When You Cannot Pray

When You Cannot Pray

Our church has just started reading James K. A. Smith’s book You Are What You Love in our community groups. It is essentially a book about the spiritual power of habit. In the opening chapter Jamie (that’s the name the author goes by) asks a very poignant question: “What do you want?” Jaime points out that that very question is the “most fundamental question of Christian discipleship.”

Over my years in ministry I’ve come to realize that our wants often wait in the form of prayer requests that lay in our hearts but never make it to the surface. They are unexpressed and unacknowledged. They remain as “wants” but are never surrendered into the Lord’s hands because of our fear that our “wants” never turn into reality.

In Acts 12, we read the story of the Apostle Peter thrown into prison in Jerusalem for his witness about Jesus. The church prayed earnestly for his release from prison only to be interrupted by Peter, miraculously delivered from jail and now knocking on the door of the house where they were gathered. We too are called to pray earnestly about every situation, even our unspoken desires, trusting that God works on our behalf.

However, I find that many people find praying difficult and so we are pretty good at coming up with excuses not to pray. “I just don’t have enough time” is a common response I receive when I talk to people about their prayer lives. I also hear, “I am not very eloquent with my words” or “I am not sure if I have the faith to pray.” And most sadly, “I am not really sure God will answer me.”

Possibly, we are intimidated by prayer because:

  • We underestimate the power of prayer. (Eph. 6:18; Col. 4:2; 1 Pet. 4:7; Lk. 11:1-8)
  • We underestimate the role of the Spirit in helping us to pray. (Rom. 8:26; Eph. 6:18)
  • We underestimate the work of the enemy and consequently do not rely on God’s mighty power. (Eph. 6:10-18; 1 Pet. 5:8-9)
  • Finally, we overestimate our own ability to deal with life. (Pro. 3:5-6; Jn. 15:5)

Switching to another well known book, Richard Foster, in his classic Prayer, writes about how we yearn for prayer yet we hide from it. Perhaps the reason we don’t pray is because we’re afraid we won’t get what we want: a “yes” becomes a “no,” a “now” becomes a “wait.” Maybe we struggle with prayer because we are people of action. We are doers and praying is not enough action for us. Oswald Chambers soberly reminds us about the importance of prayer by saying “Prayer does not fit us for the good work; prayer is the good work.”

As we come to the Lord in prayer, he begins to shape our desires. Our wants become more like his wants. God’s work becomes our telos (goal or end). Let me encourage you to put aside all the reasons that keep you from spending more time in prayer and be encouraged that you have a Father in heaven who listens when you ask. God is not a cosmic slot machine, delivering whatever you want when you pull the lever. He desires to answer your “wants” but more importantly he desires to be with you and spend time with you.  Prayer is easier than you might expect. Simply start communicating with the Lord in whatever way feels most natural to you. He will meet you there.

If you are wrestling with prayer, or anything else, perhaps it’s not because we are too intimated to bring those things before the Lord but because we love something else more. If you want to engage the powerful questions about why you love what you love and how your habits can change your loves, I encourage you to get involved in a community group and begin reading You Are What You Love.


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