Prayer: Why We Fail to Pray as Often as We Should
Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
1Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
In everything we are to pray, proclaims the apostle Paul. Everything. What is everything? The Greek word here in both scripture verses is the same, πᾶς (pronounced “pahs”) which means “everything” in the sense of “each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything”.  Additionally, since Webster defines the term as “all that exists”, then we can safely assume that we are to pray about everything we encounter in the day; our meals, the people around us, local and world events, places and all circumstances.
Those are the external things that we can say exist around us, but what about “all that exists” inside of our mind, body and soul? Yes, we must also pray about our thoughts, dreams, fears, anxieties and even the things we fail to think or fail to do that would honor God.
As Christians, this doesn’t surprise us at all; in fact, don’t we know this already? Surely, we are supposed to pray, right? So then why is it so hard for us to pray without ceasing? Why do we stumble so very often with this spiritual discipline? Do we think we need to have the perfect place and timing in order to pray with effectiveness? Do we procrastinate for the perfect setting and mindset? Prayer should be done even when we don’t feel like it.
According to Richard Foster, author of “The Celebration of Disciplines” and “Seeking the Kingdom”, he accounts our lack of prayer to our fleshly sense of perfectionism in that as modern high achievers we feel we must have everything just right in order to pray. That, before we can pray, we need to understand what it is exactly, how it is to be done correctly, how to speak most eloquently, etc., as if prayer is something we tackle and conquer such as understanding math or a musical instrument. Foster claims that it is this sensation that puts us in the control position; but, he continues, it is better to come to God in prayer with a tangled mass of motives, than not at all. He continues and encourages us in stating that grace means, “we are not only saved by grace but we live and pray by grace as well.” 
In summary then, this reflection is encouraging us to pray at all times even when we are scattered in our heads as to how to pray; we can pray with emotions, doubts, fears, incomplete sentences and in just plain silence, trusting that the Holy Spirit will take our inconceivable words to the Father and intercede for us (Romans 8:26-27).
Well then, how can we make this change? We can “know” something, but how do we “apply” that something? How can we make it “ok” in our perfectionistic minds that we can pray always, at every moment even if our thoughts are a jumbled mess? And how can we find a quiet place for quiet reflection in order to pray in a deeper sense, withdrawn from the circumstances of the day?
Ironically, in order to be better pray-ers, we begin with prayer. “The prayers of the righteous achieve much”, proclaims James (James 5:16) and by asking God through His Spirit to release our hesitations and give ourselves permission to come into His presence at any moment even if our thoughts are impure, we can slowly begin to talk more often to our Lord and involve him in everything we do each day. Each day we need to:
- Pray for the Holy Spirit to prompt us to remember Christ in all things as we go through our daily agendas with the ultimate goal of creating in us the desire to include Him in every thought and action.
- We must make an intentional effort to heed the Holy Spirit’s promptings and not ignore Him while we might be mentally tackling other issues.
Before we continue, it is important to remind ourselves that although we can be catapulted into a stronger spiritual life by praying in all things, there is still a very important part of our spiritual health and growth with formal praying; this is a daily practice in which God uses as the central avenue to transform us even more closer to Christ.
Prayer is a catalyst for transformation; whether we are growing closer to Christ by praying our thoughts to God during our daily activities, or whether we are growing closer to Christ by formally sitting or kneeling with contrite hearts asking to be broken from the things we cling to that are of the world. The closer to Christ we become, the more we see our need and the more we desire to be more like Him and God will slowly reveal to us our sub-conscious hindrances to prayer and obedience to His Word while at the same time giving us the desire to want what He wants and desire His Will for our lives rather than our own will or the world’s will.
It is through prayer and reading God’s Word that we will discover how to live a life holy and obedient to God because we desire to do so, not because we made it a new year’s resolution or a promise to ourselves. It is only through the work of God in us that we will successfully be changed and transformed.
