Sinful Praying

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 right 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).

Sinful Praying...continued God's people 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.

SELFISH 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 PRAYING.

FAITHLESS PRAYING

"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" (Prov. 21:13).

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.

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. 

PRETENTIOUS 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 OF MEN

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.

Sinful Praying...continued People with 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 DIMINISHED CHARACTER

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 to heaven.

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.

SPIRITUAL 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 Spiritual Praying.

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  1. This was very needed to know to enhance my prayer life, to know how to pray, and what to play for. Thank you for this article. I will be using it to keep my prayer life real and spiritual and not sinful.

    Reply to Sharon Curry
  2. Very helpful article. Thank you!

    Reply to Karen