“To be a Christian without prayer is more impossible than to be alive without breathing.”
These are the famous words of Martin Luther, the seminal figure behind the Protestant Reformation. Either he missed the mark by a mile, or we’re in hot water. I’d venture to say most Christians don’t pray. Much.
I’m including myself in this “statistic.” I don’t know how much I pray in comparison with you or the average believer, but I know I don’t pray as much as I breathe, and don’t think of prayer as important as breath. The realization that I don’t pray “without ceasing,” caused me to ask myself this question: Have I been holding my breath for a long time, or am I dead? This is an important question to ask yourself, and a hard one. I think for me I have been living on short, shallow breaths for too long. Which is silly because I’m surrounded by good air.
The Bible (a book I claim to believe completely) talks a lot about prayer. It tells us that church is meant to be “a house of prayer for all nations.” It tells us that prayer changes things. It tells us that if we pray, we can be saved. Our perfect example, Jesus Christ, prayed very frequently and passionately while on earth. (I wrote about that a little in January.) If I believe all that, and, like my Sunday school teachers have often told me over the years, that the creator of the universe is sitting in heaven, looking down and waiting to hear from me, His beloved daughter, why don’t I pray?
I’ve heard (and made) an menagerie of excuses. We’re busy, we’re tired, we’re “not feeling it,” we don’t know how to start, we are overwhelmed, we are angry at God, we don’t have the right words, we feel unworthy. None of those excuses hold up next to The Bible, and, on top of that, I don’t think they are true. Sometimes, perhaps, but not often. Here are five real reasons I believe we don’t pray.
1. We think prayer is a gamble
Sometimes we pray that someone would be healed and they are healed. Sometimes we pray that someone would be healed and they die. Prayer is a gamble, right? Wrong.
The dictionary defines “gamble” (noun) as:
any matter or thing involving risk or hazardous uncertainty.
a venture in a game of chance for stakes, especially for high stakes.
Why pray when our chances are just as good without it? Why shake a Magic 8 ball? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just hope for the best, use good doctors and prepare for the worst? Not if you actually believe in God. Not if you actually believe in the prayer the Bible speaks of. The weird analogy from Sunday school about God sitting in a chair, staring at me is not far from the truth. Isaiah 65:4 says, “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” And 1 John 5:14-15: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”
Now, God is not exactly like your mom or dad because he’s completely holy, eternal, all-powerful, etc., but He does compare Himself to a mother or a father many times in scripture. When you were a kid, did you ever ask your parents for anything? Did they always say the same thing? I doubt it. Does that mean asking them for something was a pointless gamble? Of course not.
Prayer is not a gamble. Prayer is a conversation with good father who knows best, but also loves you dearly. Sometimes He says “no,” sometimes He says “yes,” but every answer is made of justice and love.
2. We think “unchanging” means unresponsive
Verses like Malachi 3:6, (“For I the Lord do not change;”) and Hebrews 13:8 (“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”) give us the impression that God is a statue, formed in one way before the beginning of time and either unable or unwilling to adapt, shift or react. However, Malachi 3:6 goes on to say, “therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed.” Why would God’s still, unchanging, unresponsive character be a comfort to the sons of Jacob? Because saying that God does not change does not mean He doesn’t respond, it means He doesn’t betray us.
There really is no reason to pray to an idol. If they hear you, we will never know it. They cannot respond or change your life according to your requests. But God is not an idol. God is a father, remember? And not a father who walks out on you. A father whose love is unfailing and unchanging. His love is unconditional. He is constant.
Jesus is God and He never sinned, yet while He was on earth, He constantly responded to people. Scriptures give us insight into moments of Jesus feeling and expressing sadness, anger, frustration, grief, weakness, pain, joy and love. God is not a cold, marble sculpture but a perfectly constant friend. The former would be ridiculous to talk to, but the latter would be ridiculous not to.
3. We’re terrified of disappointment
So, prayer is not a gamble or a conversation with a gargoyle, but that doesn’t always mean we get what we want. And that terrifies us. What if we really pour out our hearts to God and beg Him for something and He says “no”? What if we ask for healing and see death or ask for revival and see burn-out?
Is our faith so unstable that a single “no” would make us question God’s existence or goodness? Or are we just afraid of the emotional turmoil we will face at the refusal? Either way, we are terrified of disappointment. This should not be. God’s ways are higher than our ways. He really does know best, so every “no” is as merciful as every “yes.”
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:24
4. We don’t want to admit what we want
Prayer sometimes seems like a rerun of previous conversations. I am going to ask for this, you are going to say that, yadayada. Why even begin?
