I read a story sometime in the last decade about a man who went to a prayer meeting. The man was from Asia. He was visiting America and decided he wanted to visit one of the churches. One Sunday he went to a well-attended church and enjoyed the service. So he thought he would return mid-week for the prayer meeting. He checked the day and the time.
On the appointed day, he set out for the prayer meeting. He wanted to be in time to get a seat, so he aimed to be at the church one hour before the beginning of the meeting. This church, he reasoned, is so big and so influential the prayer meeting will be packed out. So off he went, expecting to join a queue of prayer warriors.
To his surprise, he found that he was the only one at the appointed place so early. As the time for prayer approached, a handful of others joined him. But it was only a handful. How could such a great church, he wondered, be so successful with such a poor attendance at the prayer meeting?
Why is it in the Western world we often find it so hard to pray when it should be something instinctive to Christians? You know the saying about prayer being the Christian’s vital breath, and all that?
Let me offer three reasons why we either don’t pray or find it hard to pray.
One reason we do not pray is a very simple one: prayer is nowhere near first on our list of priorities.
We do what is important to us. We make time for things that are important to us, even if they are not really that important!
The issue is not whether prayer is important or not. We all know it’s important. It’s whether it’s important to me? That’s a question we have to answer for ourselves.
A second reason we do not pray or struggle with prayer, is also a very simple one. It’s the flesh.
In the hour when Jesus sought the prayer support of those disciples who were closest to Him, they failed Him miserably. They fell asleep when they should have been praying. Let’s face it, if you are tired and trying to pray, it’s not too hard to nod off.
Jesus summed up their failure with words that have been applied to scenarios far removed from falling asleep in prayer, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
To pray – and pray effectively – we have to press through the demands and excuses of our flesh. My flesh will convince me that watching tv on a Friday evening instead of going to the prayer meeting is spending quality time with my family. It will reason that I need that extra half hour in bed instead of attending the Saturday morning prayer meeting. It will tell me all sorts of pious tales about how people can become so heavenly minded but be no earthly use. Those, dear friends, are the kinds of arguments our flesh uses to keep us from prayer.
The only way to handle the flesh is to put it to death. How do you do that? Say “No” to it!
A third reason we do not pray, or struggle with prayer, is that of frustration.
There are all sorts of ways we become vulnerable to frustration. We prayed and believed God for a specific answer in a specific situation, but the opposite happened. Or we have prayed for someone or something for a long time but there is still no change. If this describes you, don’t give up! Keep praying! Jesus told His disciples a story about prayer that had one point: we should always pray and not give up (Luke 18.1).
Another way in which we become vulnerable to frustration is perhaps a bit surprising.
The example of the great prayer warriors can serve to intimidate us rather than inspire us. Generations of Christians have been brought up on Rees Howells, E.M. Bounds, Praying Hyde and a host of other incredible prayer warriors. People like this can be inspiring, but taken the wrong way, they can make you feel that you have never prayed at all! I would suggest that we have much to learn from the prayer “Greats”, but they should not be regarded as role models. Unless that is, you have a specific calling from God.
One of the great pray-ers of the last century was Smith Wigglesworth. He once said he never prayed for more than twenty minutes, but that he never went more than twenty minutes without praying! That kind of approach is probably more helpful. Make the most of the spare moments. Don’t allow yourself to be locked into a particular form or expression of prayer. Intimacy with the Spirit will take you into a far more effective and satisfying prayer life than the inspiration of prayer giants past or present.
Paul says in Colossians 4.2:
“ Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”
The Amplified Bible translates:
“Be earnest and unwearied and steadfast in your prayer [life], being [both] alert and intent in [your praying] with thanksgiving.”
That’s the challenge. But by the grace of God and the power of the Spirit, it’s one we can rise to.