This is the second part to this post. The first is available here
Last week, I suggested that a primary reason why Christians don’t pray is because many of us fail to cultivate true openness with God. And coincidentally this week I came across a relevant Bible verse which talks about pouring out our hearts to Him: Psalm 62v8
Trust in Him at all times, you people;
Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah
Here are a few other reasons I have come across why Christians don’t pray
Failure to deeply believe the Bible
On writing this, I am thinking that this might compete with the reason given last week as the main reason why Christians don’t pray.
I think that most Christians would say that they believe the Bible, they believe in God, they believe in His commandments. And they would be sincere about it. However, after being around Christians for so long I think it is fair to say that many Christians only believe the Bible so far. It is almost as if there is a quiet agreement amongst many Christians and fellowships to ignore the difficult or challenging parts of the Bible, the parts that call us to invest absolutely everything we have into the pursuit of God, with all the energy and effort that we can possibly muster. Where the Bible describes people such as Elijah whose prayers brought fire down from heaven and Daniel who fasted for 21 days, we in modern Western faith have exchanged their zeal and raw passion for cosy convenience, comfortable meetings with lots of tea and cake.
Many Christians I know behave as if it would be “unrealistic” to expect or strive after the power of God as demonstrated in the Bible. It is as if there is an unspoken consensus that the amazing things written in the Bible are largely hyperbole for dramatic effect. Because many Christians don’t believe that God really can do those things through us, for these same Christians it is utterly unthinkable that they would invest the necessary prayer to see these things happen. And yet, imagine if we could see similar things today. I believe we can. The Bible says in the book of James: “Elijah was a human being with a nature like ours, and he prayed…”[…and amazing things happened]. James 5 verse 17
(Many translations translate this verse as “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours”, however the Greek “anthropos” refers to the word for a human being rather than a male person specifically – so it is not as if Elijah-like prayer need be the exclusive preserve of male people!)
This is a controversial issue, because many Christians believe that the miracles died out with the 1st Century Church. I am not going to get into that argument here. All I am going to say is that biblically speaking, there is absolutely no argument to be had, actually. God is the same God He has always been, and He has the same power available that He has always had. The Bible promises that this power will be available for followers of Christ, without imposing any time limits whatsoever. Sorry, but biblically speaking that is all there is to it. I believe that if we cannot see this power widely at work, then what we as Christians need to do is to get on our faces and start praying to our God. Praying very, very hard, like Elijah, until we too see exciting results.
Got a little prayer
This is an interesting aspect within this issue. Some Christians will not recognise themselves as “prayerless”, because technically they do pray. They say the Grace at mealtimes, they might recite the Lord’s prayer once or twice a day, they pray when they get up and when they go to bed, and they might also offer up quick prayers for one another when conversing in groups of Christian friends, or when meeting up for church house fellowships.
All these types of prayer are good and necessary, and here’s a little embarrassing confession, as I write this it occurs to me that I never say the Lord’s prayer! Something to work on for me then! However, these kinds of prayer do not constitute a prayerful life. There are no two ways about it. If you want to be deep with God then you have to bring your heart before Him. You have to let His Spirit examine you. You have to cry out to Him. And you have to do all of this on a frequent basis.
Prayer is time
This is another prayer biggie. In our everyday lives, we all tend to be so busy, with our days filled round the clock, and most of us are constantly rushing from task to task. And yet, depending on the type of prayer concerned, prayer is time – time may be money, but prayer is definitely time! Where we are bringing our hearts before God, to say:
“This is me, God”, then we might need time to just sit in His presence, sometimes just being quiet, trying to listen to what He might be telling us. King David is an example of someone who is recorded in the Bible as praying in this way. (I’m sure all the Bible heroes cultivated this kind of prayer before God. However the Psalms explicitly express this kind of attitude before God – “cleanse my heart o Lord”, etc etc)
When we have big prayer requests that we are asking for, we might need to just keep asking and asking until the requests are answered. Once again this takes time.
When Peter was jailed by Herod for his faith, the Bible records that the church offered constant prayer for him and eventually he was miraculously released. (This is where literal 24/7 or round-the-clock prayer is especially relevant – when you have a big request and you just need to keep praying until it gets answered – and you might not even be able to afford to take a break for sleeping – just like with any other important deadline. The account in Acts (Chapter 12) relates that Herod had just killed James “the brother of John”, and now he had Peter too – the early church recognised that if they were not serious with their prayer, then Peter too might also suffer the fate of James.)
