All our perils are nothing, so long as we have prayer.” The simple reason for this is that Spurgeon believed, “The essence of prayer lies in the heart drawing near to God: and it can do that without words.” In other words, prayer is the vehicle by which we commune with God Himself, not in the hopes that all of our troubles are magically whisked away, but that by being found in the presence of our King, we gain a certain boldness and even warmth.
Any time I’ve asked a group of church-goers how they feel about their prayer life, the answer is always that it could be better. In fact, I don’t believe even once I’ve heard someone say they’re content in it. Part of the reason for this is simply bound up in the reality that as Don Whitney says, “…when we pray, we tend to say the same old things about the same old things. And when you’ve said the same old things about the same old things about a thousand times, how do you feel about saying them again? Bored!” This really is a tremendous insight that cuts to the heart of much of the issue people face with prayer. Rote repetition is their prayer life—is it any wonder that in the midst of prayer their minds wander to something else, almost as if it is begging for something more engaging. Prayer should be engaging. Yet often it is anything but and we know it, and because we know we are to do it to be faithful, we limp through it out of sheer guilt.
If this describes you and your prayer life, I would earnestly recommend purchasing Don Whitney’s book and putting it into practice. Instead of tasking the reader with multiple steps to a better prayer life, Whitney advocates a simple approach: you pray using scripture as your source, namely, the psalms. The reason being we can avoid vain repetition in our prayers, use inspired text that covers a wide range of emotions, doctrines, and troubles, and initiate the conversation of prayer with God freely. The goal is that our prayers are informed by the Word of God. In essence, we are speaking God’s own words back to Him, and the result is that we not only have biblically saturated prayer, but we know these will be prayers God honors and is honored by. Another great resource that I’d recommend is D.A. Carson’s book, which has a similar proposal utilizing the apostle Paul’s prayers.
Recommendations aside, one of the other reasons I’ve found people struggle in their own prayer life is due to discouragement. Of course, that discouragement can come from theologically flimsy prayers, such as was mentioned above. However, another aspect of discouragement can come in the form of besetting, unconfessed sins (Ps. 66:18), not living with your wife in an understanding manner (1 Pet. 3:7), grieving the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19), prevailing doubts (Ja. 1:5-8), lingering anxieties, thanklessness, and a simple lack of prayer (Phil. 4:6-7), unchecked pride (Ja. 4:6; Pro. 3:34), and more. But what of discouragement that can’t be traced to any particular sin to be repented of? What of the self-deprecator? What of the one who constantly beats themselves up over their failures and foibles? What of the individual who struggles to push past every word of revilement and slander? What of the one who has a sort of melancholy for no particular reason?
For this, I believe a brief example from Charles Spurgeon might be helpful to consider. In one breath, Spurgeon could say, “Prayer is doubt’s destroyer, ruin’s remedy, the antidote to all anxieties,” while in another, he could articulate the struggle of so many today by saying, “I am sometimes lifted to the very heavens, and then I go down to the deep: I am at one time bright with joy and confidence and at another time dark as midnight with doubts and fears.” For all his intensity and boldness as a preacher, Spurgeon had a life-long bout with depression that could inflict him even in the midst of ascending to the throne room of his Master. The reasons for this were many—yet suffice it to say, his proclivity towards anxiety and depression were met even in the midst of casting his cares upon His Lord.