There’s one particular aspect of discipleship that too often gets too little use, maybe not used at all, or perhaps just used in the wrong way. It is a tremendously important aspect to our discipleship and very integral to our development as sons and daughters of God. But it is, admittedly, a difficult aspect. In fact, one particular brother once said something along the lines of “it is one of the hardest aspects, if the not THE hardest aspect of a disciple’s life to learn and to effectively implement, and the majority of people who are in the Truth struggle with it to a large degree.” We’re talking about prayer, and it was our bro. John Martin who made that comment. It’s something that initially seems all too familiar and so easy, but in retrospect, something that perhaps we’ve found ourselves struggling to really find a real, meaningful place in our lives.
Prayer IS difficult, but why is this? Why do we at different points during our walk in the Truth find prayer do hard? We all know what prayer is, it’s communication with our Heavenly Father — why is that difficult? Let’s explore this question for a moment.
There are many reasons for the difficulty, but perhaps it has something to do with the fact that all around us, at school, at work, in public, in people’s homes, nearly everywhere prayer has become a very unimportant part of daily life. Who really sees people praying anymore? Do you? I don’t. It’s rare, if at all. Prayer has become something of a taboo activity in the times we’re living. It seems like it’s been lost, and more than just lost, it’s been outlawed in places where it used to be commonplace.
So we may begin to wonder — is prayer a thing of the past? Is it really even that important anymore? Even if it is important, can it really fit into the 21st century’s code of ethics or even into the 21st century pace of life? We might start to think to ourselves: “It seems like a pretty silly thing to do, after all no one else really is doing it and besides, God knows what I’m thinking anyway, so there’s really no point.” The end result is, we may really start to question, consciously or subconsciously, whether prayer is essential or not, or if God really even want us to pray?
So it begs the question — is prayer really a necessary thing in the life of a believer? Here’s the nice thing, however: all the questions we’re going to ask today are going to have answers found in the Bible. It’s the guidebook to life, and it’s going to be our guide here. So is prayer really actually necessary?
Is prayer necessary?
Luke 18:1: “Men ought always to pray and not lose heart” — Jesus’ instruction is to pray always. HE was a man of prayer, wasn’t he? If prayer was necessary for him, who of us could really claim that it’s not so much for us? That would make no sense.
Rom 12:12: “Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer”
Eph 6:18: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication”
Col 4:2: “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving”
1Thess 5:17: “Pray without ceasing”
Now it doesn’t take much then to see that even a cursory glance at Scripture will show that prayer is indeed very necessary. The Bible is clear cut on this topic; it doesn’t leave us wondering, does it?
So yes, prayer is absolutely vital to discipleship, we’ve just seen that, but here’s the question that needs some answers. Why is prayer still so hard at times? Why can we so often be left with the unsettling feeling that we’re just not really doing as well as we would like to in this specific area? Why is that we can be so inconsistent, so up and down when it comes to prayer? Why is prayer so difficult?
Well, maybe I’m assuming too much, maybe you all don’t actually have any problems with prayer and with communication with God. I hope this true; but I also know this — we all suffer with the same fleshly nature, and I know that my nature likes to undermine and to undercut the need for prayer all too often, and I’ve got to believe some, if not all of us, find ourselves in that boat at different points as well.
It’s all too easy to turn prayer into something that it shouldn’t be. For example, it can become:
A ritualistic thing where we say the same thing the same way every time. There’s no real thought or feeling behind what we’re saying. Our mind isn’t actually in tune with the thoughts we are formulating in our brain and pretending to offer up in prayer and we aren’t really actually engaging with the Father in real communication. It’s not unlike the “Hail Marys” the Catholic Church likes to do. It’s just a repeated set of ritual words, said over and over.
A selfish thing where we just pray when we’re in a bind or in trouble or need something and that’s it. And on top of that, when God does answer prayers, how often do we ever stop to thank Him? Do we ever stop to praise God? Or is it all just about me and nothing about God?
A means to an end, where we just pray to satisfy the conscience. For example, we can’t eat before we say “prayers” so we just quickly mutter some words so we can eat, but all we can think about is the food on our plate and how good it smells and how good it will taste, so let’s hurry up and give a prayer. It’s just something we have to do. It’s just part of a checklist that helps us feel like we’re being real disciples of Christ. It’s just something we check off.
