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Better Ways to Pray These 4 Bible Verses

Avoid the words of Cain, Simon Peter and this Pharisee.

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I have found great benefit and blessing from praying Bible prayers. Many of the Psalms, for instance, have become a staple of my prayer life, such as Psalm 17:8’s “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” Or Paul’s great intercessory prayer in Ephesians 3 (“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,” etc.). And, of course, the Lord’s Prayer (found in Matthew 6 and Luke 11).

But just because a prayer is found in the Bible doesn’t mean you should make it your own prayer. For example, here are four that I suggest you avoid:

1)  “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

When the earth was young and the human race even younger, a man named Cain killed his brother, Abel. When God personally confronted Cain, asking, “Where is your brother Abel?,” the criminal replied, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9, NIV). Cain’s answer to God’s inquiry entered the human story and has been often repeated—sometimes even by people who think the question is a good defense. But it didn’t justify Cain, and it will never work for us. It will always backfire, exposing our sinful hearts and inviting correction from our righteous God. So pray instead, “Lord, show me how to help my brother or sister.” 

2)  “Depart from me, Lord”

Luke’s Gospel records the time when Jesus, after teaching the multitudes, told Simon Peter to “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter protested that he and his coworkers had fished all night and caught nothing, but he eventually complied—and the result was a miraculous, net-breaking haul that threatened to swamp their fishing vessel. Peter recognized that Jesus was responsible for the miracle, so he fell onto his knees before Jesus, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Happily for Peter, Jesus refused his request, saying, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:4, 8, 10, ESV). It is easy to imagine that Peter had many occasions to be grateful that Jesus didn’t answer that particular prayer. It is a dangerous prayer for anyone to pray; it is far better to endure discomfort or discipline in the presence of our loving Lord than to risk offending or grieving His Spirit (see Ephesians 4:30). And better still to pray, frequently, “Lord, draw near to me.” 

3)  “Thank you that I am not like other people”

Jesus told the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector, both of whom went to the Jerusalem Temple to pray. The Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11, NIV).  It was a haughty, prideful prayer—the kind of prayer we should always carefully avoid. Anytime we try to exalt ourselves above others, whose struggles we know little or nothing about, we invite only correction from God. On the other hand, the tax collector’s prayer is one we will do well to emulate: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13, NIV).

4)   “Surely not, Lord”

Peter was a slow learner. After the miraculous catch of fish, he told Jesus, “Depart from me.” In the upper room, he told Jesus, “You shall never wash my feet!” (John 13:8, NIV). When Jesus predicted that His disciples would desert Him, Peter vowed, “Even if all fall away, I will not” (Mark 14:29, NIV). Even after the resurrection, as Peter prayed on his roof and had a vision in which God commanded him to kill and eat non-kosher foods, Peter answered, “Surely not, Lord!” (Acts 10:14, NIV). He thought He had God and His ways pretty much figured out, so when God commanded something brand new, Peter reacted defiantly rather than obediently. “Surely not, Lord” is an indication that I think I know better than God, and that’s never a good look on a praying person. In fact, it is often an invitation for God to remind me of my proper place; as the ancient sage wrote, “God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2, NIV). So, far better than “Surely not” are two words from the prophet Isaiah: “Yes, Lord” (Isaiah 26:8, NIV). 

I must admit that I have prayed some of those prayers—maybe all four of them—in the past. But with God’s help, I hope not to do so ever again. 

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