Most of what I’m sharing here has been born out of intense personal experience. I’ve wrestled with these doubts. And over and over again I find myself believing these lies about prayer. I am not writing as one who has “figured out” prayer. Deitrich Bonhoeffer has said, "True teachers in prayer can only help by directing to the one who must Himself help us pray." So, this is not going to be 12 secrets to a great prayer life, or a clever acronym to help you remember how to pray “the right way." It is not about heaping guilt on ourselves in regards to how much we “should” pray. It is not even about tricks to help us pray more, although I will share some tools that may be helpful. I just want to expose the lies of our hearts that keep us from communing with God, and hopefully point you to Jesus, who is the only one who can help us find the grace that is prayer. So, here is the first of seven obstacles to prayer.
1. God is indifferent to my prayers. We may sometimes ask, "Why should I pray since God already knows what he's going to do? What difference does it make?" This is a temptation to be cynical about prayer. Some people say, "Prayer doesn't change anything. It just changes you." Have you heard this objection? Have you ever thought this? In Matthew 7:7-11, Jesus teaches us that we should ask. If we as parents give our children good gifts, “how much more will our Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Jesus doesn’t just command us to believe this truth, he gives us a logical argument for praying with faith.
In the section on prayer in his book Bible Doctrine (158-159), Wayne Grudem deals with the tension of knowing God is sovereign, and yet reading verses that indicate our prayers are effective. He concludes that while God does not need us to tell him what we need (Jesus says in Matthew 6:8 that he knows what we need before we ask), prayer does allow us as creatures to be involved in activities that are eternally important. Even though we can't explain exactly how it works, it is clear that in prayer we participate in God's sovereign will.
The way this works is a mystery. Sometimes difficult to accept because we want to understand how it works! Paul Miller describes the mysterious nature of prayer. He says, "We try to figure out the mystery, it will elude us. Some things disappear when you try to capture or observe them-the most precious things in life can’t be proven or observed directly." He goes on to describe this using the example of a child with autism. Many of you may know that we have a daughter who is profoundly affected by autism. One of the defining characteristics of autism is that children with autism often struggle to make eye contact with people. Instead, they sometimes look at people out of the corners of their eyes. The theory is that because of the way they process sensory input, it is too overwhelming for them to look directly at people. Prayer is similar. Miller says, "It is too overwhelming for us to look at prayer directly. We must look at it sideways, out of the corners of our eyes."
The response to our cynicism is believing that we can pray with expectation, even though we don’t fully understand how it all works.
Psalm 34 speaks to this lie that God is indifferent to our prayers. It describes how we can pray with the expectation that God will be responsive:
4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. 5 Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. 6 This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. 7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. 8 Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. 9 Fear the LORD, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. 10 The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing. Psalm 34:4-10
The 7 lies are adapted from Megan's notes for the Child Dedication class.