Why is prayer so difficult?
The Lord Jesus was an example to the disciples of a praying man. He also taught them how to pray and exhorted them to keep on praying. So you’d think that believers in God wouldn’t need any encouragement to address the living Creator.
We have known the forgiveness of our sins, the gift of eternal life and the privilege of being adopted into the family of God so that we can address God as our Father. So you’d think we’d be talking to God all the time, pouring out our thanks and asking him for help.
You’d imagine we wouldn’t need to be exhorted by the Saviour saying to us, ‘Now you must always pray and not give up’.
Give up? That would be like giving up breathing! You might think so. But it is not like that! We need encouragements to pray for many reasons. Here are eight of them.
First, the devil wants to stop us praying. Second, we might have very weak faith; we are baby Christians. Third, the influence of the flesh is strong; it pulls us down and kills the spirit of prayer every day.
Fourth, we may be physically weary; we work long hours and, when we pray, soon find ourselves nodding off to sleep. Fifth, we are ill disciplined; we haven’t helped our times of prayer by fixing a routine for them (as we have done for other things as mundane as brushing our teeth, eating a meal and going to bed).
Then, are we callous towards the hurting world around us, unmoved with compassion for the muddles people get into? But Jesus was, and Jesus prayed and wept over them.
Seventh, do we still have a false sense of independence, thinking we can cope with life and hardly need to pray?
Finally, we can lose heart, perhaps greatly disappointed with what has happened in our lives. We prayed earnestly about a crisis when it began, but nothing has changed, and we wonder whether God has heard us. Is God real? Can our little prayers make any difference at all? Yet Jesus encourages us to pray, and his encouragements are greatly needed by us.
It has often been said that our prayer life is one of the best barometers of our spiritual state. But we must be careful about that statement, since there is much useless praying, chanting and liturgy in the world. There are people who said, ‘Lord, Lord’, to whom Jesus will one day say, ‘Depart from me, I never knew you’.
I don’t believe that as long as you keep ‘praying’ everything will be OK. Rather, you must keep clinging to Christ alone as the grounds of your hope of eternal life — and your consequent praying in his name is evidence that you are doing that.
It is much easier to preach about prayer for 30 minutes than pray for 30 minutes. Praying is the most difficult thing in the world. It can so easily be a ‘raincoat’ prayer. Let me explain.
In the intro¬duction to his book on prayer Sam Storms says, ‘My reason for writing this book differs considerably from what one might expect. I was motivated largely by guilt. My prayer life simply was not what it should be.
‘I knew that as far as Scripture is concerned, prayer is a non-negotiable. Yet I had come to treat prayer like a raincoat, hanging in the closet ready for use if the weather demanded, but hardly something to wear every day. Like my raincoat, prayer seemed unnecessary as long as the sun was shining.
‘I had fallen into the snare of complacency, thinking that since my life was relatively free from discomfort and tragedy, prayer could take a back seat’ (Reaching God’s ear, Tyndale House Publishers, p. 7).
I was reading what the Irish atheist author and editor, Conor Cruise O’Brien, wrote about leaving his wife in hospital the night before she was facing a big operation. He got into the car in the hospital car park and found himself praying for her.
He had refused to pray for years, but now the thought of losing her overwhelmed him. In spite of all his secular ideals, he prayed, much to his surprise. His wife recovered and he didn’t pray again. Prayer for him had been that raincoat you need to put on only when it’s raining.
However, real prayer can be greatly helped when we remember its four basic ingredients, as described by the familiar acrostic ACTS.
If you have come to know God through his Son Jesus Christ, then you are acknowledging that a divine miracle has been done in your life. God loved you individually before the foundation of the world, and he determined that you would be his child.
He would save you from your sin and its consequences. He would take you to heaven and transform you into the likeness of his Son, and put you in the new heavens and earth to glorify God for eternity.
He planned and accomplished it, drawing you out of the darkness of unbelief into his marvellous light.
Then adore the God who has done this! Be lost in wonder, love and praise for all he has done for you and for uncountable millions like you.
The Bible tells us to confess our sins to one another. There are people in every Christian church who are difficult and awkward men and women. Our prayers will be that they be made aware of this, even if only dimly, and that they confess it to God asking him to help them.
It would be so much easier for us to live with them if they said to you or me, ‘Oh, I know I am a perfect nuisance in this congregation. Please forgive and help me’. The uncomfortable truth is that there is something of those kinds of men and women in all of us.
Probably not one of us is transparently honest with himself; it’s too painful. For the same reason, few of us are completely honest with God. We must face up to our need for such honesty. We cannot be spiritually healthy without it.
Confession is painful. It digs beneath our surface, throws off our masks and disguises, and lifts up the truth. The truth includes not only our sin, but also our dependence on God for health, breath and life itself.
Con¬fession includes mentioning our weaknesses. It is like cleansing a wound. It hurts to do it thoroughly, but if you go ahead and clean the wound, it will probably heal without getting infected.
The whole structure of redemptive religion can be summarised under three words beginning with the letter ‘G’ — our guilt as sinners; God’s grace in saving us; our gratitude, expressed in a lifetime of praise.
The Christian is constantly giving thanks, for temporal mercies and spiritual blessings; thanks most of all to God for the unspeakable gift of his dear Son.
One great illustration of such gratitude is found in the letters of the apostle Paul. Nearly 40 times Paul uses the verb and noun denoting thanksgiving. He is full of gratitude. It seems that much of the time he spent in praying was in thanking God for the Christian people he was aware of everywhere.
Supplication is praying for others. You find supplication throughout the Bible. Moses pleads for the children of Israel, Job prays for his friends, Paul intercedes for his young churches. Our Lord pleads for the very people who are killing him, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’. Stephen the martyr imitates Jesus in this.
So let us always pray and not faint. Let us adore, confess, give thanks and pray for others, and not stop. ‘More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of’.