Why We Don't Pray, Part 1

Unlike tattoos or alcohol, prayer is typically not a controversial topic. Christians don't usually debate or disagree on whether or not we should pray. That being said, however, it seems that for most Christians (you and I included), prayer is something we don't do enough. Why is that?

If we identify some of the reasons we don't pray, then we can take deliberate steps to counteract them. Below are some common reasons people might not pray, and some starters for combatting these types of thoughts or arguments. I'll list 4 reasons right now, and some more in the next post.

1. Inability

You might hear someone say (or think for yourself), "I don't know how to pray." How should we respond to that?

First of all, we need to recognize the truth of that statement. We can't pray perfectly. We are fallen, finite beings, and we're trying to address an infinite and holy God.

Other times, maybe in a moment of crisis, we don't know what we're supposed to ask for, and maybe words won't even come out. What do we do?

God urges us to pray anyway. Romans 8:26-27 promises that God has given His children the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us. He knows our thoughts, our desires, our problems, and He perfectly applies them to the will of God on our behalf.

Secondly, if you feel like you don't know how to pray, you need to learn. Jesus not only modeled prayer for His disciples, but he explicitly taught on the subject (see for example Matt 6:5-15 and Luke 11:1-13). The Bible is filled with prayers that you can use to guide your own prayers—the prayers of the prophets, the prayers of Paul. In fact, there's even an entire book you can use to guide your prayers (Psalms).

What would life be like if you never did anything you didn't know how to do? You would have never learned to talk, to walk, to use a computer, or to drive a car. So don't let it stop you from praying.

2. Competence

Some people don't pray because they think they can handle life on their own. They don't need God's help, power, or wisdom. In fact, they don't need God. They might never say that out loud, but that's what their lack of prayer demonstrates. How do we deal with that, especially in our own hearts?

We need to apply the words of Scripture:

  • Apart from [Christ] you can do nothing (John 15:5)
  • In God we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)

We also need to remind ourselves of the life we're called to. If we think we can live up to God's standards, then we have severely watered down what it means to be holy and to love others.

Sometimes, it's another person's competence that keeps us from praying. We think the other person can handle a situation on their own. But that response completely contradicts the command to pray for our brothers and sisters (Eph 6:18). In fact, even Paul asked for and expected prayer on his behalf (e.g. Rom 15:30-32; 2 Cor 1:11; Eph 6:19-20; Php 1:19; Col 4:3-4; 1 Thes 5:25; 2 Thes 3:1-2; Phm 1:22). If Paul—an Apostle and competent preacher—needed prayer for his ministry, how much more do your own church leaders and brothers and sisters need you to pray for them?

3. Sovereignty

Some people use theology to get out of prayer. The argument is: If God already knows the situation, and already knows what I need, why do I have to pray?

Well, on the one hand, we start by recognizing that God doesn't need us to pray in order for Him to act. There are countless examples of God acting without any person praying for Him to do so. So when we say "prayer is necessary," we're not talking about prayer from God's side; we're talking about our own need to pray.

We need to pray because it's a command (Matt 5:44; Mk 14:38; 1 Thes 5:17; James 5:13). We also need to pray because it deepens our fellowship with God our Father. Jesus acknowledged that God knows our requests before we ask, and then He instructed us to pray (Matt 6:7-9). Addressing God as "Father" reminds us that we are in a special relationship with Him.

As a father, I often anticipate my kids' needs and desires, but sometimes I don't give them what they want until they ask me. Why? Because I want to teach them to be humble, not to take me for granted. I want them to talk to me. I want them to learn that when they ask for help, I give it to them. I think this is part of what God is teaching us when we pray. He is deepening our fellowship with Him.

Prayer is not like a form you fill out at the DMV just to get what you want. It's you addressing your heavenly Father. And even though He's sovereign, He delights to hear you and draw you to Himself.

4. Complacency

Some people don't pray because they're satisfied with life as it is. Maybe they've been taught that asking for things to change is a sign of being ungrateful. Maybe they think they are bothering God with their request, or interrupting Him.

Well, if you think God is interrupted by your prayers, you've got the wrong god. Study the following verses to see how God feels about your prayers.

  • John 16:24
  • James 1:5
  • Ephesians 3:20

If we're sincere about honoring Christ with our life, God will give us desires to see things change. And He will hear us when we pray about those desires (see Psalm 37:4).

Don't confuse authentic contenment with spiritual complacency. Paul was a man of true contentment (2 Cor 12:10; Php 4:11; 1 Tim 6:6-8), and yet he longed for more out of life, for the glory of Christ (Php 3:10). We too should long for more, for the glory of Christ. And we should take those holy desires to God in prayer.

What about you? Do any of these reasons seem like they could be why you don't pray more? In our next post, we'll look at some more possibilities.

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