Why We Sometimes Don't Pray
By Ed Gungor
December 7, 2009
Prayer—which is simply talking with God—is considered a critical aspect of faith. One prophet blurted, “Far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you” (1 Sam. 12:23 (TNIV)). Prayer is not some kind of pious decoration; it is the breath of the human soul. Unfortunately, some of us don’t breathe as often as we should—and it shows.
Scripture exhorts, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Col. 4:2). The word “devote” is actually derived from the word “vow.” In other words, we should think about and commit ourselves to some consistent prayer rhythms. Yet, it seems so hard to do. There are reasons why we don’t pray. Some are valid ... some are maybe less so, but there are practical ways we can make our devotion a habit rather than a chore. So below are some common reasons people stop praying, and tips for how to overcome those obstacles.
We Don’t Pray Because We Didn’t Pray.
It may sound odd, but I feel guilty for my prayerlessness, so I tend to avoid praying even more. Imagine if I told you I was going to call you yesterday but I forgot, and I see you at the mall today. Chances are I’m going to try to avoid bumping into you. Why? Because guilt fosters avoidance. When guilt governs our actions it leads to more guilt. But you don’t have to avoid praying because you have been prayerless—you just need to own it. Just say to God, “Sorry, I haven’t talked with you much. Actually, I’ve sort of been avoiding you … I don’t want to do it anymore. Here I am.”
As James wrote, “Come near to God and He will come near to you” (James 4:8).
We Forget Prayer Is An Invitation.
It’s important to understand the nature of prayer. Prayer is not a human attempt to get God’s attention. Some theologians say the only reason we even think of God is because God is trying to get our attention. It’s called “prevenient grace.” Whenever we follow “the urge” to pray it may seem like we are reaching out to Him, but we are simply responding to His call to us.
The Scriptures claim, “There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:11). None of us would have ever thought to pray had God not put that “thought” in us. Our desire to pray is the result of His seeking and beckoning us. Prayer is the natural human reaction to God’s pursuit of us.
We Don’t Know Where To Begin.
The scripture says that sometimes “we do not know what we ought to pray for” (Rom. 8:26). Not knowing what to do in prayer is one of the major reasons people don’t pray. There are lots of paths to explore when you pray, or you can abandon all paths and just simply wing it by opening your heart to God and saying what’s on your mind.
Many find it easiest to engage their hearts in prayer by thinking and praying deeply using small portions of scripture as they quiet themselves in a private place. It’s called contemplative prayer. Just as an anchor plunges deep to the ocean floor to secure a ship, the scriptures pull people’s minds deep into the core of their being to experience focused prayer.
You can start this kind of prayer by taking a verse like Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Let your mind settle in on those words. Think deeply on what God is saying to you. As you think deeply and ponder a verse like this, you will find your mind settling and God’s presence will begin to dawn deep within you.
There are many other patterns of prayer historically used by the church that may greatly enrich your prayer experience. Experiment with the Daily Office, the Jesus’ Prayer, the lectio divina (Google these!), or simply turn on some worship music and sing to the Lord in the privacy of your room.
Just remember your mind can be the greatest enemy to a prayer life. And it will take some time to learn to tame it. The mind often races and the emotions will scream when you try to settle into prayer. But don’t give into that. Just press in tenaciously and push through those distractions. Focus on the fact that God is seeking you and wants to hear your heart.
Prayer Helps Us Love God Back
I love God less than I want to. I want to love God enough to be willing to do what saints who have gone before me have done: to do something radical and countercultural for Christ. God hasn’t asked me to do such things, but I want to be in a place in my soul where He knows (and I know) that He could, and that there would be a resounding YES in me.
I’m not talking about ordinary faith here. Nor am I talking about something that is required. There is a required love: We’re supposed to love God enough to receive what He has freely given us in Christ; we’re supposed to love God enough to face the cross in order to ensure what Jesus did isn’t ignored by us. Salvation is found there. And that is where our journey of faith begins. That is really all that’s necessary or required by God, as far as loving Him is concerned. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t more.
There is plenty of room for believers to love God extra—room to be caught up in an infatuation with the Holy. I’m not saying we should try to love Him extra in order to make Him love us more—He loves us period, not in response to what we do or don’t do. I’m not nervous about how God feels about me. But I don’t want to just think about that; I want to respond to that.
I think the secret of loving God “more” is to order our lives in such a way that we intentionally and consistently experience the face of God through prayer. Loving God more is possible if we intentionally face God more. This is why the Psalmist prayed again and again, “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved” (Psa. 80:3). I want more face time with God. I want to forget Him less. This journey of faith is all about gazing at the One who is invisible. That’s what prayer is. And I want to journey well.