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Good or Bad Prayer?

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Scripture: Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.  Romans 8:26 (NKJV)

Observation: There are people who worry about the proper posture of prayer, and that is certainly important.  The Jewish people often pray with their eyes open and their face turned upward, their bodies turned toward Jerusalem.  The Muslim people will pray five times each day, facing Mecca, with their head to the ground.  People in other faith traditions burn incense, beat drums, write their prayers and place them next to their gods, and perform many other acts as part of their prayer tradition.  Christians of different faiths will recite prayers, close their eyes, clasp their hands, stand or kneel, perform certain rites, all as part of their prayer tradition and practice.

Paul is more concerned about the content of our prayers than just our posture when we pray.  He evidently sees our prayers as very limited, probably because of our weakened, selfish natures, and thus encourages us with the knowledge that God still hears our prayers because the Holy Spirit utters them on our behalf in the proper way, that is, asking what we should really be asking for.

Application: Often we pray for our loved ones’ health, when they are extremely ill, even to the point of death.  That is natural to us because we do not want to part ways with them.  As a hospice chaplain I worked with patients who would not recover, which is the reason they were in hospice care, but their loved ones continue to pray for a miraculous healing that would keep them alive.  That’s normal!  We want to enjoy our loved ones in our life for as long as possible.

At the same time, is life always what’s best for them?  In Greek mythology there’s a story of a goddess who fell in love with a human.  As life progressed and they lived happily together, the goddess asked Zeus, the king of the gods, to allow the human to live forever, a wish that was granted him.  Unfortunately, he didn’t enjoy eternal youth but simply continued to age indefinitely until living was an unbearable burden.  So, to wish for and even pray that God would extend the life of our loved ones could turn out to be more of a burden than death itself.  In cases like this, it might be better to pray that God would give them life as long as they were not suffering or in pain, but if life became more difficult then to pray that God would give them rest.

The Jewish people teach that some prayers should never be uttered.  For instance, if you’re driving home and as you get close you see that a house is on fire, you should not pray, “God, please don’t let it be mine.”  Such prayer is equal to saying, “God, please make sure the fire is on somebody else’s house.”

Prayers that have to do with education, work, finances, need to be uttered carefully, not selfishly.  If your child lives far away and there’s an opportunity for a job that would bring them closer to home, we can pray, “God, since you know everything, if that is the best for his/her future, please open the doors. . . if not, please close the doors, even if that means they won’t be able to come closer to home.”  Pray for your children’s education that God will lead them to the career where they can best serve Him and people, not just one where they will make good money.

The encouraging thing about today’s text is that in spite of our poorly phrased prayers, and the spirit which accompanies them, the Holy Spirit still speaks on our behalf, praying for us with an agony that we ourselves rarely experience.  We have the assurance that God hears our prayers, because the Holy Spirit filters them and strengthens them through His own pleading on our behalf.  That being the case, don’t stop praying for your spouse, for your children, for your family, for your friends, and for others. . . and let the Spirit do His work on our behalf.

A Prayer You may Say: Father God, Thank You that we have not only and Intercessor in Jesus but an Interpreter in the Holy Spirit, and thank you that Jesus’ blood and the Spirit prayers on our behalf give us the assurance that You hear us and that You answer us in our need.

Used by permission of Adventist Family Ministries, North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists.