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Why Is Prayer So Hard?

“17 pray without ceasing”
– 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV)

Why is prayer both the easiest and hardest thing in the Christian life? Few things are more straightforward than speaking. That’s what prayer is: a conversation with the LORD. Yet, prayer is consistently that thing in most Christians’ lives at which they admit they’re terrible. I’ve been a believer since 1992, and without caution, I can still slip into stretches of prayerlessness. I can only speak for myself. For me, it’s never a conscious attitude that I can handle things. It almost always happens because I’m lulled to sleep by the normality of every day. My days are pretty consistent and that consistency is a lullaby to my prayer life.

That tells me something. Without little reminders that I place in my path, I typically need my normalcy to be shaken before I remember to pray. Now, let me be clear. My normalcy includes prayer at certain times, like giving thanks when I wake up, before I eat, and when I go to bed. But may I be bold? I don’t count those appointed times as a prayer life. I call that a good morning, thanks for the food, good night prayer routine, but not a healthy relationship with the LORD.

Mindless and Reflexive

I’ve been challenged for years now to consider what it means to pray without ceasing. I suppose an argument can be made that if I consistently say good morning, thank you for the food, and good night every day, I would technically be doing that without ceasing. But I do not believe that is the spirit behind what the Apostle Paul told the Thessalonian church. Pray without ceasing implies an ongoing conversation with the LORD. Think about it. If the only things I ever said to my wife were good morning, thanks for cooking, and good night, we wouldn’t have a relationship. It would be robotic. Even if I spruced things up and expanded our morning talk to include a little about our children, a discussion about our friends at lunch, and then, in the evening, a little bit about how our day went, it’s no substitute for spontaneous conversations about whatever is on our minds at any moment.

Routines are easy once they are established. This is why I contend that routine prayer is not relational prayer. Relationships need cultivation, devotion, and attention that goes beyond the rote rhythms of routine. The routine usually becomes mindless. Think about your drive to work. Be honest. You are so used to it that you can mentally work through a multitude of things while driving and make it there with minimal conscious effort. It’s the mindless and reflexive nature of routine prayer that I’m saying is insufficient for spiritual health.

Yet, so many pray this way and expect it to be sufficient to sustain a healthy relationship with the LORD.

Relational Prayer

Relational prayer doesn’t throw routines out the window. It includes good morning, thank you for the food, and good night, but it goes above and beyond. All thriving relationships possess intentionality about healthy conversations. Plan time for it and create a routine that helps you do it. However, this isn’t like a phone call where you dial, speak, then hang up. It continues because the Holy Spirit is always with you. So, if all we’re doing is the routine prayer thing, it’s comparable to having your best friend with you side-by-side, 24/7, but never speaking unless it’s “time” to speak.

That’s not a friendship.

We must resolve the nature of our prayer lives with the reality of what Jesus told His disciples.

“15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
– John 15:15 (ESV)

Friendship implies ongoing, healthy conversation. This is why we pray without ceasing. We process things with the LORD throughout our day, not only when we’re sitting down with our open Bibles. It implies times of speaking and times of listening. Don’t turn your conversations with the LORD into one-way monologues. Take time to listen, then weigh what you think you’re hearing against the Word.

This Doesn’t Sound Hard

The simplicity of a healthy prayer life belies its difficulty. I know what I’ve said sounds so easy a caveman could do it, but let’s be real. If it were easy, everyone would be doing this. So why is it hard? Conversations with the LORD are hard because, done right, will always lead us to die. Prayer is sanctifying. If your prayer life never leads you to the cross where something within you must die, even if you pray all day long, you are always monologing but never listening.

The Holy Spirit is going to lead you into many uncomfortable things that your flesh will rage against. He’s going to lead you to say something that may seem awkward to that person sitting in a neighboring booth at lunch. He’s going to remind you that your bad attitude about getting called into work on your day off isn’t Christlike. He’s going to bring to mind something you did a few weeks ago that needs correction, then have the audacity to expect you to make the correction. Friendship with the LORD is transformative. If you say you know Him but remain unchanged, you may not.

Or, you may just be that friend who always talks but never listens.

No matter how you slice it, a healthy prayer life will lead you to die every day in big and small ways. In prayer, we present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship (Romans 12:1). A relational prayer life is hard because it demands death to the old self.

But it produces a thriving life for the new self.

“22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
– Ephesians 4:22-24 (ESV)

I have no easy answer to the difficulty of prayer. But I can confidently tell you that it isn’t complicated. The simplicity of relational prayer should give us hope that it’s attainable and sustainable, but we must be willing to die for it.

Come and die so that you may live.

 

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Last modified: April 24, 2024
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