This is the second part of a three-part blog post about how to hit the restart button on your prayer life. If you haven’t read part one, go here.
Prayer has been anything but easy for me. I struggled in silence for many years… wondering why it was so difficult to connect with God in the most basic way. Prayer was an entry-level Christian practice, I assumed.
Why couldn’t I get it?
Was it a spiritual deficiency or blind spot that I’m in denial about?
Did God leave out the prayer gene when he created me?
And why did so many other people whom I respect – especially Bible professors and preacher types – seem to flourish in prayer? What did they have that I didn’t.
Stuck in Shame
These questions troubled me more than I was willing to admit at the time. At times I felt like God was punishing me for some sin in the past by withdrawing his presence from me. This vague sense of guilt quickly snowballed into shame. I felt like a scolded child who couldn’t look his father in the eyes.
My prayers were a perfect reflection of my heart. They were sporadic and inconsistent. I approached God when I did good things. I avoided him when I didn’t. The performance mindset had me in a spiritual death-grip that left me frustrated and fatigued. I believed that God would listen to me if and only if I measured up to certain standard.
I tried to break out of this bondage by tweaking my prayer strategy or trying to pray like someone I admired. This only accelerated the problem, though, because my underlying issue had nothing to with my schedule or anyone else’s experiences in prayer.
Every New Year’s Eve, I’d write new goals and design new plans for how I could go forward in prayer. It always looked so wonderful on paper! But when it came time to actually do it, I struggled. By Super Bowl Sunday, I was defeated yet again and retreated back into my prison of prayerlessness.
The Turning Point
When the cancer bomb dropped, it didn’t take me very long to figure out that I wasn’t strong or wise enough to walk through such a big trial without a steady in-flow of God’s power. Without his help, I would be swept away in a storm of fear and despair.
This meant that I had to learn how to pray for real. I had no idea where to begin. Was God angry with me because it took me so long to learn such a basic lesson? Could I approach him? Was he available? Did he even see me or was he walking with more faithful, less prayer-challenged people?
I got my answer the day before I was discharged from the hospital. It was one of those rare occasions when it was just me in the room – no nurses, hospital staff, family members, friends… nobody but me. I closed my eyes and said with a quivering voice, “God, I need you more than I’ve ever needed you in my life. I don’t deserve what I’m asking for, but I’m going to ask anyway. Show yourself to me! I can’t do this without you!”
About 30 seconds after the tears stopped flowing, I heard a sound like a music box. I questioned the legitimacy of what I heard. Pain killers had dulled my senses, but I was reasonably confident that this was a real sound.
You see, the hospital played a lullaby over the loudspeakers every time a baby was born. I’d been there for 9 days, but I never heard it. But this time it was all I could hear.
As it played, I heard something else — something unmistakable and crystal clear. It was the voice of God speaking to the innermost part of me. This is what he said to me as the music played.
“I’m here. I’m with you. This is good. Roll with it. Trust me.”
It was the most reassuring and encouraging thing I’ve ever heard. As the hospital announced the arrival of a new life, God announced his plan to transform my life. My body was weak, but my soul was empowered and invigorated in ways that I can’t fully describe. God was about to redesign the architecture of my heart. This moment of revelation led to many more revelations in the coming months.
It’s Not about Prayer
One of the more shocking things God showed me was that my prayer struggles had nothing to do with prayer. It was deeper than that. In my experience, prayerlessness is not fundamentally a discipline problem. The core issue is faith. My ultimate struggle wasn’t finding the right prayer plan or strategy. It was learning how to fuel my faith.
So, what is faith? Here’s a simple and clear definition.
“Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1
When faith is flourishing, prayer is natural, unforced, and constant.
When faith is flagging, prayer is awkward, cold, and sporadic.
That’s why my attempts to awaken my prayer life were so unsuccessful. I was addressing the wrong problem.
Throughout the Bible, faith and prayer are inextricably linked. One of the clearest examples is Jesus’ statement in John 15:7, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
“Remaining” in Jesus is faith — trusting him and relying on his words. Asking whatever you wish is prayer.
If prayer is mainly an expression of faith and we’re struggling with prayerlessness, then the first thing we need to do is look for a faith problem. There’s a faith breakdown somewhere and, until we see it clearly and address it, we will be stuck.
In part 3, I will share how I am learning to fuel my faith. In the meantime, here are some questions to ponder…
Questions for Self-Examination
-On a scale of 1-10, how strong is your confidence in God?
-Can you recall a time in the past when God spoke to you? How did this event affect your prayers?
-What kinds of things diminish your faith in God?
-What are some practical ways to feed your faith?
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