Four Reasons You Don’t Feel Like Praying (and Four Keys to Breakthrough)
Over the years I have been amazed at the paltry desire I’ve felt to pray. I am especially aware of this aversion just prior to the times that I’ve specifically set aside to pray, whether in private or with others. I suppose this confession may come as a surprise. Yet, I hope you are comforted by the admission that you are not alone in your weak longings when the hour of prayer arrives.
I see four reasons we typically struggle to pray:
1. The independence of the flesh– I have said many times that prayerlessness is our declaration of independence from God. I heard one teacher describe us as “spirit critters in an earth suit.” Our new man desires God but our flesh wants to live independently. In the natural, we resist humble reliance on God and transparent intimacy with other believers, both of which are germane to real prayer. When we feel apathy toward prayer, we need to recognize the prayer-oriented desires of the Spirit in our hearts and give them priority over the resistance of our flesh that tends toward self-reliance, self-protection, and self-determination.
Prayerlessness is our declaration of independence from God.
2. The relentless attack of the enemy– I’ve heard it said, “No one is a firmer believer in the power of prayer than the devil; not that he practices it, but he suffers from it.” Pastor Jim Cymbala has noted, “The devil is not terribly frightened of our human efforts and credentials. But he knows his kingdom will be damaged when we begin to lift up our hearts to God.” Satan and his demons seek to counter and diminish every intention of the Christian toward prayer. We need to recognize the role that prayer plays in the spiritual battle (see Ephesians 6:18) and resolve to be “praying menaces” to the enemy of our souls.
No one is a firmer believer in the power of prayer than the devil; not that he practices it, but he suffers from it.
3. The busyness of our modern lives– Busyness destroys relationships, starting with our primary relationship with God. I am convinced that busyness is the breeding ground of self-sufficiency and lures us into the deceptive life pattern that concludes that we can conduct our Christian life by our own efforts rather than through a humble and heartfelt abiding in Christ through prayer. I am reminded of the familiar adage that if the devil cannot make us bad he will simply keep us busy. Charles Spurgeon noted, “Sometimes we think we are too busy to pray. That is a great mistake, for praying is a saving of time. If we have no time we must make time, for if God has given us time for secondary duties, He must have given us time for primary ones, and to draw near to Him is a primary duty, and we must let nothing set it on one side.”[I]
“Sometimes we think we are too busy to pray. That is a great mistake, for praying is a saving of time.” – Charles Spurgeon
4. The unpleasant memory of previous experiences– Dave Butts, author and Chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, often states that “the main reason most people do not attend prayer meetings at their church is because they have been to prayer meetings at their church.” Sadly, many people give in to their excuses about prayer because their past experiences have been traditional rather than biblical; man-centered rather than God-centered; request-based rather than worship-based. Few Christians really enjoy this unfortunate dilution and diversion from real New Testament prayer.
This devotional is adapted from our brand new book, 21 Days to Deeper Prayer, co-authored by Jim Maxim and Daniel Henderson. It is not too late to restart your prayer journey in 2021.
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Four Keys to Breakthrough
From my own journey in personal and corporate prayer, I see four vital ingredients for moving beyond our reluctance in prayer to enjoy the Lord’s gift of intimacy with Him.
1. Mind Your Motivation– Like the Pharisees Jesus called out in Matthew 6:5, we can be motivated by improper pursuits. For them, it was praying for “show” – to be seen by others. For us, it could be guilt, duty, or even a resolve to manipulate God into doing our will on earth rather than His.
Because God convicted me at the outset of my ministry about my need to become a praying pastor who led a praying church, I committed to personally facilitating multiple prayer gatherings every week with my congregation. After well over two decades of this rhythm, God privileged me to participate with my people in thousands of prayer experiences. But, here is a confession: I did not feel like going to most of those gatherings.
Yet, early in the journey, the Lord emblazoned a motivation into my heart that consistently overcame my excuses and reluctance. I regularly focused on the truth that the only enduring motivation for prayer is that God is worthy to be sought. This paramount reality never changes. This worship-based focus fueled consistent resolve and genuine desire. It transformed my prayer life and how our church prayed. When enthusiasm wanes and the enemy strikes, I say it aloud: “God is worthy to be sought! I will choose to pray!”
The only enduring motivation for prayer is that God is worthy to be sought.
2. Action Above Feeling – Real prayer, like other important issues in life, cannot be mastered by feeling our way into action but rather by acting our way into feeling. Prayer is not a mood. Prayer is the lifeline of all that is good and must be chosen in spite of current feelings, impulses, and conveniences. The more we understand God’s worthiness, the more we grasp our neediness and the deeper our conviction takes root. We must pray, regardless of circumstances or spiritually counterproductive urges.
Real prayer, like other important issues in life, cannot be mastered by feeling our way into action but rather by acting our way into feeling. Prayer is not a mood. Prayer is the lifeline of all that is good and must be chosen in spite of current feelings, impulses, and conveniences.
3. Avoid a false start – On the walls of my childhood home hung a plaque that read, “When it seems hardest to pray, pray hardest.” I would revise that to say, “When it seems hardest to pray, worship passionately.” Too many times our starting place in prayer is simply the articulation of whatever is on our minds to say to God. Let’s be honest – our human thoughts are often misguided, shallow, and punctuated as the beginning place of prayer. This is usually a false start.
That is why I have concluded that the best beginning point in prayer is from the pages of God’s word. His truth gives our hearts language, especially as it provides truth and fresh insight about His character, His names, and His mighty works. God’s word quickly sparks a new motivation for prayer, regardless of our mood or circumstances, by fixing our eyes on Him and opening our hearts to His word to us, not just our words to Him.
4. Compelled by Community – The Lord never designed us to learn prayer on a discouraging solo journey. He has placed us in a body so that our worship, learning, fellowship, and prayers might be powerfully enjoyed in community. Since there were no personal or individualized copies of Scripture until the advent of the printing press we are wise to remember that all of the New Testament commands to pray were received by believers gathered in community and applied instinctively in corporate prayer.
Since there were no personal or individualized copies of Scripture until the advent of the printing press we are wise to remember that all of the New Testament commands to pray were received by believers gathered in community and applied instinctively in corporate prayer.
Noted author and seminary president Albert Mohler, teaching on the model prayer Jesus laid out in the New Testament, wrote,
“Do you notice what is stunningly absent? There is no first-person singular pronoun in the entire prayer…One of the besetting sins of evangelicalism is our obsession with individualism…The first-person singular pronoun reigns in our thinking. We tend to think about nearly everything (including the truths of God’s Word) only as they relate to me. This is why when Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he emphasizes from the very outset that we are part of a corporate people called the church. God is not merely ‘my Father.’ He is ‘our Father’—the Father of my brothers and sisters in the faith with whom I identify and with whom I pray.”[ii]
When we pray together, motivation soars through the encouragement, accountability, and edification of the Spirit working through others to inspire our hearts. Of course, the very commitment to show up and pray with others keeps us regular in prayer. Alternatively, going it alone is the impetus for easy excuses and neglect of prayer.
Prayer is often our last resort rather than our first resolve. Yet, the more we learn about why our motivation wanes and how we can find consistent inspiration, the more faithful and fruitful we can be as we seek Him and grow in our Christlikeness through prayer.
Copyright © 2021 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
[i] C. H. Spurgeon, Pray without Ceasing (The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 18 (1872), from The C.H. Spurgeon Collection.