“Pray without ceasing.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:17)
I heard it said once that if you want to embarrass a Pastor, ask him about his prayer life.
The sad fact of the matter is, even as pastors, we struggle to pray. You probably expect that pastors have got a handle on these spiritual disciplines, after all, we’ve got our Master of Divinity hanging on the wall. Truth is, though, the life of a pastor is just like the life of any other Christian. Pastors wrestle with sin, struggle with discipline, and must constantly come back under the Word of God for “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). No Pastor has arrived at that point where they have got Divinity Mastered – and those who tell you otherwise should be avoided.
All that to say, I struggle with prayer.
I hesitate to tell you this because 1) I am ashamed of the fact, and 2) I don’t want you to use that as an excuse (Well, the pastor struggles with prayer, so I don’t have to pray…). Still, I think that as a Pastor, I should live the Christian life in such a way that demonstrates a life of Discipleship, through what I say and do. Discipleship is a journey, and that journey has ups and downs, hard lessons to be learned, and there are times when each of us stumble and fall. To model Discipleship that is so polished and perfected is a lie – not even the Disciples in the Gospel followed Jesus perfectly.
So, back to prayer… I struggle with prayer. Sometimes I forget to pray. There, I said it. Sometimes I lay down and night and I’m asleep before my head hits the pillow, and I’m up with the alarm rushing for a busy day – and nary a prayer has been uttered. Sometimes I’m frustrated, preoccupied, or I just don’t stop to take the time to do it. This isn’t always the case. Often I do pray, and I try to maintain a daily habit of time before the face of God in prayer. But then there are days when I find I don’t pray – and that disturbs me.
I hate this about myself. I know that prayerlessness is faithlessness. Prayerlessness is disobedience. Prayerlessness is godlessness.
So why don’t I pray? I ask this so that I can identify in my own life, and possibly yours, the reasons we struggle to pray so that we can, hopefully, grow in prayer. Here are a couple of thoughts:
It feels like I’m not doing anything. When there is a problem I want to fix it. I want to address the issue, talk to those affected, work to bring help, relief, and resolution. And so it seems counterproductive to stop and pray. Shouldn’t I be doing something, anything, instead?
What I forget is that prayer is the most important thing I can do. Martin Luther once said on a busy day, “I have so much to do that I will spend the first three hours in prayer.” Prayer brings us in touch with the One who is able to do all things, the One who makes our actions effective, the One who empowers and supports our love. Any action that does not begin in prayer will ultimately rely on your strength and power to sustain it.
I’m not good enough to pray. I can’t work with a dirty desk. If I’ve got a day of writing ahead of me, I’ve got to clear the desk first, remove all distractions, then I can get to work. We often assume the same attitude with prayer, that we’ve got to get our hearts right before we can come to God. Silly rabbit, that’s what prayer is for.
I don’t get anything out of praying. For some reason we’ve come to expect that every experience of prayer should culminate in some ecstatic mystical delight that satisfies our existential longing for communion with God. We should feel swept away, tingly, overcome with the moment of prayer.
What we fail to remember is that, as in any relationship, oftentimes in prayer before God we find ourselves dealing with the daily, ordinary, pedestrian affairs. We come to Him asking for our daily bread. Sometimes we find ourselves with bread to satisfy our needs; other times we discover steak, wine, and desert. But, most usually, it’s the bread that we need that we find in prayer.
My mind wanders and I don’t know what to say. You know how it is. You sit down to pray, and 10 seconds in, you’re already thinking about your bills, your schedule, your kids, the ballgame – everything but prayer. Maybe you refocus, and get back to your praying, and a minute in, you start dozing off. Even the most focused of us can get Spiritual ADD when we close our eyes in prayer.
Ultimately, we are undisciplined and unfocused in our prayers. The disciples struggled with this, they couldn’t stay awake to pray with Jesus in the Garden. We hate the idea of reading prayers, and think we have to forge out on our own, and then we ramble and mutter and really say nothing at all. We think of all the random things that come to mind while in prayer as distractions, when in reality they may be the Spirit’s prompting us to actually pray for those things. We are spiritually lazy, and we give up too easily. We find opening our hearts to be a difficult thing, and so we offer up a few platitudes and deprive ourselves of the sweet communion with God that fervent prayer can offer.
I don’t really need God. I don’t think anyone would really ever come out and say this, but a prayerless life is a life without God. When we don’t pray, we are telling ourselves, I can take care of this on my own. There’s no need to bother God with these day to day issues; I can handle it. I’ll wait to ask God for help when things really get bad.
Genuine prayer is humbling, dependent, and needy. Genuine prayer to God is like a beggar pleading for food. “Give us this day our daily bread” Jesus taught us to pray. We are, whether we acknowledge it or not, constantly dependent upon God. Prayer brings us back to the reality that no matter how successful we may be, we need His help, His provision, His grace, His mercy, His strength, His love, His wisdom, His everything.
I don’t think God will hear/answer my prayer. Yes, I know that throughout Scripture God heard the prayers of His people, and He promises to hear our prayers through Christ who intercedes for us. I know the stories of answered prayer; I’ve even seen prayers answered in my own life. Still, maybe God will let me down this time. Can I really trust Him? Maybe God will not grant what I want… no, NEED… or His plan will be different than mine.
We doubt God’s goodness, we forget God’s faithfulness, we do not trust His provision and so we do not pray. We think we know better than God what we need in this life, we have our plans worked out and all we really want is His approval, not His will. So we insulate ourselves: God can’t let us down if we never ask anything of Him.
I love my sin more than I love God. That is a hard truth to accept, but it is often the case. I love the power that a bitter and unforgiving heart gives me over others. I love the immediate gains that selfishness and indulgence offers.
Coming into the presence of God reveals my sinfulness and demands a healing. Praying for my enemy forces me to see him no longer as an enemy but someone to love. Praying for healing in my marriage requires me to accept my responsibility in its brokenness. Prayer doesn’t change the world, it changes me. And the old me doesn’t want to change.
Okay, so I’ve been brutally honest. But isn’t that where we need to start with God? Maybe you can relate, perhaps I’m alone here. The fact remains, we need to pray. We need to cast aside these hindrances that would keep us from coming with confidence before the throne of God. Christ has opened the way, let us draw near to Him.