There is no wrong way to pray. Some prayers are better than others, but no prayers are wrong when offered sincerely. Even a less than sincere prayer, one that is dishonest because it does not reflect what the person praying cares about but instead is shaped by concern for the opinions of those in authority or those standing nearby, is a worthwhile prayer. It is likely rooted in some part of the person’s being that does seek a connection with God. And even that tiny root matters.
Prayer goes wrong to the extent that one avoids honesty in prayer. We have sometimes been taught that God only wants our purest thoughts, our noblest intentions, our positive feelings. Nothing could be further from the truth. What God wants when we pray is us, our entire being, who we are in every way we are. The frequent description in scripture of God being a “jealous” God is pointing to this divine desire. God wants us to hold nothing back from him, whether we value it or not.
So the wrong prayer is the prayer that has been shined and arranged and cleaned up to look just right, eliminating in the process whatever is deemed unsuitable for the “holy” act of praying. God prefers wholeness over holiness; in fact, wholeness is ultimately what is holy. God wants every last bit of us to come before him when we pray, for he oversaw our creation and pronounced it good. If who and what we are is good enough for God, then it should be good enough to meet any human measure.