It was a situation that I had found myself in numerous times before. Before me sat a broken man; his world having been turned upside down by unforeseen trials. With tears still streaming down his cheeks, he looked at me and asked the question I knew would come.
“What’s the point of praying?” he asked. “I’ve tried that so many times before but it never seems to make any difference.”
I’m curious. What would your response be in that situation? Maybe you’ve been in a similar setting with a friend or family member and been challenged about the effectiveness of prayer. What did you say?
As I mentioned, I’ve had to counsel individuals who are struggling with that question many times, and I can tell you that providing a helpful response doesn’t get any easier just because you have a seminary degree. I have watched men and women walk away from an active life of faith because they believe that God either wouldn’t or couldn’t answer their prayers. Being told by a minister or a trusted friend to “just keep praying” usually doesn’t help.
Sadly, I’ve also come to realize that many people, even though they are still active in the church, have abandoned prayer. These are men and women who attend and participate in Sunday School, listen attentively to the preacher, and even serve in leadership areas. Often times, these individuals have struggled with that same question of, “What’s the point of praying?” However, instead of pressing on and bursting through that barrier, they get up off their knees and leave prayer behind.
I do have an answer to this difficult question which causes so many to struggle, but for some the answer can be a painful realization. Let me show you why. Think back to the last time you prayed. Be honest. Would you say that your prayer, as much as you can remember, was more about asking God for things (guidance, provisions, forgiveness, etc.) or was the focus of that time about sitting in the presence of the Lord and deepening your relationship with Him? You may not remember every word you spoke but if prayer is something you struggle with I’ll bet that the tone of your prayer was primarily focused on what you needed from God.
My point is this: When our prayers consists primarily of asking of God the result will be an anemic and ineffective prayer life. God did not save and redeem you just so you can ask Him for things when you realize you need help. If you have kids, ask yourself if that’s the kind of relationship you want them to have with you? Of course not. Why would we assume that God is satisfied when we treat Him that way?
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ask God for things. Jesus repeatedly preached about the freedom we have to “ask anything” of God. However, when we come to God focused on our needs first instead of our relationship with Him, what we do is place God in a much lower place than what He rightly deserves, effectively killing our prayer lives. We must first learn to develop our relationship with God instead of making sure we’re keeping our “what-I-need-today” list updated with Him. Then, God will begin to show us how to ask for things with the right heart, and oh my, how the blessings will begin to flow!
If you’ve kind of given up on this prayer thing, or if you’re struggling with whether or not it is worth your time to pray, then I challenge you to try the following: Talk to God, but don’t ask Him for one single thing. Not just that, but as you talk to Him, don’t even mention what’s going on in your life. In other words, keep the focus completely off yourself. You might be thinking that it’s going to be a very short prayer time and that’s fine, but what you’ll be doing is tapping into a much deeper and more effective method of prayer. If you need help getting started, read a Psalm that focuses on praise, and then talk to God about what you read.
What have you got to lose? If you don’t think your prayer life has been very effective so far, then try changing the way you pray. If you willing to give this a try not just once but for a season, maybe for a week or even thirty days, I can promise that your entire attitude about prayer will change. In time, you’ll learn how and when to ask of God, but you’ll find that your desire to just “get things” from God will pale in comparison with your desire to simply stand in His presence.