May I confess something here in regard to prayer?
May I tell you the difficulty of praying to God as I ought; it is enough to make you entertain strange thoughts of me. When I go to pray, I find my heart so reluctant to go to God, and when it is with him, so reluctant to stay with him, that many times I am forced in my prayers; first to beg God that he would take my heart, and set it on himself in Christ, and when it is there, that he would keep it there. In fact, many times I do not know what to pray for, I am so blind; nor how to pray, I am so ignorant.
There it is.
But I have a second confession to make: I did not write the first confession.
As you were reading it, I’m sure you were thinking, “What kind of pastor would struggle like this in prayer?” The answer is, surprisingly, John Bunyan. The author of Pilgrim’s Progress wrote this in his work entitled Prayer in the Holy Spirit. Bunyan, whose immense knowledge of Scripture and godliness were evident in all that he did, struggled with prayer. He felt, as I have, and I am sure many of us have if we are honest, that we are often no better than those hypocrites who “honor Him with their lips, but their hearts are far from him” (Matthew 15:18).
Those who struggle in prayer stand in good company. And it should be expected. Why should that which destroys the strongholds of the enemy come easy to us? When we get frustrated because someone doesn’t respond immediately to our texts, will persisting in prayer through suffering and loss seem worthwhile? Why should we expect bending our knee and bowing our head to our Sovereign Lord to come naturally to stiff-necked rebels? Prayer is difficult work.
So what do I do when I don’t feel like praying, when praying is such heavy lifting that I want to give up on it?
Well, the first thing to do is Pray. Richard Foster once wrote, the “desire to pray is prayer itself.” It is a longing of the spirit to know fellowship and communion with God. Though in groans too deep for words, the Spirit of God Himself groans within us, interceding for us, and building within us that desire to pray. There may be times when our prayers are simple, direct, and anguished prayer, but they are prayers nonetheless. The regular exercise of prayer, spending time talking with God will increase your desire and readiness to pray.
Secondly, Repent. So often our hearts get cluttered with the detritus of false gods, the flotsam and jetsam of this worlds good that there is no room for the Spirit of God to move upon us. We harbor envies and rivalries. We hold on to bitterness and unforgiving attitudes. We nurse our grievances and feed our lusts until they consume us. Is it any wonder that the Spirit of prayer would be quenched within us?
Repent. Confess your need for cleansing and renewal. Turn from the paltry and empty things of this world so that you can know the glorious and satisfying presence of God. Start where Jacob started in his prayer to God, “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant…” (Gen 32:10). Confess your need, and your struggles in prayer, and God will show His goodness to you.
Finally, pray God’s word. The Bible is full of God’s promises toward His people. Pray His promises. “Lord, you promised that you would never leave us nor forsake us, but I feel distant from you know. Please let me know you are near!” “Lord, you taught your disciples to pray saying ‘Our Father who art in heaven…’ Teach me to pray, and grant me the desire to draw near to you.” As you read through Scripture, rather than struggling to find your own words, pray God’s words back to Him. Pray the Psalms as your own prayers, teaching you to praise, lament, and seek God’s help in every situation.
This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive treatise on prayer, just a reminder that genuine prayer is difficult work, but it is worth the effort. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you,” James tells us. May we draw near to God in our life of prayer.