I want to pray more, but I don’t actually want to pray. What do I do?

You’re describing the daily struggle of the majority of Christians in the world. We all know we should pray more. We all want to pray more. But when it comes time to pray, we don’t actually want to pray.

We want to want to pray.

And the problem isn’t new. 150 years ago, Charles Spurgeon gave this encouragement:

Do we not all find ourselves at times in a cold state in reference to prayer? Brothers, I believe that when we cannot pray it is time that we prayed more than ever; and if you answer, ‘But how can that be?; I would say- pray to pray, pray for prayer, pray for the spirit of supplication. Do not be content to say, ‘I would pray if I could’; no, but if you cannot pray, pray till you can. He who can row down stream with a flowing tide and a fair wind is but a poor oarsman compared with the man who can pull against wind and tide, and nevertheless make headway.

What great advice. Just pray until you start praying. Struggle and strain and press forward. Pray to want to pray. Then see how God answers your prayer.

As Peter says, “Be self-controlled … for the sake of your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7). That’s hard-won wisdom Peter learned in the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus wanted him to pray but Peter went to sleep. He learned that prayer takes self-control. It takes discipline. It takes hard work. We don’t just drift into prayer, as D.A. Carson reminded us:

People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.

We don’t just drift into prayer. Think about it: how often do you feel a sudden urge to pray? There’s many other things we feel a sudden urge for. Coffee. Sleep. Chocolate. Instagram.

But how many times in a day do you feel an urge to pray? Some people feel those urges more than other people, so the easiest way for you to become more prayerful is just to develop the self-control to say yes every time you feel the urge to pray. Don’t let there ever be a time when your heart’s saying, “Maybe I should pray” and you say, “No, not right now.” Never deny an urge to pray if you feel it.

But many Christians almost never feel the urge to pray, so it will take lots of self-control. It will require lots of grace-driven effort. It will mean planning and scheduling. It will mean putting prayer down in your calendar or reminders app.

For me, it means setting a rule for myself, that I won’t check my email in the morning until I spend time in the word and in prayer. When I discipline myself to pray first thing in the morning, then I tend to be more prayerful through the rest of the day. It puts me in a posture of dependence, and that means I’m going to be throwing prayers up to God all day long.

If I ignore that rule, it might be a long time before I actually pray. I’ll be meeting with someone in the afternoon, and ask if we can pray together, and halfway through I’ll realize, this is the first time I’ve prayed all day! Because I don’t usually have the urge to pray every minute of the day.

So I have to take the first urge I do feel in the day — checking my email and seeing what’s going on in the world, and what’s going to be affecting my day — and I have to say no to that urge in order to say yes to prayer.

For me, it’s email. For you, it might be social media or the news. Just pick the thing that’s your first urge in the day, and commit to say no to that urge until you say yes to prayer. See how that shapes the rest of your day, and the rest of your life.