Tag Archives: Prayer

“I Need to Pray More” Doesn’t Cut It

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

My Life-changing, Mind-Blowing Moment

Yesterday was a day that I hope and pray I will never forget. It has been a long time since I had an epiphany like this. But what I realized yesterday could change my life forever, and I want to share it with you. Now some of you may already know this, but I am just discovering it for myself, which makes it exciting for me. Some of you may be like me and really had never put two and two together; I hope today will be life-changing to you as well.

Let me set the stage for you. I am trying to finish out my reading challenge that I gave myself on Good Reads. Last year I read quite a lot, and so this year my goal was to slow it down a bit. My problem was that I slowed down too much. I wanted to read 20 books by the end of the year, and so fart I’ve completed 16. I have many that I’ve started, but subsequently have gotten distracted from, so I picked one back up: Holiness by J. C. Ryle.  In order to finish four books (previously started), I need to read large swaths of them each day. Thus yesterday, I read 55 pages (I read slowly, so this took time). Half of those 55 pages were of one chapter that I had already begun months before. It was a chapter on assurance of salvation. I must admit, 1) I don’t tend to have a problem with assurance of salvation. I may have a tinge of doubt once in a while, but by and large I am not fearful or fretting, 2) Ryle’s writing on the subject was somewhat helpful, and I like Ryle, however, the extended quotes at the end of his chapter were what were most-powerful to me. It was while reading these quotes that I had my life-changing, mind-blowing moment.

Many of the quotes were saying the same thing in different ways using different illustrations and anecdotes. But as I was reading them, I kept coming across words like “cling” or “lay hold.” There were sentences like this one: “The least bud draws sap from the root as well as the great bough. so the weakest measure of faith doth truly ingraft thee into Christ, and by that draw life from Christ, as well as the strongest,” (Samuel Bolton).  Many of the quotes in this section dealt with laying hold, and about being a bud and drawing sap. Some spoke of growing in assurance as we grow in the faith. And that is where my train of thought left the depot.

You see, this is not only true with assurance, but with any aspect of faith in the Christian’s life. I am no different than most Christians; we tend to look at “giants of Christian history” like Luther, Augustine, Calvin, DMLJ, Spurgeon, and the like wishing we had their faithfulness in prayer, in Bible reading and study, in giving, in faith, etc.  Often what we do is set a new resolution. I’m going to pray more or I’m going to pray longer. I’m going to read my Bible all the way through this year. I’m going to give more. And so forth and so on. We end up praying for a week or two, nearly every day. We get all the way to Leviticus (again!) and then begin to lag in our devotions. We give a few times, a little more than we are comfortable with and then it’s back to the same old same old. We see no fruit; we see no benefit. It’s more of a drudgery than anything else. So we give up. We let it all just slip away.

This was the realization I had yesterday: we never give time for fruit to come. What tree do you know of that is planted one day and bears fruit the next day? Or for that matter the next month or year? We are an impatient lot, are we not? We are so used to going to the supermarket and picking up our produce that we have forgotten that it took months and in reality years for that fruit to be borne. We expect that our lives will be changed every time we pray or every time we read the Bible, and that is not the case.  The moments that we pray, read, give, evangelize, etc, are usually never immediate life-changing moments. They are cultivating moments. They are fertilizing moments. They are pruning moments. In time, our lives are changed. In time, fruit is borne, but it typically takes a while. 

What we tend to give up on is what is necessary for fruit to bear. We cease to abide, lay hold of, or cling to that which is necessary. We still believe in Jesus; we still desire to obey God. But that which brings life (the Spirit bringing life through the “sap” of God’s Word, prayer, etc.), we cut ourselves off of for large portions of time. We are so often like a child who wants to play an instrument, but only practices once or twice a month for just a few minutes each time, and then wonders why he/she isn’t getting any better.  It’s not a matter of trying harder; it’s a matter of abiding longer–longer as in forever.  It’s a matter of holding on even when we want to let go.

When we lived just outside of Chicago, we owned three apple trees. Every spring, as soon as the thaw was true, I would have to go out to those apple trees and pound three stakes of fertilizer around each one. Throughout the spring and summer, I would weekly need to go out, look for disease, blight, or spots on the leaves cut them off, and rake up any that were dropped. I’d spray (organic?) pesticides when the blooms came so that the apples wouldn’t be wormy.  The first couple of years we got no apples. It got tempting to forget the whole thing; what’s the use, there’s no fruit. But the third year, doing the same things, we began to find little apples on the trees.  I had read that it takes about three years before fruit bears, and on the fourth year, one will start having edible apples (the sad thing is that we moved to just outside St. Louis the fourth year). The only question then, is will the grower be faithful, even when no fruit is seen, knowing that if he endures through the seasons of barrenness, one day the harvest will come.

Not feeling like your getting much out of Bible? Switch things up, but don’t just let it slide. Get a Bible study from CBD.com or your local Christian book store (a good, biblical one). Instead of reading straight through every year, study a certain section (perhaps the Minor Prophets or the Pauline epistles). Not feeling it in your prayer life? Switch things up, but don’t cut yourself off to just a couple of quick two-second prayers. I’m not dogging on those two-second prayers, but we cannot be sustained by them. I started having a “Little Book of Prayer” in my back pocket. It’s just a little blue notebook that I’ve put every person in our church into. I’ve got prayer requests from most of them that I will pray for at various times during the week. Get with a “prayer warrior” and pray with them. Read books on prayer. Get a prayer journal; read the prayers of saints from yesteryear.

That being said…no matter what, cling and lay hold of Christ. Stay connected through His Word and through prayer. Every fruit of faith comes through abiding. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me,” (John 15:4, ESV). It’s not “try harder,” but “abide longer.” The branch doesn’t try to bear fruit. The fruit naturally comes because the branch abides on the vine or on the tree.