As Christians, we are taught to pray. When we are young, we might be taught a simple rhyming prayer to say before eating or before going to bed and as we get older, the style of our prayers changes as we do. First the Lord’s prayer then something deeper, longer and more frequent but nevertheless, we pray. We do it not just because the bible tells us to, but because it is how we communicate with God.
When I was in primary school, I used to pray all the time – a constant, ongoing conversation with God, thanking Him for my food, asking for protection from bullies or help with homework or asking for forgiveness when I hurt someone. Then I grew up into adulthood and became too busy to pray and lost my connection with God. Everything was going good, why did I need to? Then things started going very much downhill within my family, church, work and health but I had lost my relationship with God and forgotten how to pray. In the same way that friends have drifted away whilst I have spent my days alone inside the house due to chronic illness, when I drift away from God and don’t talk to Him, I lose that closeness we once had when I was praying to Him everyday.
So prayer is important but how do we keep praying when barriers appear? Even before I became unwell, I would struggle sometimes to pray in the evenings or mornings because I was too tired, I would struggle to pray at work because my mind was too distracted by other things to think about listening or talking to God and I even struggled when I was by myself on a day off as I would find other things I thought I should or needed to get done.
I would have to say that at this point in my life, prayer is difficult. I am always tired, busy or asleep so never feel that I am able to focus solely on God so instead of trying and failing, I often don’t start in the first place. This is the first big error. Don’t let your mind slipping away to other things put you off. We are human, it happens and God knows – He made us this way, just how He wanted us, and knows how our minds work. When we become distracted, all we need to do is write that thing down to remove it from our minds if it is important to remember. If not, allow your mind to wander there, and then come back to God. He is loving and patient and will wait for us. Although we are not of the world, we are still in and therefore, affected by it so we cannot expect to be perfect before God.
I know some of you might be thinking, ‘That’s great for people who can pray but struggle sometimes, but what about me? I can’t even bring myself to pray in the first place!’. Don’t worry, you are not alone. I have experienced this and still do so at times, and I am sure many others can also relate. There are many reasons for feeling this way and each has a different method of starting to change:
Firstly, distance. Like I have already said, when we get distracted long term, we move away from God. God never moves away from us, but we can, and do, move away from God. Sometimes that is intentional but I have found that it is more common for me to suddenly find myself away from God without realising it has happened. This can happen when we get upset or angry at God or when we start to lose faith which brings us on to point 2 – fear.
This is an experience I can relate to in a big way. I struggle to pray due to being fearful. Not fearful of God or of others but that God won’t answer my prayer and then I will lose my faith which is something I fear. I love God. I was raised in a Christian family and have always been open about my faith, no matter the outcome, but I have never needed God to respond to my prayer as much as when I am crying out in pain or starvation, or extreme fatigue or frustration at my situation. I have prayed many times for healing, as have my family and friends from church, yet I have not been healed in the way I wanted and that has caused me to lose faith in God’s being, His abilities or even whether He really loves me.
Finally, pressure. As someone raised in a Christian family, there is pressure to pray about everything. Not because my parents stand beside me with a whip, but because it is a discipline, in exactly the same way as tidying your room or brushing your teeth. This is great and I am really happy my parents have raised me this way, but it can lose it’s ‘magic’ so to speak. Praying because you are told to rather than because you want to can crate a forced conversation and build a fake relationship with God. It’s like talking to a brick wall – pointless.
So how can we overcome each of these problems in our prayer life?
- if it is a physical barrier (i.e. you are tired, in pain or distracted), remember we are weak and God knows that. But also remember a prayer does not need to be complicated or long. If you are about to go to bed but feel too tired to pray simply thank God for the day and ask for protection for tomorrow. Easy. God does not see these prayers as lesser, in fact, we are even told that God prefers the prayers of His people who pray to Him from a human point of view than the prayers of someone who stands out on street corners so everyone can see and hear them saying their clever, ‘proper’ language prayers that go on and on. God wants to hear from you, however, whenever, wherever you can but He doesn’t want to pressurise you into feeling bad for not being able to do so.
- When it comes to spiritual barriers, it is always us rather than God that needs to change. That doesn’t mean we have to do it alone because He wants to walk alongside us in everything, but it is in our control if, or how, we talk to Him. If you haven’t spoken to a friend in a long time, and they haven’t tried to communicate with you, you can either reach out to them again or ignore them forever and risk never speaking to your best friend ever again. It’s the same with God. We can either ignore Him completely or get ‘back in touch’ and pray. It might feel strange initially but if you keep praying, even if it doesn’t feel right, it won’t be long before it feels natural again and you can hear from God too.
- Similarly, when it comes to feeling pressured to pray, forget the pressures you have had in the past. Move away from routine and towards relationship by praying to God when you want to talk to someone. Maybe you want to ask Him for something, maybe you want to thank Him, or maybe you just want to tell Him about your plans for the day, some music you are loving or food you are enjoying eating. Make prayer relational again and it won’t feel so forced anymore.
- As fear is something I experience personally, I wanted to do some research so had a look at various resources and I have been able to find literature on praying about being fearful, not about fear related to prayer so I am going to have to talk from my own experiences. In some ways, I think this is very similar to feeling distant – you just have to pray. I was at Spring Harvest a few weeks back and had the pleasure of hearing Pete Grieg (founder of the 24/7 prayer movement) talking about prayer and one thing he said stood out to me over everything else (paraphrased as I cannot remember the exact wording) – ‘Don’t pray to God because He answered your prayer the way you wanted, but pray to God because He is faithful so we know that even when we don’t hear His answer or see Him act in the way we wanted, He is responding/ acting just in His time and way. Our faithful God.’ Just because God doesn’t seem to answering you once doesn’t mean He isn’t or won’t next time. He is listening and will respond in His time and in His way – the best way for you as His child. He knows the situation and He knows you and what is best for you. So we must keep praying, knowing our God is listening and is faithful and will respond and act and therefore, we should not fear His silence for He won’t always be that way and perhaps, He is already doing something. It’s just too big or incomprehensible for the human mind to imagine. God is good ALL the time!