Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect (James 5:13-16).
So goes the great exhortation from James to pray. There is no occasion that is not right to pray – pray in sickness. Pray in health. Pray in joy. Pray in sorrow. Pray again and again. As Paul would write to the Thessalonians:
Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
And yet we don’t. I don’t. As followers of Jesus, know what a privilege it is to pray. We know we ought to pray. We have every intention to pray. We have the right acrostic and the empty journal to help us to pray. And yet we don’t pray. Why might that be?
There are, of course, all the logistical reasons for our lack of prayer. Kids won’t leave us alone, we don’t have a quiet place, life is too hectic – I get all that. But perhaps there are also other reasons for our lack of prayer – reasons that have less to do with our daily schedules, and more to do with the condition of our hearts. I think there are, and we can see these reasons by looking through the lens of the way that the act of prayer is meant to shape us.
So look first at the way Jesus taught us to pray:
“Therefore, you should pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:9-13).
This is more than a blueprint for our prayers; Jesus’ model prayer also shows us how praying shapes our character into what God intends for it to be. Prayer, then, is not the means of getting God to do what we want; it is instead, among other things, one of the ways God continues to make us more like Jesus. In looking at this model prayer, then, we can see what God is shaping us to be. And then we can see what we still lack, the condition of our hearts that result in our lack of prayer. Here we go:
1. Our lack of prayer reveals our commitment to our own glory.
From the jump, Jesus’ model prayer is centered on the glory and the renown of God. It’s instructive to us to see that our personal needs are mentioned after praying for the glory of God and the extension of His kingdom. This is intentional I think – it’s meant to show us that we must die to ourselves, even in and through prayer, for the sake of the kingdom of God. When we fail to pray, perhaps our lack of prayer then reveals that we are not willing yet to bend our own will and desire for glory and recognition to the throne of King Jesus.
2. Our lack of prayer reveals our trust in our own strength.
The very fact that we pray at all reveals that we have a sense of our own need. We cannot do for ourselves, and so we ask God believing that He is a good Father who gives us what we need. In Jesus’ prayer, we see this in that we are meant to ask God for our daily bread. We are to ask Him for that which is basic to human life – the stuff that we would tend to overlook or take for granted because, hey, we’ve got that covered on our own. Furthermore, we are to ask Him for our daily bread – we are to do it each day. So prayer is meant to remind us of our own powerlessness to provide for ourselves even the simplest things. When we fail to pray, it might then be because we don’t see the need to. Not really. Not with our own wisdom, our own ingenuity, and our own resourcefulness.
3. Our lack of prayer reveals our commitment to our own desires.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done. These statements frame our prayers, and we pray them before we petition God for what we think we need on a given day. When we pray like this, we are realizing that prayer isn’t the means by which we bend God to our will and desires, it’s the means by which He bends us to His. In fact, when we pray about some situation over a long period of time, we will often find our own opinions about how that thing needs to be resolved changing. This is the work of the Lord as He indeed bends us to His will. Conversely, when we fail to pray it might be because we actually don’t want to bend. We aren’t looking for the sovereign God who does all things right; we are looking for a genie in a bottle who gives us what we’ve already decided is best for us.
Oh, we fall short in our prayers. So short. And yet even in falling short, we can be reminded that God has provided for us in our lack. Thank God that “the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.” (Rom. 8:26). This truth frees us to pray. To pray imperfectly. To pray incompletely. And to trust that even as we do, God is shaping our hearts to be more like Jesus.