Sometimes I think about praying for something, say, a paid writing job. And then I put words in God’s mouth and answer myself, “Just be faithful with what I’ve already given you.” You know what’s awful about this? That may not be God’s response today at all. He might say, “Wonderful idea! Here’s an email from a magazine editor right now!” I will never know if I don’t actually ask with faith and sincerity.
Sometimes we start to pray, “Lord, make me content in my singleness” when we should really be praying, “Lord, I’m so discontent right now, because I’m single. Please bring me a husband, if that’s your will! I’m losing patience and getting bummed out about this. Help!” But that would be admitting what we really want instead of keeping up appearances with God, right? Here’s a tip: be honest with God. HE ALREADY KNOWS.
Admit what you want and then put it in God’s hands. If it’s not best for you, He will let you know.
5. We are afraid of getting what we want
Sometimes I think about praying for patience with my siblings and then get superstitious. I don’t want to pray for patience! I think. Then He’ll really test me! The kids will be more trying than ever and I’ll learn my lesson the hard way. Or I realize pride is getting in the way of loving others, but I’m afraid to pray for humility, because that could be, well…humiliating.
Well, God is not a Magic 8 ball or a vending machine and He’s not a voodoo doctor or Karma. The Bible says he’s my good shepherd, loving father, passionate groom and faithful friend. Prayers for humility and patience should not be prayed with fear, but with faith. Faith in His goodness (that everything He does or allows is ultimately for my good) and His mercy (that He will not destroy me, but uphold me.) If pride or impatience or anything else is getting in the way of loving God with your whole heart, He’s already waiting to take that away. Just ask.
6. It’s awkward
This is a big one. Sometimes prayer is just plain awkward. It can feel one-sided, cold and weird. For years I had the urge to pray aloud, but could never bring myself to. It seemed like a good thing to do (many folks in the Bible, including Jesus, did this) but I thought it would feel like talking on the phone in the middle of a quiet restaurant.
However, I have learned to embrace the audible prayer! I pray aloud when I’m otherwise alone, be that in the car, on a walk or in the office. I also read scripture aloud. This helps my scatterbrain stay on topic. Imagine how confusing and distracting it would be to have a whole conversation with your best friend through mind reading power? Even if you had this superpower, you would still have all of your other random thoughts happening all the time. The line would surely get interrupted with items to add to your to-do list, memories of yesterday’s conversation, thoughts on things your eyes are seeing and your ears are hearing and those completely out of the blue ping-pong thoughts. Voicing your thoughts helps considerably.
Practice is key when it comes to getting comfortable praying. My generation is notorious for avoiding things that make them uncomfortable. Don’t be one of those people. Push through.
7. We don’t believe we need it
Originally, this post was just going to have six reasons we don’t pray, but seven is the number of perfection, is it not? When the post was halfway written, I was lying in bed praying about some issues in my heart when it hit me: the biggest reason we don’t pray is that we don’t actually believe we need prayer.
This is also called pride, something I encourage you to pray against. I prayed to be bought by the blood of Christ a long time ago. When I die, I know I’m going to Heaven. I don’t have any debilitating disease or major crisis in my life right now, so why pray? I live in America. I’ve never been hungry, thirsty or cold without access to food, drink and warm clothes. I have a wonderful family who takes care of me and makes me feel special, I have a good church full of good friends. I have health insurance, money in the bank and a security system around my home. Why pray?
Things are going pretty well, even when I don’t pray. I have everything I need and more. And besides, I am busy on my feet, if not on my knees. I am actively making sure things run smoothly in my life and the lives of those around me. Yay, me!
However, there’s a reason we kneel when we pray (or at least we used to.) Standing on your feet is a position of power, prestige and independence. We kneel when we pray because we kneel when we surrender, when we beg forgiveness, when we receive a blessing or a knighthood, when we request a hand in marriage (because no one actually deserves another person) and when we are too weak to stand.
To kneel is to say, “I can’t even stand without your power and your permission, Lord Jesus.”
We healthy, happy people need prayer because God made America and food and drink and warm clothes and health care and security and He can take it away. We need prayer because God made me and my past and my future and knows what I need better than I do, before I even need it. We need prayer because to be fat and happy and full of pride is to be malnourished in God’s kingdom and it is nearly impossible for the rich to enter the gates of heaven. I need prayer because without a word from God I am a blind, deaf, stupid person who thinks she knows how to operate the machine of life. Without prayer I am a joke, but with prayer I have a part to play.
“Humility” comes from the word “humus” meaning “earth” or “ground.” In other words, dirt. To be humble is to get off your high horse and sink your knees into the dirt, or as the folks of the Old Testament did, put your face to the ground and cover your head with earth.
In this “upside down kingdom” Jesus founded, we humble ourselves in order to rise. (“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” James 4:10) Will you stop what you’re doing and pray today? God gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6.) Our excuses pale next to our reasons to pray. Don’t let pride keep you from believing that.