Why don’t we pray more?
10 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. 11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” ~ 1 Peter 3:10-12 (NIV)
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. ~ Philippians 4:6 (NIV)
Prayer is speaking to God and making requests (‘petitions’ and ‘supplications’) before Him. If we look at the biblical record of prayers we find prayers that are filled with adoration, confession of sin, thanksgiving, remembrance, and questioning. Prayer is communication with our heavenly Father. Timothy Keller has a fantastic quote where he says that:
“Prayer is both conversation and encounter with God. . . . We must know the awe of praising his glory, the intimacy of finding his grace, and the struggle of asking his help, all of which can lead us to know the spiritual reality of his presence.” – Timothy Keller, Prayer
But, truth be told, many of us can’t claim to have a vibrant prayer life. A lot of the time prayer is seen as an afterthought, or forgotten entirely. Why don’t we pray more? I can’t speak for everyone, but here are three of the many reasons that I don’t pray more. Perhaps these confessions will resonate with you.
1) I don’t realise that prayer is a privilege.
Prayer is a tremendous privilege, but it is not a privilege that is afforded to all people. In fact, in 1 Peter 3:10-12 we are told that whereas God is attentive to the prayers of the righteous, He turns His face away from the evil. We can take this to mean that God always listens to the prayers of the righteous (and can answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’), but has no reason to listen to the prayers of the unrighteous. God can choose to – after all, He knows and hears all things – but He has no obligation to listen to the prayers of those who are not declared righteous. If we understand that prayer is a privilege that is given to Christians because of their being declared righteous in Jesus, and having Him as their great High Priest, it is then that we can realise that we can indeed boldly approach the throne of grace to speak to, and ask things of, our God (Hebrews 4:13-16).
Do you find prayer a chore? Does it seem like an impractical, slow, needless addition to the Christian life? Or perhaps you wonder what benefit there really is from prayer. The first thing we all need to be reminded of is that prayer is a privilege, where we get direct access to God. That is amazing. That is incredible. That should change how we see prayer. You can read more about the privilege of prayer in this other post that has previously been published on the topic.
2) I don’t really think that I need to depend on God.
Prayer is how we express our dependence on God for all the things of life. Paul writes in Philippians 4:6 that the remedy to anxiety about everything is to present our requests to God in all situations. God has given us this great gift of communication in order to cast our cares, receive His grace, and trust in Him. Indeed, Christians don’t believe in the power of prayer – we believe in the power of the one whom we pray to. And it is striking to realise that one way in which our idolatry of self, and sin of pride, manifests itself is seen in how prayer-less we can be, especially when life seems to be going well for us.
Maturity, then, results in greater dependence on God – not less. Whereas the world sees maturity as independence from our parents, Christian maturity is seen in the increase of our recognition of our absolute dependence on our Heavenly Father. It is sometimes said, in situations of distress or feelings of helplessness:
“Well, I guess all we can do is pray.”
However, a biblically shaped understanding of prayer sees this expression and flips it around:
“Well, prayer is what we must do!”
Prayer is not the last resort, as a spiritual tack-on, when we have exhausted all our human options. Prayer is not the religious ritual we open and close our meetings with so we can get onto the ‘more important’ things. Prayer is a privilege, and we are invited, as sisters and brothers, to join with each other in entrusting our whole selves to our Father who loves us, will only ever give us good things, and is ready to listen.
3) I don’t really know who God is as much as I think I do.
Furthermore, prayer is the indicator of what we believe about God. One might even say that prayer is the goal of Christian theology. Why? Because if theology is the study of God, aimed at knowing Him, then the manifestation of that is expressed in how we speak to Him (or if we even speak at all). For, our frequency, dependence, and reasons for speaking with anyone say much about how it is that we relate with them. Therefore, in knowing God, what we choose to pray for, and when we find it appropriate to pray, will be shaped and moulded by the reality of who He is. JI Packer writes,
“I believe that prayer is the measure of the man, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is, so that how we pray is as important a question as we can ever face.” – JI Packer
Additionally, Jesus says in Matthew 6:5-8 that prayer is not meant to be a public display of spirituality and eloquent diction, but is to be a part of our private, Christian life. That is not to say that prayer is inappropriate in public settings. Rather, Jesus’ point is that the act of prayer is not to be some outward display of spiritual devotion meant for commendation by mankind, but a personal expression of our affections and communication to God that will be rewarded by Him. Again quoting Timothy Keller,
“The infallible test of spiritual integrity, Jesus says, is your private prayer life.” – Timothy Keller, Prayer
So, then, if we truly know who God is, and love Him, then our desire will be to communicate with Him. And our desire to communicate will not be limited to just the public, Christian settings, but our private lives as well. But more so, knowing God orients our devotion and directs us to realise what it is that God can do.