Summary: why do we encounter difficulties in prayer - sin, disobedience, wrong relationships, wrong motives, loss of focus
DIFFICULTIES IN PRAYER
Isn’t it amazing the excuses you can find not to do something. I am constantly amazed at my ability to find reasons why I should not do administration. Or why it would be better not to go running and just to read a book. But what is not so amazing is how easily reasons not to pray creep into my Christian life. This morning I want to flag up for us all some of the difficulties we all encounter in Prayer. By identifying the difficulties we encounter I hope we can also identify how to overcome them. As I said last week the purpose of this series is to encourage you in your prayer life, especially at times when you encounter difficulties.
Let me set before you this morning what I believe is a common scenario in the lives of many of you:
You have a desire to pray but it feels like such an effort and a burden that you are ready to give up. You feel guilty for even thinking about giving up and so out of a sense of duty you pray. Your prayers are empty of meaning and life because it is out of duty that you pray. This leads to further guilt. The more effort it takes to pray the more neglected your prayer life becomes and the more guilt ways heavy on your soul. You feel alienated from God because of your lack of prayer, more guilt. Your mind becomes more worldly and the result is that prayer gets pushed further down or even off the agenda. Yet you still believe in prayer. You still talk to people about prayer and about the necessity of prayer as a daily discipline in the life of a Christian believer. With the result that you have two parallel lives – the public Christian face which may even on occasions pray in public and the private (real) life where prayer is virtually extinct = guilt again. The end is a downward spiral of neglect and guilt which culminates in spiritual desolation and you walking in the wilderness. Is that a fair description of the prayer life of many Christian believers? I think it is and the reason I believe it to be so is because it has been my Christian experience on many occasions.
Many of us have a desire in our hearts to pray. We really want to pray each day. We believe prayer is important for our relationship with God, with others and in our own lives. We desperately want to have a good prayer life. We talk about the importance of prayer. We receive prayer letters from missionaries, Christian organisations and prayer requests from others. We believe in prayer and yet the practical outworking of that in our daily lives is sometimes non-existent. We are full of good intentions but that is all they remain – ‘good intentions.’ Why? Why do we fail to put into practice what we believe about prayer?
This morning I want to identify for you some of the key things which create difficulties in our prayer life and feed the scenario I just outlined to you.
SIN AND DISOBEDIENCE.
Listen to these words of Jesus in John 14.21 READ. Those are familiar words to us but they convey so much concerning prayer. What is actually revealed to us here is the ‘cycle of intimacy’ in a believer’s life. Jesus tells us that our love for Him is expressed in our obedience to Him, to His Word. He then promises that if we obey Him He will reveal Himself to us. This revelation of Himself to us will lead us deeper into a love relationship with Him and so the cycle continues. But the opposite of that is also true. If we do not obey Him then intimacy is lost. If we disobey Him then we lose that revelation of Him in our lives and our love for Him starts to wane and with it our intimacy with Him. Isn’t that what happened with Adam and Eve when they disobeyed in the Garden of Eden? Whilst they obeyed the commands of God they had intimacy with Him. Whilst they obeyed the commands of God He revealed Himself to them. But once they disobeyed intimacy with God was lost. Their disobedience brought sin into the created order and placed a barrier between God and them and the result was a loss of intimacy, loss of revelation and loss of relationship. Sin brought about a loss in their lives and it does the same to us in our prayer life. Listen to these words in Proverbs 28.9 READ. Did you listen carefully to what God said there? If you disobey (turn a deaf ear to the law) then your very prayers are detestable to Him. Strong words! Listen to how David expressed it in Psalm 66.18 READ. David says if he tolerated sin in his life, in his heart then God would not have listened to his prayers. Friends listen to me now – if you entertain sin in your life then you will have difficulties in your prayer life. If you are walking in the ways of sin you cannot know intimacy with God. If you disobey the Word of God then your prayer life will be a struggle. In fact the Word of God says God finds your prayers ‘detestable’ because your walk reveals you do not love Him and you should not expect Him to listen when you disobey.