Just between us, have you ever done some mental editing of other people’s prayers? You know, maybe just wanted to delete the superfluous “Lord”s that some people throw in every few words, just to remind God they are speaking to Him, as though His attention might wander elsewhere? Or hurry someone along to the end so we can all say “Amen” and go home?
Me neither. Because we all know that the most important thing about prayer is that it’s sincere, right? So mangle grammar all you like, because God’s only concerned that you’re talking to Him, not your style.
Unfortunately, I’m discovering there’s more to it than that. All prayer is not equal. Some prayers get answered better than others. They’re processed not on the basis of how well you speak, but on what you’re doing with your propensity to wrongdoing. Not your syntax but your sin tacks, maybe.
For instance, 1 Peter 3:7 suggests that men’s prayers can be hindered if they are not considerate to their wives and do not treat them with respect. I can sound as holy as I like and quote as much Bible as I want, but if I’m not treating Marcia well, God is not impressed. It’s like I am pedaling with the brakes on.
Then there’s the Lord’s Prayer and all that “forgive us as we forgive others” stuff. That doesn’t seem to actually address our prayers, specifically, but consider that James 5:16 says that, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” Well, the righteousness he is talking about is not our own, the good things we do, but that we get in and from Jesus.
If we haven’t completely forgiven others, then He cannot completely forgive us, and so our righteousness is clouded. Brakes on again.
For a long time I thought the forgiveness mandate was just the big stuff. Like the one or two people I really struggled with for a long time: I didn’t actually, actively wish them ill, but if it did happen, I’d have had a hard time being too upset about it, you know?
Then I read in Mark 11:25, where Jesus says, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Anything. Anyone. Not just the big stuff and the major villains. It made me think about yesterday, and the person who cut me off in traffic, the guy who spoke curtly to me in the store, the friend who hurt my feelings. I wasn’t stewing over each incident, or plotting revenge, but in some small way I still held something against them because I was a little irritated when I thought about it. I hadn’t actively let it go.
So now I’m trying to review each day’s interactions, to check whether there’s anything that needs to get washed away, like the grime that settles on my car windshield and subtly mars my vision. Because I want my prayers to count, knowing that God is pleased with my heart, not impressed by my eloquence.