Pitfalls in Prayer


Jim van Heiningen

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                 In “P.I.P” you will find practical information about prayer, plus all the “user-friendly” orientation needed to get started and image004keep going. Even when not every pitfall is at once avoided, there should be enough challenge and encouragement to see a wonderful development in your life of prayer. It is “The True Vine” himself who bears that fruit (John 15).

We suggest that the 15 separate articles contained in P.I.P., apart from personal reading and study, could be very profitably used as a guide in systematic group studies or meditations, e.g. with groups of new Christians, at home with the family, in a neighborhood group, or in some other context. The study introductions could be taken in turns by various ones, who should thoroughly familiarize themselves with the day’s material, prayerfully digging into the relevant Scripture passages.

Very much has been written about prayer throughout the centuries, much of it useful. In this small brochure we do not pretend to improve on those writings, rather to provide a simple manual in which a number of key Scriptures are looked at and the conclusions laid out one by one, not only about private prayer, but equally about public prayer. Obviously, much that might be just as profitable has been left unsaid, and suggestions for future editions will certainly he welcome.

As soon as a baby is born it must start breathing, if not, its life will be very short-lived. Indeed, this new human being will continue living physically, just as long as he or she continues breathing. The one cannot survive without the other.

Who would not agree that a Christian’s prayer is very much his spiritual breath and absolutely vital in sustaining his spiritual life? At the same time, we must conclude that many Christians get very short of breath and out of breath and into all kinds of problems with spiritual asthma. That is not a normal devel­opment, but it is very common. We must even face up to the question that, were it not for the Lord’s loving “kiss of life”, where would we be today, spiritually speaking? There is an abundance of heavenly oxygen for all of us who are his children, and how he longs to infuse it into each one! Not all of us are letting him.

At the same time, it is important to realize at the back of our minds, if not at the front, that “someone” is out to deprive us of this oxygen. In fact there is quite a conspiracy afoot. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. To have a look at this reality, we can do no better than dig into the New Testament. It is the perfect pattern for living, and there is not a personality in the Bible with vigor­ous spiritual health, who did not also have vigorous prayer habits.

Take Daniel, a young man, exiled and made a eunuch at a pagan court – what was his strength throughout his long life? Simply that continual, intimate prayer touch with his God! When he was young and about to be executed together with his colleagues in Babylon , it was his earnest prayer to the God he feared and loved which saved his life and theirs (Ch. 2).

When he was old, the only way his enemies could get at him was by making a big deal of his faithful prayer habits. So a new amendment to the law was devised, which stipulated that, for one month, no one could pray to God or man! Daniel found out about the decree; he knew what his enemies were plotting; he realized the death penalty awaited him if he was found out… So what precautions did he take? Daniel simply trusted his Lord to work things out and he continued to pray and give thanks as always!! “In his upper room, with his windows open…, he knelt down…three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.” In Daniel 6 we have the whole thrilling story.

One believer, who allowed himself to get increasingly deprived of spiritual oxygen, was Lot . And, to change the metaphor, after a promising start, Lot began to stumble into one carefully laid trap after another, ending up ‘booby-trapped’ in a cave.

               To avoid a similar “lot”, we simply must be on the alert for all the pitfalls before us. Our Lord is so faithful in pointing them out to us (Luke 22:31-32). Let us trace 15 of them, eight having to do directly with our private prayer life, that daily “behind-closed-doors” session of the believer with his Lord (Matthew 6:6), and seven with our public prayers. We shall find that too easily do we overlook certain “ingredients”, with the result that prayer is not really prayer any more. It may be more of a ‘show’, an empty formality, a ‘conscience-easer’, thus becoming the devil’s laughing stock.

               We shall examine all 15 in the order in which we find them.

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1.         The Lack of Privacy

“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Mt. 6:5-6)

The religious leaders of Jesus’ time were publicity seekers. Prayer too was a welcome means to draw attention to their holiness and virtuousness. Jesus calls it hypocrisy. He makes it clear that before there can be any public sharing of the burden of our hearts, it must have been adequately shared with the Father, and that means total privacy!

In compliance with the enemy-of-prayer, we too easily skirt that private time with the Father. For instance, we may commit ourselves to pray for a matter or a person. Then, instead of waiting privately on the Lord and unburdening our hearts to him, we just mention the matter in a few public prayers, and that is that. Later we may even tell the person concerned: “Brother,we have been faithfully upholding you in prayer!” Another form of hypocrisy!

