April June 1999 Number 20 Volume 2
When Praying is Wrong
Most praying is sinful. No, this is not a typo. The staggering fact is not all prayer
is good. Most, if not all, religions embrace a lofty concept of prayer. But prayer, in and
of itself, is not necessarily good. Wrong praying is just as sinful as not praying at all.
The lost art of biblical prayer is so rarely practiced that hardly anybody would ever
think prayer could be sinful. But the psalmist writes, "How long wilt thou be angry
against the prayer of thy people?" (Ps. 80:4). Here God was not angry because they
didn't pray. God was angry because of the prayer they offered Him. Moreover, David says of
the wicked, "Let his prayer become sin" (Ps. 109:7).
The true and living God is not pleased with all prayer. He is even angry at some
prayers. Let's examine some types of sinful praying.
PRAYING WITH ONE'S BACK TOWARD GOD
Many individuals and churches that were once on their faces before God have now turned
their backs to God! Such was the case in Ezekiel 8. There were 25 men in the inner court
of the Lord's house "with their backs toward the temple of the LORD, and their faces
toward the east; and they worshipped the sun" (v. 16). While their bodies were in the
inner court of the Lord's house, their hearts were set on idolatry. These men were in the
location, but they were facing the wrong direction. They
had turned their backs toward God.
God said to the idolatrous Israelites in Jeremiah 2, "They have turned their back
unto me, and not their face" (v. 27). The essence of idolatry is setting one's gaze
on something other than God. Such was the case at the foot of Sinai when Israel worshipped
the golden calf. Moses' face shone with radiance because he had looked on the glory of God
on the mount. In contrast, the calf worshippers turned their backs to God. Lot's wife, in
order to look back at Sodom, had to turn her face from the Godward direction and
directive. Desiring Sodom rather than God, she was turned to a pillar of salt.
How often do we show much love with our mouths, but our hearts are far from God? Our
talk talks and our walk talks, but our walk talks louder than our talk talks! To pray
while defying God's commands and ignoring His standards, hoping that God will overlook
disobedience, is to turn our backs to God. This is SINFUL PRAYING!
PUBLIC PRAYER WITHOUT PRIVATE PRAYER
Our Lord denounced the hypocrites who loved to pray "in the corners of the
streets, that they may be seen of men" (Matt. 6:5). Jesus taught that prayer is for
the closet (secret place), not the concourse. I wonder if a lot of the praying on
the Capitol steps is really more about hoping the
television networks will lay down on tape our kneeling frames for the evening broadcasts
than prevailing with God?
I have attended very few "Prayer Breakfasts" that were really concerned about
making contact with heaven's throne. Most, if not all, were concerned about making a
political statement, impressing others with a worthy cause, drawing attention to an
agenda, or just plain making a "fair show in the flesh" (Gal. 6:12).
One reason local church prayer meetings have fallen on hard times is because it is
impossible to have meaningful public prayer corporately when there is little or no private
time of prayer alone. To pray in public while neglecting private prayer is SINFUL PRAYING.
PRAYING AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR OBEDIENCE
There is a time to pray. There are also times when prayer is sin. Prayer is never a
substitute for obedience. Joshua and the elders of Israel were moaning and complaining
before God after the Israelites were defeated at Ai. They were putting on quite a show
tearing their sackclothes, throwing dust in the air, and griping to God. God broke in on
this spectacle and said to Joshua, "Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy
face? Israel hath sinned" (Josh. 7:10-11).
were defeated because Achan had partaken of the accursed (forbidden) thing. Disobedience
in the camp, disobedience in the church, and disobedience in the heart hinder the blessing
of God. More prayer was not the remedy on this occassion. Their great need was to get the
sin out of the camp!
How many today are wasting their breath praying while supporting religious, political,
educational, and social institutions which are paving the way for the Antichrist? In these
instances, the great need is not prayer, but repentance! "He that turneth away his
ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination" (Prov. 28:9). Praying
instead of repenting is SINFUL PRAYING.
