Avoiding Legalistic Praying

Posted on August 19, 2011 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Devotional Reflections

No one was more conscientious about praying and religious piety than the Pharisees. But Jesus had nothing but condemnation for their hypocrisy and pretense. It is sad that we, too, have a tendency to allow our Christian life to be reduced to legalistic practices instead of the fulfilling Spirit-led freedom we should have in Christ.

We reduce what should be an abundant and empowered walk with God to a prescribed set of do’s and don’ts. We are blessed to have extensive guidelines and principles given to us in God’s word; however, instead of unleashing us for victorious living, they put us under the burden of expectations and guilt of constant failure.

This is reflected in our praying as much as anything. I doubt if there is anyone who does not struggle with the lack of motivation in prayer. We allow a busy and hectic life to infringe upon spending time with God. When we do pray, our minds wander and it is difficult to stay focused. We are constantly fretting over when to pray, how long to pray, what to say, and the words to use. When we read books on prayer or hear testimonies of those who have a powerful prayer life, it just makes us feel deficient and guilty.

We are well aware that we ought to pray. We know we should have a “quiet time” with the Lord, preferably early in the morning. First Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “pray without ceasing.” What does that mean, are we to go around talking to God 24/7?

Obviously God wants us to pray; He longs for us to come to Him, to hear us express praise for who He is, thank Him for what He does and ask Him for what we need. “Let us with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Jesus reminds us in Matthew 7:7–”Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

In light of this access to the Father, the Book of James puts us on a guilt trip by telling us, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:2-3). It gets worse when we read Mark 11:24, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

We conclude that the reason we don’t get answers to our prayers is obviously due to the lack of faith or due to praying with the wrong motives. It really gets problematic when we discover the prayer principles in First John. “If we ask anything according to His will He will hear us” (5:14), and “Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him” (3:22).

We readily assume that if we are not getting answers to our prayers then we must not be living right or our prayers must not be consistent with His will. It is tragic that we reduce what should be an open, free-flowing relationship to legalistic regulations that is inhibiting a loving and merciful God responding to our supplications.

The most important principle is what Jesus told us in John 16:23–“I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you.”  We have access to God through our Savior and mediator, Jesus Christ. It is not through any merit of our own, or fulfilling legalistic criteria that results in God hearing our prayers. When we come to Him sincerely as humble, unworthy sinners through Jesus Christ, God not only hears but responds exceedingly beyond all we could ask of think.

2 Comments on “Avoiding Legalistic Praying”

  1. C.

    It’s good.

  2. Jan Beaty

    Jerry – It is always a blessing to reflect upon God’s promises. As we cleared the ILC yesterday (8/28) from the aftermath of Irene, we were reminded of Mark 6:8 ““For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” This is the confidence we have in our Heavenly Father. Gary & I stopped to fall on our knees with thankful hearts right in the middle of the campus.

    God meets me each morning as I pray in my prayer garden. He teaches me anew each day of the power in prayer.

    Thanks for sharing from your heart with us as a reminder of our empowered walk with God.

    Give Bobbye our love. You both are in our thoughts and prayers as our Father has used your love and service to Him to impact our lives and ministry.

    (Your schedule does not reflect much retirement.)

    Standing on His Promises,

    Jan & Gary

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