(Audio transcript below)
Hello, everyone. Welcome to the first episode on our audio series. We wanted to kick this new segment off with a subject that is central to our spiritual discipline as Christians, but which we often neglect and struggle with. Some of you may have guessed it already: I’m talking about prayer.
Scripture tells us to pray without ceasing. So, why do Christians struggle to enjoy prayer, which, in turn, affects our consistency in prayer?
If you were born in a Christian home, it’s likely that one of the first things you were taught was how to pray. And it’s no wonder that parents often try to inculcate this habit early on in their kids, for as Martin Luther King Jr famously said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”
Many times, prayer is just something we do to tick a box. We do it to ease our consciences — more than because it is the desire of our hearts. Or we go to God when we’re desperate for help. In fact, I’m sure some of us even said this line today: “I’ll be praying for you.” We are really good at talking about prayer. But as John Onwuchekwa rightly said, “Our problem is the way we treat prayer. Our practice doesn’t line up with our proclamations, which is always a sign that something is off.”
Many times, we pray to ease our consciences — more than because it is the desire of our hearts
Up until recently, I too struggled with prayer. There were days when I’d say ‘Amen’ — and then wonder: what did I just say? Did I mean that? Was that from my heart? So many times, the words were ones I’d used for years, repeated without meaning and purpose.
Why doesn’t praying to God interest us? I want to share five truths I’ve learnt over the years that have truly transformed the time I spend on my knees in prayer.
One of the greatest reasons Christians struggle to enjoy prayer is because their understanding of God is indistinct and dim. It’s not enough to know that God is a Healer, that He is omnipotent, omniscient, the Alpha and Omega, or any number of other things. It’s not knowing these things that makes our faith stronger — but rather how these truths change our outlook in life. How have these truths strengthened our faith? That is the question we need to be asking.
In Psalm 34, David encourages his readers to “taste and see” that the Lord is good. David could have just declared the Lord to be good. Instead, he asks his listeners to experience it for themselves. There is much to learn about enjoying God from the man after God’s own heart.
Take Psalm 13. David starts off by crying to the Lord, “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” Something is clearly causing David deep distress. His heart is not at peace, and his anguish really comes through in v. 1. But then, a few verses later, we see David rejoicing. He says, “My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.” What? How does that work? It’s important to note that whatever caused David distress had not been resolved yet. Even still, he rejoices.
David’s perception of God changed his perspective about his situation. Though his heart was in pain, he took his concerns to the Lord, and trusted in His faithful promises. He rejoiced that God would deliver him. Why? Because God had delivered him in the past, and because he knew God loved him. Trusting in God’s steadfast love (v. 5) injected hope into David’s life.
The second reason we struggle to pray consistently is because our faith is weak. Faith and prayer go hand-in-hand. When our faith suffers, so do our prayers. When it is rooted in Him, we will naturally look to Him.
Faith and prayer go hand-in-hand. When our faith suffers, so do our prayers
Simply saying that we are Christians or that we read the Bible does not amount to a life of faith. In John 15, Jesus says, “If you abide in Me, and my words abide in you.” To abide is to rest in, to whole-heartedly believe. Our faith in God grows by hearing His Word (Romans 10:17). When we do that, we can do as Jesus said and “ask whatever [we] wish for, and it will be done…”
How we pray can reveal a lot about our faith. If we are merely reciting the same mindless words day after day, that is a red flag. The prayers that fall off our lips ought to be led by the Spirit who is alive in us. And when He helps us pray, He certainly doesn’t do so for the ‘sake of it’. A prayer that truly comes out of faith will consist of truths His Word teaches us.
There is a difference when we pray, “Lord, please provide for my needs, protect me and give me shelter” — and when we pray, “Lord, I trust that You will take care of my needs and protect me and give me shelter, because You are the Good Shepherd.” The first is a prayer of faith too. However, over time, we might get to a place where our prayers devolve into vain repetitions to soothe our consciences. We need to trust what God’s Word teaches us about Him, for it will truly change how we pray.
The third reason we struggle is because we still enjoy being Lord of our lives. Though we say we trust God, we tend to live our lives like we control them. And kings don’t bend the knee. They don’t surrender their crowns, because they believe they’re the best people for the job. They’re convinced that they’re sufficient in themselves. And that is opposed to the very nature of prayer.
Prayer essentially involves two things: (i) an admission of our inadequacy, and (ii) an affirmation of God’s sovereignty. When we refuse to kneel, so to speak, it is ultimately a reflection of our conviction that we can go the distance on our own ― and do so better than God.
Total submission to God is one of the most important things a Christian can learn, but this doesn’t happen overnight. It is only when we spend time with His Word that our understanding deepens, and we learn to humble ourselves in submission to Him. When we deny ourselves in this manner, even the way we pray will be centred around what God wants for us.
When we refuse to kneel, it is ultimately a reflection of our conviction that we can go the distance on our own ― and do so better than God
We all talk about prayer a lot, but how many of us know how to define it? Some of the definitions we commonly use or hear are:
None of these definitions are wrong. However, when we look at the prayers in the Bible, there is an underlying thread many of them share that I feel sums it up better. In his book, Calling on the Name of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer, Gary Miller concludes by saying, prayer is “calling on God to come through on His promises”. What an apt description! When we truly understand that every time we pray, we are calling on God to keep His promises, we can understand why David rejoiced in Psalm 13. How we define prayer in our hearts will really reflect how we respond in prayer.
Finally, and easily one of the biggest culprits for our poor prayer lives, is our misguided priorities. When we read through the prayers in the Bible, one of the things that most stands out is how those who prayed kept their focus on God. It’s not that they never had petitions or prayed for themselves — but that, even when they did, they had a greater goal: to fear, worship, know and grow in God. By sorry contrast, when we pray, our focus is often on ourselves.
We pray for good jobs or results, for life partners and good health and so much more. Those petitions are fine, of course, but they are blessings for the self; the focus is ‘me’. None of them will ever truly satisfy our hearts and we will keep going to God with many more requests for earthly blessings.
How we define prayer in our hearts will really reflect how we respond in prayer
John McArthur puts it like this: “The more you focus on yourself, the more distracted you will be from the proper path. The more you know Him and commune with Him, the more the Spirit will make you like Him. The more you are like Him, the better you will understand His utter sufficiency for all of life’s difficulties. And that is the only way to know real satisfaction.”
Just look at what Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:17-19).
Paul prayed that the members of the church would know God better. Praying through our petitions is not wrong, but if our focus is not to know God better and glorify Him, then our priority is off-centre and will affect how we pray.
I hope we will make every effort to consider the time we spend in communion with God: are we squandering it away or rejoicing in sweet fellowship?
Let us pray.
Father, we come to You through Christ, and we thank You for Your Son’s finished work on the cross that enables us to do so.
We thank You that Your Word teaches us that, when we pray by the Spirit and through your Son, You will hear our prayers. Today, Father, we ask that You would help us rethink our prayer lives.
Father, we want to confess that, often we just pray for the sake of it, not really understanding what prayer is meant to be. We ask for forgiveness if we have grieved Your Spirit in this way.
Help us, Oh Lord, to humble ourselves before You. To remember that you are God and we are not. Help us to spend time in Your Word, so that we would grow in our walk with You and, in response, share our hearts with you in prayer and worship. Help us to deny ourselves and submit our lives to you. To set our minds on things above and not on things of this world. Above all, help us to truly know and enjoy You more as we commune with You.
Thank you for listening to our prayers. In Jesus’ name, we pray.
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