So, despite the fact that we know prayer is very important, it can still become all these things, can’t it? But the question is, why are there are all these things that prayer can become? Well, there are a number of reasons and we want to investigate some of them now and see if we can find answers for them.
In no particular order, eight reasons that will hinder our prayers and prayer life are:
“I don’t think God cares to hear me”
“I’m too busy, I don’t have time to pray”
“People might think I’m strange”
“I can’t talk to someone I can’t ever see”
“I don’t know what to pray for”
“I feel inadequate — I’m too sinful”
“I don’t feel God is answering me”
“I don’t really want to hear God’s answer”
As I mentioned before, there are answers for all of these difficulties, and the good news is, the Bible is going to provide us with the answers.
1. God WANTS us to pray to Him
This first reason that makes prayer difficult is one that is critical to work out because it’s fundamental to developing any sort of effective prayer life and it’s “I don’t think God cares to hear me.” It not uncommon to feel our existence is meaningless when we consider the greatness of God; so who are we to think God wants to hear from such insignificant people as you and I? But we must remember, God is our Father, we are His children. Just as our natural parents desire for us to speak with them, so too does God. God invites us to speak with Him and we should see this as a tremendous privilege and of great benefit to us personally. Psa 62:7-8 has this to say, “In God is my salvation and my glory; the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” Likewise, Phil 4:10 states, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” So the Scriptures indicate, don’t they, that God does want us to pray to Him, at all times, in the good and the bad.
But let’s make sure of this, so that we fully understand that while God does absolutely want us to pray to Him, that it is a two way street. We have to be listening back, and we need to be hearing God speak — and that’s done by reading His word, the Bible. Prov 28:9 gives us the following warning, “One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” God wants us to pray to Him, but it’s going to meaningless if we don’t listen for His answers by reading His words. James tells us in James 4:8, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” and we can read this as a promise. God will draw close to us, but let’s not forget that we have to hold up our side of the equation as well.
2. Don’t fit God around life, FIT LIFE AROUND GOD
The second area of difficulty that we listed is one that all too often surfaces, especially these days, and it’s “I’m too busy, I don’t have time to pray.” We can’t become where we’re just squeezing God in here or there rather than squeezing life into a God-focused existence. Every day is go, go, go — going here and there and we get to the end of it and we’re exhausted, we crawl into bed and think back on the past day and we haven’t done anything in respect to our God and so we feel bad and so we say a little prayer, meanwhile falling asleep half way through it — that’s when we’re trying to fit God into our lives instead of fitting life into a God-centered existence.
It’s a matter of priorities and it’s a matter of making the choice to not conform to the fast pace lifestyle of our day and age. We’re well aware of what Rom 12:2 says, “do not be conformed to this world…” We do not conform to the lifestyle of this day and age, including its fast pace mentality, because it will kill our spiritual lives. Earlier in Rom 8:5-6 we read, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” So maybe it’s a matter of re-evaluating where we’re spending our time and energy, maybe it’s a matter of doing some restructuring of our daily routines, and maybe it’s a matter of cutting out some activities in our lives so that we actually have time to put God at the center of our lives. What we’ll find is that it will make a world of difference.
3. We ARE strange, always have been
The third aspect of difficulty is one that hits close to home for me. It’s something that in the past has bugged me a lot and it’s the “people might think I’m strange” paranoia that all too often surfaces when we’re in public. The facts are, the true sons and daughters of God down throughout history have never really actually fit in — from the time of Noah, who built a huge boat when there was no water in sight, to the time of Christ who bore the shame on the cross when everyone thought he should have been king. And it’s not because we’re trying to be the odd man out, it’s because the ways of society don’t mesh with the ways of God, with the Truth of God, and so there’s a natural polarization that will occur. That’s just the way it is, and either we accept that we aren’t every really going to fit in, because we aren’t supposed to, or we just keep going on always worrying about looking strange.
What’s more important to us, doing the right thing and looking weird to the public, or doing the wrong thing and displeasing God? Whose opinion at the end of the day is going to matter more? Don’t let other peoples’ strange looks keep you from praying to your God.
