Why do I find it hard to spend time in prayer?
It is reputed that Frances Jane Crosby wrote over 8000 hymns, one of which contains the verse, ‘O the pure delight of a single hour that before Thy throne I spend, when I kneel in prayer, and with Thee, my God I commune as friend with friend’. Although we may have sung these words many times, perhaps most of us would have to admit that spending ‘a single hour’ in prayer is not something we have engaged in very often.
Another well known and much loved hymn was written by Joseph Scriven, a Dubliner who emigrated to Canada. Scriven’s life was blighted by tragedy, and on hearing of his mother’s serious illness he wrote a poem to comfort her. The opening lines of that composition are, ‘What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear, what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer’. None of us would demur with the truth expressed by the poet, for it is an inestimable privilege to have direct access to God, yet it is a privilege we sometimes neglect.
Were we to be invited to have audience with some prominent person, or be summoned to appear before royalty, the probability is that the event would invoke excitement, coupled with a degree of apprehension. Nevertheless, the sense of occasion, prestige and favour bestowed upon us would fill our thoughts for days in advance of the appointment. How much greater, therefore, should the prospect of drawing near to God in prayer enrapture these hearts of ours. The greatest of men are finite and mortal, yet we can enter the august presence of one who is infinite, immortal and omniscient and call him ‘our Father’ – so why do we find it hard to spend time in prayer? There are several possible causes for this struggle, but we will focus on just a few in this response.
One of the primary reasons why we find it hard to devote time to prayer is that there is nothing about it that appeals to the flesh. I do not wish to denigrate the following forms of service, but there are times when speaking at ministry meetings or engaging in gospel preaching can be appealing to us naturally as they generate an element of self-attention. However, praying is personal and solitary, there is no visible audience and it brings no plaudits from other people. Prayer and self-seeking are mutually incompatible, it is a spiritual exercise that affords no form of gratification to our fallen natures and hence we may struggle for that very reason.
Prayer also requires effort. As we read through the Bible we discover that words associated with prayer include ‘fervent’, ‘labouring’, ‘more earnestly’, ‘without ceasing’, and ‘exceedingly’. To display this spiritual vigour, it is essential that we nourish the ‘inner man’ through regular reading and meditating upon the word of God. Just as our bodies require food to sustain us physically, so likewise we need to feed upon the milk and meat of the scriptures that we may develop spiritual vitality and thereby exert more energy into our praying.
Praying is also different to ‘saying our prayers’. The Lord said of the scribes that they ‘make long prayers’, Mark 12. 40, and in many religions today adherents engage in long sessions of prayer. Regrettably, these practices are little more than the constant repetition of set ‘prayers’ and are far removed from the Bible’s concept of what prayer is. Is it possible that our prayer time, if we maintain one, might have degenerated to a routine of asking the same things for the same people on a daily basis? A lack of freshness and the uttering of hackneyed phraseology reduce our awareness of the awesome honour that is ours of being able to approach the Almighty; therefore, it is not surprising that we don’t thirst for it as we should.
In concluding, I want us to move from the negative issues that have occupied us thus far and focus on something positive. Recently, I have been observing one of the planets and noted how it has outshone all the other luminaries in the southern night sky. As we gaze, and marvel, at such majesty we ought to be inspired to get alone before the one who put it there. The psalmist wrote, ‘By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth … Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast’, Ps. 33. 6-9 NKJV.
What a favoured people we are. We can ‘draw nigh to God’, our fellowship is ‘with the Father’, we have the right to enter the holiest with boldness and, at the throne of grace, we ‘may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need’, Heb. 4. 16. He is our God and ‘is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think’, Eph. 3. 20. Joseph Scriven was right – it is a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
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