Prayer Is Hard
Prayer has always been a struggle for me. I'm not the guy who wakes up early in the morning to spend an hour or two on my knees. (I'm not even a Christian until I get some coffee running through my veins.) And stories of the guys who have and do pray this way generally overwhelm me. It's been said that James, the brother of Jesus, had calloused knees he prayed so much. (I suppose I might pray more if I was at constant risk of literally losing my head.) And many have heard of the prayer life of Martin Luther. He said that he was "too busy not to pray." If you're anything like me you would agree that you're too busy, but not too busy not to pray.
Not That I Don't Agree With It
I'm not saying that I don't agree with prayer or that I don't see the importance of it. I do. I think it's extremely important and furthermore, it's a command of Jesus. At the very least he expected us to pray a little bit (Matthew 6:5). It's just that I mostly find it to be personally ineffective. When I pray I mostly feel weird because I feel like I'm talking out loud to myself (which really isn't all that weird because I talk to myself in my head all the time.) I often feel like precious moments are being wasted because I have a really long to do list and spending time in prayer doesn't seem to accomplish much. I have a hard enough time meeting with people sitting right in front of me, let alone a God that I can't see. And then there is the reality that my prayers often seem to go unanswered. Or they're at least not answered the way I want them to be. (Maybe it's a combination of the two?)
I recently came to the realization that prayer is often difficult for me because my prayers often seem hindered. When I pray it feels like trying to drive with the parking brake on. I'm on the accelerator but the car isn't going anywhere and even though I'm not moving I'm bound to run out of gas at some point even though I haven't gotten any closer to my destination.
So the question is, what is it that's hindering my prayers? And maybe you're asking yourself the same question?
Well, I have two thoughts.
We Don't See Him As Father
When Jesus tells us how to pray in the Sermon On The Mount (Matthew 5-7) he begins by telling us to address God as Father! This was an unheard of concept in the day. It was expected to address God as a far above and distant from humanity Deity, but to address him as Father, that was traducing.
The reality is that this is how many of us approach prayer. We don't talk to God as if he is our Father but more as if he's a very distant weird uncle. The conversation just isn't very personal and if we're honest we don't want it to get all that personal. (Who wants to tell secrets to a weird uncle?)
But God is not a weird uncle! He is, for the Christian, our Father! Yes, he's in heaven, but he's still our Father and when we realize this, distance is not an obstacle, but fuel for the fire. It's like talking on the phone with your spouse or best friend who is thousands of miles away and you haven't seen in weeks or months. Your conversation with them doesn't leave you hoping they will stay away longer; rather, it fuels a longing for the next conversation and the day you will meet again face to face.
This is how prayer is meant to be. God is our Father (Romans 8:15). Because of the work of Jesus we are adopted into his family. And he is a delightful daddy to talk to! And the more we just talk to him the more we'll want to just talk to him.
But there's another reason prayer might be difficult.
Lack Of Holiness
You might find this one hard to handle. Christians don't normally associate their personal holiness with the effect of their prayers. We just assume–no matter how we live–that God is required to answer us the way we want him to; like he's a genie or something.
But the bible closely connects the way we live with the effectiveness of our prayers. Listen to Peter.
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers (1 Peter 4:7).
Peter is quite convinced that the way we live has a direct impact on our prayer. Earlier in his letter he mentions that husbands should "live with their wives in an understanding way...so that their prayers may not be hindered." That's right men. Your prayers might be on God's back-burner because you can't treat your wife with gentleness.
It needs to be understood that Peter is not saying you and I need to be perfect to have a meaningful and effective prayer life. However, he is saying that the actions of our lives do impact the way we pray and the ways in which prayers are answered.
Prayer is hard when you have some un-repented of sin hanging over your head. Think of a child who has disobeyed his parents. Until he confesses his wrong, communicating with mommy and daddy is going to be rather difficult. Furthermore, mommy and daddy aren't fooled. They know the lack of communication means disobedience has occurred.
So it is with prayer. When we have unconfessed sin, it is that very sin that hinders our desire to pray.
One final thought on holiness and prayer. God answers prayers that are in accord with his will; and his will is our holiness (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:22).
The question then is how? How can our prayer lives be transformed? Because we both know that holiness tends to be a rather distant reality.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).
The answer to the "how" is Jesus. Jesus alone makes holiness possible and by placing faith in his finished work his holiness becomes yours and mine! This opens an entire new world to boldly approach the throne of God.
Because of Jesus we no longer need to hide the sins that hang over our heads. We freely confess them and know that we're forgiven (1 John 1:9).
Because of Jesus we can and do grow in holiness (Colossians 1:21-23).
Because of Jesus we are reconciled back to our Father. We are his children, and as his children, we freely and boldly speak to our Daddy, not because we're trying to get his credit card and car keys, but simply because he's fun to talk to.