We do not face the same physical persecution that some of our brothers and sisters do in this world, but perhaps in some small way we do suffer from verbal persecution, and the encouragement of our Lord on this is in Matt 5:10, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Likewise, in 1Pet 3:13 we read, “Who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?” The point is, we can’t let other peoples’ strange looks determine if we’re going to pray to God or not.
4. BY FAITH, we see God
The fourth reason that can make prayer difficult is a very real one, “I can’t talk to someone I can’t ever see.” Faith is key here: we need to develop an eye of faith and in doing so we will see God all around us, in everything. Heb 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” and later in verse 6, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
We need to grow in faith — it will make all the difference in how we view God relative to prayer. Faith makes prayer real, and prayer makes faith real, and the Bible is the foundation of all of it.
5. Don’t know WHAT TO PRAY FOR?…Let the Lord’s Prayer be our guide
Oftentimes, we find ourselves at a loss of what to actually pray for, and this is the fifth area of difficulty. The thing is, our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a model to follow, hasn’t he? Matt 6:9-13 details the Lord’s Prayer, and what is it that we learn from that example? We find that it begins and ends with God, with just a small part in the middle about us. So the first lesson is, we find that prayer should not be self-centered. It needs to be God-centered.
There are some major components to prayer, and the Lord’s Prayer lays down the template. Three of these major components are praise, thanksgiving, and petitions.
Praise, in short, is the acknowledging, verbally, of God’s greatness, power, wonder and might. Heb 13:15 tell us, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”
Thanksgiving is that aspect of prayer that can never be exhausted, because we have so much to be thankful for. Everything we have has been given to us, it’s not our own, so let’s show our thankfulness. In Psa 50:23 (ESV) we read, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies Me.” What do we thank Him for then? Well, we thank Him above all for the hope of life eternal, given to us through Christ Jesus, and for the forgiveness of sins. Additionally we thank Him for our health, our family, our ecclesia, our daily food and shelter: the list goes on.
When it comes to petitions, the thing to keep in mind is that it’s not all about us; we need to make our petitions about others. We pray for our brothers and sisters, for the brotherhood at large, even for our enemies. We also pray for the return of Christ. There are personal petitions as well, like asking for strength and guidance in specific circumstances or struggles. But there is also petitioning for forgiveness, which goes hand in hand with confession of sin — this demonstrates our understanding that we know we are not all right the way we are, and that God is actually right and not ourselves, and that only He can save us.
There in the Lord’s Prayer is a template that we can follow provided by the Lord, as are the other prayers of faithful men and women in the Scriptures.
6. We ARE inadequate, but God still wants to hear us
Now, the sixth difficulty that we listed is one that left unanswered can stunt our spiritual growth, and it’s where we don’t pray because “I feel inadequate — I’m too sinful.” If we’re waiting for the time when we feel righteous enough to approach God, then we’re going to be waiting for a long time. It’s the wrong frame of mind — it’s the type of thinking that bases our relationship with God on our own merits and goodness. It doesn’t have anything to do with that; the only reason we have a relationship with God is because He first loved us and He by His grace condescended to draw us close to Him. He wants us to respond to that act of grace by drawing close to Him in return, even in our weakness. Let’s not forget the tremendously comforting words in Psa 103:11-14 which say, “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.”
God knows our weaknesses, but He can, even in our weakness, make us strong. We certainly do hate the fact that we are sinful, but letting that fact cripple our walk only compounds the matter. We are sinful and do continually fall short, but the strength we need to overcome our sinful propensities will be found in continual prayer and Bible reading. This is how God would have it to be.
