6 Lies that Keep Us from Praying

6 Lies that Keep Us from Praying

Since God “knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14), he is pleased to help us pray. When we don’t know what or how to pray, the indwelling Spirit of God prays for us “with groanings too deep for words,” (Romans 8:27). The Son of God himself intercedes for us from God’s right hand (Hebrews 7:23-25) that we might “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Thanks to my wife, Jordan, we do birthdays big in our home. The night before, the birthday boy or girl is sent to bed while the rest of the family stays up late stringing streamers, hanging banners, wrapping presents, putting the finishing touches on the cake, and, who could forget, blowing up countless multicolored, confetti-filled balloons until they carpet the floor.  We fill so many balloons in a given year that Jordan caved and bought an automatic inflator! Well, once the candles have been blown out and the celebration is over, I go around popping one balloon at a time until the floor is visible again. Secretly, it’s one of my favorite parts of our birthdays.

When it comes to prayer, there are balloons littering the floor of our hearts that need to be popped; lies we believe that need to be burst with the needle of God’s Word because they discourage us from crying out to our Heavenly Father honestly and often. Here are 6 of those lies:

  1. I don’t have the time

The first lie we believe that keeps us form praying is that prayers must be lengthy. We think, “If I don’t have a solid 20 or 30 minutes to devote to a robust time of prayer, why bother? Can a short, signal flare of a prayer really please God?” The Bible shouts, “Yes!” While we should strive to protect appointed times of prayer each day, we mustn’t run past the good in pursuit of the perfect.

In the momentary pause between Artaxerxes’ question and Nehemiah’s answer, the prophet fired up an SOS prayer that God was pleased to answer (Nehemiah 2:4).  In view of man’s nothingness and God’s transcendent majesty, the writer of Ecclesiastes suggested, “Therefore, let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2). If some psalms are long like Psalm 119 and some are short like, Psalm 117’s 2 verses, we can know that the Lord who inspired these model prayers is pleased by them regardless of length. Jesus himself instructed his disciples, “…when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7-13). Thus, the prayer our Lord taught his disciples was pretty short.
God hears our prayers not because they are lengthy but because he loves us.

  1. I don’t have the words

In seminary, one of my professors prayed in old English, sprinkling his prayers Shakespearean “thees,” “thous,” “wilts,” and “shalts.”  Now to be fair, he was old… and English. As he prayed, I thought to myself, “I will never be able to pray this beautifully.” You may feel the same thing reading the Puritan prayers preserved in The Valley of Vision. “Is God really pleased with my simple, unsophisticated, unvarnished words in prayer?” He certainly is! Do parents wait to listen to their children until they attain mastery of language? No, of course not. While we should to endeavor to speak to the Lord clearly and reverently, we must remember that some of the most profound prayers in the Bible are not literary masterpieces. In his final moment, Samson cried “O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once…” (Judges 16:28). Jesus’ tax collector went home justified after praying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:9-4). Jesus stretched out his healing hand after the leper said to him, “If you will you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40-41).

Remember, though we are coming to the King when we pray, he is also, by grace, our Father, Shepherd, and Friend. He hears our prayers not because they are eloquent but because he loves us.

  1. I don’t have the knowledge

“But,” we argue with ourselves, “I’m no great theologian. I am still trying to understand the gospel. I am still learning the doctrines of the faith. What if I make mistakes in my prayers? What if I say or ask for the wrong thing? Will God still hear me?” He will. While we should be moving from spiritual milk to meat as we grow in our knowledge of God’s person, work, and word, we should not allow our lack of learning to keep us from speaking to God. The father of the demonized boy admitted his ignorance and doubt to Jesus saying, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). It was a prayer Christ was pleased to answer.

Since God “knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14), he is pleased to help us pray. When we don’t know what or how to pray, the indwelling Spirit of God prays for us “with groanings too deep for words,” (Romans 8:27). The Son of God himself intercedes for us from God’s right hand (Hebrews 7:23-25) that we might “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

If your child said, “I love you,” what parent in their right mind, would turn that child away snorting, “Love! You don’t even know what that word means!” No, we would accept their imperfect love with full hearts. So too, God hears our prayers not because of our theological brilliance, but because he loves us.
4. I don’t have the feelings

Will God accept a cold-hearted prayer uttered in oughtness or spoken in duty? Yes. We don’t ultimately or only pray when we feel like it. We pray because we are commanded to. We pray because, like broccoli, we know it’s good for us. We pray because God is glorified and we are humbled by it. We pray because we know that like so many things in life, our feelings follow our feet. How often do we go to church begrudgingly but leave gladly?

Not praying because you don’t feel like it is like not going to the gym because you’re out of shape. Not praying because you don’t feel like it is a vicious, self-defeating cycle. How else will God spark the flame of desire within us?

In Lewis’ masterful fiction, Uncle Screwtape instructed the junior demon, Wormwood, to derail a certain Christian’s prayer life by tempting him to define the authenticity of his faith by his feelings:

Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself, we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills. When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave. When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment.

God hears our prayers not because of our fickle feelings towards him or towards prayer itself, but because of his steadfast love towards us.

  1. I don’t have the need

Prayer is only to be utilized by believers in cases of emergencies, right? Wrong! Imagine having a friend or family member that only ever called when they needed something. What if a husband only ever talked to his wife when he wanted something from her?  How would such treatment make her feel? Dehumanized? Objectified? Used? Uncherished? Is it so different with God? Marriage is, afterall, a mysterious picture of Christ and the church.

Corrie ten Boom asked, “Is prayer your steering wheel, or your spare tire?” You see, prayer is not only reserved for dire straits. Prayer is our living lifeline to God. Prayer is the umbilical connection between our hearts and Him who sits enthroned in the heavens. Prayer is the language of our love to Jesus; the secret communion of our souls with our Savior.

Unlike Christmas decorations that deck our halls from late November to early January, prayer is for all seasons! Paul told the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18)  Everyone prays in the fox hole. Only true believers pray on the plain of life’s mundane or on the mountain top of life’s golden moments.

You don’t need to pray? Is God so plain that you have nothing to tell Him about himself? Is your life so empty that you have you nothing for which to thank God? Is your soul so clean that you have you no sin that needs pardon? Are you so apathetic that you have no holy aspiration after which you are striving? We always have something, indeed many things, for which we can pray.

  1. I don’t have the merit

We all know how this one goes: “Surely, a holy God only hears the prayers of holy people. Surely God only answers the pleas of those worthy of heaven’s help. I’m too dirty. I don’t deserve an audience with him whose robe is the light (Psalm 104:2) and who dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16).

Indeed, our sin disqualified us from loving relationship with God. But (thanks be to God!) Jesus has qualified us by owning our sin on the cross and transferring the infinite worth of his righteous life to our account. “Dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne…”; we pray not on the basis of our own merit, but upon the basis of his.

Some of the greatest prayers ever answered were uttered by the vilest people. Think of the Rahab the harlot, evil king Manasseh, Zacchaeus the thief, Saul the Christian killer, or Samson the philanderer. Consider the dying thief, who, with his last breath, looked to the man on the middle cross and begged, “‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:42-43). If the Lord heard the prayers of people like these, he will hear any who call upon him in faith. God hears us not because of our merit, but because of Christ’s merit and because he loves us.

When the world, the flesh, and the devil lie to us to hinder our prayers, may we preach the truth of God’s Word to our own hearts and press on in prayer.

Jim McCarthy is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Trinity PCA in Statesboro, Ga.

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