It is all-important for the new Christian to get established in a daily “Quiet Time” (his QT) right away!

Physically it may not always be easy to find the needed privacy for our QT in a world as crowded as ours. But the Lord’s grace will make us resourceful. After all, even Susanna Wesley, mother of John, Charles and another 17, when feeling the desperate need of some private conversation with her Father, would just simply, on her kitchen chair, fling her apron over her head and be wonderfully refreshed in prayer.

Jesus often went out into the mountains and the hills to be alone. And so, even if “closing the door” to be alone with our Beloved is not a literal possibility, it doesn’t mean we can’t be “shut in” with HIM.  

 2.        The Lack of Surrender

“In this manner, therefore, pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.” (Mt. 6:9-10)
“…nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done.” (Lk. 22:42B)
“Now this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of him.” (1 Jn. 5:14-15)

The Lord gave us a model prayer and in it he shows us the normal Christian’s first concern, and what the real burden of his prayer must be. It is nothing less than the Father’s name, the Father’s kingdom and the Father’s will realized on earth as they already are in heaven. Simply put, it involves an act of total surrender on the Christian’s part!! That is before he gets down to the nitty-gritty issues of ‘bread, debts and temptations’!

We may pray for health and wealth, for success and safety, for someone’s life to be spared (perhaps our own), and for many other good things, but these are not the true Christian’s priorities, treasures or delights. His delight is in the Lord and he knows that the true desires of his heart will be granted, meaning, of course, the desires of his surrendered heart (Psalm 37:4-7). So, even if he has to go without bread or full restoration to health, as he has been asking, he is not shaken. He still rejoices in his Father’s will, whatever that may entail, and whether he understands it all, or not at all. God’s interests on earth have become his interests. Hence Paul and Silas’ joyful prayers and songs as they languished with torn backs in a filthy dungeon (Acts 16)!

When, on the other hand, we put our own (legitimate) cravings before something that might be God’s will, God may certainly give us what we ask for, but it will also produce in our soul the sad experience of “lean­ness” – or “wasting disease” (Ps. 106:15).

A pitiful pitfall, indeed.

 3.        The Lack of Asking

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Mt. 7:7-11)
“And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (21:22)
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)
“You do not have because you do not ask.”

You would think that this pitfall should be easily avoided by anyone, but, come to think of it, apart from the routine “asking for blessings”, there often isn’t much asking in a believer’s prayer. Many prefer to tell the Lord all kinds of things, especially in their public prayers, perhaps prefixing them with “Lord, you know ..” They may tell him how bad the world is, how much need there is of this, that and the other, but when it comes to asking for something specific, they “gladly leave it up to the Lord to decide” what he is going to do about it, thus missing the whole point of prayer.

In Abraham we see this point beautifully illustrated. In Genesis 18 he didn’t pray for Sodom in a general sense, he kept on specifically asking the Lord to save those in Sodom that might be righteous. And in Ezekiel 22:30 we get a glimpse of how ‘frustrated’ the Lord is, when the believer doesn’t ask; a bit like Elisha’s frustration on his deathbed in 2 Kings13:18-19, when Je­hoash failed to strike that “coup de grace”. And, indeed, the enemy must fear a coup de grace, when a believer starts asking in childlike faith.

In John 14, 15 and 16 our Lord, again and again, invites us to sim­ply ask him. Many years later John himself encourages us to do ex­actly that (1 Jn. 5:14-15)! To get us to come to grips with this, the Lord often has to put us into tight spots: special classes in his ‘school of prayer’, where we either learn to ask, or … worry ourselves silly, which is why Luke 12:22-31 & Philippians 4:6-7 are in the Bible: to wean us away from worry and get us to trust and ask.

 4.        The Lack of Forgiveness

“And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25)

Have you ever held anything against anyone? It is quite remarkable how much will fit into a human heart, even into a Christian’s heart, of grudges, animosities, bitterness, resentments and all that sort of thing. Who might be stoking that little fire until it gets quite out of hand (Hebrews 12:15)?