Jesus tells us in Luke 18 verse 1 that people ought always to pray, and not faint! (Once again this verse is often translated “men”, once again in the Greek, it is not restricted to male people – rather what the Greek literally says is “It is necessary always to pray, and not faint” without any actual mention of people or gender at all.)
In the parable of the unjust judge in the following verses (verses 2-5), Jesus tells us that we should constantly bring our requests before God until our requests are answered.
And yet, in the day to day busy-ness of our lives, it is almost impossible for us to make the time to sit in God’s presence. We struggle to find the time to really persevere with Him for big requests. If we want to get deep with God, we are going to have to find the time. This means that we are going to have to make some difficult decisions, even about things that previously seemed sacrosant.
God is Sovereign
This (along with “prayer is time”) is the reason why I wrote this post. It is more relevant for when someone has big requests, or for instance when considering the fact that people all around us need salvation. This is something that I have never heard anyone state explicitly, however I’ve deduced it from many of my interactions with Christians. I do have to say that this attitude does tend to be displayed exclusively by mainstream Evangelical Christians, rather than Pentecostals, for instance. This is the idea:
God is Sovereign, so ultimately His purposes are going to prevail whether I pray or not. So why would I bother investing lots of time into prayer?
Most people who seem to think like this would pray, but perhaps in quite a perfunctory way. It is like their heart is not really in it.
Well it is quite true of course that God is Sovereign over the whole earth. However, He still requires us to pray. Surprisingly, although God is Sovereign, the Bible still makes it clear (countless times) that His purposes can be thwarted.
In the Bible, God (Himself) says “I looked for a man to stand in the gap…but I found none, so I will have to pour out my wrath”. Ezekiel 22v30. So here, God’s purpose was to hold back His wrath. However, no-one “stood in the gap”, or prayed for the land, so instead of holding back His wrath, as He wished, God instead poured out destruction and devastation upon the land. Admittedly this was still God’s hand in action. The Bible makes it clear that our prayers, humble as they might seem, can make the difference between God’s will being done on earth or otherwise, or as in this example the difference between God doing what He wishes to do, and what He would prefer not to do.
In 2 Chronicles 7v14 God tells us that where famine, plague etc have beset the land, “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” From that it follows that if God’s people do not humble themselves and pray, then God will not hear from heaven (nothing to hear), neither will He forgive the sin nor heal the land. So once again, here it clearly shows that our prayers make a real and tangible difference to life here on earth.
This does not seem to make sense. It seems to limit the power of an all-powerful God. Where the issues concerned are very very important, like the eternal salvation of our friends, it seems as if this is putting too much responsibility into frail human hands. And yet this is what the Bible teaches. Whom are you going to believe – your favourite theologian, or God Himself, writing through the Bible? If it needs to be stated, then please let me state it clearly. As with the issue of “Are miracles still for today?”, where there is debate between “accepted theology”, and the manifest teaching of the Bible, the Bible should be the uncontested winner. Frankly, there should not even be a debate.
Related to this is the equally erroneous mindset that everything that happens to me must automatically be God’s will (once again, presumably because “the will and purposes of God cannot be thwarted”). A second’s thought would quickly dispel this idea, as we think in our world of countless things that cannot possibly be God’s will, (that is, things He cannot have wanted, because they are bad things but He is a good God), although He has allowed them to happen. This fails to take into account our own sin, and the sin of people around us AND also the fact that our prayers can shape the world around us, and many things simply happen because of a lack of prayer to prevent them from happening.
To be fair to Calvin, this is probably not what he meant when talking about “God being sovereign”. He probably produced a very nuanced argument. From experience, various generations of Christians will then have (totally) failed to grasp the subtleties of his argument, drastically oversimplifying it, to embrace something that is now very much in contradiction with the Bible. NB, I do not actually know that this all originated with the theologian Calvin. However, he tends to be a good bet when discussing mainstream Evangelical doctrine. I sometimes think that he is the true central figure of mainstream Evangelical faith, and Jesus is merely the Bible character on whom is hung all the theology.
So Church, let us seek our God, let us cry out to Him. Our various countries obviously need His healing – and He is the only One who can make a true difference. However He requires us to partner with Him in this work. Let us be the ones who will “stand in the gap”.