7. God WILL answer prayer — but be prepared for “yes” and “no” answers
The seventh and second to last difficulty that can hinder our prayers is “I don’t feel God is answering me.” It’s not unusual to feel that what we are praying about is not really being heard, and so we may lose heart and not pray at all. What we come to learn is that God works on a different time table from the one we have, and in ways other than we may think appropriate. But the point is, God will answer our prayers — we just need to be looking for His response in His Word and watching for it around us. The Lord Jesus Christ encourages us in Matt 21:22 by saying, “Whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” Also, in Matt 7:7-8 he says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
There is a hugely important thing to remember as well, when it comes to what it is we are praying for. If what we’re praying for is not according to God’s will, then we will not, of course, get the answer we are looking for. 1John 5:14-15 has this to say, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”
Here’s the thing too, if we’re going to pray according to God’s will, then we need to know what God’s will is, don’t we? And we’re not talking about knowing the intricacies of every little thing that God plans to do, because we won’t know that. It’s about knowing in general the way God thinks and operates, and letting that knowledge shape our requests made in prayer. In this dispensation, the only way we can find God’s will out is by reading the Bible. Prayer and Bible study are tightly interwoven activities, where we cannot have one without the other. We speak to God in prayer and God speaks to us through the Bible. So, in real life, we can’t expect God to answer in the affirmative to requests we’ve made, if the request we’ve made is something totally opposed to the way God operates. We need to learn God’s will, as distinguished from our will, and learn to pray according to God’s will, and not ours.
8. Trust God, He knows best
The eighth and last aspect of difficulty relative to prayer is perhaps a bit opposite to the seventh, but it’s just as harmful, and it is “I don’t really want to hear God’s answer.” The answer is that we need to learn to trust that God knows best, and to therefore always seek His guidance. His direction won’t always be what we may have initially wanted or thought, but it’s what will be best for us in the end. We have to believe that. Now Psa 73:28 has this to say, “It is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all your works.”
It’s far too easy to ignore God and to rely on our own intelligence and strength, but it’s the warning of Prov 14:12 that we must always bear in mind, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Let’s never forget the encouraging words found in Prov 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”
Benefits of prayer
So we have then eight common difficulties that spring up in the life of believers, but we also have eight Scriptural answers. Developing a healthy prayer life is a lifelong process with many ups and downs. We’ll never be fully perfect at it, but we’ve seen that for all the reasons why we may find prayer so difficult, there are words of comfort and instruction in the Scriptures to helps us past those difficulties.
You see, we can never forget the point that God really does want us to communicate with Him; and how marvelous that is! The God of the entire universe desires to hear from tiny you and me. It’s a staggering thought, but it’s true. And if we do respond to that calling to pray, we’ll experience tremendous benefits, not the least of which is a fine tuned God-consciousness. And what is “consciousness?” It’s when we’re in tune and aware of what’s going on around us. So what is “God-consciousness?” It’s when we’re in tune and aware of how much God is around us.
God is willing to work in every part of our lives — if we let Him. If we pray for all things, as Jesus instructs, and seek God’s guidance in all aspects of life, the implication is that we are obviously letting God into ALL aspects of our life. Prayer is one of the best ways of welcoming God into our lives and giving Him a place to work with us and help us.
By making prayer a regular part of daily life, we will not forget the presence of God around us. The result of this?…a healthy living God consciousness. And the result of that?…we’ll make better choices on places to go and not to go, things to do and not to do, things to say and not to say.
If we can keep up with praying as much and as often as we can, we will be better served in keeping our minds and our feet where they need to be.
And so, why do we pray? Not just because we’re instructed to do so in Scriptures, but because God has set it up as a means by which His creation can develop a closer and intimate relationship with Him. As the apostle Paul says, “in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7). Notice how prayer is linked with peace. It’s an interesting connection. Can praying really bring peace? What kind of peace? Brothers and sisters, prayer brings inner peace. But how? Because it puts God in control. If God is in control, then it means we’re not relying on our own selves to get through life, let alone any given day. What greater peace can there be in life then knowing that God is in control?
So we come then to this table of remembrance, and we come to tune our God-consciousness as we sit here in prayer, personally and together, and reflect upon the life of God’s only begotten son, Jesus Christ. His life is the one we wish to emulate; he’s left the pattern behind for godly living, hasn’t he, and it’s up to us to choose if we’re going to follow or not. So, let’s learn the power there is to be found in prayer, and put behind us all those worries, concerns and difficulties that only serve to hinder and stunt our spiritual growth, and let us press on in true and sincere prayer to our God, and develop as His true sons and daughters.
Paul Jackson (Detroit Royal Oak. MI)