Many Christians today are praying the wrong way, all too often focused on themselves than on the mission of God, influential preacher and bestselling author Francis Chan lamented.
It is no wonder that many prayers are ineffective and left unanswered when the subject matter is limited to a list of to do’s and selfish desires, he explained.
“James 4 says a lot of times you’ll ask and you don’t receive because what you’re asking for you’re asking to spend on your own passions and no one warned me about that,” Chan shared in his latest “BASIC” series, which premiered on Relevant Magazine’s website.
"BASIC" is a seven-part film series produced by the makers of the “NOOMA” films. It was created as a response to Chan’s frustrations with the modern church.
Challenging believers to examine the early church and return to the concept of church described in the Bible, the former megachurch pastor teamed up with Flannel to help Christians rethink how they do church.
The newest “BASIC” film focuses on prayer, an area where Chan feels Christians today lack much knowledge on.
“I thought you could just ask for anything, say anything ... you know He’s like a big genie up there,” Chan said. “[But] you got to be careful what you say.”
When the Crazy Love author was first taught how to pray, people advised him to just say whatever came to his mind.
“And so I did,” he remembered. “I would just start opening my mouth and talk to God about whatever and there’s some truth to that but I noticed in the Bible there are also some warnings that we have to be very careful how we approach God. For example, Ecclesiastes 5 says guard yourselves, guard your steps when you go near to the house of God. And it says draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools who do not know that they are doing evil.”
Don’t just go and start talking, Chan exhorted. Come silently, come slowly, be careful.
“As I look at the way the disciples prayed back then and as I look at the way Jesus taught us to pray, I realize it’s a lot different from what I was taught. Prayer to them was really different, they asked for things that were different from what I typically asked for.”
Seeing the disconnect between his – and much of the modern church’s – prayers and the prayers of the early church 2,000 years ago, Chan began to earnestly study prayer again for the past few years.
Upon examination of the Lord’s Prayer, he discovered two things: he never really thought about what was being said and Jesus’ requests were markedly different from his own.
“Think about these phrases now that we’ve been saying for years that maybe we didn’t mean,” Chan implored. “We used to say ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ We’re asking for our daily provision.”
“Truth is, I think, if God just gave us our daily bread, many of us would be angry. That’s all you’re going to give me? You’re just going to give me enough to sustain me for today? What about tomorrow or next year or 10, 20, 30 years from now? I want to know that I’m set up. And yet Jesus says just pray for your daily provisions.”
He also looked at the phrase “lead me not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
“Haven’t you prayed that at times in your life when you were actually still were holding on to some temptation? Maybe you weren’t even ready to let go of all of your sin and yet you’re saying it. It’s like your words weren’t matching up to your heart.”
And the one statement that scared him the most: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
“We’re saying ‘God forgive me in the same way as I have forgiven others,’” Chan explained. “That scares me because I know I’ve prayed that while being angry at other people. I know I’ve prayed that prayer while I was still unforgiving. And so now when I’m telling God forgive me in the same way as I forgive other people, see, we need to be warned about this kind of stuff.”
“We shouldn’t just be making these vows to God and saying things we don’t understand,” the former Cornerstone Community Church pastor stressed. “See when you pray, is your desire the same desire as God’s? Are you after this kingdom are you after this mission or are you after your own kingdom?”
So often, he noted, Christians pray “my kingdom come, my will be done.”
“We have to check ourselves and ask am I concerned about the things of God?”
Chan admitted to making a lot of mistakes in prayer as well. A lot of times in church, prayer became a “transition thing” used between praise and sermon, or an ending for a service, not a congregation of people coming before the presence of God.
But the beautiful thing was that God was a God of grace, the preacher emphasized. “He heard all those prayers I prayed in ignorance and He [forgave] me.”
Chan is excited about the idea of Christians learning to pray the right way and making it a way of life rather than a ritual.
“What if you got together with a group of people and you knew that this group of people they all loved God, they all feared Him and they really were living for God’s kingdom and His mission?” he posed.
“And imagine if you came collectively with people … you all pray together and say our Father you’ve seen our lives, you know that we care about your kingdom we want your kingdom here, we want you to change us, we want you to change the people around us. Can you imagine praying with that type of unity?”
“God is looking for people like that,” the senior pastor encouraged, people who are “committed to Him because He wants to strengthen them and answer their prayers.”
“He’s longing to show off His power but maybe we haven’t seen His power because we haven’t been praying for the things that He wanted us to pray for.”
If Christians began to pray for the things that God cared about, the church would begin to see the supernatural just like the apostles did, Chan believes.
“Isn’t there a beauty as you hear that ‘what if,’ and then to see Him answer your prayers? It wouldn’t be a chore, it would be what you live for,” he said.
Chan currently resides in San Francisco with his family. He recently launched a new local ministry in San Francisco called San Francisco City Impact seeking to "holistically heal and transform the community through two types of work: urgent relief works and preventive works."