“It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”
- Matthew 21:13 -
Why do we pray? Why does it matter? Does it matter at all, or is it just something that we do because it's always been done?
What's a good metaphor for prayer?
- Is it like exercise?
- Is it like presenting a case before a judge in a court of law?
- A business transaction, perhaps?
Though these metaphors may all make sense at some level, they don't get very close to what prayer really is. Prayer is simply what it is. Prayer is talking to God.
In the passage above, from the book of Matthew, Jesus has just entered the temple where he becomes outraged when he finds that "God's house" had turned into a marketplace- a place of exchange- a place of commerce- a place of business- a place of bargaining.
You may know the story. He begins flipping over the booths of the vendors and then he utters these, words- "My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it 'a den of robbers.'"
If we'll slow down and think about what is really going on here, we see very plainly what God thinks about prayer.
This "house of God" that was supposed to be a place where people would go to talk to God had become a place of transactions. It had become a place where, as one would approach, they would start thinking things like,
- What will I get today?
- Will I have enough?
- How can I get more?
- Who can I deal with to get what I want for a better price?
And this is what angers Jesus. Instead of people coming to God's house to pray, they begin to think of "transaction" as a proper metaphor for prayer.
The greatest temptation in my own prayer life is to do the very same. As I approach that quiet place of prayer, my mind is often occupied with things like,
- What should I ask God for today?
- What do I want?
- What do I need?
- How much is that going to cost me? An hour? Two? A weekend away in some quiet place of solitiude?
And without even realizing it, I find myself there before God, imagining transactions. Sure, they are spiritual, but they are incorrect. I am praying, but praying for all the wrong reasons.
The truth is, when we go before God, God already knows where we are and what we are. God sees us as no one else in our life does. God knows our fears, our hang-ups, and our handicaps. What God is wanting more than anything is for us to just talk to him. He wants us to simply open our mouths and say whatever it is that is on our minds.
- Sometimes this looks like asking God for something.
- Other times it looks like voicing our frustration(s) about something.
- Other times it is to thank God for what has been done.
But these are not meant to be transactions. Transactions are a wrong practice, and they betray our true motives.
Transaction-prayer sounds a lot like,
- "God, I'll do X for you, if you'll do Y for me." or,
- "God I promise to be more _______ if you will give me more _______."
And these are the very things that frustrate God. Why? Because that isn't how this is supposed to work.
The next time you sit down to pray, I'd like to encourage you to do an internal inventory of why you are praying. Examine your motives.
Are you praying to get something, or are you praying because prayer is... well... just "prayer?"
Do your prayers sound like bargaining, or do they sound like you're just talking with a friend, sharing about all that is going on in your life?