Why wouldn’t you pray?

6 min. to read.

I recently took an online course. The teacher is someone I look up to and have learned a lot from.

The lessons were a combination of reading, watching video, doing exercises at home and sharing with other students in a forum. This works well for me. I can structure my time, do the work at my own pace, and ask questions of my peers.

But there was one complaint that came up over and over in the forum. A few people were disappointed, others were frustrated, about one thing.

The teacher, the one who had written all the material, wasn’t present in the forum.

He had written all the lessons. He had recorded all the audio and video. When you signed up for the course, you were getting hours and hours of material that he had put together personally. But he, himself, wasn’t there.

I’ve thought a lot about this in the past weeks. I’m creating my own online course, and I’m thinking about the experience I want my students to have. I understand why this presenter went the route he did. The course allows him to share his material with thousands of people, something he could never do one-on-one. Yet, I understand the disappointment of some of the students.

We want direct access. We want connection. We want to know that there is someone there to listen to us, to give us counsel, to help us when we struggle.

This is why the 5th commitment of an apprentice of Jesus is to pray.

Prayer is when we initiate communication with God

Even if you struggle with it, OK?  Photo Credit:  This guy
Even if you struggle with it, OK? Photo Credit: This guy

The Bible assumes the need for prayer and its effectiveness. Why is quite simple. The Bible teaches us that God exists and that God can both communicate with us and hear us in return.

When God communicates with us it’s called revelation. Sometimes the means of revelation is powerful and obvious like prophecy or a vision.

Other times revelation comes in mystical ways, like the still small voice that whispers to our hearts. Then there’s the revelation we find in circumstances or the words of others. Most frequently, God’s revelation can be found in scripture. God speaks in many ways.

But when we are the ones initiating the conversation, it has only one name: prayer. When God communicates with us it’s called revelation. When we speak to God, it’s prayer.

When God communicates with us it’s called revelation. When we speak to God, it’s prayer.

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The apprentice relationship is a two-way conversation. The master teaches. The apprentice learns and practices. The student asks questions and looks for feedback. The master corrects and challenges. The apprentices responds.  If we really are to learn how to do life from Jesus, communication is necessary. So we listen for His voice, but we also talk back. That’s why prayer is essential.

An apprentice is committed to let every aspect of life be shaped by Jesus. That means that prayer becomes a part of every aspect of life as well.

  • Prayer that your day will be guided by Jesus.
  • Prayer that your words in this next conversation will honor Jesus and bless this person.
  • Prayer that you can release your anxiety in the moment when you get bad news.
  • Prayer for a friend of family member.
  • Prayer asking for direction.
  • Prayer to articulate a moment of gratitude or worship.

But I just don’t get prayer!

At this moment, you are very likely having one of two responses. You might be saying, “Yep. Got it. Prayer matters. I’m on board.” So, this commitment will be easy for you.  But more likely, you’re saying to yourself, “I don’t know… I have a hard time with prayer.”

I know. I hear you. I’ve struggled with prayer my whole life. I don’t get the “physics” of it. I wrestle with big theological issues surrounding it. I’ve run hot and cold with it, sometimes being ardent about prayer and other times going months without praying once.

Here’s what turned the corner for me. It wasn’t finding a great theological argument in support. It wasn’t having an obvious and miraculous answer to prayer. I re-committed to prayer when I committed to being an apprentice to Jesus, not just a believer or follower. Here’s why:

There are essentially two different basic ways to relate to Jesus.

One is to see Jesus as a good teacher who lived a long time ago. If that’s your view, then you can learn about his teaching by reading the gospels, you can practice his teaching, but that’s it. Prayer’s not relevant, because there’s no one there to hear you.

The other view is that Jesus is currently alive, present and able to engage us. Crazy as that sounds, this is what the New Testament suggests. If this view is true, not only can you learn about Jesus from the Gospels, but Jesus can teach you himself. Jesus can give you ongoing guidance and correction.

If you don't believe Jesus is alive, you've got other fix to fry.  But if you are a believer, this settles the question.  Photo Credit:  Unknown
If you don’t believe Jesus is alive, you’ve got other fix to fry. But if you are a believer, this settles the question.
Photo Credit: Unknown

Will you take this gamble?

