When Prayer Doesn’t Come Easy

“Pray without ceasing. ” 1 Thessalonians 5:17!

“The Christian stands and falls with prayer.” Hans Urs von Balthasar!

The practice of prayer is both ancient and widespread. It is not limited to the adherents of Judaism and Christianity, but is practiced by a wide variety of people. Jesus acknowledges this in his teaching on prayer within the Sermon on the Mount. He instructs his followers not to “heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do. ” Jesus uses the example of pagan prayer practices to teach his disciples how not to pray. Although prayer has been called into question in modern times, there was a time when everyone prayed.

People from all over the globe, Christian and non-Christian alike, have made prayer a regular practice for thousands of years. What the Christian does when he bows his head to pray is not uncommon. It is the skeptic that has introduced an unusual practice by refusing to acknowledge a being greater than himself. To not pray is a new idea that originated in the mind of men.

To be human is to pray. Prayer should be natural. It should be something we want to do. It should revitalize us and breathe life into our lives, and yet there are some people who desperately want to pray but who struggle with prayer.

I grew up in a Christian home. I was taught to pray at an early age. I have attended Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night services all my life. I have been a minister for more than ten years and I struggle with prayer. There have been points in my life where prayer has not come easy. This has not been because of some great tragedy or moment of grief. I have simply struggled with prayer. I have always had the desire to pray, but prayer has not always come easy.

What does a person do when they want to pray, but are unable to find the words? There is no magic bullet, but throughout my struggles with prayer I have found several things to be helpful.

Prayer Doesn’t Always Look the Same

Prayer in ancient times looked different than it does today. In Matthew 6:5 Jesus says, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.” Jesus is telling his followers what not to do, but in doing so he describes the practice of Jewish prayer. He goes on to say, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. ” This seems strange to most modern readers. It is even stranger when you consider some versions of the Bible say that we are to go into our closet and pray. Why does Jesus say this? Jesus is concerned about his followers offering up prayers simply to have them heard by others, so he instructs them to pray in secret. Praying in silence was not an option because no one did this. All prayers were said aloud. It would look strange to us today if we saw someone praying aloud on a street corner, but in ancient times this was quite normal.

When we pray, we do not always have to clasp our hands and bow our heads. This is one way to pray, but it is not the only way. In Scripture, we find many different prayer postures. We find long prayers and short prayers. Prayer looks different depending on who is praying and what the circumstances are. I have found this to be liberating. I often encounter many prayer requests throughout the day. People on Facebook and Twitter share their struggles and ask for prayers. I often respond right away. I offer up a prayer no matter where I am or what I am doing. I have also found it helpful to write out prayers. Keeping a prayer journal can be very beneficial. I love to write, so writing my prayers feels natural. The words sometimes flow much easier when I am writing rather than speaking. Do not feel like you must limit yourself to one way of praying. Explore different methods. Try various postures. Find a way of praying that you are comfortable with and open up to God.

Prayer Doesn’t Have to be Spontaneous

In Luke 11:1, the disciples come to Jesus and ask, “Lord, teach us to pray…” Jesus responds by giving them a prayer to pray. He says, “When you pray, say…” It is important to pay attention to the words Jesus uses here. He doesn’t say “Pray like this…” or “This is how you pray…” Instead he gives them a prayer to use. He tells them to say the very words they hear.

There are many prayers in the Bible that are not only there for our learning, but are there for our using also. What are we do to do when we don’t have the words to pray? Look to the prayers in Scripture. Find a prayer that you identify with and pray that prayer. There are wonderful prayers in the Bible that could be a tremendous blessing to us if we would simply use them. At the age of three my son memorized the Lord’s prayer. That prayer will remain with him the rest of his life. He now has a prayer committed to memory that Jesus and the apostles prayed.

Prayer can also be planned. Setting aside times of the day to pray is an admirable practice. Time of prayer can be combined with Scripture reading and meditation. Find a quiet place and spend some time with God. Jesus found times to in his ministry to be alone and pray. The purpose of solitude and silence is to get away from everything that distracts us and be alone with God.

Prayer Isn’t About Proving Our Faith

The fact that we are praying proves we have faith. If we did not have faith, then we would not pray. Prayer is not a time to prove anything. It is a time to open ourselves up before the God of the Universe. It is a time of confession. It is a time to bare our heart and soul before the One who knows us best. It is a time to mourn and lament. It is a time to praise and rejoice. It is a time to complain and a time of thanksgiving. Prayer is never a time to pretend we are something we are not because God is the first one to see behind our facade. Prayer is an act of vulnerability, but it’s ok because God is trustworthy.

When I began to read the prayers found in the book of Psalms, my first thought was, “I’ve never heard anything like this in worship before.” My second thought was, “Is it even ok to pray something like this in worship?” Many of the prayers are raw. The psalmist does not hold anything back. He tells God everything. He speaks to God on his good days as well as his bad days. When he is full of joy he prays to God, and when he is experiencing excruciating pain he goes to God in prayer. Sometimes the psalmist will tell God things he would never tell anyone else. One of the wonderful things about prayer is that we can tell God anything.

“For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7)

The Lord is near when we pray. When we neglect to pray, we miss an opportunity to commune with God. God listens. He hears our prayers and he answers. The story of the Exodus begins with God hearing the cries of his people. Jesus’ final words are a prayer (Luke 23:46). Prayer is essential, but it is also something we must learn and practice. If you struggle with prayer, don’t give up. Keep on praying. Your perseverance will pay off.

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)

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Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications.

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