True prayer honors God's name, advances God's kingdom, and is in accordance with God's
will. To put it another way, prayer is meant to be God-centered, not self-centered. The
first three elements in the Lord's prayer concern God's character, cause, and kingdom.
Man's concerns and needs are secondary.
James says, "Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it
upon your lusts" (4:3). Balaam prayed habitually, in secret, and he even prayed all
night. But his motive in praying was wrong. He greatly desired material wealth. Balaam was
a false prophet and his selfish praying illustrates that all such praying is SINFUL
"Whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Ro. 14:23). To pray in unbelief is just
as bad as not praying at all. Have you ever prayed asking forgiveness for a certain sin,
yet not really wanting to be delivered from that sin? Then when you finally ask God for
deliverance, you must confess doubting God will do what you just asked Him to do! To pray
with an evil heart of unbelief is SINFUL PRAYING.
PRAYING TO ONE'S SELF
"The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself" (Lk.18:11). This man
is not really praying to God. He is praying. . .
with himself. By contrasting himself with extortioners,
adulterers, and the publican, he is building a case in his mind for his own righteousness
when compared to others. Next he rehearses his rigid religious practices of fasting and
tithing. In reality, he is beefing up his self-image. This man was ahead of his time.
Self-talk, self-esteem, and self-image--he would have hit it big-time in
"Christian" publishing in 20th century America!
Thinking positive thoughts is not praying. Aggrandizing self by contemplating our
goodness and meditating on our good deeds is not praying. Making oneself the standard of
righteousness and praying to oneself is SINFUL PRAYING.
PRAYING TO MEN RATHER THAN TO GOD
The rich man in hell cried and called out to "Father Abraham" (Lk. 16:24). He
begged Abraham that he might send Lazarus that he might dip his finger in water and cool
his tongue which was tormented in the flame.
Lazarus, in earthly life, was a poor, sick beggar who survived on the crumbs which fell
from the rich man's table. The rich man lived in luxury and ease. "Whoso stoppeth his
ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard"
The rich man called on "Father Abraham," who could do nothing to help him. It
is typical of lost men to seek a human mediator instead of the only "Mediator between
God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). Praying to saints or the Blessed
Virgin is a misguided and superstitious practice which finds no basis in the Bible.
God-forsaken souls like Saul, from whom the Lord had departed (1 Sam. 28:16), cannot
obtain answers or direction from the Lord. Saul sought out a medium whom he asked to
conjure up Samuel that he might seek counsel from the departed prophet. Asking advice from
departed spirits by means of witchcraft, and praying to men instead of God is SINFUL
PRAYING OUT OF DUTY ALONE
Religious people ought to pray. Of course, religious people "say" their
prayers, but many do not expect anything as a result. Having fulfilled their duty they are
not disappointed when nothing happens. Prayers of this sort are little more than religious
exercises, rituals, and routines which take up time while producing a pious sense of
having done one's duty.
Prayer beads, prayer books, paying the priest (Hindu, Catholic, or other) to say
prayers or mumble words in a known or unknown language is hardly biblical praying. Saying
our prayers instead of praying our prayers is SINFUL PRAYING.
Jesus said of the scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites, "Ye devour widow's houses,
and for a pretence make long prayer" (Mt. 23:14). The contradiction between
the Pharisees' deeds and sanctimonious prayers was astounding. In order to cover their
deceitful works they prayed lengthy prayers. It was all for show. They hoped their outward
religiosity would disguise their wicked actions.
"Use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be
heard for their much speaking," said Christ (Mt. 6:7). Mindless ramblings that
have been uttered hundreds of times without thought or heart are worse than no prayer at
all. Using meaningless repetition is the way the heathen pray. Praying for an outward show
is SINFUL PRAYING.
PRAYING FOR THE EARS
The most strict religious people of Jesus' day gave alms to "have glory of
men" (Mt. 6:2). They disfigured their faces when fasting so men would take
note (Mt. 6:16). They loved to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street
corners to be seen of men (Mt. 6:5). No doubt they also phrased their prayers in
order to impress those who listened as they prayed.
itching ears will seek out teachers who will scratch their itch in a non-threatening and
accommodating fashion. Religious hirelings are always ready to mouth pleasant prayers
designed to placate those listening to them.
