Keeping a Right Focus in Prayer
“Our Father who Art in Heaven”
Read Ecclesiastes 5:1-7
Prayer is much more than sharing our requests to God and asking for his help. Often, we approach God with the perspective that he is our cosmic gift horse who is ready to do our bidding and deliver us from our problems. Consequently, our prayers are focused upon asking God to either bless our plans or to grant us what we want. As a result, our prayers become ineffectual. James warns us in James 4:3, “You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives.” To be effectual in prayer we need to ask the right things with the right intentions, and this begins with our perception of God. Prayer is realigning our perspective and life to the character and will of God. But to do so we must first recognize who God is. This is why the Lord’s Prayer begins, not with a request, but the acknowledgment of God’s exalted nature.
In Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, the sage addresses our view of God and how we approach him. As the writer leads us in navigating all the paradoxes and absurdities of life, he continually drives the point home that the mystery of life’s contradictions can only be solved when we develop a right understanding of God. Life is filled with ambiguities and frustrations, yet life, with all its frustrations, is still to be enjoyed as a gift from God (1:24-26). But the enjoyment of life is not discovered in unrestrained hedonistic indulgence, but in the fear of God and obedience to his word (12:13-14). This transforms the focus of our prayer and worship of God.
In 5:1-7, the writer warns against becoming flippant with God. While he points us to the privilege of coming into the presence of God, we are to do so with the recognition of God’s supremacy and holiness. As we pray, we are to remain cognizant of the reality that God is in heaven and we are on earth. This serves to remind us that God is exalted and holy and we are frail and sinful. Consequently, we are to draw near to God for the purpose of listening rather than speaking. Often, we pray in order to communicate our needs to God, to ask him to act on our behalf by delivering us from adversity, and bless our plans in order to ensure our success. However, Solomon cautions us against being hasty or impulsive in prayer where we make claims of allegiance to God and proclaim vows which we promise to fulfill in order to bribe God to answer our requests. This results in “meaningless repetition” that Christ warns against in Matthew 6:7. Instead, our prayers are to be grounded in a proper fear of him (vs 7).
We are to approach him silently with a desire to listen. This shifts the focus of our prayer. We are to come to prayer with an attitude of humility and submission, not asking for God to respond to our bidding, but seeking his direction and guidance in life. To come to listen is to come to prayer with a desire to seek God’s input into our life. In our prayer, our first request should not be what we want God to do for us, it should be to ask God what he wants us to do for him. Prayer does not begin when we ask God to do what we desire, but when we ask God to direct us to do what he desires.