Recently, I pulled up to my local bank drive-though, opened the “pneumatic tube carrier,” as it is known, placed inside the container my bank transaction, and pressed the “Send” button.
The little elevator doors closed and I watched as the container began ascending the tube. First, slowly, and then it began to pick up speed. All of a sudden, however, instead of increasing in speed, it began to slow to a stop and there it remained suspended, as it were, at least for a few sections anyway, between the teller behind the glass and me.
Finally, the suction gave out and the container dropped back down the shoot, hitting with a thud, and the doors reopened.
“What was that?” I asked.
The teller smiled and said, as if she anticipated it, “Oh, it does it often. Just hit the “Send” button again and it should work this time.”
But it didn’t.
In fact, I made repeated attempts and only after about the seventh try did my transaction reached the teller.
She processed my transaction and then said, “Will that be all?” I nodded and drove away. As I did, I thought to myself, “I’ve just witnessed a real life example of what prayer must be like for many people. The analogies are all too apparent.
Isn’t it true, for example, many people say their prayers with the same sort of bewilderment, even frustration, that I felt with the pneumatic tube carrier?”
I think so.
Furthermore, I think this is because, what many people have been taught to believe about prayer is just plain wrong.
Here are four myths about prayer and what you need to know that could actually help you discover prayer to be a more meaningful and productive exercise.
Myth # 1: Prayers are requests we offer down here to God up there. For many people, God is like Cosmic Teller somewhere in the heavens and their prayers are the little requests they offer up to him in hopes they’ll actually make it.
Prayer is like a bank transaction at a celestial drive-through. The believing person offers up his prayer like a customer trying to send a bank deposit to the Grand Teller behind the glass…all the while, feeling helpless at whether the prayer had just the right amount of “Oomph” so that it could actually reach God.
Remember this, my friend.
God is not “out there somewhere” in the heavens. Admittedly, the people who wrote the Bible believed in a kind of three-storied universe – the surface of the earth on which they lived…the atmosphere above them with its many clouds…and, just beyond the clouds, there was heaven, the abode of God.
Though many believed this for centuries, even a school child today knows differently. Not only is heaven not above the clouds, one cannot be sure where heaven could possibly be at all. As a matter of fact, just trying to comprehend the infinity of space can leave one wondering not only where God is but if God is.
Here’s what I would suggest: Stop thinking of God as “out there,” but in here instead.
“In where?” you ask.
In other words, stop thinking of yourself as separate from God. There is no truth in believing God is a Cosmic Teller located somewhere in the heavens to whom you offer your prayers in hopes they’ll actually reach him.
Prayer is a conversation with you.
That’s right. It is a talk you have with yourself, as one in union with the Father (read John 17).
By the way, “a talk with oneself” only feels weird if, instead of feeling at one with God, you still think of yourself as separate from God. Let go of the separation mentality. It’s a myth.
Myth #2: The more prayers you offer, the more likely the response. I must have hit the “Send” button a half dozen times before the container finally reached the teller.
Many mistakenly believe the more times they offer a request unto God, the better their chances of getting the prayer answered. These same people tend to also believe, the more people they can enlist to pray with them about a particular concern, the less chance there is that God will mistakenly overlook their need. If one firecracker can make a loud bang, setting off a whole pack at one time is sure to get God’s attention.
How often have you heard sincere but misguided people say, “I need lots of prayers.”
Whenever I hear that, I want to respond, “What for?”
Do many prayers make the one’s need appear more valid?
Are prayers mere tokens dropped in a celestial slot machine? The more tokens you drop, the greater your chances of winning?
Does it take lots of prayers to overcome lots of reluctance on God’s part to answer them?
In every instance, the answer is “No!’ These are all myths. Jesus said, “Do no recite the same prayer over and over like some do who think prayers are answered only by repeating them again and again. Remember, your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him” (Matt.6: 7-8).
Myth #3: Those who believe the most get the most. Some believing people mistakenly think that the stronger their faith, the more likely their prayers will be answered. Which means, if it feels your prayers are getting no where – like the container straining to reach the teller – it can only mean one thing: your faith isn’t strong enough.
That’s a myth, my friend.
Yet, surprisingly, many believe it. Their belief is based on a misreading of Jesus who said, “And, when you pray, believing, you will receive” (Mark 11:24). “Believing” is objectified, as it were, into a kind of “belief” system. Further, it is quantified. In other words, if your prayers are not being answered, either your “beliefs” are incorrect or your “believing” is insufficient.
Both are myths.
There is no proper “belief” to which you must subscribe before God will hear your prayers. Furthermore, there is no minimum amount of faith you must acquire in order to deserve Divine attention. God is not gasoline tank into which you pump the fuel of faith and, after having reached the proper limit, the pistons fire and the answers flow.
Let go of all such thinking. Instead, think of “believing” as “trusting.” Offer your prayers but make “trusting” your practice. It won’t be easy, I admit. Which is why trusting is a necessary practice. Praying to God may take no effort but trusting God will take a lifetime of practice.
Myth #4: God hears all prayers but only answers a Christian prayer. I have one particular bank that I go to and I have for as long as I can remember. In fact, it is the same bank my parents used and in which I opened my first checking account when I was but a teenager.
Now that I am an adult, I know my bank is not the only bank. There is another bank just across the street. I am neither naïve nor so arrogant as to suggest the other bank is merely a replica of a bank, built only to look like a bank when actually it is something else altogether. Oh, I suppose I could make such silly claims but who’s to say their customers are not just as convinced that it is my bank that’s actually the phony one?
Some Christians mistakenly think they alone hold the keys to the vault of heaven. But this, too, is a myth.
God has many banks…as well as religions or spiritual traditions. They’re known by many different names. All are legitimate. Only the naïve, even the arrogant, would suggest God hears only their prayers.
I have always loved the way the Catholic nun, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, put it, when she said: “I love all religions; but I’m IN LOVE with my own.”
That’s the proper spirit, my friends. That’s genuine humility at work. It is the kind of attitude that will make prayer more meaningful to you even as it makes room for all other prayers.
And, all other people, too.
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Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, counsel to non-profits, faith-based organizations and congregations, and a spiritual teacher. His books and blogs inspire spiritual seekers all over the world. He is a devoted follower of Christ but an interfaith activist as well. He is frequently heard to say, in the words of Mother Teresa, “I love all religions; but I’m in love with my own.” Read more from Dr. McSwain on his blog Your Best Life Ever.