I’m finishing up a sermon series on the book of James. Turns out, we’re talking about prayer. Here’s a slice from the opening of the message. It just might help if you’ve heard too many sermons about prayer.
You’ve probably heard many sermons on the topic of prayer. They are abundant and cover many forms, sometimes many formulas, and everyone who preaches on prayer says that if you aren’t doing it, there is something wrong with you. Have you heard that sort of teaching on prayer before?
What do you think results from those types of sermons?
We feel like we’re failures in our Christian walk. We must not love God because we never talk to Him. Or, when we do talk to Him, we only talk about ourselves, so we must be very selfish people. Our prayers aren’t answered because we just don’t have enough faith, so we must be pretty rotten at this Christian stuff.
What if I happen to be one of those people who prays all the time? I start to feel very proud of myself. My prayer closet is rarely unoccupied, and God regularly speaks to me there. I’m clearly more spiritual than everyone else.
So, if you’re feeling guilty, what do you do next? You try to outdo your whole previous life of prayer in a single day or week. Before too long, you realize that you missed a time, or you didn’t remember to follow your list, or you didn’t follow Pastor Patrick’s Perfect Prayer Pattern that is guaranteed to get your prayers answered. You start to get disheartened, and you end up quitting on prayer.
Maybe, you’re the pious pray-er, and you started getting proud of yourself, of the gloriousness of your vocabulary and the especially heavenly sound of your voice echoing in the room. You, too, are setting yourself up for failure, though of a different sort. You’ve gone from humbly seeking God’s working in your life to putting yourself on a Pharisaic pedestal.
These are not the goals of preaching on prayer, to drive you to guilt or increase your self-piety or leading into a pattern of failure. We teach on every topic to challenge you, to stretch you, to encourage you to be who God made you to be, to be closer with Him, and to be used by Him.