If you are like most people, your prayer life could probably use considerable improvement. The Bible speaks of our need to pray (Phil. 4:6; 1 Thess. 5:17), and yet many Christians seem to marginalize prayer in their busy lives. What we need to know is that improving our prayer lives demands time, effort, and a growing knowledge of God’s word. Even those who spent time with Jesus once begged, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). To pray more effectively, Christians need to be aware of several potential prayer killers — attitudes that will hinder our prayer lives.
Prayer should be effortless — Some Christians falsely assume that if a person is truly spiritual, prayer should just flow out of that person without any effort. That is just not true! Scripture teaches that prayer is a learned behavior (cf. Luke 18:1). The process of learning to pray involves work, study, and time invested in communicating with the Lord. Nothing about Jesus’ prayer live even hints at the idea that His prayers were effortless. He rose early to pray (Mk. 1:35), He prayed all night (Luke 6:12), He prayed while fasting (Mt. 4:1-11), and He prayed so earnestly that He was physically affected (Luke 22:44). Real prayer, just like real spirituality, takes effort!
Prayer should only be concerned with the needs of others — Other Christians believe that prayers must never ask things for oneself. This attitude hinders prayers because of a misunderstanding of the word, “selfish.” James warns against selfish prayers (James 4:1-4), but there is a difference between covetousness and legitimate needs and desires (cf. Ps. 37:4). True prayer is ultimately concerned with God’s will (Matt. 6:9-15; 26:39), and so it is not wrong to petition God for things we believe will better enable us to accomplish His mission for us on this earth. We ought to intercede for others in prayer (Jas. 5:16), but we are also commanded to ask for our “daily bread” in prayer (Matt. 6:11).
Prayer doesn’t really change anything — Another prayer killer is the notion that everything would happen exactly the same regardless of our prayers. These folk mistakenly reason that if God knows all things in advance (Matt. 6:8), there is no use in praying. Brethren, the Bible is crystal clear that God hears and answers the prayers of His saints (1 John 5:14; cf. Isa. 38:1-6; Jas. 5:17-18). The idea that prayer does not change things is often the result of Christians shutting their eyes and ears to the marvelous work of God in providence. When we lose sense of the idea that God is working through us and in us (Phil. 2:13), it’s very easy to forget that prayer really does move the Hand that moves the world!
Prayer is embarrassing — Frankly, some people just don’t pray because they are too embarrassed. What would my family think if they caught me in prayer? What would my co-workers think? What would the other people at a restaurant think if they saw me giving thanks to God before eating a meal? Daniel was obviously not embarrassed to pray to God, even at the risk of his own life (Dan. 6:10). Hannah was not embarrassed to be thought a drunk because she prayed quietly before God in the temple (1 Sam. 1:13-16). Paul and Silas were not embarrassed to sing and pray to God in the hearing of other prisoners (Acts 16:25). None of these individuals prayed publicly in order to receive glory from men, but each of them made a tremendous difference in the lives of others because of their willingness to pray to the God of heaven. What kind of a difference might you make if others found you in prayer? More importantly, what kind of difference would prayer make in your own life? Let’s resolve not to let these “prayer killers” abide in our attitudes! —JB