WHY IS PRAYER SUCH A CHALLENGE?
By Will Graham
When the Western world went Industrial way back in the eighteenth century, the first spiritual discipline to die a slow and agonizing death was prayer. Life became a wholly pragmatic affair and nobody had time to seek the Lord anymore.
To this very day, prayer continues to be a strenuous challenge for so many of us. But why is that so? What is it about prayer that makes it such hard business? How come so few really truly long to draw near to God through prayer? Today I want to take a look at a few of the reasons why we shun prayer and offer some simple solutions.
But before I start I want to make it clear that by prayer I’m not referring to saying grace before a meal or asking God to grant us a good night’s sleep when we’re about to drift off into dreamland. I’m talking about genuine God-seeking that stems from the depths of spiritually hungry hearts.
So let’s do some honest exploring…
Reasons we avoid praying
1.- “Nothing ever happens!”
Immersed in a culture whose worldview is completely driven by the idea that time equals money, we run the risk of denouncing prayer as a useless waste of resources. Ever since we were little, society has drummed it into us that ‘money makes the world go around’ and ‘another day, another dollar’. Money makes things happen. But prayer is so still, so dead and so seemingly unfruitful. Why on earth would anyone want to invest their free time in doing something so unprofitable and barren? That is why our carnal activist hearts sometimes say to us, “Why waste your time praying? Nothing ever happens!”
2.- “Prayer is for wimps and weaklings!”
Self-sufficient individualistic folk also think that prayer is for wimps who can’t cope with the pressures of everyday contemporary life. It’s a revamped version of Freud’s atheistic argument which suggested that religion only exists for the cowards of society who desperately need some kind of divine father figure in order to face life’s challenges. So many believe that prayer is for chicken-hearted cream puffs who just can’t make it alone. “Pray is for wimps and weaklings! So best leave it alone.”
3.- “It just drags on and on!”
Another common objection to prayer is that it takes too long. Not only does nothing happen, but it just drags on and on. It’s way too slow! This is a particularly frequent protest launched by those of us who have grown up in today’s ‘click-a-button-and-it’s-fixed’ generation. We want Google-speed answers and if we don’t get them, we lose interest. Prayer, then, is not likely to seduce many potential partners since it is often lengthy, protracted and time-consuming.
4.- “I couldn’t be bothered!”
The flesh hates the things of the Spirit therefore it constantly seeks to distance itself from any spiritual endeavours. A popular catchphrase that seems to be on everybody’s lips nowadays is: “I couldn’t be bothered!” There you have lukewarmness in a nutshell. Such thinking stems straight from the lazy pit of the rancid flesh. Mr. Carnality has no interest in laying a hold of God. He only lives for his own self-indulgence. Therefore he never has anything good to say about that good old godly couple, Mr. Prayer and Mrs. Intercession.
5.- “It’s boring!”
And last but not least, the most well-known objection of all. Should we call it the objection of objections? “It’s boring!” Multitudes think that prayer is anything but exciting. According to them it’s tedious and tiresome, dull and dreary, wearisome and wearying, monotonous and mind-numbing! After all, it’s just about sitting around listening to other people mumble on and having to say ‘amen’ every thirty to forty seconds. Boredom with a capital ‘B’! There a million more exhilarating things to be done. Forget prayer! Let’s all go bungee jumping!
1.- “Of course something is happening!”
The key to catching a passion for prayer is found in the fireplace of faith. When faith gets to its knees, it casts all of Mr. Carnality’s complaints to one side. Rather than sceptically affirming that nothing ever happens, faith believes that absolutely everything happens when we rightly pray. Not only are we changed but the very heavens experience the dynamic power of God’s hand as He moves to respond to our Spirit-filled requests. Prayer changes everything! Almost every great work of God recorded in the Bible is preceded by the fervent supplications of His people. Look at how passionately the angels of the Lord fought to commune with Daniel in response to his hearty cries to God (Daniel 10:10-14). Or study how the Most High slew 185,000 Assyrian soldiers to deliver his praying servant Hezekiah (Isaiah 37:36). Or pay close attention to how the Almighty struck the armies of the Arameans with immediate blindness thanks to Elisha’s supplication (2 Kings 6:18). Who says nothing happens when we pray? When we get God’s attention, everything is possible!
