Why do we sometimes not pray? You find yourself having gone days or even weeks without prayer. Though you are a Christian, you neglect this most basic discipline of the faith. Why? I can think of a few reasons:
1. Disappointment with God
God has perhaps disappointed you at some point in the past. That past moment could be a long time ago, but it recently came to your attention again yesterday. Or that disappointment could have been yesterday. Of course, we feel we’re not supposed to be disappointed with God; we’re supposed to always be happy with Him; we’re supposed to always be satisfied and content in Him. So, given this inner logic, we go silent on God, lest we express the thing we’re not to express.
But God knows our hearts. And out of the heart the mouth speaks, and sometimes it speaks volumes to God when it doesn’t speak. Regardless, the seed of prayerlessness lies underground, in the heart.
So what to do? Be honest. Pray, honestly. You will not sin if you pray in honesty – if you also remember who you are talking to. But you will not do both at the same time. We notice this time and time again in the Psalms, when David does the first part – honest complaint – followed by the second part – remembering the God he’s talking to. God’s steadfast love, God’s faithfulness, God’s promises, God’s past grace . . . Which brings a third part: a grounded hope, that allows David to see his situation with new eyes. The situation has not changed, but his eyes that see the situation, they’ve changed.
There is a balance that this brings. Tim Keller puts it this way, after reflecting on the prayer habits of Jesus:
“Jesus is so God-centered and yet so human and honest at once. Let this be your guide for prayer. You must neither repress your feelings nor be ruled by them. Most people do one or the other, but not both.” (Timothy Keller, The Obedient Master)
We are free, in union with Him, to follow His example and not repress our feelings. And yet, at the same time, remembering Who we are expressing our feelings to frees us from being ruled by those feelings. They are now honestly expressed, but they are expressed so they may be brought to His throne room, and laid before His feet, as King and Father.
In this balance, we find a steady footing to get up and start walking again, for His will, and His kingdom, trusting our King and Father will add all other things to us, in His good time (Matt. 6:33).
2. A Stiff Neck
As we said in the first section, our prayerlessness does not begin out of us, but within us, in our hearts. One reason could be disappointment with God, but another could be your heart is stiff-necked – it resists God’s imposing His power upon it, to shape it.
I suspect we all implicitly understand what H. B. Charles says in his book, It Happens After Prayer:
The ultimate purpose of prayer is God and His glory, not you and your needs. Prayer is not about prayer itself. It is not about the answers you may get to your prayers. And it’s definitely not about you. It is about God. True prayer is God-centered.
Now, to be clear, Pastor Charles does not mean that God does not care about me and my needs. Not at all. The keyword there is ultimate. Even in His answers to our desires and needs, God does not serve us, but serves the display of His glory, in His grace, by answering our prayers.
And this, if we’re honest, chafes our hearts. Our hearts simply do not want it to be this way. We want our stuff, our needs, to be at the center of the universe. And we want God to exist to serve us. Of course we don’t say this in Sunday School.
But do say it, in our hesitancy to pray. Because we know the moment of prayer then becomes moment of wills, of whose will will be imposed on whom. And we know God is God; He will win. And so we don’t pray. Because we want it the other way.
Of course we are wrong about this. The inner logic of this strain of prayerlessness is completely foolish. It is a contest of wills – that’s true. But the foolish part comes when we think God is up to something that is counter to what we want and what we need. This not true.
On the face of it. For we come to this conclusion out of blindness. God does a lot more answering of our prayers than we think. In our faithlessness we simply don’t look for the answers. But they are there, all over the place. We are more like Rhoda and the praying church of Acts 12 than we realize.
But there is something deeper going on, in our hearts. We are simply more like stubborn donkeys than we care to admit. There still resides within us an insane resistance to the goodness of God, that has yet to be transformed by His grace. And so the way forward, towards that transformation, is by prayer. We do the thing we do not want to do. And perhaps, our first prayer must be for God to change what we want – to change our hearts. “I believe; help my unbelief.”
And in that moment, we are one step closer in likeness to Jesus, who told His Father in the Garden, “Let this cup pass from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done.” In Gethsemane Jesus is “re-doing” what happened in the Garden of Eden, where our first father and mother ruined everything by following their own stubborn wills. He goes before us, submitting His will to the Father, so we could be freed once and for all from our stubborn hearts.