Why Is Prayer So Hard?

by Sep 23, 2015

Why Is Prayer So Hard?

by Sep 23, 2015

What happens when you sit down to pray in the morning? If you’re like me, sometimes you’re not even fifteen seconds in when your mind starts wandering off. You start thinking about your to-do list, and you realize you forgot to put something on your to-do list. “I gotta go write that down, or else I’ll forget it later!”

So you go write it down and then try to get back to prayer. “Let’s see … I pray for Auntie Arlene, that she would get over her sore throat. Actually, I think I might have a sore throat. Am I getting sick? Or is it just the vog? Maybe I should check the internet to see if there’s vog today. Because if it’s not vog, I should probably call in sick.”

“Let me see here … Safari app, Hawaii News Now … Oooh, look at this link: 17 Celebrities Who Got Arrested. With Mug Shots! … Well, I’ll just look at one … Whoaaa, that’s what little Anakin Skywalker looks like now? Crazy!”

“No, I gotta get back to praying. … Lord, would you just give me a good day today? … Wait a minute. I forgot to praise God before I asked him for stuff. Adoration, confession, thanksgiving, then supplication. … Lord, I just want to praise you and thank you and … awwww, forget it.  … I’ma just go get some work done.”

Sounds familiar? It happens to us all. But why? Why do people who’ve been walking with God for decades still have trouble talking to him sometimes? There are three big reasons:

We don’t pray enough. “You do not have, because you do not ask.” (James 4:2). I was talking to a guy a few years ago who had made a huge life-altering decision for his family. Over the course of a month that decision slowly unravelled, and it became clear that it was the wrong decision. When I asked him why he thought that happened, he had a quick answer: “I never prayed about it. Not once! I had this gut-feeling and I just went with it.” He’s not alone. Our prayers are weak because we just don’t pray, and we don’t pray because we think we’ve got things covered all on our own.

We pray with the wrong motives. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:3). Maybe you’re asking God to give you more money, because you can’t afford to pay your rent right now. That’s a typical prayer request I hear. But what if God never called you to rent that house in the first place? What if it’s way more than what you really need? What if it’s just one of “your passions,” as James put it, not something God really wanted you to have? That will make your prayers weak!

According to James, prayer is like a narrow path with two steep cliffs on each side — prayerlessness on one side, and selfishness on the other — and we keep falling both ways. We’re weak! As Paul said, “We do not know what to pray for as we ought.” (Rom 8:26). That’s another reason we’re weak:

We don’t know how to pray. Should we claim things in the Lord’s name, and expect his blessing? Or should we be totally passive and yielding, and say “if it be your will” after every request? And what do we do about all the rabbit trails our minds take during prayer? Should you try to banish all those thoughts from our minds and get back to what you were praying about, or is God trying to prompt you to pray about that thing on your to-do list? We do not know what to pray for as we ought!

That’s why Paul says “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). God assumes that we’re weak when we pray. In fact, weakness is a prerequisite for prayer.

Jesus never said, “Come to me, all who are strong and self-reliant.” He welcomed those who are weak and weary. People who can’t stand up under the weight of life. He said, “Are you broken? Hurting? Sinful? Scared? Then come!”

Who else in the world gives that kind of invitation? Try to unload some of the messiness in your life onto your friend at a coffee house, and his eyes will freeze up. He’ll look nervously around. Before you can finish, he’ll say, “Dude, sounds like you need to get some professional help. I’ll be praying, man.” That’s not God. He expects us to be weary, weak, and messed up when we come to him. And the Spirit helps us recognize that that’s what we really are, so we can approach God honestly as our perfectly patient, gracious, generous Father.