What We Should Not Pray

Woman praying

On one occasion, Jesus’ disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). It is important that we know how to pray as we should. However, when we think of learning how to pray, we usually think in terms of praying for certain things. Yet there are also some things for which we should not pray.

So in this article, let us consider five things for which we should not pray.

For Anything That Is Contrary to God’s Will

When we pray, we are to pray according to God’s will. John wrote, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14). Jesus provided an example for us when He prayed in the Garden before His crucifixion: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39).

Of course, we may certainly pray and make our requests known to Him (Philippians 4:6). However, praying for something does not mean that God will answer in the way that we want Him to answer. Paul prayed that his “thorn in the flesh” might be removed, yet the Lord instead told him that His “grace [was] sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). When we pray for anything, including our requests to Him, we must always pray for His will to be done (Matthew 6:10).

Is there a way for us to know His will? Yes, at least as much as He has revealed it to us in His word. It is through the Spirit-inspired Scriptures that we can know His will (1 Corinthians 2:10-12). Therefore, we must pray for things that are in harmony with His word (cf. Matthew 6:11-13; 1 Timothy 2:2).

There may be some things that are beyond what has been revealed. Moses explained, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29). Regarding God’s will, we know only what He has chosen to reveal to us. Some things may be beyond what has been revealed, but are not in conflict with His word. For instance, we can pray for one who is sick and that person may or may not recover from his illness. In that case, we are to pray (Philippians 4:6) and do so in faith for God’s will to be done (Matthew 6:10).

Other things are in direct conflict with God’s word (i.e. a prayer to win the lottery or the prayer of an unfaithful spouse to find a new mate). In these cases, we are not to pray for such things. When God revealed to Jeremiah that Judah would be punished, He said, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people” (Jeremiah 14:11) because that prayer would have been in conflict with what God revealed. In the same way, we must not pray for what is contrary to God’s will that He has revealed to us in His word.

For What Is Rooted in Our Lusts

James talked about those who asked with improper motives: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3). In their prayers they would “ask amiss” (KJV) by asking for what was rooted in lust. These were the types of lusts that led to sin (James 1:14-15). They were enslaved to these sins (cf. Romans 6:12-13, 16) and so they prayed for what would fulfill these illicit desires.

We have already noticed the fact that we are to pray for God’s will to be done (Matthew 6:10). These prayers that James mentioned had no concern for God’s will – only the will of the one uttering the prayer. As Christians, we must learn to conform our will to God’s will. Paul said we are “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). This includes our own thoughts. We must have the attitude of Paul and be “content” with the Lord’s will regarding the subjects of our prayers (2 Corinthians 12:10).

We often pray for what benefits us – food (Matthew 6:11), peace (1 Timothy 2:2), etc. Yet these are not the selfish prayers that James spoke against (James 4:3). Instead, we know that these prayers are in harmony with God’s will because we have been told to pray for such things. But if something is rooted in our sinful desires, it is not something for which we should pray.

For What We Do Not Believe God Has the Power to Do

James also discussed the importance of asking in faith without doubting: “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6-8). In context, James was talking about praying for wisdom (James 1:5). God has promised to give us wisdom, but how? It will not be given to us miraculously, but through His word. We gain wisdom by learning the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:15) because “God’s wisdom” has been revealed “through the Spirit” to the apostles and other inspired men (1 Corinthians 2:6-13; cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). We must certainly pray for wisdom, but we must gain knowledge of God’s word in order to obtain it.

Praying “in faith” does not mean that God will do just anything as long as we believe He can do it. He will still only answer according to His will (1 John 5:14-15). Yet we must pray with the recognition of God’s great power. Paul wrote that God is “able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). If we do not believe that God has the power to do something, it is useless to pray for it. Furthermore, it is an indication that we need to work on strengthening our faith.

For God to Do What He Has Told Us to Do

Jesus taught His disciples to pray for their “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). However, this did not mean that they could be lazy and refuse to work and then expect God to miraculously provide for them. Those who are able to work must be willing to do so. Paul wrote, “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). God expects His people to be hardworking, just as the wise man wrote, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

We must do what we can do then pray for God to provide for what is beyond our control. Notice what Paul said about the providence of God: “He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). We cannot control the weather and the seasons. God has set natural laws in motion that make it possible for life to survive perpetually on this planet. We pray for God to provide but must work as we are capable of doing in order to enjoy His blessings. Prayer is not a substitute for personal responsibility.

For Salvation Apart from Obedience

It is common for people to pray a “sinner’s prayer” in order to be saved. Those who do this misunderstand what it means to “call on the name of the Lord” (Romans 10:13). The Scriptures explain what this means: “Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). We call on the name of the Lord when we are baptized into Christ.

One can pray fervently and be sincere and still not be a Christian. Paul is an example of this. He was “praying” in Damascus after the Lord appeared to him (Acts 9:11), but he still had to be told to “be baptized” to “wash away [his] sins” (Acts 22:16). Cornelius is another example. He was “a devout man” who “prayed to God continually” (Acts 10:2), but when Peter preached to him and his household, he “ordered them to be baptized” (Acts 10:48).

Those who will be saved are those who obey the Lord. Peter wrote, “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). We call upon God to cleanse our conscience and wash away our sins when we submit to His will in baptism. The Hebrew writer said that Jesus is “to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9).

We can certainly pray for people to be saved. Paul did this for his Jewish brethren: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (Romans 10:1). But the ones for whom Paul prayed still needed to obey the Lord (Romans 10:3). We can and should teach others (Acts 8:4) and pray that they will be receptive to the truth, but they must choose to obey. Sadly, not everyone will (Romans 10:16). In fact, most will not (Matthew 7:13-14).

Conclusion

Prayer is a great privilege that we have as God’s people. Yet we must learn to pray as we should and avoid praying for what we should not. In prayer – just as we must do in every part of our lives – we must learn to conform our will to God’s will.


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