I hear it often; I even think it often: “I need to pray more.” It’s an internal guilt that says that I am not measuring up in my prayer life. But even though I may say those words over and over again, I will never feel or believe that I have prayed enough. Even worse, saying those words never actually leads me to pray more. Those words of guilt camp out with other words of like-guilt: I need to exercise more, I need to read more, I need to spend more time with my kids, I need to _______________. We may think them, we may say them, we may actually even believe them, but nothing changes. That’s the thing about guilt; it rarely leads to a change in lifestyle. It may lead to a day or two or even a week or two of change (hence, resolutions die by February because most are made of guilt). Overall though, life doesn’t change much from guilt.
If we really believe we should pray more, then we need more than “we need to pray more.” Yes, we need a plan in place. There are plenty of sites that will tell you to plan the work and work the plan: always have the same time and the same place, and one that is quiet and away from any distraction (hide your phone), etc. Still though, we need more than a plan; we need understanding of why we don’t pray more.
- Idolatry – If you’re American, part of the problem could be our American spirit of independence. After all, we have been taught all our lives about pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, don’t let anyone tell us no, if it’s meant to be, it’s up to me, and such. But I would venture to say that it goes deeper than that; the American spirit of independence only adds an extra layer to what is already a problem. In the first two chapters of Genesis, Adam and Eve had perfect communion with God. Genesis 3:8 seems to indicate that God, Adam, and Eve would walk together when it was nice and breezy outside. But such sweet communion didn’t last long. When the serpent told Adam and Eve (Adam standing next to Eve), “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be open, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” (3:5), mankind was forever led into the idea that we are our own gods and we can make our own decisions and handle our own problems and deserve our own glory. In other words, we don’t need to pray to God. Obviously it is a sin issue; but have we stopped to think about what kind of sin issue it is? It is an idolatry issue; we are our own idols.
- Idleness – I believe it was John Piper, but I am not be sure, who said that Facebook was invented to prove that Christians do have time to pray. In other words, if we have time for Facebook and social media, we have idle time, but we choose not to use it in prayer. You see, we know we ought to pray more, but we don’t want to pray more. Like anything, we do what we want to do; we always find time to do what we want. This is why guiltish sayings like, “I need to pray more,” don’t work, because we say what we know to be true, and we don’t say what we know to be untrue–namely, “I want to pray more.”
One needs to only do a cursory reading of the Psalms to see that those people did not have an issue with praying. They did it without all the apps, like PrayerMate and Echo, and acrostics (ACTS). They just poured out their hearts before the Lord. It was effortless, it seemed. True, we don’t know about their regular, everyday lives; we can only see what is written for us. And we do, after all, have the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray. So maybe this guilt to pray more has been going on for quite some time; since perhaps the fall when Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden (it goes full-circle).
I’ve never have actually seen the movie, but I saw a scene from The Break-up, where Jennifer Aniston’s character is arguing with Vince Vaughn’s character about doing the dishes. He tells her that he washed them, but she ends up telling him that she just wants him to want to do the dishes; he responds with, “Who wants to do the dishes!?” It’s the only scene, I know, but it is so true. I think it describes our attitude towards prayer? I prayed. God says, “But I want you to want to pray.” Though we’d never say it out loud, we inwardly think, “Who wants to pray!?” And therein lies the problem. Somehow, we’ve got to let go of self-idolatry and realize we cannot rely upon our own skills, intelligence, and strength. We need to get to the point where we want to pray not just need to pray.
How do we get there? It is probably different for each of us. Perhaps we need to study prayer more. Perhaps we need to read or hear stories of how prayer has been answered. Perhaps we need to ask “prayer warriors” to pray for us and our desire to pray. Perhaps we need to ask them if we could join them in prayer. Perhaps we need to go to prayer meetings even when we don’t want to just to see, hear, and experience prayers and their answers. Perhaps we need to set our timers each hour to remind us to give thanks for one thing that happened that hour. I think most of us will turn from need to want as we continue on in the practice, but we have to continue on.
Thoughts, questions, and comments are always welcome. If you liked the article, I am delighted. If you didn’t, I’m still delighted you took the time to read. If you think it would be a blessing to others, feel free to share.