If you work for a church, as I do, then you are probably also experiencing a busy period in the church schedule. Coincident with the starting of school, we’re beginning a lot of new classes and programs (I’m becoming less and less a fan of church programming – but that’s another discussion), and we’ve been very busy getting ready for them.

As you’ve seen if you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, when things get busy, my prayer life usually takes a hit, and the past two weeks have been no exception. This morning, I found myself thinking (again) about all of the things that have kept me from prayer, and I’m sure many other people can identify with these.

1. Busyness
This is a no brainer. We live in a very busy culture, and there is a great amount of social pressure to squeeze more into our schedules. (EDIT: I was interrupted exactly 10 times during the writing of this one post, each interruption requiring an average of about 10 minutes) The technology that promised to make our lives easier has only allowed us to cram more work and activities into our time, not less. Fast moving and loud commercials and media, and the ubiquitous presence of advertisements wherever we go have trained our minds to be in many places seemingly at once. All of this will affect prayer unless we actively fight against it, but our minds are so occupied that fighting against this takes very focused, very purposeful, even aggressive action. Unfortunately, the thought of taking that action usually gets “Okay, I’ll be sure to do that later” as a response.

2. Mood
There are instances when I have time to pray, but find myself not feeling like it. This usually happens if I’m feeling tired or irritated. I’ll get to the end of a long and busy day and rather than opt for time spent in prayer, which requires my mind to be engaged, I’ll choose to put on a DVD so that I can shut my mind off for a while. This is especially true if the day has been filled with irritations and frustrations. I’ll cave in to the desire to smolder and vent inwardly on whatever has annoyed me, since I know that the proper prayer during those times is something along the lines of “God, please help me to be patient / humble / forgiving / joyful in all things / any number other things I don’t feel like being at that moment.”

An appropriate, albeit geeky quote here is one from Dune:

Paul: My father sent you to test me. Music, then?
Gurney: No music, I’m packing this for the crossing. Shield practice.
Paul: Shield practice? Gurney, we had practice this morning. I’m not in the mood.
Gurney: Not in the mood? Moods are things for cattle and love play, not fighting!

The same is true for prayer. God invites us in His word to take all things to Him in prayer, at all times.

3. Not knowing what to say

There are plenty of times when I think about prayer, when I’m not particularly occupied, and when I’m in a fine mood, but I just don’t know what to say. Sure, I could come up with something, but then I think about the fact that I don’t want my daughter to start talking to me just because she feels like she should, but her heart isn’t engaged in the conversation. I don’t want her to talk to me only out of obligation. I suppose that God feels the same way, since He tells us over and over again that He wants our hearts above our actions.

4. Not feeling worthy

I’ve not personally experienced this particular barrier (possibly from a lack of humility?) to prayer, but I know that others have. There continues to be this notion that one has to rise to a higher level of righteousness (which, strangely, seems to be defined by having a higher level of theological knowledge) in order to really pray. Prayer is for the pious, the enlightened, the ordained. Mere congregation members need not aspire to continuous prayer and thriving conversation with God. Along with that notion is the accompanying, and false idea that people who commit sins – real sins, as opposed to the small sins that more pious people commit once a year – cannot really talk with God.

But all of this really boils down to…

5. A poor understanding of prayer and of God

If I really understood, really knew, not just in my mind, but in my heart, what prayer really is and the Person with whom I am communicating, I think that I would be astounded and elated that I get to talk to Him at all, and that I would take advantage of every conceivable opportunity to engage this God through prayer.

No matter how busy things got, I would absolutely make time for prayer, just as I make time for eating. I would probably even remove things from my schedule in order to make time for prayer.

No matter how tired, frustrated, angry, or irritated I got, I would enjoy talking with God, and I would see the sources of those frustrations in light of the bigger picture of Who God is and what He’s doing. I would remember that there really is real power to be accessed through prayer, power to move mountains, and, even more amazingly, to move hearts.

I wouldn’t run out of things to say because there are not enough good things to say about God. My heart would be engaged in wonder at God, and while I would use words, I would be keenly aware of the fact that words are utterly insufficient, and I would remember that the Spirit intercedes on my behalf (and be astounded at that as well). I would also remember that there is a time to shut up and listen.

I would remember that I am infinitely unworthy to talk to God, but that God is infinitely merciful and that out of His infinite love, He reached across that infinite gap, though it cost Him infinite suffering, to win me back to Him, in order to display for me His infinite glory. How can a person know this and not be in constant, awestruck prayer?

  • What keeps you from prayer?
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