Isn't it insane how many Christians struggle with prayer?
Whether it's a problem of diligence, a striving to be sincere, or just a lack of a desire to pray, I'm amazed at how many believers have such a difficult time approaching the Throne of Grace.
I know for myself that it's probably my biggest insecurity, spiritually speaking. And I know that I'm not unique. Out of every challenge a believer could possibly wrestle with, prayer is the one that I've heard again and again and again from frustrated friends, family, and strangers.
What is it about prayer that makes it so hard? Why do we fall behind so easily? I mean, even the disciples fell asleep when they were supposed to be praying. Surely it's not that we don't love our God. Surely we all want to be walking in close fellowship with Him. So why is a real "Prayer Warrior" such a rare find? What is it about our human nature that so badly clashes with the practice of prayer?
I have a couple ideas.
I get bored. As shallow as it sounds, boredom is a huge kicker to my prayer life. I don't mean getting bored of sitting still and being quiet, or getting antsy because there are "better" things I could be doing. No, I'm talking about the boredom that comes from repetition.
I get bored of praying for the same things over and over. I tire of making the same requests day-in and day-out. In my mind, if it didn't get answered the first time, things aren't looking good. If it didn't get answered the second time, I'm losing my motivation to keep it up. If it didn't get answered the third time, I'm out. I've done my part. I asked, and it wasn't given. I sought, and I never found. I knocked, and the door was slammed in my face.
Sometimes I can go longer. If I'm really passionate about something, I can maybe make it a month... but usually, I'm done after the third attempt. That's where you'll find my pile of abandoned requests--right at Strike Three.
And it's not just boredom, it's also the guilt. It's me not wanting to bother God with something He obviously doesn't care about. It's me telling myself that there must be something wrong with my request. It's the feeling that I'm annoying God because clearly, if He was interested, He'd answer.
It's me losing heart so very quickly. Losing heart, losing courage, and losing confidence.
I've committed to pray with people so many times... and I've followed through on those commitments far fewer times. So many times while my partners have persisted in petitioning, I've bowed out. So many times when the answers have been slow in coming, I've given up. Lack of response has made me grow weary. I've allowed discouragement to stop me from praying.
But many of those prayer requests have no been answered. Sometimes weeks, sometimes months, sometimes years later, they were answered. When I had long forgotten about them, they were granted. Though I had moved on, God had not. And although I got to watch God's work from the sidelines with joy, my persevering friends got to experience first-hand the thrill of answered prayer. They were the ones whose confidences were strengthened because they truly waited on the Lord, and watched Him deliver. They were the ones who got the satisfaction of knowing that they had trusted, they had waited, and God had come through.
And every single time it happens I think to myself, "Man. God was working behind the scenes the whole time. And that could've been me! That could've been me receiving a long-awaited answer. That could've been me stepping through a door that was locked for so long." And so I tell myself that next time, I will keep on praying. I won't give up. I will wait upon the Lord for as long as it takes.
But wow. Never has the difference between word and deed been so dreadfully real than when it comes to prayer. You hear stories of prayers answered after decades of waiting and you think you'll have the patience to do the same thing... and you forget that in the mundane, day-to-day business of life, two weeks might as well be two years. A month might as well be a decade. In a culture that hates line-ups, slow restaurant service, and choppy Wi-Fi, we have a national problem with patience.
And although the concept of waiting on the Lord and persisting in prayer are quite antithetical to our first-world consumerist culture, Jesus still commands that we wait upon Him. He doesn't just tell us to pray, He tells us to pray without ceasing. We may feel like a nuisance, bringing the same concerns before God every day, but He commands us to do it, anyway. We may feel like a broken record, asking the same thing for weeks on end, but He commands us to do it, anyway. Our daily prayers may begin to sound identical, but He commands us to do it, anyway. Just read His parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:
"There was a judge in a certain city,” He said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy!’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”
And check out the analogy Jesus chooses in Luke 11, when teaching His disciples how they ought to pray:
“Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.
And of course, He goes on to give us the promise we know so well:
Luke 11:9-10 - And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
We are told to be persistent. We are told to be shamelessly persistent. We are told to be persistent to the point of annoyance. We are told to keep on knocking--in fact, we are told to bang at the door in the middle of the night until we receive an answer! We are told to pray as though we were trying to pester God with our incessant requests!
And of course, most of us don't pray like that because we don't want to "burden" our God. But the irony is that our God desires nothing more than for us to cast our burdens on Him! Charles Spurgeon writes it beautifully:
There is no music in God’s ear that is more sweet from His child than a loud earnest cry. God delights to hear the knocker of prayer hammering away at the door of mercy. If you have been denied six times, go for the seventh time, and knock, and knock, and knock, each time with greater vehemence, if you would be heard.
This is the way the Lord told us to pray. And it's not the way I pray.
I pray much more politely.
I pray respectfully. Timidly. Courteously. Considerately. Not too often and not too repetitively. I pray with nice words and proper sentences and phrases that sound like I could be leading a congregation.
I don't pray like the maniac Jesus told me to imitate. Or like the annoying widow. I don't pray like a toddler asking the same question 20 times a day. And yet, that's what He's waiting for. It's what He longs for.
When I start praying for direction, conviction, confirmation, or anything, returning to the Throne of Grace with the same request each day is tedious. Especially when there seems to be no progress. When I want breakthrough and I see sameness, when I want insight and meet nothing but confusion, it's discouraging.
I get weak and tired and frustrated and impatient... and I forget that the Lord did give Hannah a son. I forget that Joseph spent years in prison before becoming second in command of Egypt. I forget that Abraham and Sarah waited 25 years before the Lord gave them the son He promised. I forget that David had to wait almost two decades to become King, after first being anointed.
I forget that the Lord comes through every time for His children. The Bible is a testimony chock-full of examples. God promises that He will deliver, and He always delivers on His promises. The reason we all get so confused and scared is because we expect Him to deliver according to our schedule, forgetting that He's following an entirely different blueprint. His work has nothing to do with our timing, and His answers don't owe anything to our expectations.
He's listening because He wants to hear your heart. He's working behind the scenes, because you don't need to see what's happening right now. He will answer, but in His perfect timing, and by His perfect methods. And if you pray the way He's told you to, (like a crazy, relentless, stubborn toddler,) you will get to experience the joy of answered prayer. You will get to be 100% confident that the answer is from God, alone. You will get to know without a doubt that the solution is a God-given miracle; that what you're provided with came from God's hand and not your own.
His promises are proven
to those who wait on them.
That's what I want. I want to stick around long enough to see my God in action. I want to keep on knocking, even though my knuckles are bruised and bloodied. I want to keep on seeking, even though my eyes are strained and bloodshot.
And although I've asked a thousand times already, I will ask a thousand times more.
Lamentations 3:24-26 - "The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in Him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.