(And why those reasons don't hold up)
Last year I contributed an article on why we should pray—because prayer is powerful and effective. But more often than not, we find ourselves wrestling with the exact opposite side of the equation: not praying, not wanting to pray, or simply struggling in regularity of prayer. After all, if you ask most Christians, they’ll tell you the one area of their walk with Christ that could always use improvement is their prayer life. None of us feel as though we have “arrived” when it comes to prayerful communion with our heavenly Father—but few of us do the searching work of pondering why that is. Honestly, if we give it some thought, it is rather obvious why prayer is hard and why we struggle to do it. Here are five of the most significant reasons why we don't pray:
- We can’t see our “conversation partner”.
God is unseen. He is a spirit, and while he's everywhere, we can’t look him in the eye, hear him respond, and engage him like we engage anyone else we find ourselves talking to. Prayer is inevitably an act of faith, because unlike most other activities of the Christian experience, there is nothing about it that can be grasped with our senses. Sometimes it simply “feels” like we’re alone, talking to the ceiling. Of course that’s not true, but it is what our eyes-of-sight tell us. Jesus’ perspective on this reason for not praying is not about what we see, but about what God sees! (Matt 6:6 - “pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”) What a motivation to pray: God sees, even if we don't.
- It’s uncomfortable!
God is holy, and we are not. To go before the One who knows all and sees all, where all is laid bare before him, and not experience some measure of discomfort may reveal we don’t understand our sinfulness or his holiness. Who among us wants to hold up the filthy rags of Isaiah 64:6 before the righteous One? Prayer is a walking in and before the light, even while tainted with sin and stain. The remedy to such aversion of our sinfulness being exposed, however, is of course the Gospel itself. As John says in his first letter, “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1) Notice the connection to Christ’s praying for us, his righteousness, and our ability to go before our gracious God in heaven in this verse and its surrounding context. The panacea for our filthiness compared to God’s perfection, is our holiness in Christ. So let us flee to the Holy Father in prayer, robed in the holiness of his Son.
- We implicitly think it is a waste of time.
Okay, hardly any of us will explicitly state this, for it is bald unbelief in the power and usefulness of prayer. But if we’re honest, this doubt is at the back of our mind when we don’t commit ourselves to consistent prayer. We somehow think that God won’t answer—that he’s stingy with his mercies. Or that prayer doesn’t work—it doesn’t change anything anyway. Maybe God hears, but it certainly doesn’t appear like our meager little prayers amount to much. Perhaps we tie ourselves into theological pretzels, thinking that God is sovereign anyway, so what does it really matter whether we pray or not, he’s going to do what he pleases regardless. But the Word flies in the face of all of these objections. It speaks of his liberality in giving us Christ, and by extension, will he not freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32) It speaks of the certainty of the Lord hearing us in Christ and definitely answering (Mark 11:24). And James speaks of us lacking because we do not ask by faith (James 4:2-3) but the certainty of receiving when the opposite is true (James 1:5-6). God himself has put the lie to this third nagging doubt and reservation.
- It’s easier to pretend like we’re pious, than to actually walk in piety.
There is a real temptation to live our faith before the onlooking world as compared to walking in a vital, living, ongoing relationship with our Lord who is unseen. Private prayer is a litmus test of how thoroughly we believe our communion with Christ to be. The pharisees loved putting their prayer life on display, and were strongly rebuked for it (Matt 6:5, 23:14). While we may be a far cry from the hypocrisy Jesus was condemning in those passages, we probably find it easier to pray with and before others than we do in secret. It is good to examine why that is. Are we relying on our brothers and sisters to help strengthen our communion with Jesus, or is the public setting the only place our prayers are uttered? Let us remember Matt 6:6 and John 9:31, which warmly invite us to commune with our Lord in private and assure us we are heard and answered by him.
- I can’t get him to do my bidding.
Once again, few of us would ever be so crass as to explicitly think these words, let alone actually speak them aloud. But this is how we often approach prayer in our flesh. We desire our will to be done. The Israelites once thought they could put God in a box along these lines (1 Sam. 4) and it didn’t work out very well for them (to say the least)! James warns us similarly that we must not ask in prayer that we might spend it upon ourselves (James 4:3), for such a selfish approach reveals that we are treating God like a genie, or worse yet, like the pagans who seek to manipulate their gods. Let us instead delight ourselves in him (Psalm 37:4) and pray according to his will (1 John 5:14), and he will surely answer and will give us the desires of our hearts!