Prayer is important to many people, Christian or not. It seems to be intertwined with human DNA to seek divine help. Prayer happens everywhere: at shrines, in exam rooms, on the football pitch, in mosques, during travel, and in churches. The Bible itself is full of prayers and praying people. In fact, prayer is at the heart of all communications between God and his people. Such is the seriousness of prayer. But prayer can also be right or wrong, sound or erroneous, even heretical. Thus a proper understanding and theology of prayer is crucial for a Christian. It matters to God how we pray.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism provides an excellent, biblical definition of prayer. It describes prayer as, “offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.”

It matters to God how we pray.

But recently I’ve noticed a huge emphasis among Christians on praying that casts out, binds, and calls down fire from heaven to burn Satan along with other problems in their lives. This practice is built on the presupposition that Jesus gave believers authority and power over spirits, principalities, and heavenly beings. Thus the believer is encouraged to bind and cast whatever stands in the way of their progress or prosperity. Through prayer, they call down heavenly fire against Satan, as well as those spiritual beings in league with him. However, casting and binding doesn’t seem to be the primary shape of most biblical prayers.

Believers Don’t Hold the Keys, Jesus Does

To support the above practices, Christians and especially preachers will often appeal to Matthew 16:19. They understand this verse to mean that Jesus gave believers the keys of heaven and hell, to bind and to loose anything above or below. However this understanding of Jesus’ words isn’t only a bad one, but it reveals a horribly presumptuous view of mortal man.

Jesus possesses all authority. We merely share in that privilege, by cooperating in the gospel proclamation.

When Jesus spoke to Peter, he referred to the gospel that he’d entrusted to them, the disciples. Whoever rejects the gospel—as preached by the apostles and the church today—is shut out of the kingdom of heaven. Thus, Jesus words there aren’t really about believers’ authority. Rather, they highlight the power of the gospel. This gospel is the power unto salvation (Romans 1:16). It is in faithful preaching of this gospel that an entrance into the kingdom of God is proclaimed (2 Peter 1:11).

As it looks in scripture, believers don’t hold the keys. Jesus does. He possesses all power and authority. We merely share in that privilege, by cooperating in the gospel proclamation. Recall John’s vision of Jesus in Revelation 1:18. The risen Lord proclaims: “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Believers shouldn’t spend time casting and binding Satan or their other problems into the lake of fire. This doesn’t fit the teachings of scripture on how we should pray.

Learn from Jesus’ Simple Teaching on Prayer

In John 17, Jesus provides us with a model for prayer. Or consider Jesus’ response to the disciples request: “Master, teach us how to pray” (Luke 11:1-4; see Matthew 6:9-13). Likewise, Paul wrote down his prayers for other believers, in the epistles (for example Colossians 1:9-14; Philippians 1:9-11). Excessive commitment in prayer to casting out Satan and binding demons in hell demonstrates a misguided understanding of prayer. We would do well to learn from Jesus’ simple teaching, praying in the Spirit with understanding (1 Corinthians 14:15).

Excessive commitment to casting out Satan demonstrates a misguided understanding of prayer.

Whether Christians command Satan and the demons into hell, or a bottomless pit, or to the wilderness, the fact is that he never goes there. It is ironic Satan might actually be deceiving Christians through the prayers intended to cast him into the hell fire. The very Satan they bind and call down fire upon, holds them captive and deceives their hearts with erroneous beliefs. He fills them with false confidences, believing lies about God’s truth on how to pray. Satan misleads and confuses, corrupting spirituality. He can do this through false prayers as much as he can through false teaching.

God’s Truth Needs to Transform Our Prayers

We can ably learn from the other faithful biblical characters on how to pray. Truth and soundness of theology is as paramount to prayer as it is to preaching.

Truth and soundness of theology is as paramount to prayer as it is to preaching.

While it appears spiritual, it is erroneous to call fire on believers’ problems. We don’t bind demons or Satan in hell. Because we simply don’t have such authority or power. You cannot command Satan. Thus hours of prayer spent in these ways is corrupt and unbiblical. Christians must grasp a proper theology of the nature of their enemy, spiritual warfare, and prayer. Ephesians 6 is a good place to make a start in this understanding. For at the start of that epistle Paul reminds us that all powers, principalities in heaven and earth bow to Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:21). Not you and me.

Let us always be humble in prayer, asking for God’s power and wisdom as we engage spiritual opposition. Ultimately, regardless of how long our prayers last and or how many scriptures we cite, if our prayers aren’t shaped by God’s truth, they’re false and damning.