Prayer is difficult. It has been compared to hiking in the mountains by J.I. Packer, “A mountain hike is never easy, it requires a full effort, and yet your eyes and soul soar at the beauty.”
Why is it so difficult?
Author Paul Miller writes in my favorite book on prayer, A Praying Life, "Something is wrong with us. Our natural desire to pray comes from Creation. We are made in the image of God. Our inability to pray comes from the Fall. Evil has marred the image. We want to talk to God but can’t. The friction of our desire to pray, combined with our badly damaged prayer antennae, leads to constant frustration. It’s as if we’ve had a stroke."
I've referred to our prayer difficulties as boulders that roll down at our efforts as we try to hike in prayer. Here are the boulders that I challenged us to identify and overcome during my recent sermon on prayer.
Choice: It’s hard to find the time.
From my experience (that is, my own using of this excuse), the reasoning that "I don't have time" is baloney. Finding time to pray is not a real boulder. Our biggest boulder is believing that time spent in other things will result in greater satisfaction than pursuing God. Stated differently: Our biggest boulder is making the choice to make prayer a priority.
Detonating the Boulder: Use John 15:5 to thrill and terrify your soul with Jesus' promises. Much fruit or no fruit. We really are paralyzed. Without Christ, we are capable of no good. But God intends for us to do something good – bear fruit. So He promises to do what we can’t do for ourselves. Pursue the pleasure of fruitfulness by pursuing prayer!
Cynicism: Does it really make any difference?
Have you ever encountered this boulder? It's big and has chased many of God's children off the path of praying. It seems that our experience ("I prayed and nothing happened") is so divided from God's promises about prayer in His Word that we are frozen by doubt.
Detonating the Boulder: Use John 16:24 to hear a double promise from Jesus, and then cling to the promises while you continue growing in prayer. First, Jesus promises that when you persevere in prayer that is in line with the name and heart of Jesus you can watch for His answers. God the Father will, in some all-wise fashion, provide a matching answer to your request. Second, Jesus promises that when you pursue prayer and watch for His work your joy will be full. Pursue the fullness of your joy by pursuing prayer.
Callous: I don’t feel like praying.
Often our hearts are forgetful and hard regarding God's glory. Our attention may be snagged by the instant gratification of sin, or our emotions may be twisted by anger or sadness or boredom, or our self-reliance may preach a false self-help gospel to us. Our heart can grow cold to praying. What then?
Detonating the Boulder: Use James 4:8-10 to put a sweet and sour smelling salt into your soul. Tell your hard, cold soul that you will pray today, and you will pray until God keeps His promise in James 4:8-10 - to draw near to you and lift you up. God waits for you to wait on Him. Pursue the pleasure of revival and refreshing by pursuing prayer.
Corrupt Requests: The wrong kind of asking.
What are your deepest desires and most repeated requests in prayer? What am I praying for in aiming at my happiness? Am I praying for God’s name to shine through me? Is my prayer for His reign to hold my heart steady? Is my cry for His will to be done in my life? Or am I repeatedly shrinking my prayers down to the size of my own temporal kingdom of self?
Detonating the Boulder: Use James 4:3-6 to warn and attack your selfish tendencies. In his chapter on prayer in Desiring God, John Piper writes, "In these verses James pictures the church as the wife of God. God has made us for Himself and has given Himself to us for our enjoyment. Therefore, it is adultery when we try to be “friends” with the world. If we seek from the world the pleasures we should seek in God, we are unfaithful to our marriage vows. And worse we ask God to provide the resources we use to commit adultery." Pursue the pleasure of holiness by pursuing God's Kingdom in your praying.
Confusion: What makes for a good prayer?
Did I worship enough? Did I have enough faith? Did I spend enough time? When our time in prayer is confusing it becomes discouraging. Most of us don't continue pursuing activities that lead to discouragement.
Detonating the Boulder #1: Relax, you've got serious help. Romans 8:26,34 tells you that you have two fairly significant "interpreters" who aid you and your prayers as they are launched to Heaven. In my mind, I see the Holy Spirit grabbing my prayers and editing them to perfection and then handing them off to Jesus, my Intercessor, who passes them through His perfect sacrifice to ensure that they reach the Father's ear in the condition they ought to be in. Pursue the pleasure of confidence in prayer by praying honestly and trusting your Triune God to hear you well.
Detonating the Boulder #2: Use the methods and resources we prepared in this document to clarify and encourage your praying.
Prayer is hard. These boulders and others are real. The question facing each of us is: will we hike? Will we stand on the completed work of Jesus our Savior, trusting His righteousness, and speak to God as our mighty Father? Will the boulders keep us off the path all together or will pursuing our pleasure in God drive us to abide in Him?
Desiring Jesus with You,