There’s a continuing debate in business circles about the importance of “doing the right thing” vs. “doing things right.” Basically, it boils down to this: The former focuses on the end goal or desired outcome in light of the bigger picture, while the latter takes into account the details and necessary steps needed to accomplish the task or reach the goal. In an ideal world, both would be equally important, and it would be about “doing the right things right.”
As I thought about this delineation between two seemingly good and “right” approaches, it occurred to me that we often prioritize one at the expense of the other in our own lives. We get so bogged down in the details that we forget the overall focus. (Think: We’re so busy with “doing” that we lose sight of the whole point—knowing Christ and becoming more like Him.) Or, we focus so much on accomplishing the task, itself, that we overlook the details. And let’s face it—sometimes, the how and why matter just as much as the end result.
Supplication with Sincerity
Nowhere has this been more evident to me than in my prayer and thought life. And, yes, the two are connected (but I’ll get to that in a bit). We know we’re supposed to pray and that it’s the good and “right” thing to do. God tells us over and over again. And it’s not a mere suggestion; it’s a command. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is a sin not to pray. After Samuel acquiesced to his people’s demand for a king (despite the fact that they already had a far superior King in Christ), they realized their sin and asked Samuel to pray for them. He graciously replied, “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you . . .” (1 Samuel 12:23). So, clearly, we’re supposed to pray, but does it matter how and why we pray? Or is God happy as long as we’re praying?
The Bible is clear that there are things we should not do when we pray. Jesus condemned the religious leaders for praying to be seen. In other words, their prayers were not genuine or heartfelt, but for show only. Instead, He instructs us to spend time in prayer in a private place where there are no distractions (or people to impress). Even Jesus went to a solitary place to pray to His Father just before He was taken away to be crucified. In the same vein, God doesn’t want our empty or ritualistic prayers. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:7). Although we are commanded to pray continually, there is no substitute for retreating to a private and quiet place where we can spend focused and intentional time conversing with our Father.
While the evidence of the sin Jesus addresses above may not be as clear in my own life, I have certainly been guilty of using prayer to achieve my own purposes, rather than to seek His will. That’s where my thought life comes into the picture. The Lord has shown me that praying is simply not enough. It’s a good start, but it is possible to pray in ways that fail to honor Him and rob me of the spiritual blessings God promises.
One of the greatest blessings God promises through prayer is peace—and not just any peace, but peace that surpasses comprehension. Whoa. I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around that (and I think that’s the point)!
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Prayer should combat anxiety and remind us that the God who measures the universe with His hands, who feeds the birds of the air, who clothes the grass of the field is indeed sovereign and in control of ALL things. That means we have no reason to worry, because our Heavenly Father already knows. Period. He knows every need, every desire, every weakness, every struggle, and most importantly, He knows what’s best for us. Did you get that? Sadly, I need to remind myself of these truths far too often.
So, what if you have the prayer part down, but the peace God promises is lacking?
Once Around Jericho
This past summer, as I was reading Philippians 4, I had an “aha” moment. After Jesus makes the connection between prayer and peace, He takes it one step further:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things . . . practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
Our Father knows that anxiety and worry are intimately connected to our thought life. We can’t have peace if our thoughts are still focused on earthly things that we can’t control anyway. Our responsibility doesn’t end with “Amen.” Real peace comes with transformation from the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2), so what comes after prayer is just as important as the discipline of prayer.
What does this mean? It means that if I don’t have peace and am anxious, then I’m either ignoring what He’s already shown me, or I’m not fully trusting God and giving my requests to Him. Giving them and then LEAVING them. Worry is Satan’s way of taking our focus off of God in those moments when we are not fully surrendered to God.
In some areas of my life, prayer had become another way to feed my thoughts and desire to control my circumstances. Oh, I was praying, but instead of resting in the knowledge that He is in control, my thoughts conveyed the opposite. I wanted the control instead of relinquishing it to Him.
Author and speaker Jill Briscoe relates our tendency to worry with God’s directive to Joshua:
March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. (Joshua 6:3)
God wanted Joshua and the Israelites to exercise restraint by marching around the city once each day until He told them to do differently. They were to trust Him solely for victory, and despite their overwhelming circumstances and the literal walls that rose before them, they spent most of their days outside of Jericho waiting to hear from the Lord. That’s exactly what He wants from us. What if, like the Israelites, we went around our Jerichos only once until God asked more of us?
If prayer becomes a way to feed our anxiety, we’re missing the whole point. Prayer should bring peace. It should never become another excuse to focus on the problem (us) rather than the solution: God. Briscoe puts it this way:
The Lord has wonderful plans for you, but you can’t be part of them if you are busy circling Jericho!
Let’s not stop short of the blessings God has for us. Pray, Pray, Pray. And then leave it with God.