I never gave cynicism a second thought until I read a quote that made me realize how it could easily apply to me and actually sabotage my prayers.
H. Norman Wright says “The mind becomes addicted to being ‘right.’ In this far-less-than-perfect world, one of the easiest ways to be right is to predict failure––especially for ourselves. The mind likes being right. When asked, ‘Would you rather be right or be happy?’ some people––who really take the time to consider the ramifications of being ‘wrong’––have trouble deciding.”
Is wanting to be right causing us to be cynical about prayer? Are we so afraid of looking stupid for hoping in God that we’d rather be miserable? Hey, at least I was right!
This gives insight to why it’s easy to temper my prayers sometimes. I don’t want to pray big things because if they don’t work out, I’ll be less disappointed.
Today, I want to talk about how we let cynicism hold back our prayer life and how to move forward. Before we do that though, you may be wondering if you’re cynical. Check out these questions Jennie Allen shared in her book Get Out of Your Head to see if any apply to you:
– Do you get annoyed when people are optimistic?
– When someone is nice to you, do you wonder what that person wants?
– Do you constantly feel misunderstood?
– When things are going well, are you waiting for the bottom to fall out?
– Do you quickly notice people’s flaws?
– Do you worry about getting taken advantage of?
– Are you guarded when you meet someone new?
– Do you wonder why people just can’t get it together?
– Are you often sarcastic?
Quite a reality check, no? I remember reading Paul E. Miller’s book, A Praying Life almost 10 years ago and he had a whole chapter on cynicism. And to be honest, I didn’t get why he was so triggered by cynicism in his prayer life. But as I’ve read more, and as I’m faced with my own cynicism and desire to be right, I get why he had to address it so thoroughly in a prayer book.
It’s an absolute prayer killer.
Here are 6 ways cynicism will sabotage our prayers.
1. If our hope is groundless and hard things come, we will stop praying.
Miller says “Cynicism begins, oddly enough, with too much of the wrong kind of faith, with naive optimism or foolish confidence.” A sturdy faith and confidence in God is based on what is true and able to be known in the Bible and even our experiences with God to some extent. If we are simply optimistic with no real foundation for our faith, the smallest thing will wash it away.
In my book on prayer, I spend the first chapter talking about our expectations of God because if they are false, the smallest things will have us disappointed in God with no real basis. We could be turned off to prayer for good over something we thought God was supposed to do and failed to do that was never actually promised to us.
2. If we believe God won’t do anything, even if we believe, oh that would have happened even if I hadn’t prayed, we will stop praying.
Do you truly believe your prayers matter to God? Do you believe God responds to you? Do you believe He acts in response to your prayers? We can start backing down real fast here. We think that to say yes means we must have power over God. But to say no seems faithless? Why would He tell us to pray and ask if He wasn’t ready to respond?
It’s confusing for sure and I have way more thoughts on this in chapter ____ of Pray Confidently and Consistently and our video study Developing a Fluency of Prayer but for now, I’ll say this: We have a beautiful tension to manage. Our prayers don’t control God. We can never force the arm of God, nor would we want to, but God does do things because of our prayers. God has called us to pray for a reason so we cannot logically assume that we shouldn’t pray because it does nothing. God isn’t a sub giving busy work. He’s our Father who gives good gifts (Matthew 7:11, James 4:2).
3. If we let no’s convince us we were right, we will stop praying.
I knew it! I knew prayer didn’t work/matter! Told ya! Does it really feel validating to share those words? This goes back to the original quote I started this post with. In our fallen world, surrounded by sin, the “safest” bet is to assume nothing can change. So a “no” feels like our hall pass to keep thinking that way. It reminds me of the way my kids can respond to each other. I knew you weren’t going to do _____. It’s a total dig. It’s reveling in their failure to come through on something. I was right. And they should feel really bad because I knew they would fail me.
Is this really how we want to approach our loving God? Now I share this and want to make it clear. We don’t need to add more fear to “praying right” here. Though we never want to disrespect God, He’s incredibly gracious to us and wants us to come to Him with every feeling we have, even the rough ones. BUT I do think this attitude puts a hard stop to our prayers if we aren’t willing to wrestle it out with God and instead, take it as truth.
