For all this time, I thought I was praying. At times, I was even impressed with my prayers. And oh, the fear the would beset me if I neglected to pray! Essentially it was fear that drove me to prayer. My prayer-life was fear-driven because I believed that if I didn’t pray at least once a day, some tragedy would strike me or my family. I considered prayer to be a duty that had to be fulfilled, or else…
I had a myriad of misconceptions concerning prayer. The reason was simple: I was a church-goer, but I never knew the Lord Jesus as my Saviour. I thought I did. I would consider it an insult if someone told me I didn’t know Him, but it was only after I had my saving encounter with Him that I realised I never knew God as He revealed Himself in the Lord Jesus.
Because of this lack of relationship with God, my views on prayer, among other things, were wrong. My understanding of prayer was marred by false religious indoctrination. For one thing, I believed that I express my respect towards God by addressing Him as “Thee” and “Thou.” God somehow got stuck in the Victorian Era and preferred that way of speaking to any other mudink . However, as I learnt more about Him through His Word, I discovered that honouring God has very little to do with addressing Him in Victorian English, and everything to do with loving Him by obeying Him and loving others. I’m not saying that addressing Him as “Thou” or “Thee” is wrong. It’s just that I’ve learnt that it is more important to God that we express our faith in Him through love. God looks at the heart, not the accent or the dialect.
Moreover, I believed posture during prayer was also an expression of respect towards God. In my understanding it was very disrespectful to sit and pray, unless you have some kind of debilitating disease. Standing up straight or kneeling down, folding your hands, bowing your head and closing your eyes were all the things God looked at and required before He listened to our prayers.
It is almost laughable now, but I recall my days in church, where the preacher would first cast a critical glance over the congregation before he started praying. He did this to ensure everyone was adhering to the above-mentioned external “rules” of prayer. A killer-stare would often meet the one who ignored these regulations. In addition, people assumed a really angry look on their faces as soon as prayer started. This was to show everyone else how serious they were about the prayer. The more “serious” you were, the more spiritual you were. Sadly, I noticed even little toddlers imitating these angered expressions during prayer. Concluding the prayer by saying “Amen!” as loudly as possible, was another indication that you were a faithful child of God. These loud “amen’s” were said in unison after the opening prayer or sermon and often jolted visitors. One person remarked that the echoing of “amen” reminded her of a regiment that has been trained and pre-programmed to say the same thing at exactly the same time.
In essence, how you “appeared” to others when you prayed were given much more attention than how God saw you. Opening prayers to services were always started with “In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…” If not, God won’t be present in the service. He is only present when He hears the “magic words”. According to this line of thinking, God is not omnipresent.