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Wrong way to pray

"Madonna in preghiera" by Albrecht Dürer [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsI used to think that there was no ‘wrong’ way to pray – that any conversation with God was good and appropriate.

I was wrong.

In light of recent events, I think people are misunderstanding what prayer actually is. Prayer is that deeply spiritual conversation between ourselves and God; a communication between Creator and creature. While there is a variety in the traditional forms of prayer (thanksgiving, petition, penitence, oblation, intercession, praise, adoration), there are limits to what these prayers are intended to accomplish.

Prayer is not about wish fulfillment – we can express our desires to God (for someone’s health, for example), but always acknowledging that the human condition is temporary, and beyond our control. We also submit to God’s will in these circumstances – “thy will be done” – and are not meant to consider a prayer to have been denied or ignored if the outcome is not what we wished for. Prayer is not about directing God to give us what we want, it’s asking for direction as we try to align our earthly journey with our spiritual journey towards the Kingdom. Or, as Søren Kierkegaard more eloquently stated, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

Prayer is also NOT about political agendas. It is not intended to be used to rally up a crowd to one way of thinking, to denigrate individuals or entire communities, or to demand God’s favour over another of God’s children. To fall into these forms of ‘prayer’ is in fact politicking, not praying. While I firmly believe that prayer has a place in politics, it’s function needs to remain authentic and not be used manipulatively – the Bible repeatedly suggests that God is not a fan of us humans thinking we know God better than God does.

Prayer is essential to us all, as we grow in the kingdom of God. But it’s important that we take prayer seriously, and make our prayers carefully, and use that time of communication to truly connect with our God in humble, honest, healthy ways.

Thus my prayer today echoes Mother Teresa, “Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His [sic] disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”

May all our prayers reflect this.

 

About Laura Marie Piotrowicz

I'm a high-energy priest, now serving in the Diocese of Niagara, catching glimpses of the kingdom in daily life. I consider church to be a verb, and I'm passionate about prayer, eco-theology, and social justice. I love travel, reading, canoeing, camping, gardening and cooking, playing with my dogs, and drinking good coffee. http://everydaychristianityblog.blogspot.ca
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13 Responses to Wrong way to pray

  1. I do not agree. Any conversation we have with God is between myself and God and no one can judge it to be right or wrong. I think to tell people there is a right or wrong way could potentially stop some people from praying for fear they are doing it incorrectly. Leave prayer alone!! ” In light of recent events”………..any form of prayer helps………….

    • Hi Lynette,
      Thanks for your comments. I appreciate where you’re coming from!
      My point was referring to ‘recent events’ (please note this was posted weeks ago) that had people publicly misusing ‘prayer’ as a form of political persuasion rather than as a communication between self and God. In my opinion, that’s not appropriate. Prayers inciting violence because of a difference of skin colour, for example, or demonizing someone from a different political party – this is, in my mind, a misuse or abuse of ‘prayer’.

  2. Thanks for this article LauraMarie – I see your DMIN is paying off! I like the challenge that this article brings. I think we do a disservice when we assume that the personal uniqueness of prayer means that it must be beneificial, prudent, or effective. Even the disciples asked Jesus ‘Teach us to pray.’ For me, Prayer is not about me. That was a big hurdle to get over. It’s not about me saying what I want out of God – it is about me submitting myself to God’s presence – Thy kingdom come as you so rightly mention. It is only in the context of the full submission to God’s will and kingdom that i can pray that God give me my daily bread. I would say that the ‘wrongness’ in prayer stems from a wrong motivation/heart. I think the wrong attitude in prayer robs us of prayer – because it makes the holy exercise something different altogether.

    • How can anyone use the word wrong or wrong motivation……..when it is so hard to even get some to have a conversation with God in the first place? Teach us to pray? Jesus gives them words to get them started, he does not give them step by step directions, or does he say they are praying wrong…. The disservice I see comes from teachings that tell people the right or the wrong way of prayer………Prayer is not about you and what you think others should do or not do!! It is about the person and God and their personal relationship. I just don’t understand how prayer could ever be wrong?

    • This conversation frustrates me. Prayer can be deep and intellectual and it can also be light and filled with joy. If you have time to submit yourself fully to God that is wonderful. But for a lot of people prayer happens on the way to work, on the train on the bus at the dentist or walking home….no matter what they say to God it is right and good. This is all I have to say. Blessings to all.

