No matter how many times we say “please”. No matter how much faith we have. No matter how hard we pray.
He does strange things. Hard-to-understand things. Even things that can seem totally messed up and cruel from our limited vantage point.
But he never does stupid things.
I’ve come to believe that the main reason for my unanswered prayers is that I keep praying stupid prayers, asking God to do stupid things.
I can hear some objections already. “There are no stupid prayers!” But there are. I know. I’ve prayed some.
In fact, Jesus introduced the Lord’s Prayer by telling the disciples not to pray stupid prayers like the hypocrites and pagans do. (Matthew 5:6-7)
People regularly ask God for stupid things.
• “Help me win the lottery”
• “Bring my cheating boyfriend back to me”
• “Help me lose weight while I eat whatever I want and never exercise”
• “Bless me now, even though I’ve been ignoring you for years”
• “Make me smart enough to pass the test I didn’t study for”
• “Give me a bigger ministry than the church down the street”
Then we get mad when God says “no” to our stupid prayers. Sincere, but stupid.
Prayer may be the most overlooked aspect of Christian life and pastoral ministry. Even though we know it’s the most important.
We need to become better pray-ers. But how? Start with prayers God has already said he’ll answer. Take a look at the Lord’s Prayer, for example.
What if we practiced being better pray-ers by praying…
• That his kingdom would take greater hold in our hearts
• That his will would be done in me, like it is in heaven
• That he would supply our needs for today
• That he would forgive us as much as we’ve forgiven others
• That he would lead us away from the things that tempt us the most
• That he would keep evil away from our heart’s door
• That he would be honoured and glorified above all
Those are prayers God will never say “no” to.
Plus, when those prayers are answered, they help us become better pray-ers about other things, too.
Better prayers have nothing to do with smooth words. They’re the ones that change our hearts to become more like Jesus.
Pastors are not immune to praying stupid prayers. Starting with me. My story in The Grasshopper Myth is evidence of that.
Instead of praying for a bigger, more celebrated ministry, we need to pray…
That Jesus would build his church – even if it doesn’t put butts in my church seats (Matthew 16:18)
That God would bless every church in our community – not just ours (John 17:22)
That the body of Christ would be unified (John 13:35)
That we would be better examples by living what we preach (Titus 2:7-8)
We’re not alone in our struggles with stupid prayers.
Even late into his mature life and ministry, the Apostle Paul struggled with this problem. He prayed over and over that God would remove something he called a “thorn in the flesh”, but God said “no”. Why? To keep Paul “from becoming conceited.” (2 Corinthians 12:7)
God knows what we need, even when it isn’t what we want.
Paul had to learn what we all have to learn. God knows what we need, even when it isn’t what we want. Paul came to realise that God’s way of keeping him humble mattered more than his comfort.
Paul also advised the Christians in Rome on this matter. When “we do not know what we ought to pray,” he advised them to lean on the Holy Spirit. Because, in those situations, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26)
But perhaps the best defence against stupid prayers may have come, not surprisingly, from the only person who never had a stupid thought or uttered a stupid word, let alone offered a stupid prayer.
When Jesus was pleading for his life in the Garden of Gethsemane, he ended with words we would all do well to remember.
“Not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Those aren’t just words to tack onto a prayer. They should be our lifestyle.