In my walk towards spiritual maturity, one discipline that always seemed to lag behind the others was that of prayer. Reading my Bible, attending church, meditating on the Gospel, studying doctrine, engaging in theological discussion– these practices all seemed to come more or less naturally to me as a believer, but prayer was mysteriously more of a struggle. Thankfully, as Paul writes: “…He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6 NASB). God was not content to leave me alone with a poor prayer life. Through many seasons of conviction, trouble, and practice I am grateful to say that my prayer life is active and indeed vital in all that I do. But while God worked mightily in and through this weakness of mine, I was still left with the question: why did my heart resist prayer?
In my experiences with other Christians, I have often found that other men tend to struggle with this same shortcoming. Some have explained the problem to me as a sin that afflicts primarily males because, generally speaking, they tend to resist emotional spirituality and trend towards the intellectual instead. The logic follows from this argument that men resist prayer because it’s an inherently emotional practice that is more difficult for them to engage in. For a long time, I accepted this as a valid excuse for a weak prayer life. In an underhanded, secretive way, it was actually a means of blaming God in my heart for my failure to come before him. Well God, I know I ought to be praying to you but you made me this way so really you’re the one who dropped the ball here. I never formed or voiced those words or that idea per se, but that was certainly the underlying attitude as I allowed prayerlessness to permeate my life.
Over time, I have come to understand that argument as being empty; it is really no more than a shallow excuse. For one, God calls all his people (men and women) to engage with him and love him with their whole selves, emotions and intellect included. Secondly, I have known many sisters in the Lord that have a deep love for the knowledge of God, and conversely many men whose hearts overflow with emotion for him and his works. In fact, of those men whom I look up at as leaders within the church and examples to follow after, most of them have voices that drop with genuine emotion when they discuss the things of God. This is not to say that there are no differences between men and women and how they tend to relate most naturally to our Lord, but rather that these differences are never valid excuses for disobeying him. What I now realize is that my failure to pray was never the result of masculinity, but rather the result of a proud heart.
There are certain presuppositions that we take with us every time we come before God in prayer. Most of us probably take them for granted to the extent that we are hardly aware of them at all, but yet they exist. For example, when we pray we are presupposing that God exists, that He can be communicated with, and that He can act in our lives in a way that is beyond us. That last presupposition requires humility, something that does not come naturally to sinners. It necessitates a conviction that we can’t live this Christian life well on our own. I am convinced the heart that does not pray belongs to a person who is too proud to admit that they need God to act in their lives. And conversely, the believer whose prayer life is active is keenly and deeply aware of their utter dependence on the Lord in all matters. Indeed, how can one truly “…pray without ceasing…” unless they truly believe that they need God’s help and hand in all areas of life (1 Thess. 5:17).
We see this principle (prayer applied to all of life) woven into the teachings of Jesus. In Matthew 6, when he taught his disciples to pray, he packed the glorification of God, the coming of the Kingdom, the will of the Lord exercised in all things, provision for basic human needs, forgiveness of sins, and protection from temptation into what amounts to nine short lines of text in most of our Bibles. Two things strike me about Jesus’ instruction. Firstly, this prayer leaves no room in our lives where we don’t need God– the requests of this prayer touch upon all facets of our lives. And secondarily, to pray these things sincerely, we must know our great need for all of them. We have to see how desperately we as created beings need to live for God’s glory, how great it will be when Jesus comes back, how much higher and more wonderful is his will compared to ours, how dependent we are on him for all our needs, how great his grace is in how he forgives us, and how helpless we are against temptation without him. In short we must understand and believe that we need him. The heart that truly believes that is the heart that prays.