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15 May 2018

Prayer techniques that get God over a barrel?

They don’t exist. But Christians are nonetheless looking for ’em, and frequently claim they have one.

Years ago one of our prayer team leaders was talking about how she discovered the power of praying the scriptures.

By which she simply meant she quoted a lot of bible as she prayed. This was nothing new to me; I grew up among people who did this all the time. They liked to pray in King James Version English. So, direct quotes from the KJV came in handy. “Lord, we pray thee for our meat this day, for thou hast told us to pray ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ Mt 6.11 and so we do.” Sometimes they’d even include verse addresses, if they really wanted to show off. But that wasn’t common.

Our prayer leader wanted to emphasize praying the scriptures because there was, she insisted, power in praying the scriptures. If we wanna tap that power, we need to pray the scriptures too.

Um… what power’s she talking about?

Well, whenever Christians talk about powerful prayers, we nearly always mean one thing: We get we ask for. Every time. Every request. God always, always answers our prayers with yes.

Yeah, sometimes we also mean powerful-sounding prayers, which is why we’ll use the KJV language and proof-text everything we declare in our prayers. But if all you want is an impressive-sounding prayer, we wonder if there isn’t a little bit of hypocrisy behind that desire. Nah; what we want is a prayer which gets stuff done, son.

So Christians are always sharing techniques which guarantee God’ll never ever tell us no. We want the magic formula to tap God’s power. Quoting his own bible back at him sounds really good to a lot of Christians, which is why we pray the psalms and the Lord’s Prayer. Once we use his own holy word on him, we’ve got God by his divine short hairs and he simply has to grant us our three wishes answer our prayer requests.

When I phrase it that way, Christians balk: “That is not what I mean.”

Yeah it is. Bad enough you’re fooling yourself; don’t try to fool the rest of us.

Not that they don’t try. “I’m fully aware God has free will; he can say no whenever he wants; he can say no to unworthy, self-centered prayer requests. But what I’m doing is righteous…” and then they try to explain why they’re fully justified in reducing the holy scriptures to a magic incantation which bends God to our will.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t quote bible in our prayers. It’s actually a good idea—provided we’re quoting bible in context, and not trying to bend it till it sounds like God might let us have our way. Jm 4.3 If we accurately quote the scriptures, we’re more likely to pray as God wants us to, and pray for stuff God approves of.

But the attitude behind trying to make God do as we want, instead of praying as Jesus did, “Thy will be done,” Mt 6.10 is just greed disguised as piety. Let’s not.

God doesn’t “owe us one.”

When we approach God in prayer, we need to get rid of these worldly karmic ideas that if we follow just the right steps, or if we’ve stockpiled just enough goodwill from God, we’ll get anything we ask; we’ll have unlocked “the secret” to prayer; our prayers will be nothing but powerful from now on.

The reality? Grace. God doesn’t give us a single thing because we merited it. He gives it because he wants to. Because he loves us. Because it’ll further his kingdom.

But if we’re in any way thinking we can manipulate God’s motives in order to get what we want, we got another think coming. God doesn’t need to achieve those goals through you. Or me. He can achieve them through whomever he wants. He can achieve ’em through donkeys and rocks if he feels like it. We are never in any position where we have the upper hand over God. There’s no lever big enough to give us that kind of leverage. God hasn’t created one. Not even his bible.

It’s so absolutely foreign to the way human nature works, it’s no surprise Christians regularly botch the advice we give to one another about prayer. We’ll tell each other, “If you want God to answer your prayers, all you gotta do is [something clever-sounding].” It’ll sell books and conferences. Will it work on God? Nah. None of it does.

We’ll think it does, ’cause at some point we might actually get what we asked for. We’ll give credit to our techniques… and to a lesser degree God himself, which should make it obvious how there’s something wrong with this picture. If my efforts answered my own prayers, God didn’t really answer it, y’know. I did. Or the devil did. Either way, better be careful.

Remember, God is almighty. We can’t make him do anything he doesn’t already want to do. Our various methods of prayer trickery can’t work on him. So be rid of them.

Our relationship with God shouldn’t be about manipulation anyway. It should be about love. We do for him; he does for us; not because we owe each other, but because we love each other. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s a healthy relationship, and if none of our other relationships are healthy, we oughta at least strive to have that sort of relationship with God. Because let’s face it: Manipulating him is doomed to failure anyway. Trying to strong-arm the Almighty is ridiculous. Just stop.