Why We Struggle to Pray

I don’t think I speak out of turn when I say that each of us struggles to pray. 

You may be a saint in Christ who has journeyed long through the life of faith, or you may be new to following after Jesus, but each of us knows that we don’t pray as we should. Even the mightiest of prayer warriors today, when reading through the old prayers of the Puritans of old, knows we stand in the shadows of the giants of faith.

All who have been brought to life by the saving work of Christ are new creations, made for communion with the Triune God; the old life is gone, a new life has begun! And yet the vestiges of the old life cling to us so closely that the means of grace given to strengthen our faith become burdens that are found difficult and left untried.

Why do we struggle so with prayer? The simple answer is this: Sin. It is sin that keeps us from God, sin that keeps those who are made for glory wallowing in the mire, sin that drowns out the quiet voice of prayer with the clamor of the world.

In order to combat this sin which keeps us from prayer, let us examine, briefly, some of the ways sin affects our praying.

5 Reasons we don’t pray

  1. We think too little of God

    This may be our greatest sin.  We simply think too little of God. That can mean we either don’t think of God as often as we ought, or we think God too little, or both.  We don’t desire God, we don’t seek Him out, we aren’t captivated by His glory. 
    I’ve seen people scour their house and spend days in advance of a friend or family member coming to visit, and their schedules are reworked entirely so that they can spend time with the one they love. We’ll spend hundreds of dollars to go watch a game to see our favorite athlete, or go to hear someone in concert, coming back wearing their merchandise. But to spend 5 minutes in prayer with their Heavenly Father, with the creator of the universe, with their Lord and Savior is just too much to ask.
    Thomas Watson, one of those old Puritans, nails us perfectly, when he wrote, “Jesus went more willingly to the cross than we do to the throne of grace.”
    Let that sink in for a minute.
    How small our affections for are toward God, how little we esteem the one who came to save us from our sins, that we do not turn to Him in prayer.
    If you want to grow in prayer, think highly of God.  Look upon Him in glory, think of His steadfast love for you in Christ Jesus, and praise Him in prayer!

  2. We disobey his commands

    We are like our first father, like Adam, disobeying the very command of God. God told Adam that he was not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and Adam ate, falling into disobedience and rebellion.  Throughout scripture, we are commanded to pray:
    “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;” Isaiah 55:6
    “Pray without ceasing,” 1 Thessalonians 5:17
    “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:6
    “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,” Ephesians 6:18
    “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6
    “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;” 1 Timothy 2:8
    We don’t pray because in our sin, we disobey God.
    If you want to grow in prayer, see prayer as an act of joyful obedience to God’s command.

  3. We don’t trust God or His Word

    Not only do we struggle with obedience, we also struggle with doubts. Our doubts, our faithlessness, keeps us from turning to God in prayer.  God has has promised to hear us in prayer,
    2 Chronicles 7:14 If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
    Psalm 10:17 O LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear
    1 John 5:14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.
    God also promises that when we ask in Christ name, he will give to us all that we ask:
    Matthew 18:19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.
    John 16:23-24 “In that day you will not question Me about anything Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.
    To not seek the provision of God in prayer is simply faithlessness.  We do not trust God, and so we do not turn to God in prayer.
    If you want to grow in prayer, then look to the ways that the Lord has proven Himself good, gracious, and faithful in the past.  Every promise of God is Yes and Amen in Jesus. He has shown you that as almighty God he is able, and He has proven that as your heavenly Father he is willing.  Faithfully turn to Him in prayer.

  4. We trust too much in ourselves

    In connection to the previous point, we don’t seek God’s provision in prayer because we think we can do without prayer, that we can provide for what we need on our own.  Again, this is an echo of the fall, Adam thought he could become like God, determining Good and Evil, right and wrong, and so he took the fruit.  We see the paycheck or the awards and accolades of man, and we boast in our accomplishments, and think we have the power to provide for ourselves.  What need do we have that we have not met? Why do we need to pray?
    Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread.  Everything we need, life, breath, food, shelter; all is from the hand of God. Our wisdom, our strength, our ability to accomplish the work set before us, it must come from God. Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.  Marin Luther is noted for saying, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
    If you want to grow in prayer, think less of yourself, and see God as the source of your every need.  There is no concern so great, no care so small, that we should not take it to the Lord in prayer.  McCheyne, another Puritan, once taught, “for every one look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” That’s a good place to start.

  5. Our hearts are in the wrong place

    So often we get frustrated because our prayers are not answered the way we want them to be, so we give up praying.  We think we know better than God what we need, and when prayer doesn’t get us what we want, we leave it behind. James 4:3-4 teaches, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
    Prayer does have great power, but the power does not lie in changing God, or even necessarily in changing the world around us.  The greatest power in prayer is that it brings us to rest in and trust the sovereign God to whom we pray.  We put all things into His hands. He is able to heal, and He is also able to work His good purposes in the midst of sickness and loss. He is able to deliver, even though His deliverance leads us through the valley of the shadow of death.
    If you want to grow in prayer, set your affections upon the Lord, delight yourself in the Him, yearn for His glory. When your greatest delight is to see God glorified in your life, to see the name of Christ exalted, He will be sure to answer that prayer!

Beloved, may you grow in prayer, delighting in the sweet fellowship with God for which you were created!


Why I Struggle to Pray

“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.