The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and he taught them. If we want to know how to pray, then only the Great Teacher can teach us. That is, if we are talking about the only valid art of praying. What He teaches, is that every hindrance to true prayer must be dealt with first.

In Luke 18 Jesus tells the story of the two men who went up to the temple to pray. One prayed a simple prayer that was heard. It was valid. The other one prayed a beautiful prayer that was not heard. It was not valid. Even if the grudges of this man should have been valid, they didn’t make his prayer valid. His grudges and his pride closed the door on his prayer.

One man who had more reason than most to feel vengeful, was Stephen. Being falsely accused by his worst enemies did not intimidate him, nor did he refrain from telling them the truth to their faces (Acts 6 & 7). Yet when it came to forgiving them, even when their cruel stones rained down on him, there was not a trace of bitterness in his heart toward them. His last words were his last prayer. And he prayed they might be forgiven!

It is that same grace of God that so teaches us to forgive (Colossians 3:13).

 5.        The Lack of Persistence

“And He said to them, Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.”  (Luke 11:5-8)

You may have heard of “stick­ability”. It may be rather a new word, but it is useful in pinpointing the thing needed in all kinds of Christian work, and often in short supply. In one area of Christian work ‘stickability’ is especially needed, and that is prayer-work. It may be easy enough to start praying for a certain matter, but then to stick with it when the going gets tough, that may be a different matter. You need deep conviction for that and self-discipline and… stickability.

Jesus illustrates this fact by tell­ing us about the three friends. The one, pleading for the three loaves, didn’t do so for his own benefit. Being acutely aware of his friend’s need, and, pleading his own empty shelves, he reasoned: “I have noth­ing to set before him”. He was determined he was not going to leave without his loaves. The Master made it clear that this is the persisten­ce he is looking for in our prayers.

The illustration of the widow, who kept on prodding the judge, is just as apt (Lk. 18:1-8). Here again the Lord’s teaching is to be persistent in prayer. Why? He has, of course, his own reasons, but from Romans 5:4 we know that as the believer learns to persist, it produces in him experience and character (see also: James 1:3-4). Opting out means losing out, which will cause many of our prayers to go unheeded and fall by the wayside. Moreover, we are rendered largely useless in regard to that desperate need of our “friend”, to whom we can offer nothing but “bare shelves”.

 6.        The Lack of Faith

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (Jas. 1:5-8)
“But without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” (Hb. 11:6)

It is possible to pray and pray and pray, and yet get nowhere. Of course, it is true that literally anyone can pray, and lots of prayer is made in every single religion. But for prayer to be effective, it must have a “firm foundation” and not just float in the air, so to speak. It means you must know the one you are addressing, and be convinced that his ear is truly open to your prayer. That is really what Hebrews 11:6 is all about. The key, in other words, is faith.

It is marvelous, on the other hand, that God’s ear is open also to those who pray without having gotten to know him so far, but who long to know him. Cornelius in Acts 10 is a wonderful case in point. This very longing, worked in the heart by the Holy Spirit, brings along with it a kind of embryonic faith. Cornelius’ case shows us, that it is the listening to God’s Word then which makes all the difference. Faith was born in his and the oth­ers’ hearts. From that moment on the Holy Spirit took possession. Basically that is the way it has been (and is) with every true believer.

Yet what happens so often? In stead of continuing to approach God in childlike faith, based on the written promises, the believer reverts to the old ways. He talks to God as if he does not really know him; he is not sure whether God is really listening, or even interested. James, known in antiquity as ‘Old Camel Knees’ (his knees looking like that because of the long hours of kneeling in prayer), says: “Let not that man think he will receive anything from the Lord” (1:7).  

 7.        The Lack of Right Motives

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (Jas. 4:3)
“I cried to him with my mouth, and He was extolled with my tongue. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear. But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me!” (Ps. 66:17-20)

The young man prayed earnestly enough and he was persistent too, yet nothing happened. He had become convinced that he could serve God much better if he had a car, he could then visit more people in outlying places, help in more open air work, ferry people to meetings, etc., and so, the proper thing to do was to pray for a car, or for the funds to buy one. But with prayer going unanswered and with the old bicycle even giving up the ghost, he felt pretty disheartened.