      • I agree with your comment. Prayer is so important in my life, it makes my day complete…..whether it is walking, cleaning house, volunteering etc. etc. To have this intimate moment with my Lord and Saviour!! I never knew that there were people especially clergy who would ever say there is a wrong way to pray. If any person, wants to know the virtue of prayer, if he/she wants to know what it can achieve, let them pray. Let them put prayer to the test. I did when I prayed for healing for my 9 year old granddaughter suffering from CANCER!!!!!!!!

    • Lynnette I think we are probably more in line that we imagine. In many places I agree with you. I think the issue for me (and at the heart of LauraMariePiotrowicz’s article, I think) is that we can use prayer for our own selfish purposes – politicking she mentions. If I use a public prayer to put people in their place (“oh dear God , I thank you I am not like this horrible person here”) am I praying rightly? Don’t I need to be challenged? I think you are right in that, no matter the form, all true prayer is “right prayer”. I think the question is “am I actually praying? – do I simply use God for my own self justifications? Am I offering prayers of words alone or do I offer my heart and spirit?

      • Hi Lynette and Kyle -thanks for the spirited conversation!
        I think we’re addressing two distinct aspects of prayer here. Firstly: format – when a person is doing their best to humbly communicate with God, aligning themselves with God’s will, I think format is secondary. Whether it’s an hour on one’s knees in a pew or acknowledging a brief stirring of the heart while driving – that prayer is (in my opinion) lovely.
        Secondly, the content/purpose of the prayer – in my opinion, someone hiding a hate-filled agenda under the title of prayer is a misuse and abuse of prayer. An extreme example “Lord, thank you for the mass shooting, and may the next shooter kill more” is – in my opinion – wrong.

    • *I’ve responded on The Community page directly…

  3. Prayer is a personal interaction with God. It may well be formal prayer, i.e. the Lord’s Prayer, or any other pre-scripted intercessory prayer from a Book of Prayers, etc. Personally, I pray all day, everyday because that’s how I was taught. Each day is filled with conversations with God. And that’s how God and I pray together. <3

    • Hi Bernadette, thanks for sharing!
      So glad that you are having these conversations! My prayers are sometimes extemporaneous whilst walking the dogs, and sometimes with dedicated time and space (I have a ‘prayer chair’ in which I pray the daily office).
      Each day IS filled with conversations with God! And each day is fled with opportunity for these conversations.
      Blessings!

  4. I have given some thought to your reflection.

    In many ways, your reflection makes me uneasy. I am uncomfortable speaking about ‘right’ ways and ‘wrong’ ways to pray. We find ourselves in so many places in our journey and there are so many ways to pray. This is certainly one lesson I have learned through the daily frequenting of the psalms. How do I allow Psalm 58 to be written on my heart?

    Yet we also grow in prayer, finding words and silences and practices and paths that somehow feel right and others that, for various reasons, we leave behind (although they sometimes reappear).We grow individually, but also corporately. (I suspect this is important here because you seem to be addressing public as well as private prayer.)

    As someone who prays and as someone who leads others in prayer, I try to be attentive to the Spirit at work in my own prayer life and in that of others. Remembering Ignatius of Loyola’s injunction that a spiritual director should never come between God and the one they are accompanying, on holy ground, I try to tread carefully. Language about right and wrong ways to pray is rarely helpful to me, both personally and pastorally. Personally, at various moments in my journey, I have needed to overcome internalized notions about the right and wrong ways to pray. Pastorally, I have needed to be careful that my own judgements don’t short-circuit the listening and learning processes.

    • Hi Carolyn, and thanks for your comments.
      I would refer to my earlier response to Lynette addressing formats versus content/intent – because I think those are very different things.
      You seem to be (to me at least!) speaking about prayer in many glorious forms that are all about a humble connection with God. That’s very different from the ‘wrong’ forms that I am speaking of.
      My prayer life changes daily, growing, being enhanced, being challenged. It’s one of the things I find most beautiful about prayer.
      I like your phrase about prayer happening on holy ground – I’m going to spend some time reflecting on that!
      Peace.

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