EM Bounds has said: “Praying is spiritual work; and human nature does not like taxing, spiritual work. Human nature wants to sail to heaven under a favoring breeze, a full, smooth sea. Prayer is humbling work. It abases intellect and pride, crucifies vainglory, and signs our spiritual bankruptcy, and all these are hard for flesh and blood to bear. It is easier not to pray than to bear them.” Martin Luther has gone so far as to say that prayer is “the most difficult of all works,” more difficult even than preaching: “When we are preaching the Word, we are more passive than active; God is speaking through us, and our teaching is His work. But praying is very difficult work. This is the reason why it is also very rare.”
There may well be many reasons why prayer is hard work. I am less interested in exploring those reasons than I am in how we can overcome our reticence to pray in light of the hard work that it involves. I have five thoughts to share here:
(1) We need to remind ourselves of the power and privilege of prayer and motivate ourselves to pray regardless of the work involved. We should read books that will do this for us (my book Persistent Prayer, which officially releases on September 22, falls into this category…at least that has been my goal in writing it). EM Bounds’ Power Through Prayer is another book that I have found helpful in this regard. Eric Alexander once told me that he read this book every year of his ministry in order to motivate himself to spend more time in prayer.
(2) We can pray through a psalm with our Bibles open. This can soften the hard work involved in prayer by giving us a place to start. It can also give direction to our prayers and stimulate our minds to think of things we may have otherwise forgotten to pray for.
(3) We can spend time with men and women who pray. We’ve all had people in our lives who were more obviously committed to prayer. We should nurture those influences and spend more time under them, because we really do become like what we are around.
(4) We can read Christian biographies, especially those that depict the lives of men and women who devoted themselves to prayer. In this regard, I have been helped by reading biographies about George Mueller, Hudson Taylor, and John Paton, all of whom were mighty men of prayer.
(5) We can pray. This may sound obvious, but I am convinced that what we need most when we do not feel like praying is to pray. I have found that as soon as I begin, my heart usually warms, and I am grateful afterward that I made myself pray despite not wanting to initially.
Prayer may be hard work, but almost everything that really matters in life is. We don’t let the hard work keep us from getting married or having kids. Why would we let it keep us from praying?
Tommorrow, we will look at a third obstacle to prayer: the fact that our lives work against it.