However, since there was a sincere desire to serve the Lord faithfully, he began to discover something during his Quiet Times. It dawned on him that perhaps his prayer was not altogether born of a pure desire to please his Lord. And he soon had to admit that secretly, half conscious­ly, he had been after that car, mostly because he was after more status among his fellow believers, especially the young female ones.

It was a sobering discovery, never to be forgotten. But once seen, it filled him with joy and praise to the Savior for being such a faithful Friend. Psalm 139 became his favorite after that, and how grateful he now was for healthy legs to walk long distances…

On later occasions, tired out and making his way home from some remote home-gathering, where there had been signal blessing, his thoughts would sometimes go to Matthew 6:33, and with a smile he’d say: “Well Lord, in your own time you may want to ‘add an old car unto me’, but that’s entirely up to you.”  

8.         The Lack of Considerateness

“Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror. Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:1-7)

It might be a headline in Heaven:


It would not make happy reading in that lofty sphere. But, of course, the angels don’t need newspapers to know all about our stumbling and bumbling, and they must wonder how it is that many a Christian husband has such a hard time unlearning all that old pride and ‘machismo’, which so easily wreak havoc on his prayer-life, and, why so many wives are bent on wriggling out from patterns their loving Lord has laid down for them.

Demons, out to destroy more and more Christian homes, must also be wondering (in glee) why Christians are so stupid.

Their attack centers first of all on the couple’s lines of communication with God’s throne of grace! When these start to falter, a harsh or nasty word from the husband to his wife is to be expected. The enemy knows this will pose a clear hindran­ce to further prayer. For even going through the ‘motions’ of prayer after that, he is not getting anywhere. The wife’s reaction may be one of resentment and now her prayers are fail­ing to get through, equally hindered. After that things easily get worse.

The real problem lies in the fact that he or she is not really counting on the Lord being “in the midst”, which is his only proper place (Mt. 18:20). They are running their marriage. Christ, their HEAD, is really no more than a figurehead. But what a difference when both gladly submit to HIM…! It involves daily bending their knees together and being totally honest.

Going Public…  

It is in the home that often the first steps are taken to ‘pray in public’. A child hears his parents pray aloud and in all simplicity he or she will quite naturally do the same. In a loving atmosphere the parents then monitor and carefully teach the child along the way.

Christians, not raised like that, but converted later on in life, may find praying audibly in public a very daunting prospect. However, in fellowships and prayer meetings that are not big, where there is a true ‘family’ atmosphere, they will easily learn like children.

Even so, very many Christians continue to have the idea that praying in public is something that “clergy” do. In other words you need to be kind of professional. It would be hard to think of any hint to that effect in the Old Testament, leave alone in the New, where we find that now all true believers form one ‘universal priesthood’ in Christ (1 P. 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:6).

Does that include women? Paul declares all to be “one in Christ” (Galatians 3:26-28). Race, status or gender have no place in the spiritual world, he says. So who will arbitrarily decide that one basic activity of the “priest”, praying audibly in public, is forbidden to the greater part of those in Christ, simply because of gender? In 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 we find the Christian woman praying in public alongside the man (compare Acts 2:17-18).

Satan hates the genuine public prayer, at least as much as the genuine private prayer, so… plenty of pitfalls to be expected.  

9.         The Lack of Reconciliation

“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt. 5:23-24)
“Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil… And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:26-27, 30)

Matthew’s verses picture a typically Jewish situation with worshipers going up to the temple in Jeru­salem and offering their sacrifices on the altar. The question might be asked: what teaching could that have for us Christians? We have no more earthly temple, altar or high priest; shouldn’t we leave these verses on one side and press on with truths that are clearly Christian?

However, the point is that we too approach God, even though the circumstances have radically altered. We too do so in a public fashion, especially in, what we might think of as the Christian’s counterpart to that Jewish service, namely the Lord’s Table, when around it we “remem­ber” him, who was sacrificed as the Lamb of God for us (1 Co. 11:23-32). At the same time He himself is pre­sent in the midst as the great High Priest (Mt. 18:20; Rev. 1:13-16; 2:1).

Moreover we too are just as likely as the Jewish worshipers to have been in unpleasant situations during the previous week, or even that very day, situations that may have gotten out of hand, where we may have “stood on someone’s toes”, so to speak. This person, hurt or offended, will obviously not have forgotten, even if we are frantically trying to be as forgetful as possible.

