The following post is part of an ongoing series that will examine the barriers that keep us from praying:
One of the most pressing foundational challenges that keeps us from praying may not even be detected as a “barrier” at first for many. Rather, it may loom as a hidden assumption or an uneasy feeling for those who sit down to pray.
At the very least, many people struggle to pray because they don’t picture a loving or merciful God. They imagine a God who is disappointed, angry, distant, or passive-aggressive. They wonder if their theology isn’t quite right, if their spiritual practices or phrases are a bit off, or if they’ve sinned too much to be close to God.
The lack of desire to pray breeds guilt about not praying enough, and this creates a self-fulfilling circle of perceived distance from God, guilt, lack of motivation to pray, and more perceived distance and guilt.
This was my experience with prayer for many, many years. Imagining an indifferent, angry, or passive-aggressive God meant that I wasn’t motivated to make space for prayer each day.
I found time for work, podcasts, exercise, watching sports, household projects, and who knows what else. However, I didn’t feel the burning need to make space for prayer, regardless of how I was attempting to pray.
While there are many issues tied into my struggles to pray, at the very root of it all was a failure to recognize a very basic teaching from Jesus about prayer.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he gave them a very simple starting point: “Our Father…” He taught them to view God as a loving parent, taking part in the intimacy which he enjoyed with God the Father.
The God Jesus describes is compassionate and generous, aware of the needs of his children and willing to help them. Jesus shared:
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Luke 11:11-13 NRSV
Paul is very much on the same page in prioritizing the love of God. His prayer for the Ephesians is a mystical declaration of God’s indwelling Spirit and the fullness of Christ’s love:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:14-19 NRSV
The starting point for prayer is the love of God for his children. The disconnect isn’t a lack of interest in us. God is loving, merciful, and compassionate. The Father is reaching out to us.
Of course the question that all who struggle with prayer may ask is this: Why is prayer so difficult? Why does God appear to distant?
Without placing undue guilt or blame on ourselves, it remains essential in prayer to begin with God’s love as our starting point and foundation for everything that follows. Once we clarify the security of God’s love, we’ll be able to begin removing the other barriers to prayer and find the freedom and life that God has intended for us.
Make Space to Pray Today
You can read more about my journey into contemplative prayer and my recovery from anxious Christianity in my newly revised and expanded book: Flee, Be Silent, Pray: Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians