Tuesday, 18 September 2007

School of Prayer IV

Why don’t we pray?
This is an article stimulated by and borrowing heavily from D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, ‘Excuses for Not Praying’, chapter 7, pp 111-122. It’s intended to expose our excuses for not praying. What follows are the six most common excuses Don Carson believes we give to justify our prayerlessness. In places there’s a bit of expansion from me!

1. I’m too busy to pray
London life is frenetic. Our lives are filled with activity. Some of that activity is unavoidable. But not all of it is, surely? In reflecting on the hectic nature of our lives Don Carson writes,
‘We are not living in a contemplative age. When we stop rushing and performing and doing, many of us park ourselves in front of a television, possibly a television attached to a video recorder, and simply absorb what is dished out. The result is that we seldom take time to think, to meditate, to wonder, to analyze; we seldom take time to pray’.
I wonder whether we’re already feeling the intense heat of the spotlight? God’s response to our busyness is found in the account of Jesus’ time with Martha and Mary. Martha chose activism over pietism. She ended up indignant that her kingdom activity wasn’t being noticed and supported by the king. Jesus told her in no uncertain terms that Mary’s decision to sit and learn at her Lord’s feet was the better choice. I’ve written on this elsewhere http://richardperkins.blogsome.com/2007/06/08/cultivating-our-relationship-with-christ/ and I’d encourage you to chase that up. Consequently Carson says what we might struggle to say to one another,
‘It matters little whether you are the mother of active children who drain away your energy, an important executive in a major multinational corporation, a graduate student cramming for impending comprehensives, a plumber working overtime to put your children through college, or a pastor of a large church putting in ninety hours a week: at the end of the day, if you are too busy to pray, you are too busy. Cut something out’.
Cut something out. There’s an idea! Why not write down what you think you could cut from your week to make time for prayer.

2. I feel too spiritually dry to pray
It’s hard to do things when we don’t feel like doing them. That could be a tax return, an essay or the washing up. If we don’t feel like doing it we lack the impetus to do it. And in all likelihood we won’t. We’ll put it off. Sometimes, it’s like that with prayer. Some of us may already have experienced those times when discouragement, unbelief, emptiness and dryness strangle our prayer to within an inch of their lives. What triggers these feelings may be any number of things. If we’re tired we tend to see the dark clouds and not the silver lining! If we’ve been on the receiving end of some critical flak then our spirits may be a little low. If we’re anxious and stressed that takes its emotional toll. But whatever the cause, the challenge to pray just seems like one mountain climb too many. Carson suggests that there could be one of two presuppositions that lurk behind the excuse of feeling too spiritually dry to pray. The first presupposition is that we feel we can pray only when we feel good. But when we remember that Christ’s death is the sole basis of our acceptance before God we’ll recognise that we’re not thinking straight. True, we may not feel like praying. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t. The second presupposition is that we feel we should pray only when we feel good. The obligation to pray is not diminished because we don’t feel like it. This is a profoundly self centred way of thinking. How I feel is not the determinant of what I ought to do.

3. I feel no need to pray
Few of us would ever be so blatant. If we were, others might see the arrogance of our logic. Because at its root the logic runs ‘I am too important to pray. I am too self confident to pray. I am too independent to pray’. But we’d never be so obvious would we? But, as Carson observes, what happens is this,
‘Although abstractly I may affirm the importance of prayer, in reality I may treat prayer as important only in the lives of other people, especially those whom I judge to be weaker in character, more needy, less competent, less productive. Thus, while affirming the importance of prayer, I may not feel deep need for prayer in my own life’.
When we have a high opinion of our own capabilities, prayer seems a little beneath us. It’s for emergencies and is a terrific contingency when all else fails but it’s not the first port of call. In response Carson writes,
‘If Christians who shelter beneath such self assurance do not learn better ways by listening to the scriptures, God may address them in the terrible language of tragedy. We serve a God who delights to disclose to disclose himself to the contrite, to the lowly of heart, to the meek. When God finds us so puffed up that we do not feel our need of him, it is an act of kindness on his part to take us down a peg or two; it would be an act of judgement to leave us in our vaulting self-esteem’.
It’s very easy for us to come to critical points in life, career and family and precisely because our judgement has led to success in the past we repeat the error and plough on without inquiring of the Lord. We love our independence and as a result we may repeatedly stumble and fall because we’ve exercised our intellectual ability but have not sought God’s opinion and his wisdom on the matter.

4. I’m too bitter to pray
Perhaps some of us feel that life has left us with the short stick. When we compare our existence with those around us the decisions that God has made can feel chronically unfair. We feel like the victims of injustice. We may respond with disappointment, bitterness and resentment. This is hardly conducive to a healthy prayer life, especially when we’re meant to be praying for others. Carson observes,
‘Life itself is consumed by the petty assessment of how well you are perceived by those around you. In the morass of self-pity and resentment, real prayer is squeezed out. In other words, many of us do not want to pray because we know that disciplined, biblical prayer would force us to eliminate sin that we rather cherish. It is very hard to pray with compassion and zeal for someone we much prefer to resent’.
On the other hand, Jesus taught that forgiveness ought to characterise our attitude to others. In both Matthew 6 and Mark 11 he explained that those who want to experience his Father’s forgiveness will be those who extend forgiveness to others. It’s this approach that reveals that our repentance is authentic.

5. I’m too ashamed to pray
We’ve all been there. Our sin shames us. We feel so guilty. And proximity to the Lord makes our failure feel so much more acute. Carson puts it this way,
‘shame encourages us to hide from the presence of God; shame squirrels behind a masking foliage of pleasantries while refusing to be honest; shame fosters flight and escapism; shame engenders prayerlessness’.
We’re fools to run from a God who is determined to seek us out and bring us home. The perverseness of our decision to run away and seek exile is the very thing that Christ died to prevent. The place of exile is the place of misery. The place of absolution, freedom, acceptance and forgiveness is to be found in his presence.

6. I’m content with mediocrity
Would anyone in our constituency ever be so bold as to state this publicly? I suspect not. But, this is what we settle for when we spurn the offer of fellowship with the Lord. We may want to own the name Christian but we’re not interested in the increasing spiritual maturity that ought to come with the territory.

No doubt there are other excuses that we could muster for not praying. But most of these nail me!