If you are at a loss of what to pray for, here’s a solution – simply open your Bible for an endless source of ideas. Here’s how to do it.
Why Prayer is Hard and How to Make it Easier
Prayer can be hard work. Most Christians are probably not happy with their prayer life and know they need to improve. Here are some helps identifying problems and how to make prayer easier.
You know you should pray. You may be aware of the commands to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) or to “pray at all times” (Eph. 6:18).
But why do we struggle with praying?
Let’s look at what makes prayer so hard and what we can do to make progress in praying more frequently.
Why is Prayer So Hard?
I will use myself as an example. I find extended times of prayer very difficult. I say short prayers several times a day most days but anything longer than a few minutes is fairly rare unless I am attended a prayer meeting or a small group.
So I decided to delve a bit in to my own reasons for why I don’t pray more and for longer periods of time and this is what I found (maybe you can relate to some of these):
1) Prayer feels like work
I don’t know why the mere act of speaking to God is so difficult but often prayer seems like a lot of effort. Sometimes just the thought of praying for more than a few minutes produces a similar feeling to when I think about going out for a jog – sounds like a good idea but I am not sure I am up for it.
Have you experienced this? If so, what does this say about us?
Answering for myself, I would say I am lazy and not always willing to put in the time necessary to do this important activity. Instead of putting in the effort and reaping the reward, I avoid the effort altogether and miss out on the joy of persisting in prayer.
2) Prayer takes time
It’s really hard to compare the quality of 20 second prayers to 20 minute prayer times. Often a quick prayer is suitable for the moment but to limit prayer times to a couple short sentences a day is not really in keeping with the command to “pray without ceasing” and nothing like Jesus’ example of praying all night. The Bible doesn’t give us exact amounts of time we are to pray but you get the sense it is to be a fairly regular part of daily life that includes longer periods and shorter ones.
For me, I know that I would like to use my time in other ways. Basically I am selfish. My discretionary time tends to match with my interests and I admit it is really sad that I often would rather read the depressing news or be entertained with a game or TV show than to pray. It’s hard to accept what kind of message this sends to God about how much I value speaking with Him when I put these things before prayer.
3) There isn’t always immediate gratification
My most satisfying prayer times are when I have prayed for longer periods of time. These times generally start out hard but end with a lot of joy and gladness that I spent the time praying.
Have you ever experience the joy of an extended time in prayer? I bet you felt it was time well spent.
If that’s the case, why don’t we do it more often?
Perhaps it is impatience. We tend to want immediate gratification and reward for our efforts. Maybe you want to feel something right away – some experience of God’s presence. Or maybe you want to know that your prayers are accomplishing something sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately, just like with all relationships, it isn’t realistic to have those kinds of expectations. You can’t put money in the “relationship machine” and immediately get a delicious chocolate and caramel candy bar to enjoy right then and there. It takes time to reap the rewards from relationships.
Also, God works on His time tables, not ours. Furthermore, He doesn’t promise you are going to get a certain kind of experience every time you pray. If He hasn’t promised it, we can’t expect it.
4) Prayer involves faith
Praying to someone we cannot see involves faith. We must believe God exists and rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6). We must believe He hears our prayers and accepts them in Christ.
Faith takes effort. It involves trust. It involves surrendering the way we want things done for how God wants things done. It involves surrendering our desired outcomes in favor of God’s and trusting that He knows what is best better than we do. It is often easier to be faithless than trusting.
Imagine someone you know has been diagnosed with a serious form of cancer. You pray for their healing but how do you know for sure God will answer in the way you desire? You don’t. God hasn’t promised to heal every disease during a person’s lifetime. But, if this person is a Christian, their disease will be healed eventually. If God decides that it is their time to leave this earth and be with Him, you can be assured that their disease will be gone forever. Your prayer is answered but not necessarily in the way you intended.
5) Prayer takes humility
Praying involves humbling ourselves before God and demonstrating dependence upon Him rather than on yourself or other people.
Prayer reminds us that we are not God and we are not in ultimate control. It reminds us that life does not revolve around us and our desires. This is humbling.
I can’t speak for you, but my natural tendency is to be proud and self-sufficient, especially when it comes to tasks and situations I think I can handle.
God has a way of stripping us of self-sufficiency through trials and hardships that come into our lives.
Think of the last hard situation you went through. Did it cause you to pray more? Should it have caused you to pray more? It’s too bad that we often waste hard times in our life by complaining or getting down when we could be running to God in prayer.
6) I don’t know what to pray for
Sometimes you may not pray because you don’t know what to pray for. Or you may think you don’t have the right words to address God with. So you don’t end up praying.
This could be due to many reasons including laziness, procrastination, lack of interest in the things of God, not reading the Bible and thus not know what God would want us to pray for, not being involved in other people’s lives and thus not knowing the best way to pray for them, and so on.
Or this could be ignorance of God in thinking that He requires your prayers to be fashioned with certain words.
7) We feel ashamed
It’s easy to act like Adam and Eve after they sinned in the Garden of Eden. Instead of running to God for forgiveness after we sin, it is easier to run and hide somewhere and pretend like God can’t see us and didn’t know what we have done. Because we are ashamed, we don’t want to pray and face the One we sinned against. This is pride at work.
I am sure there are many more reasons why we don’t pray but do any of those resonate with you? If so, know that you are not alone in the struggle to pray.
Solving These Problems for a Better Prayer Life
The good news is that these problems don’t have to persist. There are solutions. Here are a few:
1) Clear Out the Obstacles By Identifying and Confessing Sin
You may have noticed that as I gave some of the reasons why I don’t pray, I was able to identify several sins: laziness, selfishness, impatience, lack of faith, pride, and so on.
