Summary: How wrong motives and wrong attitude leads us to misuse prayer
THE MISUSE OF PRAYER
Let me ask you a question: ‘Do you think it is possible to misuse prayer?’ I mean is it possible for us to pray in such a way that we are actually abusing the privilege which is ours through prayer? I think we misuse prayer far more often than we think or would like to think. This morning I want to touch on the two passages which we read and from them show you how we can misuse prayer.
THE PRAYER OF JABEZ
1 Chronicles 4.9-10 contains the prayer of Jabez. A few years ago a Christian author called Bruce Wilkinson wrote a book with that title and it became an instant best seller. Some of you may have even read it. When I read the book, and listened to Christians discuss it, I was immediately uneasy with it. The gist of the book was that we too could ask God to bless and enlarge our territory and that if we were righteous God would answer positively. Many people bought into the ‘health and wealth’ premise of the book without realising that was what they were doing. Let me explain why. The prayer itself is a classical Jewish prayer in which the presence and protection of God is desired and requested. Jabez’s prayer was in fact a direct response to God because of his name (‘I bore him in pain’). The context of the prayer is that his name meant one thing but he desired that under God his life would in fact be the opposite. The prayer of Jabez is in fact similar to us praying ‘lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil’ when we pray the Lord’s Prayer.
Secondly I believe the context makes it clear that the prayer was specific to Jabez and not a general prayer (and promise) to all believers for all time. I think the reason a lot of Christians bought into the prayer of Jabez was a desire for blessing from God (nothing wrong with that) but that the methodology they applied was wrong – because the premise and the motive were both wrong. Let me explain a little further. I think that taking the prayer of Jabez and applying it as a general promise/prayer to all believers was actually to lift it out its context – as one of my lecturers use to say ‘a text taken out of context becomes a pretext.’ Meaning that it becomes the pretext for teaching something which it was never meant to teach. So how is this a misuse of prayer? Well, I believe we misuse prayer when we pray to ask God for His presence and blessing in order that our ‘territory might be extended.’ The motive is wrong. The motive is personal gain. I believe that praying the prayer of Jabez out of context is actually to misuse prayer because the motive is wrong. Listen to these words from James 4.3 and I Samuel 16.7. God told Samuel that it was a man’s heart that He examined when it came to anointing (blessing) him. According to James the purpose in asking and the purpose to which the answer will be put is of prime importance to God. In other words ‘What is my heart’s desiring in prayer?’ ‘Why is my heart desiring this in prayer?’ ‘To what purpose will I put it?’ Those are three very important questions to answer when we come to pray. They will, at the very least, flag up wrong motives in prayer and move us away from misusing prayer.