Don Whitney, author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, came to our church many years ago and conducted a seminar. He noted that pastors, on the average, read their bibles 15 minutes a day and prayed 7 minutes a day. This is the cream of the crop! Their minuscule prayer life is probably not from a lack of knowledge. There must be other factors that contribute to lack of prayer.
The usual response is for church leaders to exhort the people to pray more. Likewise, I tell myself, “I need to pray more.” For a week I do, but soon I’m back to where I was. This approach only addresses the symptoms and not the problem. The question that needs to be asked and answered is, “why don’t I pray more?”
I quickly thought of five reasons for my own lack of prayer at various points in my life. I added a couple more without too much effort. When I listed them out, they fell into two general categories:
My view of God
- I don’t think God loves me.
- I don’t think God loves my child/spouse/parent as much as I do.
- The benefit I will derive from prayer is uncertain and in the future. The cost and effort are real and now. A real cost with uncertain benefits does not provide me with much incentive.
- I, and other people I know, have prayed for good, non-trivial things, and nothing happened: failing health, failing marriages, job, children, not being able to have children, etc. Time and emotions were spent with disappointment being the only result.
- We are told, “God gives us what we need, not what we want.” What is the point of prayer if I’m not going to get what I want?
- I have to beg and grovel and convince God that He should grant my prayer.
- Talking to God is like talking into a phone where the other end is on mute – I don’t hear any response. That is really discouraging.
My view of myself
- Guilt and shame. I stepped in a big pile of stupid. Now the consequences are rolling in. How can I ask God to bail me out of this mess caused by my own disobedience and rebellion against Him?
- The prayers of godly people are answered. I’m not exactly sure who they are, but I know it’s not me.
Both groups of thoughts center around a question that never goes away. It lurks in the shadows, rarely revealing itself, but always its presence is felt. “Is God for me?” I see John 3:16 signs at football games. “God so loved the world.” That’s great, but I need to know that God is for ME. That He cares out MY problems, MY pain, MY disappointments, MY hopes. Until then, I don’t really care about the world. Until I know that God is for me, prayer will be a chore.
If I have to grovel and beg when I go to the throne of God, I will only go when the pain is so bad that I have nowhere else to go. If grace is metered out in little dribbles, just enough to get me by, I will not be approaching God with enthusiasm and praise. If I am unsure what type of reception I’m going to receive, I may want to take my chances elsewhere. If He is going to recite the long list of things that I should have done better, prayer is going to be painful.
What do you do with a mindset like that? Nothing really helps. Being told by preachers, books, other people, or even myself, that I should pray more only generates frustration. Someone spouting platitudes or throwing a verse at me is useless.
For me, the answer came at a men’s breakfast when a friend shared his favorite verse, Jude 24: “To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy.”
Notice the revolutionary thought: God has great joy when He presents me before His throne. And, He is going to present me without fault. That’s a foreign concept, especially if you know what I have thought, said, and done.
I was reading the first chapter of Ephesians for the zillionth time when one word caught my eye – “lavish.” That word conjures up visions of a feast with so much food that you can’t even think of taking a bite of everything you see, so many golden plates and cups that you don’t even try to count them all. Did you ever think of God as lavish? That He lavished redemption and forgiveness upon us? He doesn’t just grudgingly dribble out mercy using an eyedropper, He hands it out by the truck full.
I have heard the first half of Hebrews 4:16 many times. “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace…” It is about approaching the throne of God with confidence. I dismissed that verse because it is for godly people, and I wasn’t one. I finally read the verse’s second half. “…so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” It talks about receiving mercy. Putting the two pieces together: people that need mercy can confidently approach the throne of God. Who are the people that need mercy? The less than perfect. I was qualified, overqualified in fact. This verse applied to me after all. Even if I stepped in a big pile of stupid, I could come boldly to the throne of God.
Author Andrew Farley noted that the phrase “having forgiven us all our trespasses” in Colossians 2:13 has great implications. If all my sins have been forgiven, there is nothing for God to be angry at. Past, present, and future sins have all been forgiven. There is no animosity between me and God, and never will be. I don’t have to worry about an angry judge glaring at me from the bench and reminding me of past failures. I can confidently approach the throne of God.
Most of us are told through sermons, songs, or our own reading of Scripture that our salvation, sanctification, and God’s love for us depend upon our love for God. I’m not sure what level of love is required, but I knew that I didn’t have it. That knowledge hounded me for over 20 years. Too bad, it was unbiblical. Read 1 John 4, Romans 5, and Ephesians 2 to see that God first loved us and demands nothing from us except faith in His goodness.
The beast that prowls and lurks has an answer. Does God care? Yes! He came to earth, hung on a cross, and rose from the dead so that I could have new life. All my sins have been forgiven. God will never be angry or disappointed with me. A less than perfect person like me can boldly go to the throne of God and be lavished with mercy. And when He sees me, He has great joy.
Knowing that God is for me changes the relationship. Knowing that God is good, I can live with His answers to prayer, even if I would rather have had a different outcome. Knowing that God is not angry with me allows me to come to Him when I do mess up. Knowing that God is lavish, I don’t have to beg and plead for a teaspoon of grace.