Reconciliation is a must, whether the other person is present or not. The Lord has a way of reminding us even in the ‘nick of time’, before we partake, before we pray and wor­ship. He simply cannot accept wor­ship-with-a-guilty-conscience.

Why not let his grace see us through?  

10.       The Lack of Humility

“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” (Mt. 6:5)
“Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk. 18:9-14)
“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Col. 3:2)

At first glance it might seem to some that in Matthew 6:5-6 the Lord condemns public prayer and only accepts private prayer. That is not the case. What he is saying is that he who prays in public, must first have a private, and firmly established, relationship with his Father in heaven. If not, his public prayer is no more than an empty and abominable show. Could it be that the Lord, one chapter later, still had all this in mind, when he warned us not to cast sacred things to the dogs and pearls to the pigs?

The possibility of that was brought home to us forcefully in India , where, sad­ly, believers have taken to copying Hindus and Muslims in their zeal to let the whole world hear, by amplifying system, how well they pray. Other Christian leaders love to be photographed or filmed while praying. How interesting then to see Peter’s reaction when “opportunity knocked” in Acts 9:40!
But why would Jesus put such emphasis on this matter? If we link it directly to Luke 9:23 and Paul’s experience in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, everything becomes clear. To Paul, manifesting “self”, even extremely religious ‘self’, had become utterly abhorrent. Furthermore it doesn’t attract people to Christ. It turns them off (1 P. 3:15-16)!

He who would truly pray to God in public, is not out for men to hear and praise him. His only interest lies in conversing with his heavenly Father in the utmost humility and the simplest of terms, while at the same time identifying with the needs of his companions and others, and taking these with him into God’s presence.  

11.       The Lack of Concision

“And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask him.” (Mt. 6:7-8)

Concision is that virtue that will keep to the matter in hand, without wandering all over the place. It is a virtue much needed in prayer, both private and public, and easily lost.

John Bunyan in his “Pilgrim’s Progress” tells of the encounter with “Talka­tive”. This character not only had “the gift of the tongue”, which to many sounded like the “tongue of angels”, he cleverly used it to cover up the sorry mess of his life. He was no more than a ‘professing’ believer. Why would it be that many Christ­ians, especially prominent ones, become so “talkative” when praying in public? Are they trying to prove something? Are they hiding something?

Jesus tells us not to be like ‘pagans’, who think that the ‘many words’ of their ‘babblings’ will give them ready access to God’s throne. We cannot approach the throne of a sovereign on our terms, and this Sovereign tells us to come without pretensions, simply, just as we are, not with rambling, chatty prayers, which moreover put off and put to sleep the others present.

And then He gives us the model of a very brief and concise prayer. How ironic that precisely this should now be the subject of countless and mindless repetition. Admittedly a master stroke of the great plotter of pitfalls.

So does it all mean that long prayers are definitely out? In John 17 we do find our Lord’s prayer to be pretty long. However, what we are shown here is a glimpse into his private prayer-life. His public prayers were invariably short and pithy.

“Lord, teach us to pray..!”

12.       The Lack of Agreement

“Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Mt. 18:19-20)

In a Christian’s private QT he is out to find God’s will and to affirm his agreement with it. When he prays together with one or more others, all of them having that same spirit, it will let them experience the world’s greatest “welding power”: the marvelous concept of spiritual unanimity’, about which the New Testament has such a lot to say. It will not be theory, but living reality.

Prayer-meetings galore (nowadays also with ‘prayer-concerts’, ‘prayer-walks’, etc.) are a common phenomenon, though not necessarily attended by most Christians. How­ever, if in such prayer-activity the one vital building block of spiritual agreement should be missing, can we expect much more than a spiritual “beating about the bush”?

In Matthew 18 we sense the Lord’s delight with being in the midst of his beloved. In Zephaniah 3:17 He is even pictured among them as singing with joy. But, surely, such delight must be seriously tempered, when his children at prayer are not really out to discover his will, remaining sadly divided about small issues as well as big (compare Judges 21:25).

The modern concept of democracy that has millions of Christians in thrall, is a demonstration of what is not the NT way! It asserts the preference of the majority’s opinion over the minority’s in any decision of the local church, and is anything but a unifying factor. In contrast, his way puts his will first. His children’s conformity with it creates the unanimity and the united progress they crave.  

