I suspect that there are two fundamental reasons why we do not pray more, which are to some degree related, one theological and the other experiential. Theologically we do not really believe that prayer makes a difference. Experientially we do not enjoy praying.
It is indisputable that many Christians, and indeed many gospel ministers, find it hard to pray. This is reflected in the relatively short time that we devote to prayer, both corporately and personally, and in the relatively poor attendance at prayer meetings in the life of the church.
I suspect that there are two fundamental reasons why we do not pray more, which are to some degree related, one theological and the other experiential. Theologically we do not really believe that prayer makes a difference. Experientially we do not enjoy praying. These are linked because our confidence in prayer is sapped by our experience of unanswered prayer, which causes us to doubt the efficacy and therefore the importance of praying.
There are a growing number of books and blogs that rightly encouraging prayer, but their general tenor is to encourage us to “enjoy” our prayer life. I wonder whether this is really the right approach and that we would be better to acknowledge that prayer is in fact hard work. We might encourage prayer more effectively if we counter two common misconceptions about prayer that result in false expectations.
1. Prayer is Asking
I think we are often unhelpfully imprecise in our language of prayer. We tend to define “prayer” generically as speaking to God, and therefore prayer encompasses praise, adoration, thanksgiving and confession – as well as intercession for ourselves and others.
I think that this definition is ultimately too wide. Strictly speaking “praying” is asking for things from God, requesting him to act in certain ways on our behalf or on behalf of others. Much of what we call prayer is more properly responsive praise and worship of God for who he is and what he has done. This is, of course, an essential element of the Christian life and our spiritual relationship with God, but it is not praying as such. If we seek to focus on “enjoying” our prayer life I suspect that these are the elements of speaking to God that will be highlighted, potentially at the expense of the work of intercession.
The great biblical models of prayer proper are one’s where God’s people, whether corporately or individually, present their requests to God, asking him to act. Examples that come to mind include Genesis 18, Exodus 32, 1 Kings 8v22-53, Nehemiah 9v5-37, Daniel 9v4-19, The Lord’s Prayer, John 17, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Acts 4v23-31, Paul’s prayers for the churches in his epistles.
These prayers are carefully reasoned petitions presented to God. They make specific requests and explain why the person praying believes that God ought to hear and answer the request. The intercessor is essentially “pleading” a case with God, much as an advocate in a court makes a plea to the judge on behalf of his client. The ground of these requests is a combination of God’s character, promises and desire for his name to be glorified.