I am an all or nothing person — I am 100% in or will not do it at all. This is true in pretty much every aspect of life: I’m working out 6 days a week or zero, I keep to my daily to-do list completely or don’t even look at it…you get the idea.
Both fortunately and unfortunately, this applies to my walking with Jesus as well. Mix in my struggle with perfectionism and it can be quite difficult sometimes: I find that I put rules and restrictions on myself that Jesus never put there. He’s far more gracious with me than I am with myself sometimes! I’m glad He’s the one that’s right.
A particular struggle of mine has been my journey in prayer. Just like Bible study, we know that we’re supposed to pray. Jesus prayed, Elijah prayed, Daniel prayed, we get it! We have all of the examples and the need-to-ed-ness. We’ve probably even heard moving stories of miracles borne out of persistent praying. Maybe we even have some stories of our own! So then why is this so hard?
Why is Praying So Hard?
Although I’m sure there are many reasons, I think it mostly comes down to three.
First, prayer requires a humility and dependence of spirit that is so contrary to our natural inclination. I am a practical, get it done person, so what can feel more useless than sitting still and talking? We need action! Movement! Strategies!
But this is a fundamental misunderstanding of God. Thinking prayer is a waste of time betrays or distrust or ignorance of what He has done and continues to do through prayer —
- He gave Nehemiah favor in the eyes of a king and all of the supplies he needed to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem because he prayed (Nehemiah 1, 2, 3…)
- He sent rain after a long drought because Elijah prayed (1 Kings 18)
- He brought my younger brother to Him, even when I thought it was impossible, because I (and others!) prayed (hi Ben : )
- He told someone to give me funds for groceries and fuel when I had run out because I prayed
- He led me to the door of someone who couldn’t see past their own darkness, in order to bring them the light of Jesus, because I prayed
- He’s given me peace, fluency of words, smooth conversations, wisdom for exams….so much more. Because I prayed.
That list could go on forever. But I forget. I forget His gifts, His power, His excessive generosity, His just-waiting-for-me-to-ask-ness. And He doesn’t love me any less for it, but I find that I love Him less in the forgetting.
So the first reason praying is so hard? We forget what God has wrought through prayer. We forget the possibilities.
The second reason is that I believe the devil has special temptations and distractions that are aimed at simply drawing us away from prayer. It’s a brilliant move, really. If I were him, I’d take out my opponent’s biggest weapon, too. And to even make them feel like it’s ineffective? Useless? Brilliant.
The devil knows that we are powerless on our own and yet, “Nothing is apparently more helpless, yet really more invincible, than the soul that feels its nothingness, and relies wholly on God” (PK 175). Read that again.
Apparently more helpless. Yet really more invincible. The soul that relies wholly on God.
I feel like sometimes I stop at the helpless and nothingness part. Like yeah, I can’t do it. I see it. So I won’t! But that’s only half of it — we are to acknowledge our helpless position, and then turn our attention completely to God. Rely wholly on Him. He can handle it. He can handle all of the fears, the what-ifs, your past, your present, your future, your bad habits, your great habits, everything. Nothing is too big to burden Him or too small to concern Him.
The third reason is that we don’t know where to start. We see these giants of faith, some even committing to hours of prayer a day, and we don’t see how to do that — so why even try? Our phrasing feels awkward, our hearts only partially sincere. We may get inspired by a sermon or a friend to commit to walking with Christ in prayer, but like the seed that shoots up quickly, we have a hard time outlasting difficulties.
So is that just it? Is prayer a spiritual gift — given to some and not to others? I don’t think so at all, and neither does the Bible. Next week we’ll talk about how to start praying — even when the very idea is overwhelming.