Prayer is important. We all know that intellectually. It’s one of the two main tasks of church leaders along with the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). Why is it
then that most of us spend so little time actually praying? Prayer meetings are
typically over 90% talking to each other and less than 10% talking to God. Long
prayers in church are disdainfully called “long-winded” but short ones are
never despised. For people who claim that their relationship with God is supremely important, we spend very little time in dialogue with him.
In an advice book for pastors Eugene Peterson explains why we do this:
Prayer is not a work that pastors are often asked to do except in ceremonial ways. Most pastoral work actually erodes prayer. The reason is obvious : people are not comfortable with God in their lives. They prefer something less awesome and more informal. Something, in fact, like the pastor. Reassuring, accessible, easygoing. People would rather talk to the pastor than to God. And so it happens that without anyone actually intending it, prayer is pushed to the sidelines.
And so pastors, instead of practicing prayer, which brings people into the presence of God, enter into the practice of messiah: we will do the work of God for God, fix people up, tell them what to do, conspire in finding the shortcuts by which the long journey to the Cross can be bypassed since we all have such crowded schedules right now. (The Contemplative Pastor, 43)
There are other reasons we avoid prayer. Sometimes the problem is fear of intimacy. Intimacy is what it sounds like: INTO-ME-SEE. When we pray we open ourselves up to God and others. That can be scary, especially if we’ve built a habit of hiding our true selves. Disappointment is another reason. Anyone who has been a believer for more than a short period of time has experienced this. We’ve prayed fervently for something and not gotten what we wanted. Our faith didn’t move that mountain and like St. Peter we sink in the waves of doubt. But at the heart of our prayer-less-ness is a theological problem: we question the goodness of God. Not in an absolute sense. We know God is good, but we wonder whether he will be good to us. He’s blessed us in the past, but will he bless us this time? Instead of finding out we often avoid the question.
What would our lives look like if we reversed this trend and began talking to God
more? I don’t know, but I want to find out. How about you?
(For more on the topic of prayer, you can read my sermon on the Lord’s Prayer here.)