of my life when not even I am interested in every detail of my own life to that degree, so I simply wouldn’t pray for a parking space because it frankly doesn’t interest me enough to do so. And if God did provide me with a space, the challenge is to ask myself why God wouldn’t do a bigger thing like healing a dying friend or providing my wife and I with a child; in that context a parking space being provided would make the other unanswered prayers seem painfully highlighted. Knowing that God could answer them as I would wish them to be answered, but choosing not to, is another point of resistance which challenges the flakier aspects of my faith to the nth degree.

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