Why Christians Should Stop Saying “Prayer Works” (And 2 Other Things)

One reason people stay away from Christianity is not because they don’t know any Christians.

It’s often because they do.

Our actions and our words as followers of Jesus have the power to attract or repel people from Christianity.

The number of people who never go to church or follow Jesus keeps growing. And their thinking keeps changing too.

So what can we do about it?

Well, in addition to modeling humility, grace, truth, love and so many other things that describe the earliest Christ followers, we Christians can watch our words.

This post was originally inspired by a piece by Scott Dannemiller wrote, in which Dannemiller urged Christians to stop saying “feeling blessed” whenever something good came their way. He makes a thoughtful, insightful argument around that.

In that vein, here are three other things Christians should really stop saying.

1. Prayer Works

Should we really stop saying that prayer works?

Well, yes and no.

Most people who say prayer works these days really mean God did what I wanted him to do. As if prayer was a button to be pushed to release exactly what they wanted from the vending machine.

Prayer is not a button to be pushed; it’s a relationship to be pursued.

Prayer does ‘work,’ but it works very differently than we’d like. It still ‘works’:

When we can’t trace out any direct result from our prayer.

When the opposite of what we prayed for happens.

In those moments when we feel very distant from God.

When we bang down the door of heaven for years and are not sure anything is going on up there at all.

There are scores of people inside and outside the church whose spirits are crushed because they prayed (fervently) and:

They didn’t get the job.

Their mom died of cancer.

Their child was born without a heartbeat.

They ended up in a car crash that left them permanently disabled.

Prayer doesn’t ‘work’ because I got what I wanted and they didn’t.

The parade of saints across the centuries would have been shocked to see prayer reduced to God-doing-what-I-asked-him-to-do-when-I-asked-him-to-do-it. God is not a puppy to be trained or a chef in the kitchen who prepares food to suit our every whim. He is sovereign.

As Richard Foster says:

For those explorers in the frontiers of faith, prayer was no little habit tacked on to the periphery of their lives; it was their lives. It was the most serious work of their most productive years. Prayer—nothing draws us closer to the heart of God.

Do things happen supernaturally when we pray? Well, yes they do. But often in ways we cannot understand or even trace out.

I think Christians can take consolation in the fact that when we pray, we often don’t know what to pray for or even how to pray, yet the scriptures tell us the Holy Spirit will translate the prayer into something better than we could phrase in the moment.

So pour your heart out to God. Pray about the things the scripture says are close to God’s heart. And when something ‘goes your way,’ be grateful and offer it back to the God who gave it to you.

And when things don’t go your way, understand that God is still very much in control and very much loves you. Just because God is silent doesn’t mean God is absent.

2. God Told Me To …

Often, you hear people (and pastors) say things that start with, “God told me to … .”

The longer I follow Jesus, the more hesitant I am to say God told me to do anything specific. Maybe that’s an issue I need to work on, but it springs from my observation that I’ve seen this misused far more than I’ve seen it used well or authentically.

In fact, I’ve often noticed that the more outrageous the claim, the more likely someone is to say, “God told me to … .”

When I hear someone claim God told them to do something, I feel like saying:

God told you to do that? Really? God himself spoke directly to you and told you to specifically build that building for which you have zero money? Or leave that church that you were in deep conflict with without resolving things? Or buy that house that’s way out of your price range? Wow!

Are you sure it wasn’t the pizza? Or the voice in your head that often tells you to do the things you simply feel like doing?

For the record, I believe there are times when God does speak to people today. But let’s be realistic. What made me put this phrase on the list is the number of times I have heard the phrase used to describe a decision that is:

Selfishly motivated (come on, admit it … you’re justifying your impulses).

Contrary to scripture (the scriptures pretty clearly suggest that what you’re doing is sinful … or at least isn’t wise).

Designed to shut down debate (does anyone really think they can win a “God told me” debate?).

I’m not saying God never tells us anything directly, but I am suggesting it happens far less than most of us claim.

So what’s a better course?

Say something like, “Based on what I know from scripture, I believe this is the best/boldest/wisest course of action.”

That makes sense. And then you can have an intelligent discussion.

And you don’t pull the God card to justify something about which Christians and others can have a legitimate discussion.

Or, if you’re just trying to shut down debate, just be honest. I wanted to do it, so I did it. There. Now you said it and everyone will feel better.

If you’re dead honest, you might even realize you made a crazy decision.

3. I Could Really Feel God’s Presence

You’ve heard this before. We live in an emotional age and we’ve arrived at a place where many of us feel like we’ve become mini-authorities on when God is present and when God is not.

But analyze that.

The truth is, we tend to feel God’s presence more:

When the band played our favourite song.

When the band played five of our favourite songs in a row.

When the room was packed.

When the decision went our way.

When we felt happy during our quiet time.

Is God only present when we feel him?

Or better yet, is God’s presence synonymous with our ability to detect it?

Well, of course not.

So why do we insist on speaking like it is?

Nowhere did God promise that the Holy Spirit is a feeling or an emotion.

Jesus did explain to us that the Spirit is a Person and moves freely. The Holy Spirit is bigger than our emotions and not subject to our editorial commentary about whether he is present or not.

I have had moments when I believe I felt the presence of God palpably.

But God is just as present:

On our worst days as he is on our best days.

When we are uncomfortable as when we are comfortable.

When we are hurting as when we are healing.

And sometimes … the room was just full, and the band was just really good.

We need to learn to trust in God’s presence especially in those moments we suspect he’s absent.

What If?

What if Christians started having more intelligent, less consumer-oriented, deeper conversations with people?

What if our relationship with Christ was grounded more deeply in God’s character and less in the constantly shifting circumstances we see around us?

I’m thinking the dialogue inside and outside the church would be so much healthier for it.

What do you think?

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5 Comments

  1. Carolyn says, June 7, 2017 at 7:12 am

    Nailed it! Something worth paying attention to – thanks!

  2. Rose zacharias meeder says, June 7, 2017 at 7:38 am

    Thabks Carey
    So well said

  3. Rose zacharias meeder says, June 7, 2017 at 7:39 am

    Thanks Carey
    So well said

  4. Mary says, June 10, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    I love the point, John Piper raises in the video below encouraging Christians with the truth that many uphold and thirst for:
    http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-pastor-the-people-and-the-pursuit-of-joy/excerpts/raise-your-expectations-for-sunday-morning

  5. Richard Yeomans says, June 11, 2017 at 9:56 pm

    hey Carey,
    Great topic to add clarity to what is actually true of God,
    I cant tell you how many Christian friends we have that have said exactly those words,
    I even had someone tell me “God told me to tell you”,
    It has my head spinning where all this stuff comes from,
    It makes me wonder why so many denominations promote such ideas,
    It used to make me feel like Im not doing something right???
    Why arent these things happening to me?
    thanks for shining light on this,

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