Confessions of a Prayer Hypocrite

Rachel Jones | September 14th 2017


Can I tell you a secret? Nothing makes you feel like a hypocrite faster than writing a book on prayer. Here I am, sat at my desk, trying to write a blog on praying for the world—and struggling to think of the last time I did that in any meaningful way.

And it’s not like there hasn’t been reason enough to pray recently. The last six months have seen terror attacks in London, Manchester and around the world. Grenfell Tower; North Korea’s nuclear tests, and just this week, we’ve seen the chaos of Hurricane Irma’s destructive power, and the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

And that’s just the stuff that regularly makes the headlines. I recently went to a war photography exhibition on the situation in Yemen. I left an hour later bewildered at the scale of suffering for something I had hardly heard about. I’m sure there are many more examples around the world, if I could be bothered to dig a little.

We switch on the news and our hearts break a world in need. So why am I—or perhaps, we—so slow to pray for it?

1. It’s too hard.

Often we just don’t know what to pray—these are complex national and international issues which are beyond our comprehension. I don’t know how to fix the Middle East, stop the war in South Sudan or negotiate the UK’s exit from the EU. Our prayers sometimes falter because we simply don’t know what to ask God for! And it seems just a bit weak and pointless to pray “God bless Iraq”.

But that’s false thinking. Prayer isn’t about presenting God with my suggested solutions for the world’s problems; it’s about crying to our wise and loving Heavenly Father to bring comfort, change and peace to these tragic situations.

And there are two great things to remember: First, we know that the Spirit is interceding on our behalf when we don’t know what to pray for (Romans 8 v 26-27). If the needs around us seem overwhelming, we can take them to God as best as we can, confident that God can use our less-than-perfect efforts. Second, there are some things we can pray for confidently from Scripture. When things are beyond our intellectual or ethical limits, we can confidently and simply ask that God would be glorified in and through the mess.

God, may your name be exalted among the nations; God, may your name be exalted in the earth (Psalm 46 v 10).

Prayer moves the hand that moves the world ~ Charles Spurgeon

2. It’s too far.

It’s so hard to connect emotionally with we what we see on the news—to get past the numbers and imagine the people. As I’m scrolling through my news app it’s far easier to click onto the next story than to stop and pray. But I must stop; it’s as we pray for people that our apathy towards them is kindled into empathy.

Prayer really does change things. Charles Spurgeon expressed it powerfully: Prayer moves the hand that moves the world. But prayer also changes me. As I bring these things before the Lord of all creation, I am pushed out of the nice, tiny, cosy bubble I like to create for myself. I enter the throneroom of the universe, and can’t help but see that the world is about so much more than I can see. And I’m moved to see the needs of the world with compassion, as God does.

3. It doesn’t work

Deep down, many of us have a deep and persistent doubt: that God won’t actually answer. Hasn’t he decided what he’s going to do anyway? And if he does answer our prayers, how will we know? Besides, it seems that every day is a bad news day. The world never seems to get any better.

This is what, in many ways, makes praying for the world one of the greatest acts of faith—pouring time and energy into praying for people I’ll never meet, without ever expecting the satisfaction that comes from seeing prayer answered. At least, not in this life.

Perhaps in eternity we’ll meet people who God brought to faith 5000 miles away and 500 years from now, in answer to our prayers for an unreached people group today. We live by faith, not by sight—and that means trusting that the God who promises to answer prayer really will answer prayer. After all, God wouldn’t tell us to do something that wasn’t worth doing:

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people” (1 Timothy 2 v 1).

I’m so glad there’s grace for prayerless hypocrites. But there’s a challenge for us too: why not go onto the news website now, choose one story, one situation—and pray.

5 Things to Pray for Your World by Rachel Jones is out now.

Rachel Jones

Rachel Jones is the author of A Brief Theology of Periods (Yes, really), Is This It?, and several books in the award-winning Five Things to Pray series, and serves as Vice President (Editorial) at The Good Book Company. She helps teach kids and serves on the mission core team at her church, King's Church Chessington, in Surrey, UK.

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