13.       The Lack of Decorum

Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.” (1 Co. 11:4-5)

In Roget’s Thesaurus the word ‘decorum’ is followed by ‘comport­ment, deportment, decency’. That is what, in these verses, the apostle is writing about to the Corinthian Christians. Their decorum left a lot to be desired.

To avoid all misunderstanding: he is certainly not telling, either the men, or the women, that they are not to pray in public (transmit to God what is in their hearts) or prophesy in public (transmit to men what is in God’s heart). To the contrary, when we study his epis­tles, it becomes abundantly clear that these ministries are God-given, also for women.

But just in case an eyebrow is raised here and there, with the mind racing to those two famous passages in 1 Corinthians 14 & 1 Timothy 2, an honest study will reveal that in both Paul speaks about ‘wives’ (same word in Greek as ‘women’), telling them to be subject to their husbands. Once again it is imperat­ive to keep in mind the Scripture quoted by Peter the very instant the Church was born – Acts 2:17-18.

So what is Paul getting at in 1 Corinthians 11? Simply that they are not to run ahead of the established cus­toms of the country and the period. The women, considering themselves emancipated in Christ, decided they did not now,when meeting together with men, need to keep their heads veiled. Were they not all brothers and sisters of the same “family”? Paul shows them that such goings-on clashed with the testimony and hindered effective prayer and preaching.

               Public prayer needs decorum!

14.       The Lack of Understandability      

“If you bless with the spirit (i.e. doing so in a foreign language), how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say ‘Amen’ at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified… In the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue (or foreign language).” (1 Co. 14:16-19)

Quite an equation in verse 19: 5 intelligible words count for more than 10,000 unintelligible words! And, indeed, how many thousands of words are not uttered in our prayer meetings, which others present can only guess at? This is, of course, very true of modern day ‘tongues-speaking’. What is on Paul’s mind is the vital need for understandability. In other words, what is the point of praying out loud, when others present do not understand the words? It is not an edifying experience to them. Whether the words spoken are in the common language or in a foreign tongue, when there are those that cannot catch the meaning of the sounds they hear and so find it impossible to identify with them, it is a blow against fellowship and edification.

The whole point of meeting together is that all the believers may sense the Lord’s presence, and experience the reality of the Holy Spirit’s ministry as He exercises it through different fellow believers.

There may be several causes of the abnormality: the one praying may never have been clearly taught to speak up. He or she, made aware of the need, may not really have look­ed to the Lord for his enabling grace. There may be a speech impediment. In the bigger churches the crowd is often just too big.

But God’s grace, ever sufficient, will enable the congregation’s elders to show the way forward, “making lev­el paths for everyone’s feet”. If the church’s HEAD makes clear that the big group should be split into smaller ones, so that every believer can pray and be understood, who will object?

15.       The Lack of Holiness

“I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing…” (1 Ti. 2:8-9)
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Mt. 5:8)
“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hb. 12:14)
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps. 139:23-24)

The same ‘machismo’ that may hinder a man’s private prayer, as we saw in 1 Peter 3, will naturally also stand in the way of an effective pub­lic prayer ministry. A husband loses his temper, lifts up his hand to deal his wife a blow and then, in the meeting,lifts up that same hand to God in prayer… By the same token, says Paul, a woman dolls herself up, tries to conceal ten years, does all she can to create sex-appeal and furthermore she prays to God… These are pagan practices, possibly acceptable in temples, mosques and cathedrals, but not in God’s presence.

In Bible times one of the common practices was to lift up hands in prayer (not to be confused with mod­ern Charismatic fashions). Quite likely it was Moses’ example on the hill, in Exodus 17, that later inspired God’s people. He touched God’s throne on behalf of Israel . Had they not been holy hands, the throne would have been beyond his reach, causing certain defeat for Israel .

The enemy loves us to be spirit­ual chameleons: the world coloring us at home and in the workplace, and the Bible in our meetings with other believers. Paul instructed Timothy that the Ephesian churches must not tolerate such split-personality conduct. It would spell certain defeat. Only when we show our true colors (his colors) to the world, can we pray for the world. “Chameleons” make a clever show, but are notoriously bad fighters. James assures us that the prayer of a righteous man, however, is powerful and effective (5:16).

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Psalm 32:6-11