4. We don’t want to appear phony, so if we’re cynical, we will stop praying.
Miller said “If you add an overlay of prayer to a cynical or even weary heart, it feels phony. For the cynic, life is already phony; you feel as if you are just contributing to the mess.”
Cynics will commonly say, I’m not cynical, I’m just being realistic. There’s a rational thought process that says, if I pray with all these cynical thoughts, I’m just being a phony. And I get it! But it’s cutting short the potential that growing our faith could transform our cynical ways. And you know what the craziest part is? Luke 17:5 shows the disciples asking the Lord to do it meaning it happens as we come to the Father in prayer and not apart from Him.
5. If we believe a set of rules gate keep the best prayer lives, we’ll make it legalistic, and we will stop praying.
I get questions often about how to pray in really specific detail and I love sharing tips but I also worry that giving too detailed a response will feel like a formula and create fear that coming to the Father is far more complicated than it is. A spirit of legalism can permeate our prayer lives and instead of praying hope-filled prayers, we start trying to pull the right strings thinking God responds to that.
Charles Swindoll said in his book, The Grace Awakening, “Suspicious by nature and negative in style, they are determined to find any flaw, failure, or subtle weakness in your life and to point it out. There may be twenty things they could affirm; instead, they have one main goal; to make sure you never forget your weaknesses. Grace killers are big on the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ in their advice. Instead of praising, they pounce!” Charles Swindoll
He’s referring to how legalism can cause us to judge others to a standard God didn’t create but I think this can apply to our prayer life too. If I want to get cynical and start poking holes in my prayers, I could easily convince myself that I might as well just quit.
6. If we’d rather be protected from disappointment, we will stop praying.
What’s the old saying? Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t? We’d rather stick with what we know even if it’s bad for fear that the unknown is worse. Allen said “Cynicism is always driven by fear of the future.” Yikes! Think about that for a second. If we fear that God most likely has terrible things for us is bigger than our hope that He has good things, we will live a cynical life towards God. Why would we pray to someone we feel is out to get us? I’ll be clear just in case it isn’t already, we will have suffering in this world, but there is a big difference in assuming God is sending us through the Valley of Death instead of walking with us through it.
Allen goes on to say “Cynicism is destroying our ability to delight in the world around us and fully engage with others. God has an abundance of joy and delight for us, and we’re missing it with arms crossed.” I don’t want to live arms crossed at the goodness God has for me. And friend, part of that goodness God send by way of prayer.
So let’s talk about the paths of cynicism. Because even if that’s where we start, there is hope! 😉
Prayer requires hope. And hope requires faith. It can be small, mind you, but it requires faith. We aren’t sending letters to 5 different gods hoping at least one responds. We’re putting our whole hope in God. That He is good and cares for us. And that can be scary, but it can also be the best decision we ever make with our lives.
So on this path, to choose hope, requires us to give God a chance in really knowing Him. We don’t make unfounded negative assumptions just because it’s easier or feels safe. We do this through studying Scripture, talking with those further in their faith journey and communicating our doubts with God and helpful friends. That hope can lead us to more prayer and that’s amazing!!
When we see God work in the form of yeses, it can grow our faith. But there will come a day when God says no and that gives us another chance to detour to cynicism, which is a dead end. The other choice though, is to let it stretch our faith. It will lead to growth but it doesn’t come as naturally as growing from yeses and can be painful.
To continue to hope after God says no requires us to not lean on our own understanding and trust God though what we see wants to cause us to doubt. But that friends, is faith. Trusting in what we cannot see. Believing that God’s Word is true. I know that’s easier said than done but I believe this is why we need a personal intimacy and conversation with God. His presence is what changes us and when we get to know Him, we will see how real He is.
I’m not sure where you are on this path, but hope will not disappoint. And I’ll be honest, even saying those words, I felt a twinge of well you really don’t know, do you? Because I don’t want to be wrong. But more than anything, I want more God in my life and if being what I think is “right” means I reject prayer to protect my own pride, how foolish would I be to do that?
I’m choosing hope. I’m choosing prayer. And I hope you do too.