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When Prayer Is Hard

I mentioned Sunday in my sermon that prayer is sometimes hard. Why is that? Here are a few reasons to consider:

Sin and Shame. Sometimes prayer is hard because we are aware of our sin, and we are ashamed and trying to avoid God. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, we try to cover our sins ourselves, and we hide from God when he pursues us. If this is what is keeping you from him, then I have excellent news for you: Jesus Christ died for your sins! His blood covers those sins and removes the shame. Go to God, and repent of your sins! There is no other way to be relieved of the guilt and shame. He is waiting for you to come to him.

We Don’t Know How. Sometimes, we as Christians get locked up with worry about “getting it right.” We aren’t sure what to say or how to say it. We’re sure there must be a right way, and we don’t want to get it wrong. Paul is very helpful here in Romans 8:26: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Worry less about perfect form and more about calling out to God.

All We See is the Duty and Not the Delight. Prayer is a duty. It’s true. But prayer is also a delight. It is expected of us but only because it is for our good and because God delights in us! Meaningful and intimate conversation is a duty in marriage, too! But when we see it as such primarily, then it can become a drudgery and task to perform. When a marriage is healthy, we don’t think of intimate conversation as a burden but as a joy!

We Need Practice. Prayer is a discipline. It is a learned habit. Similar to our marriage illustration above, think of a musician who is excellent at her instrument. She spends many hours practicing in order to become familiar with her instrument and good at playing it. Rarely does a person become good at prayer the moment they are converted. Speaking to someone who isn’t physically present doesn’t come naturally to many of us, nor will we automatically do it habitually. We must be intentional about it, stopping at regular times during the day. Think of prayer as something you need to do regularly in order to become comfortable with it, and you will find yourself doing it reflexively.

Bad Theology. We Calvinists can be guilty of applying our correct doctrine incorrectly. We rejoice that we serve a sovereign God who has ordained all things that have, do, or will ever come to pass. We might (explicitly or implicitly) tell ourselves that "God’s got this” and “my prayers don’t change God’s mind.” However, God has not only ordained the ends (what will come to pass) but also the means (how it will come to pass), and prayer is a powerful means by which he does his work in and through us. Prayer matters!

We Believe the Ancient Lie. Ever since the serpent in the Garden, we have been tempted to believe that God is not good, not trustworthy, and that he doesn’t love us. As we wrestle with trusting God in the midst of difficulty, doubt can arise in our hearts and minds about whose side God is on anyway. First, know that this is normal—we are all sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, and indwelling sin naturally makes us think this way, even though we have the indwelling Spirit going to war in us over that lie. Second, be forever reminded of God’s work of salvation: He sent his son, Jesus Christ, who willingly came and humbled himself by taking the form of a man and dying in our place for our sin. When you are tempted to question whose side God is on, I recommend you read Isaiah 52:13–53:12 (especially verses 4–6!). This is the love God has shown us! John 3:16 reminds us, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

Whatever the reason is that you don’t turn to God in prayer—either because it is simply not a reflex you have developed or because you all too often choose not to for various reasons—the truth is that like the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, he is watching and waiting for you to come to him, ready to rejoice over you and provide for you. It isn’t because we are worthy of it, but because his love is perfect.

Your fellow servant of Christ,
Pastor Matt