If you believe this second view, even if you just suspect this possibility, there is absolutely no reason why you would not spend time talking to Jesus every day. If it’s true that you can communicate with the smartest man who ever lived, and get ongoing guidance from him, You’d be crazy not to.

Some people get deeply into trying to prove that prayer works (or that it doesn’t). I’m not going to do that here. I’m simply going to pose a gamble, the very same one that turned the corner for me on prayer.

Make prayer a part of your everyday life. Address Jesus and ask for guidance. Bring your deep questions to Jesus. Pray for your loved ones. Pray for the people you struggle with. Make prayer an ongoing part of your day.

Why do this? Simple. You have nothing to lose by praying, and an enormous opportunity for gain.

If Jesus was a good ethical teacher who lived 2000 years ago, he can’t hear you. When you pray, nothing will happen. You’ll have solid ethical teaching that makes you a kinder, more loving person and you’ll have meditated, which has been shown scientifically to improve focus and a sense well-being. That’s the worst case scenario.

But, if Jesus is God, if Jesus is alive,  present, and able to engage you, you might just have a real experience of Him. You might actually get guidance. You might find yourself developing a relationship with Jesus that you don’t even understand.

This is the best possible gamble you can take, even if you don’t get how prayer works.

I don’t get prayer. It’s hard to fit it gracefully into my natural worldview. And yet, I’ve gotten real guidance and experienced things that seem like miracles. I’ve had Jesus shape my thinking and my actions. And so even though I still struggle, I pray. I invite you to do the same.

8 thoughts on “Why wouldn’t you pray?

  1. Hi Marc,
    I’d love to go to coffee and talk about prayer, as I’ve come to “view” it a little differently in the past few years. I’ve gone from thinking “praying” was blasphemous to think I could enlighten the Almighty with anything” to something that is as natural and essential to me as breathing. It has changed me much more than a blog response can indicate!

    I read somewhere that even the thought, “I want to talk to God/Jesus/Spirit” is initiated outside of us…….God/Jesus/Spirit wants to talk to us so badly, that there is a constant invitation hardwired into each human being. (I picture it much like our messages from SETI into outer space to try and contact sentient beings that may be out there) Our response is “prayer.”

    Because I am a very visual person, I need a visual to “talk to.” So, since I am receiving the invitation, when I send a message back, I picture myself entering into a communication circle. (like walking into a group where three people are already talking with each other). I first of all just stand there and try to listen…..then, all of the sudden I’m included in the conversation. I figure I was asked to join them for a reason—-just to say “hi”, They/It wants to tell me something, or They/It needs feedback from me. Mostly I’ve learned that I am desired for conversation as often as I can think to join in.

    PS: I am finally back to work full-time this week. The recovery was much more than I’d antisipated! It’s good to back to life in general!

    1. Hey Julie, I’m so glad to hear you’re back on your feet, and so happy to hear from you!

      I have to say the visual you painted, of prayer being like walking into a circle of three already talking. First listening, and then joining the conversation. I LOVE that.

      I don’t know how that conversation goes for you, but my mind is running away with it. The Trinity is already at work around me, already in conversation. Then I enter into the circle to join in. You’re right, I’ve been drawn there. The best place for me to start is by listening! That’s only polite! What is the trinity saying already? What conversation are they in? What are they speaking about in my life? From there the conversation develops.

      Thanks for sharing that image. I love it. I’d love to have coffee too. Call me!

    2. We are visualizing the same eternal conversation! Depending on my own needs, sometimes the “look” of each of the Holy Three changes, which I’m sure is quite understood by Them. It is a very humble, yet bold feeling to be called “a child” of the Almighty. But if I break it down into earthly terms (which Jesus attempted to do, e.g. calling the children to him), I try to feel the love and comfort of walking into my own family conversation.
      Yes, I’ll definitely call you in the next few weeks. Just trying to get through this week first.