Praying designed for the ears of men rather than the heart of God is SINFUL PRAYING.
ASKING ASSISTANCE WHILE SHIRKING RESPONSIBILITY
Never ask God to do for you what He has plainly told you to do for yourself. God
initiates every good thing in our lives, but it is our duty to cooperate with His Spirit
in "working out" our salvation. Jesus said, "Why call ye me, Lord, Lord,
and do not the things which I say" (Lk. 6:46).
To appeal to God for help while neglecting the clear-cut mandates of Christ is sheer
folly. God has given us the privilege, as well as the duty, of implementing the spiritual
disciplines. What a stench it must be in the nostrils of a thrice-holy God to hear
requests from people who ignore the black and white commands of Scripture. To utter words
in prayer while never exercising one's will to do one's duty is SINFUL PRAYING.
PRAYING FROM AN IMPURE HEART
"If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Ps. 66:18).
Looking favorably toward sin bars God from hearing prayer. God views our hearts before He
listens to our words. "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on
the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7).
This is why confession of sin is mandatory. In order to contact God our sins must be
put under the blood of Christ. Sin separates from God (Isa. 59:1-2). Only the Blood can
cleanse from sin. To seek to approach the Creator with an unclean heart is SINFUL PRAYING.
PRAYING TO A "god" OF
It is absolutely imperative to think
correctly about God. We dare not conceptualize a
"god" of our own liking who coincides with our ideas, our philosophy, our
culture, and our current climate of spiritual apostasy. Our conception of God must come
directly from the Word of God.
Several years ago I was invited to speak in a local church on the National Day of
Prayer. In order to learn more about this event I called the National Day of Prayer Task
Force. I asked the man who was in charge, "Is this a `Christian' endeavor?"
Without hesitation he replied, "No." He then proceeded to give me a historical
account of how the National Day of Prayer came into being.
I then asked what the Task Force was trying to acomplish since this was not a Christian
event. He then replied that their goal was to assemble priests, pastors, and rabbis in
communities across the nation to call on "god" for mercy. He assured me that God
would hear the rabbi's prayer, while laughingly was uncertain if the rabbi would make it
The Scriptures teach us that prayer is to be offered to God the Father in the name of
Jesus Christ, God's Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Praying to a "god" of
diminished character is SINFUL PRAYING.
"Prayer is either a prodigious force or a disgraceful farce. If a farce, you may
pray much and get little; if a force, you may pray little and get much," says A. F.
Schaufler. SINFUL PRAYING is a farce, but SPIRITUAL PRAYING is a force!
"We know not what we should pray for as we ought" (Rom. 8:26). Truer words
have never been written! This verse should not discourage us from praying, but should
drive us to utter dependency on God!
If our prayers are to be a force then we must conform our prayers to the Biblical
pattern. If wrong praying is just as bad as not praying at all, then every follower of the
Lamb must set out on a diligent quest to pray correctly.
Spiritual praying always lines up with the written Word of God. God's Word
reveals God's will, and spiritual praying will always be
in accord with God's will.
Spiritual praying is Spirit-born, Spirit-guided, and Spirit-empowered. The Spirit helps
our infirmities when it comes to prayer and makes intercession for us (Rom. 8:26). Sinful
praying is praying on a human level. Man apart from God will naturally pray corrupt
prayers because man has a corrupt nature. But prayer that is acceptable to God is only
possible in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let this truth grip your heart and cause you to
cry out, "Lord, teach me to pray!"
Prayerlessness is sin and calls for deep repentance. Wrong praying calls for repentance
just as loudly as not praying at all. Do not doubt it, praying amiss is sinful. Praying
aright is a mighty force. May God enable His remnant people to recover the lost art of
A PERPETUAL FAST
"And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel,
of the tribe of Aser: she was of great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from
her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore years, which departed not from the
temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day" Luke 2:36, 37.
