Why I Don’t Like to Pray

Why I Don’t Like to Pray January 2, 2013

I admit it. Sometimes, perhaps many times, I don’t like to pray.

I’ve been a follower of Christ for over 35 years — as far back as my memory will take me. I know what the Bible says about the unimaginable power of prayer. And I believe it.

I just don’t like to pray.

There, I said it.

I know some of you are rushing to click off this post before you catch whatever my spiritual illness may be. But maybe I’m not the only one who feels this way.

I ran face-first into this uncomfortable reality as I read James today, “You do not have, because you do not ask.”  From somewhere deep within me, I reacted with a whine: “But I don’t want to ask.”

Where Did That Come From?

The offending thought came so clearly to me that I had to look around the room to make sure some secret sinner hadn’t said it. You know, some back-slidden loser in need of repentance. That’s not what we’re supposed to say. At least not out loud. We’re supposed to act as if we’ve got this faith-walk thing figured out. Right?

Over the last year, I have had to explore a lot of my own thoughts about prayer as God called me away from perceived safety and security to a path that required more faith than I was used to. I won’t recount it all here. You can check it out more if you want to here. Suffice it to say that God has taught me a lot about prayer as we’ve had to pray for God’s daily provision and direction in a big way.

We’ve seen him do some amazing things. The kind of things only missionaries in Africa tell about. We pray earnestly and the phone rings. We pray expectantly and the answer arrives — just in time. After what we’ve seen God do, I don’t know how I could even think it, let alone say it. But I still don’t like to pray.

Rather than ignore this embarrassing reality, I know honesty and authenticity before God and my brothers and sisters is the only way to grow. So here I am confessing my fault to you and the world along with a few thoughts as to why I don’t like to pray. Maybe you can relate. Maybe not. Maybe you’ve got this one covered.

6 Reasons Why I Don’t Like to Pray

  1. Prayer reminds me of how small I really am. “When I consider the heavens…what is man that you are mindful of him?” (Ps. 8:3-4) Prayer is at its core an admission that I stand ever in need of help. In my post Help! I Need Somebody! I confessed that I don’t like feeling that way at all. I don’t like to pray because I don’t like being reminded that I am but dust that, apart from God, can do nothing.
  2. I don’t really believe God will answer. In spite of all the stories I’ve heard, the plain promises of Scripture, and my own experience in seeing Him answer prayer, I still tend to doubt that He’ll actually come through the next time. Crazy, I know. Yet I keep coming back to this insane desire to protect God from His own failure by not praying in the first place. Albert Camus rightly noted, “Man’s first faculy is forgetting.” Yep, I’m good at that one.
  3. I think I’ve got this one covered. Like an overconfident child, I foolishly think I can handle whatever is coming next in life. Sometimes I wonder if God rolls his eyes at us, like I do with my own overconfident children. As Demosthenese put it, “Nothing is so easy as to deceive one’s self; for what we wish, we readily believe.” James echoes this thought that we are each led astray by our own desires, in this case a desire to lean on our own understanding. Just like Joshua who thought he didn’t need to ask God’s counsel before making a treaty with the deceptive Gibeonites, I don’t believe I really need God’s help. 
  4. I’d rather be doing something. Anything. All too often, I get frustrated sitting still before God, and waiting on Him. Like Martha and Peter, I’d rather be doing something. Something that’s within my power to do. Or so I think. I forget what Richard Cecil wisely said, “Prayer is faith passing into action.” Prayer is in itself the most critical action I could ever take. As Martin Luther noted one busy day, “I have so much to do that I will spend the first three hours in prayer.” Maybe I should quit trying.
  5. I’m lazy. I know you’re not, but I confess that sometmes I just don’t want to pray because prayer is hard work. E. M. Bounds put it this way: “Prayer is the easiest and hardest of all things.” Wrestling with God might cause me pain as it did Jacob. I don’t pray with intensity because prayer, the kind that lays hold of the promises of God and moves them in our direction, is hard work. And I, for one, am lazy to the core. Hence my need to discipline myself to be godly?
  6. I like to sin. As Paul described in Romans, my sinful self has been crucified with Christ, yet still its vestiges remain. And, let’s face it, sin is pleasureable for a season. Bowing before a holy God exposes my sin. And I don’t like it. Not one bit. Confessing my sin just takes me back to my prideful first reason not to pray. But as Philip Henry put it, “The best way to fight against sin is to fight it on your knees.”

