As I am about to write this post, I would like to apologise beforehand for any sweeping generalisations that I make. I have to strongly emphasise that these are things that I have come across in my own experience. My experience might not be similar to yours, my experience might also not be truly representative. However I sincerely think it is. At least in the UK, I sincerely believe that at the moment, the Christian faith is largely a prayerless faith – or maybe it would be kinder to say “a faith of limited prayer”. And I believe that this has been the case for a number of years, so much so that this is the state that we as Christians now take for granted.
Keep going on about it!
Apologies also if you think that I “keep going on about it”. That is because, for me, a prayerless faith is an empty faith. You know how sometimes when you are evaluating something – a job applicant or something, you might have a list of criteria to tick off or otherwise. And then you might tick off all the criteria. You might say “Well this person does not have this or that, but they do have XYZ in abundance!” And this is sometimes how I feel that Christians think of prayer: “Well we recognise that our prayer life is something that we have to work on, but (at least) we do have educated leadership….intelligent and intellectual sermons…active and lively worship!”
To me, (sigh!) I cannot think of a gracious way of putting this. Prayer is not just an extra criterion to add to the list. If you have not got prayer then in a very real way you don’t really have anything. It is a little like trying to sustain a body longterm without a heartbeat and then being excited at the pretty clothes that the lifeless body is wearing.
I guess it is understandable for me to think this way because, spiritually speaking, prayer is “my thing”. But no, it does go beyond that. To a certain extent, if we are Christians, prayer needs to drive all our lives. And it is not just about “giving a place to prayer”, making it an extra item to tick off our list so that we can go home and live our lives. Rather it is about developing a deep and a passionate heart for prayer. If you don’t have this as a Christian, if you are not doing this, then I honestly can’t imagine what exactly you might be doing.
The body analogy is very appropriate as prayer is our connection to God. And because God is, well, God, who is the source of life, spiritual as well as physical, if our faith is not connected to God then our faith is not connected to the source of life. Prayer is that connection.
Not something we do but something we are
This is a phrase that Christians love to use for pretty much everything. Here is the thing. From experience prayer is not so much about having our list of requests and going through them all and asking “God, please do this!” Rather it is about cultivating connectedness and intimacy with God, running to Him with everything on our hearts, being prepared to be real with Him.
Being very real
In many Christian gatherings I have been part of, “church” seems to be about putting on your “nicest” behaviour to everyone for those few hours. And this seems to be how many people relate with God – putting on their nicest behaviour in front of Him, saying all the “correct” things. And yet God wants us to be real with Him. That means we are to admit to Him the real issues in our heart, the failings, the insecurities, the ugliness within that we all struggle with, as well as the joys and successes and triumphs, thanking Him for those. The thing about God is that He is so big, there is nothing we could admit to Him that would shock Him. There is nothing that we could do that could put us beyond the reaches of His grace. And He already knows everything anyway. The Bible says that He can see right into our minds – Psalm 139v2. And yet despite knowing just what we truly are He still grants us life and breath anew each day. We can afford to be real with God in a way we cannot necessarily be real with anyone else. He can take it like absolutely no-one else can. When we are real with God we cultivate an intimacy with Him. It is like with any other friendship. The more we can reveal of who we truly are, what is truly on our hearts, the deeper and more intimate the friendship will be.
Making God “relevant”
I have always thought that the idea of making God “relevant” is as ludicrous as the idea of making the sun “relevant” to the earth. That is, He is so resoundingly necessary for everything we are and do that it is just laughable to think that He could ever approach irrelevance. It has just occurred to however, in the process of writing this post, that the reason that so many Christians jump about regarding this subject, is perhaps because deep down they feel the need to make God relevant to themselves. And yet I believe that if Christians were to get into the habit of pouring out our hearts to God, then we would quickly stop seeing Him as irrelevant. Furthermore, as He works through our lives and our obedience we would see Him touch our communities with His love and power, irrefutably demonstrating His “relevance” in our wider society.
Telephone line… Email
This might be a good analogy for pursuing connectedness with God. When you are talking to Him, you have to believe that He really is there, and He really is listening. It is like when you are having a phone conversation with someone – you speak confidently into the handset because you know that someone is on the other end. So it is with God. You have to speak confidently, trusting that He is listening and hearing you. The Bible says in Hebrews 11v6 that those who come to God must believe that He exists, and He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
And then it is also a little bit like email. That is, it may not feel like the two way real-time conversation of a phone call in that you say something, and they say something back immediately. Rather you can express all that you want and need to say, and trust that they will get your email, and expect them to respond.
However unlike emails you can be sure that God will hear your prayers, if you pray them from your heart. When you are being fake God obviously knows. It is like expecting to have a profound relationship with someone when you are lying to them. For it to work you have to be real. And many Christians are not. And then they are surprised when God feels distant, or out of touch.
So then this is one of the most important reasons why Christians don’t pray – because they fail to be utterly real with God when they do pray. And because they fail to be real, they equally fail to achieve a real connection with God, making the whole thing seem like a pointless exercise – which unsurprisingly discourages further effort.
If you are a Christian reading this and you have struggled to see the point of prayer, why not set aside just 10 minutes each day for a week, starting from a Sunday? During these ten minutes, just try to be totally radically honest with God. Speak to Him the way you would speak to someone on the phone, trusting and expecting that He is hearing everything you say. Express to Him your frustrations – even if those frustrations are with Him. Even if you are secretly struggling to believe that He genuinely exists – tell Him that. Frustrations with your family, your supposedly perfect marriage, other Christians. Prayer is not just about expressing frustrations of course. However, I’m thinking that if someone has been cultivating a superficial relationship with God, there will be lots of frustrations bubbling away “beneath the surface”.
Why not try this challenge – only ten minutes a day, only a single week – and see the difference it makes to your outlook and your interaction with God?
There are a few other reasons why Christians don’t pray which I had actually expected to focus on in this blog post. However in the course of writing it has become clear to me that this is a primary issue – perhaps the most important factor – hopefully we’ll look at the other issues in a further post.
Image of rain on window by David Wagner of http://www.publicdomainpictures.net
There is now a second part to this post, available here