Written by Pastor Bryan Niebanck
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.John 16:13
A study by Pew Research shows that about 68 percent of Christians pray daily. There are some who devote themselves to pray seven times per day. The number of times that a Christian prays per day does not necessarily show how devoted you are, but it can be an indicator. We might remember how Paul tells us to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). If we are praying without ceasing, that probably means that we are really praying more than seven times per day. Prayer is our life. It is what we do between every moment of our lives, and also through every moment. If each moment is not honoring God in some way, then we should rethink what we are doing. Rest honors God. Work honors God. Being there for a friend honors God. There is much in our lives that can draw us toward God, but there is also much that can lead us away.
If you do not pray every day, is there a specific reason why not? Perhaps you call yourself a committed Christian, but you realize that you do not sit down to pray too often. Of course, prayer does not need to be a sit-down prayer, but we can talk more about ways to pray later. Last week, we covered the main reasons why we pray. They are pretty important reasons, as it helps us to believe in an alternative to the world we live in, we are told that calling on God is what actually saves us and allows us to have eternal life with God, and our increased prayer and devotion increases our faith and belief in God so that we may do greater works on this earth than even Jesus did. Perhaps we all agree that prayer is important, but for some reason we still cannot get over the hurdle and actually start praying. Today, we are going to cover a few reasons why we do not pray. They are not reasons not to pray, but they are reasons that keep us from it. Perhaps they sound like excuses, but they are really tools that the Devil uses to make you think that you cannot pray. He wants to use every possible tool to prevent you from forming a close relationship with God.
The first reason why we often do not pray is because we do not think that our prayer can make a difference. We think about how our prayer has not been answered before, so there is no reason to think that it will be answered now. We wonder if God is even listening. We may feel like we are too emotional to pray rationally because we believe that we always have to come to God with a proper attitude. Or perhaps we start believing that our request must be too small. Why would God care about our small request when there are so many other people in the world with bigger ones?
If your prayer demon is that there is no reason for your prayer to be answered now because other prayers have not been answered, Paul wants to remind you that we need to be persistent in our prayers: “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (Eph. 6:18). There are many possible reasons why prayer might not be answered, and I do not know all the reasons for it, but I do know whether God has something better in store, whether God cannot do anything about it for whatever reason, for if it is for no reason at all, God wants us to keep praying. If we stop praying, we have lost our connection to God. If the enemy gets us to doubt that God is hearing us, or to doubt God’s goodness, he can get us to stop praying. And this is surely exactly what He wants. We need to fight this urge, and be persistent in our prayer even when it does not always seem to work.
If you feel like you are too emotional to pray rationally, read the Psalms. Read Lamentations. Read about how David prayed while his infant son was dying: “David prayed to God for the baby. David fasted and went into his house and stayed there, lying on the ground all night” (2 Samuel 12:16). If this is not an emotional prayer, I do not know what is. Even if you are filled with emotions that you may believe draw you away from God, nothing draws you away from God more than not praying. You can meet God in whatever state you are in. And God surely wants you to. You are never too emotional to pray.
Further, we believe that our prayer may not make a difference because we believe that our request may be too small. To this, we look to Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). So that must mean that if you want to pray for you to find your keys, do it. If you want to pray for your back pain to go away, do it. If you want to pray for the Guardians to win today, do it. Your prayer may or may not be granted, but you are meeting God where you are at and also being consistent in prayer. It does not matter how small or large your request may be; any time you come to God, you are drawn closer to God. That is what God wants. The Devil will try to convince us not to pray because God does not care about that little thing. But God cares about each and every thing in our lives.
Second, we often do not pray because we do not know how to pray. We are fearful that we will get it all wrong. We are afraid that our prayer may not be “good enough” for the great and holy one, who deserves only the best. We think that only those who have had specific training should be the ones to pray because they know how to pray well. To that, I simply say, pray anyway. God does not care about the words you say. God only cares that you are coming to Him and seeking Him in prayer. If you do not know how to pray, start by praying prayers that are already in books or online that are already written for you. Find prayers that are in the Bible. But do not let that stop you from being close to God.
Sometimes we feel that we do not know how to pray when we are experiencing excessive sorrow. But that did not stop Job from praying. He still prayed to God often during his sorrow. There is also not only one way to pray. We will go more into how to pray in the coming weeks, but that doesn’t mean that you do not already know how to pray. Just say “God…” and see what spills out. Whether it is anger, emotion, or anything, it is prayer.
Third, we do not pray when we feel unworthy. We may feel guilty for having done something wrong and that we need to do something to cleanse ourselves in order to be worthy again to approach God. We speak as Habakkuk did: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Hab. 1:13). Peter also believed this: He said, “Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). But Jesus did not go away. He already saw Peter as worthy. Further, prayer is one of the common ways to cleanse ourselves. In Psalm 51 we read, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7). In John 15:3 we also read, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). Being unclean or unworthy, then, is not a reason not to pray. Jesus probably would not see us as unworthy if we were face to face with him, and prayer is a tool to use to make us cleaner anyway.
And finally, we often do not pray when we do not manage our time consistent with our commitment to God. We set other priorities before we schedule time for prayer, and before we know it, there is no time left for God. We give way to neglect because other things take priority, and when we do this enough, our praying spirit wears off. We no longer feel the need to pray. And we are being drawn farther from God because we are not renewing ourselves with hope and confidence in God through prayer. We stop taking delight in prayer. If this is why you do not pray, perhaps the hardest step will be just to start again. We do not need an hour. We can pray while we do laundry, while we drive, or while we exercise. Just try saying, “God…” and see what comes out.
Trinity Sunday is not so much a day for explanations as it is a day for reflection on the majesty and mystery of the fullness of God. This is what Psalm 8 does. We are told that God is mindful: “What are human beings that you are mindful of them?” asks the Psalmist (Psalm 8:4). We are worthy because God is mindful of us. God has given us dominion over the works of God’s hands (Psalm 8:6). God gives us abilities, and God considers us all as worthy.
Your challenge today is to fight the urge not to pray. Pray anyway. Find something to pray about, or just pray. And when something tries to convince you not to pray, recognize it, and fight it back. We need to be able to overcome these hurdles if we are going to be able to pray consistently and confidently.
So let us pray. O God, we honor this day the majesty and the mystery of your name. You are both infinite and intimate, known and unknowable, transcendent and transparent. In love, you have made us your own, and invite us to join in your divine dance. We will never rest until we rest in you, Blessed Trinity, one God forever and ever. Amen.
May all honor and glory be to God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
8:1 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
8:2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;
8:3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
8:4 “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.
8:22 The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
8:23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
8:24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
8:25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth–
8:26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.
8:27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
8:28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
8:29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
8:30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
8:31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
8:1 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.
8:2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.
8:3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;
8:4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
8:5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
8:6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,
8:7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
8:8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
8:9 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
16:12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
16:14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
16:15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.