Last week, 15 year-olds shared with me that they hated praying. Not only did they hate praying, they didn’t believe that God answered prayers. They’ve prayed to pass test yet, they failed. They prayed for sneakers yet, never received them. Some of them even prayed for broken relationships that went unrestored. As I watched them wrestle with the desire to hear God but always feeling ignored, I began to pray to God to help me find a way to restore their faith in prayer and encourage them to try again.
Immediately, God told me to inspect their prayer life. I began to ask them: 1) When do you pray? 2) How often do you pray? 3) What do you pray for? 4) How do you pray? 5) What do you do after prayer? After engaging my questions, many began to admit some key things about their prayer life: They only prayed in church, they only prayed alone when they needed something, they only asked for things, and after prayer, they didn’t engage God in any other way.
I thought about how my prayer life, at times, has reflected this pattern. Talking to God when I wanted to, or when I “needed” to. Speaking to God when things were dire. Approaching his throne as if it was a 911 call instead of viewing it as the opportunity to have a conversation with the best friend I’ve ever had. During those periods of life, God seemed distant; He seemed as if He wasn’t listening. And while I felt like He was distant, I wonder how He felt when He heard my voice and knew it was for request and not relationship.
God is a generous God. Nevertheless, what I’ve realized about generosity is that, while it often breeds the building of strong mutually beneficial relationships with others, other times, being generous to the wrong people can foster one-way relationships where people expect from you, yet never give or, when people only come to you when there is a need. Sometimes people see the pureness of your giving and they exploit it for personal gain. We’ve probably all encountered these people at one point or another. Individuals who stick around but make more request than they do offers; and when you finally make a request of them, they never follow through. Or, people whose small talk, and presence always lead to a favor being asked or a question being posed. These encounters cause you to go from a place of feeling generous and being willing to give to feeling cold, used and withholding from with the very person you are interacting with. No one likes feeling used. Feeling like an ends to a mean is a debasing feeling that leads to hurt, anger, and even resentment.
Could God feel this way when we only seek him to ask for the benefits of a relationship with him without actually doing the things required to build that relationship?
God does not interact with us the way we interact with each other. Even when we fail to remain consistent in prayer, God will not ignore us when we decide to call on him. Nevertheless, the lack of a genuine relationship with Christ built on constant communication and strong relationship can cause God not to be able to move in our lives the way that he would like. And, every time we reach out, we will always feel awkward, and unsure because we are not used to speaking with him and therefore, possibly be unsure of his voice.
For anyone struggling with their prayer life, I want to challenge you to begin to set aside time daily to pray and spend time with God. You will find that, like with any relationship, the more you spend time with him, the more you’ll understand his ways. You’ll even begin to realize that you do less asking and have more conversation. This means you’ll spend more time confiding in him about every aspect of your life. You’ll grow to truly value his advice and instruction and throughout your day you’ll be able to hear him more because you have become increasingly and acutely aware of his voice. If you feel like your prayer life is struggling again, I invite you to try again… with a different approach.
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” – Colossians 4:2