2.- “It’s a blessing to be weak!”
Instead of shunning weakness, faith takes great comfort in knowing that it is not the king of the world. Faith understands that it is precisely in the frail and vile vessels that the Lord has chosen to make known His glory (1 Corinthians 1:27). Let’s never forget that the supreme manifestation of God’s magnificent glory in the Bible was on a beastly rugged cross two thousand years ago. The astonishing message of the New Testament is that God’s power is perfected in human smallness, weakness and humility. In quite paradoxical fashion, every Christian should aspire to such weakness. Paul hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). So when Freud slams us as weaklings, our faith may reply, “Hallelujah! Thank you for that blessed reminder!” At any rate, Freud was just as weak as we are. The only difference is we realize it and thank God for it.
3.- “Be patient!”
When some say that prayer just drags on and on, the answer of faith is that patience is a fruit of the Spirit. Waiting on God entails precisely that: waiting. The saints of the Bible took time to seek God. Thomas Watson penned, “If a godly man does not obtain his desire immediately, he will wait till the mercy is ripe...Why should we not wait patiently for God? We are servants; it becomes servants to be in a waiting posture. We wait for everything else; we wait for the fire till it burns; we wait for the seed till it grows. Why cannot we wait for God? God waited for us. Did He not wait for our repentance? How often did He come year after year before He found fruit? Did God wait for us, and we cannot wait for Him?” In this spirit it is important to remember the bedrock of Hebrews 6:12, namely, that we receive God’s promises not only by faith but also by patience. Prayer is a marathon, not a one hundred metre sprint. So keep waiting, don’t lose hope (Luke 18:1).
4.- “Oh, I can’t wait to pray!”
When faith is flourishing, there is no such thing as “I can’t be bothered to pray!” Faith looks for any excuse to be alone in intimacy with God. “Oh,” screams faith, “give me any excuse to pray! I cannot wait to be face-to-face with my beloved Christ!” The primitive church sought God at every possible opportunity. Prayer was their breath, their heartbeat. The spiritual success of the first century believers depended upon their prayer-fellowship with the Lord. It was as if they lived to pray. They didn’t have as half as many committee meetings and church strategy seminars as we do, yet they touched their generation with the power of the Gospel. Prayer wasn’t just a duty for those soldiers of the Spirit, it was a profound delight. Just reread the Book of Acts and see how many times God’s people were at prayer. A praying church is a powerful church.
5.- “Prayer is amazing!”
Faith also repudiates the idea that prayer is boring. Just last night as I went to the weekly prayer night for men in La Carlota (Spain), I shared with a dear brother about how folk who complain about the tediousness of prayer have not received a vision of the beauty of Christ. Once we have been filled with the Holy Spirit and tasted something of the glory of God, I don’t understand how prayer can ever be reduced to the level of the mundane. I find that the great prayer warriors I know personally are souls that have seen something of God’s extravagant majesty on display. They never recover. Prayer becomes their one sole longing in life. They are servants with a single eye and therefore full of light (Matthew 6:22). They lose all interest in non-spiritual matters and get thoroughly bored by them, but never by prayer. That is their place of joyful refreshment and sacred bliss. There they shed tears and open their hearts to the warming love of God. Prayer, for them, is ten thousand times more enlivening than bungee jumping.
As we have seen above, every challenge to prayer can be surmounted by the precious presence of faith. Faith turns useless, drawn-out, unappealing and frankly boring prayer time into a revitalizing gush of heavenly life that invigorates the soul and sets the whole life of the saint of God ablaze. Without faith, prayer time is indeed wasted time. But if we cry out to God to renew and strengthen our faith, prayer will become an irresistible and unconquerable delight. So let’s pray. Let’s pray continually. And let’s pray with passion. God is still in the business of answering fervent prayers. Hallelujah!