What an unusual account of a praying woman. Not only was her service to
God marked by prayers offered day and night, but with fastings as well. Here is a woman at
least eighty-four years old (while some think her to have been widowed for eighty-four
years which would make her age in excess of one hundred years) giving her life to serve
God. Oh the blessing and privilege she received to see firsthand the promised Messiah, the
Lord Jesus Christ, at his presentation to the Lord in the temple of Jerusalem. How
noteworthy that this should be given to one thoroughly committed to a life of fasting and
What if God's people today took up the challenge to serve "God
with fastings and prayers night and day." Back in the 1700's a prayer movement sprang
up among the Moravians that went on for a hundred years. For a hundred years, each day
there was someone in the watchtower of prayer interceding before the throne of grace. This
came about around the time of the great missionary movement of the 18th and 19th centuries
when the gospel was taken to the ends of the earth. Was this not much like the cry of the
prophet Isaiah when he wrote, "I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which
shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the LORD, keep not
silence" Isaiah 62:6. About the same time John Wesley was training his disciples to
fast and pray two days out of the week. What if we, in the same manner, sought the face of
God in genuine humble-hearted fasting and prayer. Should we not also expect to see great
movings of God among our people as they did?
God commanded Moses to make an incense
altar, and place it "before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony, before the
mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee" Exodus 30:6. In
verse 8 Aaron was commanded to burn "a perpetual incense before the
LORD." Incense in the scriptures is symbolic of prayers being offered up to God. What
if we decided that perpetual prayer would be offered up as sweet incense before the
throne of grace? What untold manifestation of the glory of God would be poured out upon us
if only we would take up the challenge to fast and pray.
And why not do it? Our Lord gave Himself to be crucified and shed His
blood for us; could we not deny ourselves a little food? Some might argue that it would be
too hard to have fasting and prayer offered up daily, but let us take a closer look. First
consider the case of an elderly widow named Anna. Certainly if she could give herself
daily to fasting and prayer, surely most Christians today ought to be able to find some
time to fast and pray if only they would. In addition, it has come to our attention that a
church of about one hundred members in Pennsylvania has planned to have a year long fast
prior to revival meetings scheduled the next year. Their goal is to have at least one
person fasting and praying on each day throughout the year. If only 30 adults
participated, then each one would only have to fast about one day a month in order for
this to be accomplished. When examined in this light, it looks easier than might be
expected. Surely most Christians could fast one day a month and obviously some could do a
lot more, like Wesley's disciplesŠeach one according to his ability. Why not issue a
challenge for your church to set a watchman upon the tower of fasting and prayer that we
might not hold our peace day nor night?
Who will take up the challenge to do it? God is calling us to humble
ourselves and seek His face. At the preaching of Jonah, the Ninevites, from the leaders to
the laymen and from oldest to youngest fasted and prayed, and God spared them from His
wrath and judgment. May we, too, fast and pray and cry mightily to God that He would rend
the heavens and come down in Holy Ghost power and have mercy on us in this evil day. Who
will do it? Let us say like the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 5:14 "The love of
Christ constraineth us."
From the Desk of
When it comes to prayer there are more ways to sin than simply not engaging in this
sacred privilege and solemn responsibility. The matter and manner of prayer are far from
We are all aware that prayerlessness is sin. Samuel said, "God forbid that I
should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you." But wrong praying is just as
bad as not praying at all!
This article may not be the most uplifting message on prayer that you have ever read.
There are times when corrective instruction is needed. Often the best way to accentuate
the positive is by contrasting it with the negative.
I trust this message will stir up your heart and mind concerning the importance of how
we address our holy and heavenly Father.
CHRIST LIFE MINISTRIES NEWSLETTER
EDITOR: HAROLD VAUGHAN
COPY EDITOR: T. P. JOHNSTON, JR.
The Christ Life Report is the official publication of Christ Life
CLM is a 501-c-3 non-profit organization. It exists exclusively for
furthering revival and evangelism in local churches.
The major emphases of this ministry are four-fold:
crusades, publications, Prayer Advances and The Report. Evangelist Harold Vaughan is the
founder of CLM.
The Christ Life Report is a faith ministry. All contributions are