So at the root of my own lack of prayer, I find sin lurking underneath all those excuses. By identifying those sins, I can confess them to God, find forgiveness, and move forward with a greater level of awareness as to what is really hindering my prayers.
Here is just one example from the Bible of sin directly hindering prayer:
You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
– James 4:2–3
Sin can keep us from praying and it can also keep us from receiving things from God as well when we ask with sinful motives.
I encourage you to do some self-reflection on your own prayer life.
Be honest with yourself – Ask, “Why don’t I pray more?”
In identifying some of the reasons why your prayer life isn’t what it should be, and identifying any sins that may be at the root, it will help you begin to clear out those obstacles hindering prayer.
And guess what? Confessing sin to God is prayer! One way to grow in prayer is growing in identifying your own sins and bringing them to God continually in prayer for forgiveness.
2) Understand That Prayer is a Privilege, Not a Job
If prayer feels like drudgery and work, a change of perspective will help. You can start thinking of prayer as a great privilege instead of an unwelcome task.
To do this, it helps to realize the cost it took for God to accept your prayers. Consider this passage from Hebrews:
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
– Hebrews 10:19–22
Realize it took the death of Jesus to make prayer available to you. God doesn’t accept the prayers of just anyone. Not everyone can enter spiritually into His throne room and ask Him for things. If they could, this passage from Hebrews wouldn’t be very significant.
Jesus died to pay for your sin and grant you access to God. One of the biggest lessons from the Old Testament temple system is that not anyone could walk into God’s presence whenever they wanted. If they did, they would die.
Access to God was limited and sacrifice was required to make the way available. Even then, access to God’s direct presence in the holy of holies was only available once per year and only for the high priest. The other priests couldn’t enter. The average Jew certainly couldn’t enter.
But Jesus is the once for all perfect sacrifice that removes the barrier between God and His redeemed people. That is the significance of the curtain of the temple being torn at the very moment Jesus died (Matthew 27:51).
Jesus is the High Priest of the New Covenant who brings you to God (1 Peter 3:18). He washes you clean from your sins and purifies your conscience. You are now fit and able to approach God in prayer. Your sin no longer separates you from Him.
Hopefully when you see the great cost of giving you access to God, and that not everyone has this access, you will begin to see prayer as more of the great privilege that it is.
Also, when you understand that Jesus has washed you clean from your sins, you realize you don’t need to run and hide in shame like Adam and Eve. You can confess and be forgiven on the basis of Christ’s death for you. In Christ, God will not banish you from His presence like Adam and Eve but will graciously show mercy to you.
3) View Prayer Relationally
Prayer is often called a “spiritual discipline” since it is a practice that promotes spiritual growth. It isn’t wrong to call it that but that phrase may bring to mind unhelpful associations. Like pushups. Or studying. Or saving money.
At its core, prayer is relational. It is simply talking to God. It is part of the two way conversation that God initiated in His word that you respond to in prayer (for more on this concept, see Tim Keller’s helpful book entitled “Prayer”). Prayer is communication from one person to another.
Yet we need to understand the nature of that relationship. Prayer is not like one human person talking to another human. God isn’t on the same “level” of being as we are. He is not our equal.
There are four primary ways you can view this relationship:
- A creature speaking to his Creator
- A servant speaking to his King
- A child speaking to his Father
- A human speaking to Almighty God
It is important to understand who you are speaking to in prayer because it will actually change the way you pray. Here are some examples:
As Creator, God knows everything about you. He knows how you are put together. He knows how your body and mind operate. Therefore, nothing you tell Him will surprise Him. You don’t need to hide what is on your heart or what is bothering your conscience. He gets it.
As King, God has a rightful claim on your life. We don’t get to tell Him what to do. He tells us what to do. When we ask Him for things, it cannot be on the basis of demand but of humble request. Thinking of God has King should encourage humility but also confidence that this King allows us to approach Him on the basis of Jesus’ death for us.
As Father, God cares for us and wants to give us good things. Therefore, when He denies our requests, it is for our good. When He grants our requests, it is for our good. When He gives us something instead of what we ask, it is for our good. Thinking of Him as Father should help with our impatience and desire for immediate gratification. Our Father will do what is best for us whether that is meeting our need immediately or making us wait for His provision.
As Almighty God, God has the power and authority to give whatever He wishes to give. He controls all things with His sovereign power. None can resist His will. This can give you confidence that no situation you face is outside His control. Nothing you need is too hard for Him to provide. This reality will help your faith as you can trust that God can handle whatever you decide to bring before Him in prayer.
Progress Comes With Practice
If your prayer life isn’t what it should be, you are in good company, we all struggle. But you can make progress in your prayer life and don’t have to stay where you are at.
Remember that you have a Creator who understands your struggles, weaknesses, and needs.
You have a King who allows you to approach Him humbly yet confidently with your requests on the basis of Christ’s death on your behalf.
You have a Father who knows what you need and knows the best way to provide it.
And you have a God who is fully capable of handling anything you can possibly bring Him.
Paul Washer emphasizes the vital need for prayer for future ministers from Matthew 6:9-11. This message will benefit all Christians who desire to grow in God-centered prayer.
Joel Beeke, minister and president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, explains why prayer should be an absolutely indispensable part of the Christian’s life and ministry drawing from lessons he learned studying the Puritans.
Be encouraged – you can confess your sin and be assured of forgiveness through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and current work as High Priest.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.Third-Party Content
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