John Bunyan, an evangelist of the 17th Century of whom most notably is known for his allegory (used by C.S. Lewis for his Narnia series), “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (the most translated book other than the Bible) states “Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.” So, we can see where prayer is of utmost importance but it is also of utmost importance to incorporate our prayers while doing other spiritual disciplines as well (such as Bible reading, Bible study, praise, service, etc.), not only for our own souls but for others as well against the sin of the flesh, the world and the enemy.
When we read about other spiritual giants of the faith such as Charles Finney, George Fox, R.A. Torrey, E.M. Bounds and such, we are immediately impressed with the amount of time (s) each spent in prayer in order to live their lives with such glory to God. But it will do us well to remember, that progress comes with time; we begin slow, right from where we are, and we pray for God to develop us at His pace.
How do we begin? The following steps are for helping initiate a rhythm but we are to come to prayer as children, full of innocence, trust, dependency and faith; not like strict, practiced minds that can no longer use imagination or trust in powers outside of themselves. It’s suggested that these be used as ideas, as beginnings to a more personalized approach, as a way to understand how powerful and majestic our Creator is who loves us in ways we cannot communicate or ever understand. The following may help us understand why we dismiss opportunities to pray and how we can get back in to a daily worship of our creator.
- For daily prayer in everything, make a list of things that keep you from praying and write down beside it how to make a change in order to include conversational time with God.
- Add to that list things that go deeper, things that could be the cause of the things in your first list. For example, if the first list indicated that a lack of prayer during the day is because of forgetfulness, dig a bit deeper and try to find out “why” there is forgetfulness. Or if for example, the first list had a reason of being a thousand percent focused on how to get out of debt or another terrible circumstance, then try to explore where there might be some down-time; even if it’s the restroom or staring at the newscaster. Keep on digging until an eventual catalyst can be discovered and ask the Holy Spirit to help you. Once the root cause is identified, ask God to help you remove it and begin a transformed prayer life, one that is pleasing to Him. Such prayers bring the most bountiful blessings.
- For daily prayer that is intentional, specific and dedicated, the first thing that is needed is a quiet place where the stillness of the heart can be heard; it can be a closet, car, garage, bathroom or attic (think creatively for these places at home and at work). This is of utmost importance. Sitting still in a quiet place, allowing the heart and brain to be silent while the Spirit “fills” and whispers. The second thing that is needed is a pad of paper, pen and Bible. This kind of prayer is most about “listening” and waiting and asking what the Lord’s Will is and how we can advance the kingdom. This takes practice and we may not hear anything for quite some time but sitting in silence, and learning to relax and listen is a spiritual discipline that brings abundant answers when matured. Remember to leave your cell phone out of reach.
- While in silence, read the great prayers of the Bible, read Solomon’s prayer in 2 Chron. 6, or the prayer of Jabez in 1 Chron. 4:9, or those of Moses, Elijah, Hannah and the Psalms in order to understand the glory and sovereignty of God (these can be found in the index located towards the back of most Bibles).
- Silently, jot down the thoughts that come to mind, being sure to date the page (s) for future reference. End in a prayer asking God to keep this time slot sacred for you and Him to meet each day, ask Him to help create the desire to “want” to meet every day and give thanks for everything.
Questions for discussion:
- When one is trained to talk, strategize and persuade, it can be difficult to sit still in quiet and refrain from what every fiber of one’s being is screaming to do – talk. What are some ways you can think of that will help settle an “always thinking” mind long enough to give God a chance to be heard? How can one literally “stop thinking”?
- How can the imagination be used while praying in a quiet and secluded spot? How could one imagine our great king of glory amongst our very personal presence?
- By running through yesterday’s events in the mind, how could it have been different if the day was filled with “prayer flashes” during those events? How can we keep praying in everything today, tomorrow and every day in order to make our workdays more filled with love?
“Those persons who know the deep peace of God, the unfathomable peace that passeth all understanding, are always men and women of much prayer” R.A. Torrey
 Strongs Concordance and Thayer’s Lexicon.
 Richard Foster, Seeking the Kingdom, pp 12-13.