I hate to pray. It shouldn’t be so. After all, I’m a pastor. I’m supposed to love prayer, right? But—I will say it again—I hate to pray.
Okay, maybe hate is a bit of an overstatement, but almost always, unless I am in deep trouble or inescapably happy, prayer is not my natural inclination. The fact is, I always have something better to do than pray: I have a day to plan, an office that needs to be straightened up, email that demands my attention, books to read, the Wall Street Journal to peruse, conversations to be had, a sermon to prepare, a car to wash, a friend with whom I want to have coffee… These things I love, and these things don’t feel like work. But prayer? Ugh. Prayer comes to me about as naturally as turning the other cheek or going that second mile. Sad but true, I am not naturally inclined to pray.
What makes matters worse, I seem to bump into great pray-ers all the time. What is so difficult for me seems to come so easily to others.
I read, for instance, the Psalms and find David—the king with all his responsibilities, various wars to fight, his people to care for, rebellions to quell, psalms to write—who always has time to pray. David longed to pray in the middle of the night, in the morning, at the end of the day, anytime—and he says so repeatedly.
Then in the New Testament I read about the life of Jesus. Early on in his ministry the crowds flocked to him. So many came to him for healing that, at one point, a few clever friends poked a hole in the roof of a house and let their buddy down with ropes in order that he might gain an audience with Jesus and be healed! With such numerical success, wouldn’t you think Jesus would spend time with his PR manager, book larger venues, and put the disciples through leadership training?
Instead, we repeatedly find Jesus going to desolate places in the early hours of the morning and devoting himself to prayer. Often the crowds couldn’t even find Jesus because he was off doing what he loved to do: he was praying.
Later in the New Testament we find the apostle Paul constantly in prayer and calling us to do the same. He wrote about his prayer life as something so precious that it keeps him awake at night.
Then I consider the church history I have read, and I find people like Martin Luther who was busy launching a reformation all across Germany and Europe, translating the New Testament into German, writing voluminously, and preaching regularly. Yet he had the desire to get up every morning and spend a few hours—yes, hours—in prayer.
With this great crowd of witnesses, this mighty throng of pray-ers, behind me, and all around me, I have come to realize that I actually hate to pray. Why?
- Prayer is too much work. It really is. Prayer demands that I open my Bible and think the thoughts of God. Prayer demands that I focus my mind and ask God to focus my heart toward him and toward the things which matter to him most. Prayer demands that I reflect back to God the very word of God and ask him to do what he is already planning to do. Prayer demands that I come to God in faith.
- Prayer does not make sense. Since God is sovereign and since his plans always come to fruition, why do we pray? Isn’t God going to do his will anyway? This is one reason why God’s repeated commands that I pray and keep praying confuse me. Why would God ordain that he accomplish his will both through my body and through my prayers? I get the body part. God wants me to care for the poor, so I give my money, my time, and my body to help those who have less than I have. God calls me to care for the widow and the orphan, so I adopt a few children and visit the elderly. God calls me to preach the gospel, so I share Jesus with my friend at work. But prayer? Hmmmm. It doesn’t make sense that God needs me to ask him to do what he already wants to do.
- Prayer is unproductive. Every minute I spend praying, I could be doing something else. Surely activity for God is more effective than prayer? If I am praying that means, by definition, I am not doing something else. When I pray, it seems as though I am just sitting there…
- Prayer doesn’t work. I have prayed long and hard for a lot of things that didn’t pan out according to my requests. I have asked God to preserve a few marriages that ended in failure. I have prayed for churches that ended up being torn apart. I have prayed for the salvation of certain individuals who have died without becoming Christians. I think it safe to conclude that prayer simply doesn’t work. So it’s better to get busy and do something.
- Prayer is for people who are not as busy as I am. Real prayer is for retired people looking for something to do. Prayer is for the infirm, the inert, the inactive. Let them do the praying necessary for a healthy church, for spiritual revival, for our national leaders, for a sunny day for the picnic. I have work to do. I am too busy to pray.
A comment by C. S. Lewis comes to mind. He says the real problem of the Christian life (read: the real problem behind my prayerlessness) is my devotion to those things I deem urgent rather than to those things that are truly important.
[The real problem] comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.
So, how are you doing with prayer? Do you, too, hate to pray?
Lord, teach us to pray.