Something is amiss when Christians pray the way unbelievers pray. Of course, unbelievers do pray. They pray by the millions. Countless nominal Christians in all the nations of the world pray almost every day.
Just recently I read this about Latvia in Operation World: “Christianity is characterized by nominalism. . . . Although 60% belong to a Christian confession, only a small minority actually practice their faith.” With varying percentages, the same is true everywhere Christianity has spread. The wheat and the tares grow together. And both pray.
This was true in Jesus’s day, as in ours. The Pharisees loved God least, and prayed most. They “devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers” (Mark [12:40]). “They love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others” (Matthew 6:5). And not only the Pharisees, but the Gentiles pray as well: “Do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7).
It is possible that nominal Christians learn the language of true, Christ-exalting, God-centered, sin-confessing, Spirit-dependent, promise-trusting, holiness-pursuing prayer. But I have found that it is rare for those with little love to Christ to pray as though they love him and his kingdom.
What’s Better Than Good
How then do they pray? Generally, they do not ask God to do bad things. They ask him to do good things without asking him to do the best thing. They pray as though God were the giver but not the gift. They pray for protection, and shelter, and food, and clothing, and health, and peace, and prosperity, and social justice, and comfort, and happiness.
All of these good things are things the world wants. You don’t have to be born again to want these or love these. And you don’t have to be a Christian to pray for them — for yourself or for others. Every religion prays for them, more or less. So do the non-religious, when things get scary enough.
So then, what is the difference? How should Christians pray? Do they not pray for these good things?
What Makes Prayer Christian
The difference is that Christians are people who have a new nature through the new birth. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).
At the heart of this faith is a new experience of valuing Jesus above all things. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
The new Christian heart longs for God to be seen as glorious in every event and every act and every affection. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians [10:31]).
True Christians do not pray for less than what nominal Christians pray for. They pray for more — infinitely more. The heartbeat is always that the supremely treasured Christ be supremely magnified in answer to every prayer.
Written by John Piper
Full article at Desiring God