I’ve been struggling to write for a while. It’s been easier to just talk, and there are reasons for that, but not suitable to unpack here.
While praying a few weeks back, I sensed the Spirit ask me, “why is it so hard for you to pray?” I began exploring that question, and here is my journal entry in response to the Spirit’s inquiry to me, and I’m sharing with you because I feel liberty from Him to do so for our good together. So, here it goes.
As we have been and are in tumultuous times, I want to issue a challenge to us that may seem like it’s not real tangible or effective. But I’d argue will be the foundation of any lasting movement of change for us going forward.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV) pray without ceasing,
Wow. Pray without ceasing. How do we square that up with Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:5-15? Luke 18:1-8 is likely where Paul is taking this command from. It’s not that we are to hike up a mountain to a monastery or lock ourselves away from the day in our comfy place and pray all day. The Lord’s parable about prayer in Luke 18:1-8 is for the purpose that his people should always pray and not lose heart by believing that the Lord will grant prayer according to his will. So, pray all the time you pray in faith that the Lord will do his good purposes on earth through the faithful praying of his elect.
So, why is it so hard to pray? Maybe I’m the only one who has that problem and everyone reading this will laugh at my foolish unbelief.
I default to action. That’s my wiring. I have a hard, nay, impossible time knowing when to be still and wait on the Lord and when to forcefully advance the kingdom of God through holy and righteous and prophetic action. Both are called for, but when to deploy each is a booger for me.
Matthew 11:12 (ESV) From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.
Exodus 14:14 (ESV) The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
Both of these are true, and I recognize there is room for exegetical disagreement on what Jesus meant in Matthew 11:12, and I welcome anyone to give their conclusions if they disagree, but for my purposes today, I’m going with my translation and exposition of that passage.
So, the notion of “prayer” is hard for me because it feels like doing nothing. But it is in fact a violent engagement against the kingdom of darkness.
So, the first reason prayer is hard, is that for some of us, prayer feels counterintuitive to our gifting from the Lord or even corrective of the wrong employment of our gifts from the Lord. Prayer is hard because it falsely “feels” like doing nothing.
I am super sensitive to spiritual darkness. I can feel it. I can see it. I have discernment about spiritual darkness and the principalities and powers at work to combat the kingdom of God. It affects my emotions and ability to think clearly. It creates a righteous anger in me. It activates my prophetic gifting. It also causes me to get bogged down in darkness, fighting irrelevant battles, and getting caught up in the deception it brings with it.
Mark 9:14-29 tells us about an instance where a man brought his little son to the disciples because he had a demonic problem. The disciples could not cast it out.
Jesus deals with the demon, and when they asked why they could not cast it out, Jesus says, Mark 9:29 (ESV) And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
Prayer is hard because it confronts spiritual evil and darkness and difficulty, and frankly, it’s uncomfortable and easier to ignore.
So, another reason prayer is hard is because it confronts spiritual evil, and perhaps the evil fights back with conflict and we’d just as soon not have anything hard to deal with.
I am a reclaimed sinner. I’m a hardened and broken man that Jesus graciously called from darkness to light. I’m a traumatized kid from a dysfunctional home life. I’m a restored user of illegal substances, worshiper of sports glory, seeker of pleasure rather than seeker for God. I was in slavery to the the dark kingdom. But! But Jesus called me from darkness to light. He called me from blindness to sight. My transparency about myself makes some uncomfortable, and I know that, but if you don’t see the me before Jesus, I’m not being authentic, and I just can’t abide by that. You need to know me in spite of how you may react to me. You may leave me or dislike me, but you will leave or dislike the real me.
He did this great work of grace through the preached good news of the kingdom and salvation of Jesus, the Messiah of God, the Creator of the universe. He gave me a new heart that delights to love him. He put his Holy Spirit in me, and he graciously causes me to walk in his way through conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment.
However, I still wrestle with what the Bible calls the “flesh”. My body still has hints of the curse of sin in it, and it often confronts my new heart with a counter narrative, and there is a war of belief in me.
Jesus points to this fleshly counter narrative regarding prayer when he addresses how we are to pray in Matthew 6:5-15. He first addresses hypocritical prayer. That is praying like those who want to be thought of as spiritual. Those kinds of prayers imitate people we believe to be spiritual giants, and that prayer sounds like others we respect, and eventually that prayer is voiced to sound like something we are not. Jesus said that this kind of prayer’s only reward is that we get our intention: people think we are spiritual.
The other kind of prayer Jesus addressed is prayer made by unbelievers. Yes, people who don’t believe in Jesus pray. They pray to their “gods”, and they pray to their ancestors. Prayer is woven into the consciences of humans because God made us to talk to him, and outside of Jesus, we will use it for all manner of evil. Sin broke everything! In this example people pray and believe they will be heard because of their many words. Think about Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. These prophets of a fake “god” prayed and cut themselves all day to get the attention of someone who was not there. Jesus said, don’t pray like that because God knows what we need before we ask.
Finally, prayer is hard because it conflicts with our sinful tendencies, and we have to overcome those tendencies to pray like Jesus taught us to pray.
Wrestle with this passage: John 15:16 (ESV) You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
Here lies the purpose of prayer and the mission of prayer and the call to prayer. Prayer is God’s means of getting the fruit of his kingdom. This is why he always answers prayer that is according to his “will”, because his will is bound up in his kingdom. This is why he taught us to start prayer like this:
Matthew 6:9-10 (ESV) Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Is prayer hard? You bet.
Is it a command? Yes.
Can we do it? Yes.
Are there more reasons you can think of prayer is hard? I’m sure you can, and I invite you to think on them.
But the purpose of this post is to call you to prayer and overcome any barrier to it for the sake of the kingdom of God and our great joy in it!
So, do something hard today. Pray!!!