When Struggling to Pray is a Symptom of Something Deeper

I don’t pray enough.

Maybe you feel the same way about your posture of prayer, and you’ve been trying to will yourself into a more consistent prayer rhythm with little success. I would like to submit to you that perhaps it’s not a “prayer” issue but a heart issue. I’ll give you an example.

I am notoriously self-reliant. I don’t like asking for help, I don’t like accepting help, and I think I can do anything and everything with some research and practice. Most of the time I genuinely believe I don’t need anybody else.

This self-reliance usually “works” for me. Wrapped in a comfortable middle-class lifestyle and powered by American individualism, self-reliance provides a level of security that allows me to believe that I don’t need God.

Now, I don’t actually verbalize this, but I definitely “say” it through my actions. The most obvious of these “statements” is an inconsistent and shallow posture of prayer. My lacking prayer life is not the problem, it is a symptom of the problem!

If you struggle with consistent prayer, you might be suffering from the same heart issue or one similar. Let’s follow this path to its inevitable conclusion.

  1. I worship myself instead of God.

My inconsistent and shallow posture to prayer is a symptom of my worship being misdirected from God to something else that I treasure and adore. In the case of self-reliance, I find myself worshiping… MYSELF! That feeling of security I get from my successful endeavors becomes the ultimate thing in my life, and I cease praying because I’m not reliant on God anymore.

Dr. Tim Keller says it best, “When life is going smoothly, and our truest heart treasures seem safe, it does not occur to us to pray.”

In these good times I convince myself that me being the king of my own kingdom works great.

  1. This doesn’t “work” on multiple levels.

The first way this doesn’t work is in maintaining a rightly ordered relationship with God. When I rely on myself and prioritize the feeling of security I gain in it, I am placing myself above the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, the only being worthy of my worship, positioning me as a competitor to His glory. Gulp…

Second, anything other than God cannot bear the weight of that worship and will eventually collapse. Ultimately, I cannot rely on myself for safety and security, either temporarily during my lifespan or into eternity for my salvation.

Self-reliance doesn’t “work” on any level.

  1. Prayer is reduced to a request for God to rescue my idols.

If I continue to be self-reliant an inevitable collapse will come. Something will happen that threatens the thing that I treasure the most and I’ll realize my need for God. Here’s where things get wild.

As I approach God I can go down one of two paths: I can repent and rest in God’s sovereignty; or (this is what happens a lot) I can plead with God to remove me from my circumstance and return the circumstances that allowed me to be self-reliant.

I can’t bear the feeling of being out of control of my own life, so I beg God to assume the throne of my life long enough to repair it so I can usurp Him again and regain control.

Seems like an odd prayer request.

This cycle plays itself out daily as our hearts are constantly misplacing our worship. As we said in the beginning, an inconsistent and shallow posture of prayer isn’t the problem that needs to be solved, it’s a symptom of misplaced worship. Maybe you don’t struggle with self-reliance, but it’s something else that has usurped God.

One of the beautiful things about Jesus is that he doesn’t require us to figure this out before we approach him in prayer and repentance. Jesus’ perfectly placed worship allows us access to the Father, and the Holy Spirit graciously calls us to repentance.

So if you’re wondering how to pray more, start by redirecting your worship to Jesus. A good place to start is reading about Jesus and praying prayers of repentance. When we truly prioritize and glorify Him above all else, regular prayer will become a natural outflow of our worship.

Here are Some Resources to Help:

Excerpts from Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Dr. Timothy Keller

You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions by Tim Chester

A Prayer for Turning from Self-reliance to Dependence on God by Scotty Smith

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