We hear these expressions all the time: "Pray about it," or "I'll pray for you." When someone tells us to pray about something, how many times do we actually do it? When you agree to pray for someone or vice versa, do you really? Sometimes when someone shares their struggles with us, our automatic response is the offer of prayer, without much thought. Prayer is such a vital part of our Christian faith, yet it has become overrated and mechanical. This week, my Bible study covered the topic of prayer, and it prompted me to reflect on this in my own life. In the study guide, a quote by Emilie Griffin struck me: "There is a moment between intending to pray and actually praying. It is as dark and silent as any moment in our lives. It is the split second between thinking about praying and actually praying. For some of us, this split second between thinking and actually praying lasts decades. It seems then that the greatest obstacle to prayer is a simple matter of beginning to pray. How easy it is and yet between us and the possibilities of prayer, there seems to be this great gulf, an abyss of our own making, that separates us from God." Guilty, I confess.
Why is it such a struggle to actually pray? What gets in the way? I have narrowed it down to 3 reasons: expectations, limitations, and impatience.
1. EXPECTATIONS. I often come before God already with an idea of what I want the result to be. This totally clouds my judgment because I am not open to listening. I am in fact talking at God rather than to God. I quote the great Oswald Chambers, "Is the Son of God prayung in me , or am I dictating to Him? ...If the Son of God is formed in us by regeneration, He will press forward in front of our common sense and change our attitude to the things about which we pray." Most of the time, my expectations aren't even within reason. Praying with any expectations other than the reality that He does indeed hear you and will answer you, can be troublesome. Once we get the mentality that He is going to hear us and answer us according to what we hope for and desire, we cannot see God's plan. I can almost assure you that thinking this way will result in disappointment. Then we start to tell ourselves that God is not there because He has not met our expectations. Perhaps we should meet His, by simply quieting our demands and letting Him work. "Be still and know that I am God," Psalm 46:10.
2. LIMITATIONS. Do you ever think that your prayer is impossible, as you're praying for it? Sometimes I am just in disbelief at God's abilities and I box Him up. As a result, I am stunting His power to move. Ironic how we ask for a miracle but shake our head at the possibility that He could actually make it happen. God is bigger than you and I. Let go of your reservations when you pray, and be amazed at His power. I can be a competitive person sometimes, but when it comes to God, I welcome the opportunity to let Him blow me out of the water. His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).
3. IMPATIENCE. This is the one I struggle the most with. I want immediate answers. It's my time or no time. How foolish it is for me to think that I can tell God when to move! God will move in our lives when the time is right. He is the only one that knows what's best for us at every particular moment in time. Impatience has led me to set deadlines for God and when my expectations are not met by then, I am hurt or angry thinking that He has ignored my prayer. When I look back at my situations in my life, the greatest blessings have often come at the most inopportune hour. Now that time has moved forward, I can see how it was exactly the right time.
Praying is uncomplicated. It simply involves talking to God, having a conversation if you will. Like any relationship, constant conversation is what allows it to blossom. I can't write about prayer without bringing up E.M. Bounds. He wrote, "The goal of prayer is the ear of God, a goal that can only be reached by patient and continued and continuous waiting upon Him, pouring out our heart to Him and permitting Him to speak to us. Only by so doing can we expect to know Him, and as we come to know Him better we shall spend more time in His presence and find that presence a constant and ever-increasing delight."
While I think praying away from distractions (people, noise, etc.) is a good thing, the setting for prayer doesn't always have to be sitting in an empty room (unless that's what works for you). Sometimes prayer is our heartfelt reaction when we drive past a car accident, see a story about a child kidnapped, witness a friend getting married, or hear about a loved one who made it out of surgery safely. It can be the discussion we have with God as we see how different each person that walks by is. It is rejoicing in the diverse human race. Prayer can also be prompted by nature and taking in God's creation. Maybe, like typical good friends, you can communicate non-verbally with God. Have you ever just stood by a waterfall and was amazed at it's strength and beauty? You didn't need to actually speak words to the Lord, you just closed your eyes, felt the water sprinkle across your face, and smiled with joy. In those moments, you knew the Lord was with you in perfect communion. All without uttering a word.
Examine your motives when praying. Pray with an open heart. You may be sorry to get an answer you didn't want, but you'll be even sorrier if you miss out on the truth God wants you to know. If you truly seek to follow and obey the Lord, ignoring what He is trying to say to you will be a regretful decision...sooner or later. When you pray, find God's voice and lose your own. Be willing to accept any response from God, even if it's not what you want, but what you need to hear.
I hope these verses will elicit reflection in your own prayer life.
"When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." (James 4:3)
"But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted." (John 15:7)
"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20)
"In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation." (Psalm 5:3)
"Pray without ceasing." (1 Thessalonians 5:17 KJV)