As ministry leaders, we must always remind ourselves that study and sermon delivery are not all that we are required to do. Like the apostles, we must “devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry” (Acts 6:4, my emphasis). Our job description includes both prayer and exposition.
In D. A. Carson’s challenging book A Call to Spiritual Reformation, he notes several excuses that Christians often use to justify prayerlessness.28 Scripture speaks to each of them.
I am too busy to pray. If we believe that our lives and ministries demand so much time that we cannot give a portion of it to unhindered and unhurried prayer, then we need to repent. Luther said that he was so busy that he had to spend the first three hours of the day in prayer! Jesus responded to Martha’s business by telling her that “Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42). Good things can do great damage. Before you turn on the computer and get to work, remember to choose what is best. Cut something out, but do not neglect time at the feet of Jesus.
I feel too dry to pray. Behind this excuse is the problematic idea that the basis for our prayers is our feelings. Do not wait for joy to pray. Pray for joy in Christ. Like George Mueller, seek to have your soul “happy in God.” Our reason for praying in dry times is because it is there that we meet the all-sufficient Savior. Christ must be the motive of our prayers, not our feelings. Further, Jesus taught us much about persistency in prayer (Luke 11:9–10; 18:1–8), teaching us to ask and keep on asking. Sure there will be days in which our spirits sag, but let us not forget Paul’s words, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Rom 12:12 ESV). And get around other Christians who can stir your affections for prayer.
I feel no need to pray. Many Western Christians who think that success is rooted in human ingenuity and gifting use this excuse (though they may not verbalize it). We do well to remember the story in Joshua 9, where the Israelites were deceived by the Gibeonites because they “did not ask counsel from the Lord” (v. 14 ESV). Failure to seek the Lord is an obvious mark of pride and our arrogant self-righteousness.
I am too ashamed to pray. How do you pray after a bad night? We have to remember that the basis of our prayers is in the grace of Jesus. We do not approach a throne of works or performance but a throne of grace (Heb 4:14–16). We need gospel appropriation and application in these moments to couple our prayers.
Prayer is not my gift. Many Christians conveniently use this “gift excuse” to avoid responsibility to commands that are uncomfortable, such as prayer and evangelism. While some people certainly are gifted pray-ers, all Christians are commanded to pray (Eph 6:18–20).
I believe in God’s sovereignty. This excuse is used by the hyper-Calvinists who see no need to pray because God is sovereign. Spurgeon, himself a Calvinist (not a hyper-Calvinist), said:
In God’s Word, we are over and over again commanded to pray. God’s institutions are not folly. Can I believe that the infinitely wise God has ordained for me an exercise that is ineffective and is no more than child’s play? Does He tell me to pray, and yet does prayer have no more of a result than if I whistled to the wind or sang to a grove of trees? If there is no answer to prayer, prayer is a monstrous absurdity, andGod is the author of it, which is blasphemy.29
I personally do not understand the mystery of God’s providence and Christians’ prayers. But I agree with Spurgeon: “God’s institutions are not folly.” God said to pray and keep on praying. That is what we must do—and leave the results to his sovereign will.
28 D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 113–14.
29 Charles Spurgeon, The Power in Prayer (New Kensington: Whitaker House, 1996), 9.