By Adam Graham
Note from Andrea: This article begins a two-part series on prayer by a special guest blogger, my sweet, thoughtful husband. The second part will post next Thursday.
The Kendrick Brothers’ latest film, War Room, finished second at last weekend’s box office. The film focuses on the power of prayer. For many, that’s a problem. Some have accused the film of preaching a prosperity gospel that says all you have to do is pray in faith and your family’s problems will all go away.
I see the film as a mostly positive illustration of the power of prayer, but I also see how it could play into the hands of the false prosperity teachers. However, prosperity teachers aren’t the only sources of a warped view of prayer. This is important. Of all the areas where I’ve received poor teaching, none has done more harm than the variety of awful teaching I’ve received on prayer.
Growing up, the big thing was health. A popular sermon was, “Is it God’s Will to Heal Everybody?” The answer given was yes. The problem? As a child, I was often sick with bronchial infections. It recurred several times a year and hung on, time and time again, for weeks on. I begged God for relief and it never seemed to come.
When I was little, based on such teaching, I declared over my bronchial infections, “I am healed, and I was healed.” It was a nice, positive confession, but the illness continued to return to torture me round after round. As I grew older, I lost confidence that I would ever get better. Indeed, to this day, I have a bout once or twice a year with the same affliction that’s stalked me since my early days. I wasn’t alone in getting disillusioned from a lack of healing. I remember talking to a dear, sweet brother with chronic pain. He left a fellowship because he couldn’t live up to that standard of God healing him.
Thankfully, my never receiving a miraculous healing didn’t lead me to abandon God. I knew people who were healed, genuinely, absolutely, clearly miraculously healed, and only God could have done it. My conclusion was something was wrong with my faith and I couldn’t fix it. In the back of my mind was the idea maybe God didn’t love me as much as he loved others whose prayers seemed to be readily answered.
My confusion was infused with cynicism as I realized for some people, “I’ll pray about it,” meant, “I’m going to use prayer as an excuse to do nothing.”
At the first church I attended in Boise, I then heard a very clear message: God doesn’t want to hear about all your little selfish needs. “He doesn’t want to hear your selfish lists of requests.” This abusive church commanded us to only pray for others, and that’s what I did. Whole years passed where I would hardly mention my own needs to God.
It had been drilled into me that prayer was important and not doing it was bad for you. Prayer became the spiritual equivalent of an unpleasant medical exam: not fun but it’s got to be done.
I loved praying in groups because I did believe God would care about that prayer. Things that were prayed by groups had gotten God’s attention. He’d promised to move if two or three agreed. But me? Would my prayers ever change anything? Certainly not.
I did things for God and tried my best. Yet a lot of my effort was wasted. It’d be a mess or just unfruitful as I did my best to tilt at windmills and found the windmills winning.
Of course, I’d never publicly affirm that to be the case. I hardly admitted it to myself because it was too shameful to admit. But it’s had an effect on my life nonetheless. I worry too much and get way too stressed. I don’t have the peace I should have.
I read scripture verses that I desperately wished would define my life but didn’t. They’d almost make me cry with longing for them to be true. Cast your cares upon him for he careth for you. (1 Peter 5:7) In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. (Philippians 4:6) That’d be nice, and I wanted it to be true, and to reign in my life, but it didn’t.
Instead, I carried far too much on myself. In the process of rejecting the tacky idea of the abundant life with perfect health now and everyone having a Cadillac and a boat, I’ve also missed out on experiencing what Christ meant by that phrase in the book of John.
However, God is working on me and one thing that ministered to me over the last couple of years is Diane Moody’s book Confessions of a Prayer Slacker (Second Edition). I got it free on Kindle, and it was the best free book I’ve ever gotten. It’s an honest book about how this author built her prayer life. She was honest about her struggles and the challenges she faced in doing it and it pushed me to making my prayer life a priority. And my Donna Fletcher Crow book Seasons of Prayer
has added some helpful organization.
Slowly but surely, I’ve drawn closer to God through prayer and the vast majority of days I’m remembering. I’m not where I should be, but I’m not where I was either. I sin a little less, fear a little less, and am moving closer to Him.
People who target a false doctrine often forget there’s more than one way to be wrong. For every churchgoer who thinks God owes them a BMW if they ask for it by faith in the name of Jesus, probably two or three wonder if there’s any point to praying at all. It’s this second group that War Room is meant to speak to.
Adam Graham is a follower of Christ and a contributor at PJ Media and Caffeinated Thoughts. He is the author of the novel, Tales of the Dim Knight (with his wife, Andrea) He has been an adult Sunday School teacher. He is also a former President of his local American Christian Fiction Writers Chapter. You can follow him on Twitter @idahoguy