WHY DO WE PRAY?
Why does it matter? Does it matter at all, or is it just something that we do because it's always been done?
What's a good metaphor for prayer?
- Is it like exercise?
- Is it like presenting a case before a judge in a court of law?
- A business transaction, perhaps?
Though these metaphors may all make sense at some level, they don't get very close to what prayer really is. Prayer is simply what it is. Prayer is talking to God.
In the passage above, from the book of Matthew, Jesus has just entered the temple where he becomes outraged when he finds that "God's house" had turned into a marketplace- a place of exchange- a place of commerce- a place of business- a place of bargaining.
You may know the story. He begins flipping over the booths of the vendors and then he utters these, words- "My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it 'a den of robbers.'"
If we'll slow down and think about what is really going on here, we see very plainly what God thinks about prayer.
This "house of God" that was supposed to be a place where people would go to talk to God had become a place of transactions. It had become a place where, as one would approach, they would start thinking things like
- What will I get today?
- Will I have enough?
- How can I get more?
- Who can I deal with to get what I want for a better price?
And this is what angers Jesus. Instead of people coming to God's house to pray, they begin to think of "transaction" as a proper metaphor for prayer.
MY OWN PRAYER LIFE
The greatest temptation in my own prayer life is to do the very same. As I approach that quiet place of prayer, my mind is often occupied with things like,
- What will I get today?
- Do I have enough spiritual stamina and eloquence to get what I want from God?
- What do I need to barter with God about so that he will give me what I want?
And without even realizing it, I find myself there before God, performing transactions. Sure, they are spiritual, but they are incorrect. I am praying, but praying for all the wrong reasons.
The truth is, when we go before God, he already knows where we are and what we are. He sees us like no one else in our life does. He knows our fears, our hangups, and our handicaps. What God is wanting more than anything is for us to just talk to him. He wants us to simply open our mouths and say whatever it is that is on our minds.
- Sometimes this looks like asking him for something.
- Other times it is to voice our frustration about something.
- Other times it is to thank him for what he has done.
But these are not meant to be transactions. Transactions are a wrong practice, for they betray our true motives.
Transaction-prayer sounds a lot like,
- "God, I'll do X for you, if you'll do Y for me." or,
- "God I promise to be more _______ if you will give me _______."
And these are the very things that frustrate Jesus. Why? Because that isn't how this is supposed to work.
The next time you sit down to pray, I'd like to encourage you to do an internal inventory of why you are praying. Examine your motives about your prayer life.
Are you praying to get something, or are you praying because prayer is... well... just "prayer?"
Do your prayers sound like bargaining, or do they sound like you're just talking with a friend, sharing about all that is going on in your life?
My hope is that we would learn to simplify our aims, and reform our motives concerning prayer, for we follow a Jesus who, above all things just wants to hear us talk to him about where we are.