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Have you mastered prayer?

I haven’t.  I suspect few Christians would report having mastered this great privilege and discipline.  In fact, I suspect that most Christians may even feel burdened by their lack of prayer and the seeming ineffectiveness of prayer.  We read “pray without ceasing” and it becomes “guilt without ceasing.”

I that happens to us, we’ve lost our grip on justification by faith alone apart from any works of our own.  If our failures at prayer leave us feeling condemned, we’ve probably began to think of prayer as one of those spiritual duties that keeps God happy with us.

To be clear, prayer pleases God (1 Tim. 2:3).  Christians ought to pray.  But many of us need to learn how to pray as well as fail in prayer in light of the good news that Christ is our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30).

I feel like I’m in a season of learning to pray again.  This is good.  I’m not burdened but eager, which I know does not come from my flesh but God’s Holy Spirit.  I welcome God’s vision for my life as a man: “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing” (1 Tim. 2:8).  God wants me to pray, and I want to pray to God.  And I’m praying.

But I’m not “good at it,” whatever being “good” at prayer means.  Even thinking of being “good” at prayer reveals an insidious performance mentality and pride.  Why not be rough and unpolished but genuine with God?  Why not depend upon Christ’s offering of himself as my High Priest and righteousness rather than seeking to be “good” at prayer?

My mind still wanders.  I talk too much in prayer.  My petitions dominate rather than praise, though a bit less so of late.  My requests seem hopelessly earthbound and physical rather than heaven-soaked and spiritual.  I battle fatigue, which seems to pounce on me the moment my mind turns to prayer.  And when I think of what God has done in my life through Christ His Son, I must admit that my prayers are weak and uninspired.  He does far more than I have ever asked or thought.

So, I’m learning to pray… again.  And I’m enjoying the learning.  For instance, in two conversations in two weeks I’ve been reminded of the opportunity to “pray specifically.”  Too often my prayers are general and vague.  I’m praying for the right things in those general ways (i.e. conversions, God’s glory, etc.), but I’m not venturing a request that makes those desires tangible, specific, and so on.  I suspect I don’t pray that way for one primary reason: a lack of faith masquerading as submission to God’s will.  I don’t ask specific things of the Lord because I’ve learned to cover up unbelief with religious talk of God’s sovereignty and humility before God.  Now God is sovereign and I want to be humble before a sovereign God, but does not God say simply to us, “Ask and you shall receive?”  He does.  So it’s not theological hubris to ask and ask specifically and specifically ask great things of God.

I’m learning to pray this way again.  I suspect that once I’ve “learned” this time, the Lord will teach me yet more.

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13 thoughts on “Learning to Pray… Again”

  1. Kevin says:

    good word. I have been greatly challenged and encouraged by listening to the DG conference from this year on prayer.

    There is the link if anyone would like.

  2. Nicodemus says:

    It is a recourse there also for the lonely soul, since at times being a Christian can “feel” a lonely affair, especially when at the forefront of defending and proclaiming the Gospel.It is there that that deeper realisation and appreciation that He is always present and is my light can be recovered in my soul, and thanksgiving can begin to flow again!

    It is as if again at times in prayer there you are re-connecting with the eternal Church down the ages and ahead, as you reflect on His work past and present in and through His people and the sense of God’s power and love can overpower you.

    Oh, that I might pray there more! Thanks for reminding me of this.

  3. Olive says:

    Adding my ‘amen’ to Kevins comment. The DG pastor’s conference had great messages, including the Q and A.

  4. Steve says:

    Finding myself in a similar place.
    in the past would fall into pattern of inspired motivation only to have it fall off in the weeks and months ahead. Then i read a great blog or book about prayer or hear a sermon on it, and I’m good again…
    New paradigm for me reading on prayer recently: Since it’s good content that gets me motivated again, I need to purposefully put this content in front of me to keep focused and passionate in prayer BEFORE i lapse back into old patterns.
    Thank you THABITI for the honest reminder for all of us

  5. Steve Martin says:

    St. Paul reminds us that we don’t know how to pray as we ought, but that “the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in sighs too deep for words”.

    I find this a great source of comfort.


  6. Drew Martin says:

    This is spot on!

  7. You hit the nail on the head. I’ve struggled with prayer, but the thought hit me recently that our prayers can often be a reflection of our relationship with God. If we are focused on ourselves, or full or religious speak, or afraid to open up the true cries of our hearts, doesn’t that indicate that we don’t know God as deeply as we might hope? I’m learning that I’ve moved close enough to God to share my anger, my hurts, my deepest wants, and trust that He loves me, rather than be ashamed. It’s new and uncomfortable, but freeing at the same time.

  8. Molly says:

    thank you for this post … and your blog

  9. Jim Belcher says:

    Thank you for this encouragement, wisdom and warnings of very real issues in prayer and mostly for your much appreciated transparency in sharing your own struggles.

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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