Over the years I have been amazed at the paltry desire I’ve felt to pray. I am especially aware of this aversion just prior to the times that I’ve specifically set aside to pray, whether in private or with others. I suppose this confession may come as a surprise to some. Others relate immediately and may even be comforted by the admission that they are not alone in their weak longings when the hour of prayer arrives.
Lack of Motivation?
There are reasons for this lack of motivation. I see four:
The Independence of the Flesh
I have said many times that prayerlessness is our declaration of independence from God. As believers we are “spirit critters in an earth suit.”[i] Our new man desires God but our flesh wants to live independently. In the natural we resist humble reliance on God and transparent intimacy with other believers, both of which are germane to real prayer. When we feel apathy toward prayer, we need to recognize the prayer-oriented desires of the Spirit in our hearts and give them priority over the resistance of our flesh that tends toward self-reliance, self-protection and self-determination.
The Relentless Attack of the Enemy
I’ve heard it said, “No one is a firmer believer in the power of prayer than the devil; not that he practices it, but he suffers from it.” Pastor Jim Cymbala has noted, “The devil is not terribly frightened of our human efforts and credentials. But he knows his kingdom will be damaged when we begin to lift up our hearts to God.” Satan and his demons seek to counter and diminish every intention of the Christian toward prayer. We need to recognize the role that prayer plays in the spiritual battle (see Ephesians 6:18) and resolve to be “praying menaces” to the enemy of our souls.
The Busyness of Our Modern Lives
Busyness destroys relationships, starting with our primary relationship with God. I am convinced that busyness is the breeding ground of self-sufficiency and lures us into the deceptive life pattern that concludes that we can conduct our Christian life by our own efforts rather than through a humble and heartfelt abiding in Christ through prayer. I am reminded of the familiar adage that if the devil cannot make us bad he will simply keep us busy. E.M. Bounds has written, “‘Too busy to pray’ is not only the keynote to backsliding, but it mars even the work done. Nothing is well done without prayer for the simple reason that it leaves God out of the account. It is so easy to be seduced by the good to the neglect of the best, until both the good and the best perish.”
The Unpleasant Memory of Previous Experiences
Dave Butts, author and Chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, often states that “the main reason most people do not attend prayer meetings at their church is because they have been to prayer meetings at their church.” Sadly, many people give in to their excuses about prayer because their past experiences of prayer have been traditional rather than biblical; man-centered rather than God-centered; request-based rather than worship-based. Few Christians really enjoy this unfortunate dilution and diversion from real New Testament prayer.
From my own journey in personal and corporate prayer, I see four vital ingredients for breaking through our reluctance in prayer to enjoy the Lord’s gift of intimacy with Him.
Mind Your Motivation
Like the Pharisees Jesus called out in Matthew 6:5, we can be motivated by improper pursuits. For them, it was praying for show – to be seen by others. For us, it could be guilt, duty, or even a resolve to manipulate God into doing our will on earth rather than His.
Years ago, the Lord spoke to me powerfully about my own heart and branded this truth into my heart: the only enduring motivation for prayer is that God is worthy to be sought. This worship-based focus transformed my prayer life and how our church prayed. When motivation wanes and the enemy strikes, I say it aloud: “God is worthy to be sought! I must pray!”
Action Above Feeling
Real prayer, like other important issues in life, cannot be mastered by feeling our way into action but rather by acting our way into feeling. Prayer is not a mood. Prayer is the lifeline of all that is good and must be chosen in spite of current feelings, impulses, and conveniences. The more we understand God’s worthiness, the more we grasp our neediness and the deeper our conviction takes root. We must pray, regardless of circumstances or spiritually counterproductive urges.
Avoid a False Atart
On the walls of my childhood home hung a plaque that read, “When it seems hardest to pray, pray hardest.” I would revise that to say, “When it seems hardest to pray, worship passionately.” Too many times our starting place in prayer is simply the articulation of whatever is on our minds to say to God. Let’s be honest—our human thoughts are often misguided, shallow, and punctuated as the beginning place of prayer. This is usually a false start.
That is why I have concluded that the best beginning point in prayer is from the pages of God’s word. His truth gives our hearts language, especially as it provides truth and fresh insight about His character, His names, and His mighty works. God’s word quickly sparks a new motivation for prayer, regardless of our mood or circumstances, by fixing our eyes on Him and opening our hearts to His word to us, not just our words to Him.
Compelled by Community
The Lord never designed us to learn prayer on a discouraging solo journey. He has placed us in a body so that our worship, learning, fellowship, and prayers might be powerfully enjoyed in community. All of the New Testament commands to pray were written to believers in community and applied instinctively in corporate prayer, since there were no personal or individualized copies of Scripture until the advent of the printing press. (For more on this see my book, Fresh Encounters—Experiencing Transformation Through United Worship-Based Prayer, where an entire section is devoted to dispelling our concepts of the “prayer closet” as simply an experience of individual prayer.)
When we pray together, motivation soars through the encouragement, accountability, and edification of the Spirit working through others to inspire our hearts. Of course, the very commitment to show up and pray with others keeps us regular in prayer. Alternatively, going it alone is the environment for easy excuses and neglect of prayer.
Prayer is often our last resort rather than our first resolve. Yet, the more we learn about why our motivation wanes and how we can find consistent inspiration, the more faithful and fruitful we can be as we seek Him and grow in our Christlikeness through prayer.
Photo by Daniel Nanescu