Often I get asked to teach on the topic of prayer.  I find it to be one of the most difficult topics to teach about.  It’s not that the Bible has little to say on prayer.  It’s that everyone already feels guilty that they do not pray enough. It’s hard to teach on prayer without making my audience feel more guilty.

Why do most people feel that way?  Certainly sometimes our guilt is unwarranted, even of the enemy.  But for most of us, we really do want more intimacy with God in prayer.  We sincerely want stronger prayer lives.  So why then does our desire not translate into reality?  I have a few ideas that may address some of the root causes behind our prayerlessness.

We Don’t Believe Prayer

I believe our struggle with prayer mostly lies in our disbelief. Our disbelief is multi-facetted.

Sometimes we have a false understanding of God’s purposes in prayer.  We believe that God has predetermined what will happen, so why bother pray?  This is a false understanding of God’s mysterious purposes in prayer.  Before He wants to do something, He first calls us to pray.  He sovereignly uses the prayers of His people to accomplish His work, but sometimes we don’t believe our prayer really make a difference.

Sometimes we do not believe God really cares about us.  We believe God is too busy with more important things than to care about our individual lives.  Or we may even believe God literally has something against us.  Some people do not believe God loves them.  We forget that when Jesus spoke about prayer he said things like this:

  • Ask and it will be given to you.  Seek and you will find.  Knock and the door will be opened.
  • If your earthly father know how to give good gifts, how much more will your father in heaven.
  • To address God as a “Father” or “Daddy”

We Don’t Know How To Pray

If the problem is not with our disbelief, it’s that we simply have never been taught how to pray. This, in fact, is part of the cycle of guilt.  We’ve grow up hearing sermons on why we need to pray, but few on how to pray.  So we agree that we need to pray, but we still don’t know how to do so.  I believe the best way to teach about prayer is in the context of actually praying together.

We learn to pray by praying with others, but this is part of the problem cycle.  People do not know how to pray so the last thing they want to do is go to a prayer meeting because they fear they will not know what to do.  The prayer group, however, is exactly where they need to be in order to learn to pray.

This is why the prayer leader is really the prayer teacher.  It is important for prayer leaders to teach people how to pray while they are leading the prayer group.  Pray simple prayers.  Keep the seasons of prayer short.  Change the topics.  Keep prayers to one or two simple sentences, even telling people how to start their sentence.  Teaching people to pray in groups is the key to teaching people how to develope their personal prayer life.

We Don’t Have a Big Vision

This, honestly, is a huge underlying problem.  We don’t pray because we’re not trusting God for anything bigger than we can accomplish on our own. If we’re not stepping out in faith for something, then we are not going to see the need for prayer. You’ve perhaps heard the phrase: “There are no atheists in the foxholes.”  That may be true.  When you’re life is on the line you’re going to cry out in prayer.

We will pray when a loved one is desparately ill. We will pray when we’re in financial crisis.  We will pray when we are burdened for  an injustice we see in the world.  We will pray when we want to talk to our neighbors about Jesus but don’t know where to start.  We will pray when we are needing God to do something that only He can do, something we know we cannot accomplish in our won strength.

Justin Christopher is the director of Campus Renewal Ministries at the University of Texas and author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.