Why Don’t We Pray?

About six years ago, My wife Marie and I attended a retreat called Cursillo. God used that retreat powerfully in our marriage to stir me to begin praying with Marie out loud every morning, which we have done ever since. We’ve been married for just over 19 years now, so you can see that through a large chunk of our marriage we didn’t pray out loud together on a regular basis. I’m so grateful God convicted me and stirred me out of that.

Earlier this week, Marie and I attended the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors and Church Leaders together in Minneapolis. Like with Cursillo, God used our time together at this conference to stir in me a deeper desire to pray more, which made me wonder why don’t we pray more? Why don’t I pray more? Why doesn’t the church pray more? There are undoubtedly more, but here are 10 reasons why Christians don’t pray or don’t pray more often. I believe the enemy works through all of these reasons to keep us from engaging with God in prayer.

Unbelief – Quite simply, we don’t pray because we don’t really believe. We don’t really believe God is who he says he is. We don’t really believe he can do what he says he can do. We don’t believe, so we don’t pray.

Misunderstanding – Our haphazard use of prayer as only a tag-on to worship services, meetings, or meals reveals we may not understand what prayer actually is. Tim Keller provides helpful insight when he writes, “Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him.” So we fully encounter God when we engage with him through his Word, through his grace, and through prayer. Prayer then is essential to encountering God. Why wouldn’t we want that?

A low view of our need – Tony Souder, who led a breakout session on prayer in parenting at the Bethlehem Conference, made the point that one thing that drives us to pray (or not pray) is our perceived view of our need. When we don’t think our need in this life is that big, we won’t pray. 

A high view of ourselves – Often if we have a low view of our need, that means we have far too high a view of ourselves and our own ability to handle the needs in our lives. This is where pride in our hearts stunts our prayer life. Adam Ramsey writes, “For many Christian leaders, the greatest indicator of pride in our hearts is not the presence of boasting, but the absence of prayer.” I have this quote written next to my desk in my office to remind me that not praying is a silent boast that I can handle life without God.

A low view of God – Souder also pointed to our view of God as something that drives us to pray (or again, not pray). We don’t think God can hear us, so we don’t pray. Or we think God is choosing to ignore us or has distanced himself from us, so we don’t pray. Or maybe we think God can hear us, but he’s not powerful enough to do anything about it. All of these low, incorrect views of God leave us disconnected from and unengaged with God in prayer.

Misplaced Power – I sometimes hear people deflect an invitation to pray by saying things like, “I can’t speak well,” or, “I’m not good at praying,” or “that person can pray better than me.” Comments like this reveal an errant belief that the power of prayer rests in us and in our words instead of in God.

Comfort – Comfort tempts us to forget to pray. If our lives are so comfortable, and we’ve purchased everything that gives us comfort ourselves, then why bother praying to God? We’ve earned what we have on our own, why do we need God? Deuteronomy 6:10-12 warns us of this. It says,

“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you – with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant – and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord.”

Distracted – Countless distractions also tempt us away from praying. As Jesus approached the hour of his betrayal in the garden of Gethsemane he prayed fervently. But his disciples were too distracted by sleep to pray. (Matthew 26:36-46) As the hour of Christ’s return approaches, are we likewise distracted? I think endless hours of entertaining ourselves gives us our answer. As John Piper says, “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”

Never taught – In Luke 11:1, Jesus’ disciples make an insightful request. “Lord, teach us to pray,” they said. For some people, no one ever taught them how to pray. When I started following Jesus in 2005, I learned to pray from other faithful men who modeled prayer for me in Bible studies, worship services, and personal conversations. The influence of these men was transformational for my prayer life.

Sin – With many political scandals throughout history, the cover-up often became worse than the actual crime. The devil not only tries to tempt us to sin, he tempts us to cover up our sin as well. Trying to cover or hide our sin leads us to hide from God. When we’re trying to hide from God, we don’t pray to God.

Each of these reasons have been true in my own life at different times and to varying degrees. In my next post I’ll respond to a few of these reasons and share ten encouragements to help us pray.

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