  2. I always see your emails in my inbox, but I just skipped over them. I’ve been struggling these past few weeks, and I’ve been stubborn about accepting God’s help. That’s sounds a little weird, but that’s the best way I can think of how to sum it up. I know God is here, I know about the help he can give, but I haven’t been feeling his presence, and I haven’t seen anything recent to show that he’s been actively involved in “my world” (the things that I am involved in, the things that I’ve been worried about, etc). So then I go my own way, knowing that I can at least do something, and I’m stubborn to just let God and let go. Prayer has always been very tricky for me. I have seen him answer my prayers in the past, but I always struggle with the one prayer that I have yet to see an answer too. I know he answers them, but this time I just haven’t been able to actually find his answer. So this tends to bring doubt into my mind that he really does care about everything. I see him working in the small things, but they are incomparable to things that I want to see him working in. The issue is that I don’t see him. So I tend to feel like it just doesn’t matter.
    Prayer also seems to be trivial. As in, it’s only words. For me, words do not mean much anymore. I have to see evidence through other ways of communication. Someone can tell me that they care, but the words don’t mean anything to me. Now if they wrap me in a hug, help me with something that needs to get done, basically have an active part, then there is meaning behind what they said. In fact, this is to the point where they don’t even need to give words. I would rather have them be silent, and have an active part.
    So its always a struggle for me to take the time to pray when I feel like it will not do any good. You brought up the point that it’s a gamble worth taking. For the fact that there is nothing to lose, but everything to gain. I hadn’t realized it until reading this post, that I had already subconsciously thought of that gamble. As in, I didn’t realize that was my thought process, but I had broken down so many times these past few days, where I finally said, “why not” and prayed.
    It’s a constant ‘up and down’ struggle for me.
    Why I started off this comment with ‘I usually just ignore these posts’? I found God speaking to me again. Usually the subtitle of the email doesn’t appeal to me, and I just continue on checking the rest of my mail. But this is what I have been struggling with especially these past few days, and when I saw that caption I was curious. Then I started reading the first part of the post, and it almost perfectly reflected what the situation feels like.
    This is part of what I needed today. Thank you for posting this.

    1. Destiny, I’m so glad that this showed up for you. I’m a do-er, a lot like I hear you describing yourself. Prayer can feel like not doing. I hate not doing! I struggle with it so much. But I’m getting clear that God is OK with my struggle. God is fine with me not knowing everything!

      I’m going to stop and pray for you right now. You are in such a formational part of your spiritual journey, and I’m glad you stopped by today.

  3. Anne Lamott has wisely and rightfully written that all prayers boil down to two statements: “Help me” and “Thank you.” As I’ve grown older, I’ve found comfort in the directness and reality of this summation. I’ve often just prayed, “Please help me,” over and over. And sometimes I just say “Thank you,” trying to get to a more grateful place in my heart and mind.

    But I do find prayer difficult, many times. I struggle with doubt – doubt about the spiritual reality I’m appealing to, doubt about the efficacy (and “correctness”) of prayer, doubt about my worthiness to even address the Maker of all things.

    In addition, there’s doubt about the worthiness of the subject matter of my prayers: compared to many people around the world – probably even just on my block – the things I’m praying about can feel very inconsequential. Except for “big things” – like a job, or major health issue – I tend to pray far more for character-related things than material things. My understanding of God is that He’s far more interested in the heft of my soul than the heft of my pocketbook.

    I also find prayer difficult because so much of my life over the last 5-10 years has been about taking responsibility and ownership over my choices and desires. I struggle with prayer because so many times it can feel like a way of avoiding being a grown up, if that means anything. If I pray, it’s usually more about how I face a situation than for its outcome.

    1. I relate to all those same questions and doubts. In my own experience it’s a black hole. I can start theologizing and philosophizing myself until prayer is not even a possibility. (Is my prayer worthy -> but what about others in more need -> but what about the problem of evil -> But does prayer make any difference anyway…. spiral into oblivion.)

      I guess that’s why I’ve come to this simpler place. God asks me to pray. I’m trying to learn how to live from Jesus. Jesus prayed, and taught how to pray. Anne Lamott’s archetype prayers are right on. Instead of trying to understand the physics of it all, I’m trying to lean in to the relationship.

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