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The lie you believe that stops you praying

Anne Woodcock | April 13, 2016

When nothing else helps you get to sleep, is praying the one thing that does?
Not because talking to God lifts anxiety…
but because the activity of praying itself sends you to sleep!

Many of us try to pray, but within seconds find ourselves distracted, or discouraged, or even bored! In fact, is it true that, unless there’s a crisis, you can go days without praying much at all?

Believers in Jesus Christ have astounding, undeserved access into God’s presence through the body and blood of Jesus. Christian prayer is the astounding privilege of real communication with the real God. How strange then that so many of us struggle to pray!

Why is that? In this new, occasional blog series, we’re going to look at a number of reasons why we’re still often half-hearted about prayer—today we start with just one.

But here’s what I think is the number one cause of prayerlessness in the West:

Deep down, we think we don’t need God

Of course, we’d never say we don’t need God—we know (in theory) that everything we have and can do is a gift from him. But in the regular routine of comfortable Western life, it doesn’t always feel that way.

Mostly, whether we pray or not, our pay is deposited into our bank accounts, our food cupboards are stocked, and our heating comes on as needed. But in fact we’re like children who have pigged out on candy—empty calories—and so refuse nutritious food that our bodies really need.

This self-sufficiency was the disciples’ problem when Jesus sent them out with his authority over evil spirits (Mark 9). At some point they stopped depending upon him for this power and then couldn’t help a demonized boy. When they couldn’t understand why, Jesus told them, “This kind can come out only by prayer”. Clearly, praying was something they hadn’t done. It seems they were trying to do with their own powers what only Jesus can do. The result was humiliating failure; their self-sufficiency was a delusion.

It’s easy for us to start thinking that our success and achievements in work, marriage, parenting or church ministry are because of our cleverness, organization, self-discipline, hard work, and so on. And it’s clear that we think like that from our lack of praying!

“Prayer” can feed the delusion too

Even when we do open our mouths to pray, quite possibly we don’t really pray—as Jesus showed in his parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18).

Our prayer-suppressing self-sufficiency is particularly active when it comes to our greatest need: justification. We need to have our sin forgiven, for its consequences to be obliterated and for ourselves to be cleansed from its contamination.

Left to ourselves, we tend to think we’re all right—imperfect, yes, but basically good. But deep down every human craves justification—feel good, righteous and acceptable. We seek it by comparing ourselves with others (those worse than us, of course!) and from what others think of us.

For churchgoers, a counterfeit form of “praying” is one route to this acceptability. We show people that we’re religiously devout, and it confirms to us that we’re all right because others think we’re all right.

But this is just jumping through religious hoops; it’s not real talking with our real heavenly Father. As with the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, it’s praying to impress others. It means that when no one sees us, we don’t pray—there’s no point! And when people do see us, we still don’t pray—we put on a performance.

The antidote

Jesus tells us to pray in secret, to our heavenly Father alone (Matthew 6). When we don’t pray privately, it reveals what we really think—regardless of what we say we believe, or feel we believe, or other people think we believe. We reveal our delusion that we don’t need God.

We don’t just need to pray in secret: we also need to open up God’s word.
God’s word demolishes our “basically good at heart” delusion about ourselves.
It dismantles our paltry ideas of what’s needed to make us acceptable.
It dismisses the idea that God is gullible enough to be impressed by our reputation with others.

Jesus tells us to pray in line with the truth about who God is—“to [our] Father, who sees what is done in secret” and “will reward” us. He loves us, hears us and will act for us—just as we desperately need him to.

Discover more in our Good Book Guide: Real Prayer: How to connect with our heavenly Father. Or give your lacklustre prayer life a lift with 5 Things to Pray.

Join the conversation and comment below. You can also like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube Channel, and download The Good Book Company App straight to your phone or tablet.

Anne Woodcock

Anne is an editor at the Good Book Company and active in teaching the Bible to internationals, women and children. She is married to Pete, with two grown children.

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