WHy Do We Struggle to Pray?
Why does prayer seem so hard? I’ve been pondering that question recently as prayer has been the topic of many of my readings recently. Jesus repeatedly calls his disciples (us) to prayer. Prayer has been a central component of a faithful walk with God throughout the life of the church because it connects us to our personal and loving God. Beginning with the Israelites and continuing through Judaism today, God’s people have taken designated times for prayer throughout the day. But if it is so important, why is it so hard to pray? Here are three of my thoughts:
We don’t see the effects. Many of us have been conditioned to think of prayer as some sort of magic words which when done correctly will conjure up anything we dream. The problem is that prayer doesn’t work that way! Sure, Jesus invites us in Matthew 7 to ask and it will be given us. Think about when you pray most often; is it when you need something or are looking for direction in life? Our prayers are often focused around our needs exclusively which leads to frustration when we don’t get what we think we need through prayer. Often we aren’t paying attention to the way God is responding to our prayers because he is doing so in a way that’s different than we expect. Pay attention for the unexpected ways God is at work in your life.
We are too busy. There are times that prayer seems like a luxury sort of like taking some time off from our busy lives. Martin Luther purportedly said of prayer that he has “so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.” Jesus too emphasized the importance of prayer in Matthew 9 when he told his disciples that the harvest is plentiful (there is a lot of work to do). Before he sent them out to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom, he called them to pray, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt 9:37-38). Prayer is not just a luxury we can afford when there is extra time; prayer is a necessity to get through every day.
We don’t know how to pray. Even though prayer has been central to the Christian life for thousands of years, too many of us (think we) don’t know how to pray. Sometimes we have the impression that our words need to be just right and that we need to sound like we know what we’re doing. Jesus condemns that type of thinking about prayer and instead simply models how to pray. He gave as a model these words:
Our Father in heaven
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
There is nothing fancy here. Just an invitation by Jesus to enter conversation with our God who created and keeps us by fixing our attention not just on our lives but on His work in the world around us. Prayer at its simplest is sharing with God hopes, dreams, concerns and worries of our lives and what we long to see him do in them.
You may not think you are good at praying or have the time but if you desire a closer relationship with Jesus, prayer is the way to start. Spend a few minutes now in prayer using Jesus’ words as a model: pray for the continued growth of God’s kingdom here, pray for the needs you and others face, pray for strength to live your life to its fullness for the honour and glory of God.
This Sunday, the church celebrates Holy Trinity Sunday, a day when we focus on the three persons of our one God. But what is the Trinity (other than being the namesake for our congregation)? You may be quick to answer something to the effect of the three-in-one; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; three persons in one being.
One of the common images used to help us understand the concept of the Trinity is that of an egg which has three parts (shell, yoke, and white) but is still just 'one' egg. Other images often used to help clarify this abstract concept are the three properties of water (ice, water, vapour) or a three-leaf clover. These are helpful in a limited way but they fail to communicate fully the intimacy within the Godhead(and why the concept of the Trinity matters).
Our minds find it easy to differentiate the three roles of God as revealed in Scripture: the Father as Creator and Sustainer, the Son as Redeemer (Saviour), and the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier (one who is working holiness in us and calling us back to Jesus). More difficult is to put those three distinct roles together so that they are not three completely separate beings but three parts of one.
Whenever one part of the Trinity talks about another, there is always a closeness assumed; read John 14:15-30 to see what I mean. It is this closeness that makes the Trinity an important part of our everyday life with God because we are not distant from God but have the Holy Spirit in us. That means God in His fullness is dwelling with us, knows us, and cares for us every step of our journey; we have the Holy Spirit who leads us into the truth, forgiveness, and life of Christ who in turn has made it possible to share life forever (as originally intended) with our loving and creative Father. Our whole life holds together in the relationship of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This was so important to the early church that they spent years defending the concept of the Trinity as a unity of three persons. The Athanasian Creed was developed to safeguard the truths about God which were increasingly coming under attack. Once a year, on Trinity Sunday, we read the Athanasian Creed (which admittedly is long and repetitive) as a means of reorienting ourselves amid a disorienting and fragmenting world that would lead us astray from God as revealed in the Scriptures.
Here is the text of the creed (click the link). It has strong language about the necessity to confess these teachings which reminds us in a shocking way of what is at stake. I challenge you (and it will be a challenge) to read through the creed trying to understand what’s being communicated and use it to sift your understanding of God.
May you be blessed as you are reminded of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s continued work and presence in your life!
Pastor J-M shares some occasional thoughts and musings on our life together as followers of Christ. The views are his own.