So there you have it. Why I don’t like to pray. Can you relate to any of it or should I just start scourging myself now? One thing is sure, no matter what I feel about it, I refuse to give up. I think E.M. Bounds is right:

The strongest one in Christ’s Kingdom is he who is the best knocker. The secret of success in Christ’s kingdom is the ability to pray. The one who can wield the power of prayer is the strong one, the holy one in Christ’s Kingdom. The most important lesson we can learn is how to pray.

Do you struggle to pray or am I the only one with this problem? What reasons do you have for not praying and how have you dealt with barriers to prayer? 

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  • Just a thought – calling oneself a Christian but not praying is like calling oneself a husband to the barista at the coffee shop you go to in the morning because you think she’s really sweet and cute. Praying is simply talking with God. You can’t have a real relationship with someone you rarely speak to. Three things helped me develop a life of prayer:
    1 I decided to take that verse “Be anxious for nothing but ask for everything you need in prayer and supplication” literally. So everytime I felt worried or anxious, I would use that as a cue to say a prayer.
    2 I got rid of the idea of “prayer time”. Instead, I recognized that my entire life belongs to God and started seeking him everywhere – while driving, doing dishes, showering, what ever. There’s no such thing as God stuff and life stuff. All of my life is God stuff. So I will talk with God like a constant companion rather than an infrequent visitor who I have to straighten up and make time for.
    3 I asked God to put himself into my mind frequently. God has never been very willing to answer my prayers for life to be easier, needs to be met, etc. But he is fantastically faithful about answering my prayers for spiritual provisions.
    Thanks for sharing your struggles – I know many share them. I hope your prayer life blossoms into something more wonderful than you ever thought possible.

    • Thanks, Rebecca. Excellent thoughts. Your last one about praying about praying is an especially insightful one.

  • Carol Harris

    Your point about how prayer makes you feel small I think comes close to covering a big part of God’s purpose in desiring that we pray. Praying works humility in us. It is, as you have said, an admission that we need help.And since humility is so very pleasing to God, He graciously provides us with this exrcise. Since I became a Christian after 30 years as a secular humanist, God has consistently provided me with a burden to pray, which I interpret as His plan to deal with the boatload of pride I built up before being saved. Most days I am prompted to pray off and on throughout the day, but I also have a regular prayer time and I have days when I don’t feel like it. One thing that has helped me is to admit my dryness and ask God to show me what’s on His heart to be brought before Him in prayer. I have found that if I will wait before Him, I am soon moved to pray, sometimes for something I never thought of praying about. Of course, it’s only by grace and the power of the Holy Spirit that I can ignore the “back-slidden loser” muttering “I don’t have time to sit around and wait.” But I am rewarded with a renewed awe and delight in knowing that He uses my willingness to pray to further His purposes for those for whom I pray, and also to make me more pleasing to Him.

    • Thanks, Carol, for the poignant comment. I appreciate your own candor and what a story you must have — after 30 years as a secular humanist to come to Christ! I appreciate your reading here. Waiting on God when we experience that “dryness of the soul” is key, I agree. Just doing some of that this morning to reconnect with that “broken and contrite heart” that God so desires in us. I continue to return to John’s simle statement: “He must increase, I must decrease.”

      Thanks again.

  • naomi

    bill , i really praise God for your honesty and candid comment on this most important subject , prayer is to us christian, as oxygen is to life, yet we ignore or should i speak for myself, take it for granted, i have been a christian since i was 15 and now i am 38, and i am still struggling with a consistent prayer life, and to top it all, various challenges and life failures made my attitude to prayer a weak and doubful one. i have moment when i am pround of my prayer life , when i will fast and pray, and meditate on scriptures, but after a while i give up, why because i dont get desire results or i just dont feel anything, Bill dont get me wrong i love to read the bible and christian books which i get really excited about, but when it comes to prayer, i just dont feel excited. i came across ur blog while i was trying diagnose my condition, but what i read made me pray the most honest prayer of my life. i also learnt that whether i feel like it or not, i have to until it is part of me. thanks bill, GOd bless

    • Naomi,

      So glad to hear it! I suspect most of us share the struggle to continue praying when we don’t get the results we want. The power of consistent prayer — it is an act of faith in itself. I’ll be praying for you now.