There is almost no Christian in the world who believes prayer is unimportant. From the moment we become aware of God’s love, we feel an internal tug to pray. Now, we may not be able to offer a theology of prayer or discuss many of the ways people have prayed throughout Christian history. But even the most immature Christian will affirm the importance of prayer. Despite this, most Christians will also confess that we don’t pray enough.
If you want to provoke guilt in an audience of Christians, all you have to ask is “How is your prayer life? I’m not asking you if you think prayer is important or even if you could teach on prayer or if you recommend prayer to others in times of crisis. Just tell me how you’re doing right now in your private prayer – today, this past week, this past month?”
Almost always, Christians will drop their heads when asked about our personal practice of prayer and confess, “Well, I’m not as disciplined as I ought to be! I know I need to pray more! I know I should be doing better than I am!”
Prayer is the easiest thing in the world
One of the first Christian books I ever read as a teenager was a book by a Norwegian pastor named Ole Hallesby. The book is simply titled, Prayer. Hallesby opened the book by defining what prayer is for a Christian. He quoted Revelation 3:20, which says:
20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
Hallesby commented on this verse, saying:
“To pray is nothing more involved than to open the door, giving Jesus access to our needs and permitting him to exercise his own power in dealing with them. To pray is to open the door to Jesus.”
What does this mean? Whatever our emotions, whatever our mood we invite Jesus into that. When we are angry or have been offended by someone, instead of carrying on an internal dialogue with that other person, or pretending that we are ok, we simply invite Jesus into our anger to help us sort it out. When we are discouraged, we practice being emotionally honest with Jesus. We tell Jesus, “I’m disappointed. I really thought things were going to work out differently.” Instead of stuffing our emotions, we allow the circumstances to be the knock of Jesus on the door of our hearts and we invite the Lord in.
Difficulties in Prayer
On the one hand, prayer is the easiest thing in the world. Whatever we are going through, we simply open the door to Jesus. But on the other hand, anyone who has actually tried to pray immediately encounters difficulty in prayer. Why is prayer so hard?
We are too Busy!
We live in an activist culture that believes that life is lived best when we live busily. The most important people are those whose schedules are the most crowded. This is the message we communicate to our children. Our kids are doing best if they are playing three sports and are also involved in four other extracurricular activities. We are doing best when our schedules are jammed to overflowing. If involvement in two ministries is good, being involved in five ministries is better. If exercise is good then training for an ultramarathon is better! We find that we feel too busy to pray.
We have a spiritual enemy!
A second reason that prayer is so difficult for us is one that most Christians rarely think about. The truth is we have a spiritual enemy – Satan – who has a supreme design in a Christian’s life – to keep us from going to God. I learned a little nursery rhyme when I first became a Christian 45 years ago. It went this way:
Satan trembles when he sees,
The weakest Christian on his knees.
Prayer puts weak people like us in touch with the One who holds sway over all events. Prayer connects us with the One whose power can deal with every problem in the world – sickness, depression, psychological disorders, financial disasters, relational fracturing, political upheaval, whatever.
Whether it’s our own busy-ness or Satan’s opposition, there are two other difficulties we face in prayer.
We are confused about why we pray.
Why do we pray? One reason to pray is that:
Prayer is the way we develop our relationship with Christ.
All of our relationships are based upon communication. The reason why many marriages break down is because of poor communication. Husbands and wives simply don’t talk to each other or they don’t talk about anything really meaningful. Families break down because of a lack of communication.
The same is true in our relationship with God. We’re not going to have a very deep relationship with God unless we communicate with him. Prayer is not just saying a bunch of spiritual jargon that satisfies our religious obligations to God. Prayer is emotionally honest communication that builds our relationship with Jesus.
Why do we pray?
We pray to gain the mind of Jesus.
We need wisdom all the time. We need direction about our future. We know that our plans for our lives are not enough. We need God’s direction and God’s wisdom. Psalm 127:1 says:
1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
How much labor have we spent in vain because the Lord was not building the house? How much useless activity have we engaged in because the Lord was not at work in our work? How much better to have a sense of God’s leading and direction in our families or our work or finances or ministries. We pray to gain the mind of Christ.
We pray to meet our needs and the needs of others.
In prayer, we’re simply acknowledging our limits as creatures before our infinite Creator. We can’t obtain for ourselves through our own efforts what we need. And we can’t obtain for others what others need. There are those near to us who are sick. There are people we care about who are grieving the loss of loved ones. Whenever we watch the news we are in touch with the reality of people’s suffering. We have friends who are getting divorced. We have loved ones who are raising children alone. Through prayer, we can obtain help for someone we care about that we can’t personally provide.
If you love Vineyard Columbus then you will pray for this church. If you love me or another pastor or Christian leader then you will pray for us. We can’t always do something for our church or for our pastors and leaders, but we can always pray for them!
We are confused about how to pray.
In the months of October and November, Vineyard Columbus is going to be embarking on a teaching series with accompanying seminars designed to help our congregation to overcome obstacles in prayer. A significant part of our teaching will be practical training so we can Just Pray!