A healthy perspective on prayerlessness

When one is asked, ‘what prayer is’, the quick answer that we all give is, prayer is to communicate with God. However, there is one further question that causes stomach aches to every Christian. It is this, ‘how is your prayer life?’ Or ‘how often do you pray?’ And the honest answer that we all give is that we pray too little. Meaning, we commune or talk to God too little or even never at all. If God truly is our ultimate treasure and worth, how come prayerlessness still characterizes us? What is going on with us? And what a pity is it, that we who are but men of dust with powers can neglect this divine service which is the wellspring of God’s blessings!

As I reflected on the lack of prayer in the Christian life, one danger or factor which leads to prayerlessness in particular got me thinking about how serious this is. However, before highlighting that issue, let ask you another question. ‘Have you ever wondered what causes prayerlessness?’ Interestingly, we only talk about the excuses that we come up with for not praying as we ought to but never do we touch on the real core issue. We claim we have too much work, assignments due, a meeting to attend, or that we have not prioritized our duties well. Fair enough, these may be true, but they still miss the mark.

Prayer defined

You will agree with me that prayer is a fascinating and mind blowing spiritual activity. Prayer is when a mere mortal man utters normal human words in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit before the All Sovereign God through their Savior’s name, with the desire and purpose for God’s will to be done in one’s life and surrounding. I would like to zoom in on the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit part of that definition. This shows that prayer is a spiritual activity. It is possible only by the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. And even as we pray, often times, we do not know what we ought to pray for, but praise be to God, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in such moments (Romans 8:26). So genuine prayer that goes before God is that which never is separate from the Spirit.  Prayer is possible because of the Spirit’s working in us. Thus, genuine prayer is an indication of life in the Spirit. It is an indication of one’s genuine faith. Paul makes this point in Ephesians 6:18, after exhorting the believers to put on the full Armour of God; the glue that holds all the pieces together is prayer in the power of the Holy Spirit. Verse 18, “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication”. Prayer is a mark of a life in the Spirit, a life living in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25), and a mark of genuine faith in God.

Prayerlessness defined

Prayerlessness is an indication of a life that is not in the Spirit. Not that the Holy Spirit has departed from you! But that you are not under his guidance and control. It is you, who is leading your own life striving to live an independent life apart from God and away from God. It is you not obeying Ephesians 5:18, “Be filled with the Spirit”. In other words, prayerlessness is life in the flesh. This is the godly perspective of what prayerlessness is. And this ought to get our total attention and bother us. How possible is it that you a child of God, whom He purchased with his precious blood will continue to live by the flesh? “A prayerless Christian is a contradiction in terms”[1] as Pink would say. And I would add saying that prayerlessness is hypocrisy at its core, for the very nature of a Christian is one that is dependent on Christ (John 15.1-5). Where there was supposed to be brokenness of heart, there is boasting of heart.

In honest words then, prayerlessness is sin. No wonder when we are prayerless, we frequently find ourselves in conflicts and in all sorts of sins. Prayerlessness is in the category of sin, and therefore, in sins you will find yourself if you do not pray. A life that is lived in the flesh only gives birth to fleshly fruits (Galatians 5:19-21; James 4:1-4). Prayerlessness is an indication that you are not abiding in Christ, and you are not walking in fellowship with your Blessed Lord. You might be doing your entire duties (preaching, evangelism, and any other work such as driving your car) well, and even becoming an expert in them. But no matter how skillful or frequently done your activities are, prayerlessness is an indication of not needing God. The danger of prayerlessness is independence!

Lack of prayer shows that a man is independent and capable to fulfill all that he desires to do. It is really not wanting to acknowledge God to whom all things are accountable. And this is not something new; such silliness can be traced from the initial stage of man’s fall. This was the trick of the Devil to Adam and Eve. Observe, Genesis 3:5, “…you will be like God…” How were Adam and Eve going to be like God? Adam and Eve without a shadow and doubt in their untested holiness knew that God was the all sovereign and self-existing King, who is independent and to whom all things depend including them. And this right here was the fight, for Adam to divorce himself from the rule of God and be his own god. This is what prayerlessness is! Now we do not say it this way, but action speaks louder than words.

Causes of prayerlessness

For the Christian, joyous moments of reflection about when we first became Christians are worth remembering. We remember those days when the love of God in full glory dawned on us, and the written words in the Bible became living and true. We also remember the chamber of divine blessing, when praying was merely not words given in time and space, but it became a fellowship and a communion with God. Our experience speaks all the more, how inwardly we felt the divine presence with us and in us. Such is true for the Christian. But on the other hand, every Christian has also experienced lack of prayer. Sadly, many today who publically portray themselves as healthy Christians are still in the same situation. Below are but a few causes that we are to take heed so that prayerlessness does not define us:

  1. Living a lifestyle of un-confessed sin. The presence of un-confessed sin is a clear sign of total rebellion against God. It is a display of not wanting God because you love what God hates. Thus, living in sin leads to more rebellion which promotes lack of prayer. How can two persons with opposing agendas desire to dine together?
  2. Lack of devotion or passion for God. One is only prayerful when they have a heart for God and his glory, or at least when his sovereign rule is cherished. When the love of God has grown cold, the desire to commune with him as friend to friend and as servant to master fades too.
  3. Divorced from the Bible. It the Scriptures that awaken us to God and they keep us at the foot of the Cross. God has given man the Scriptures to equip him/her in every good work, even in prayer (2 Tim. 3.16-17). Where the Bible is thrown away God is missed and his will forgotten. Where the Bible is not read as it ought to be read, the sovereignty of God which fuels prayer is unseen.
  4. Worldly mindset. A worldly mindset is when your mind and heart is captured by cares of this world. When the heavenly vision is lost. This causes prayerlessness when the cares of the world choke the godly and the pleasure for God and his Kingdom. When the vision for God is lost in the busyness of life, materials and worldly systems, prayer becomes a memory.
  5. Lack of hope. Hope for what God is still to do is our futuristic sight of the glories and blessing that already await every saint. When this sight is lost, the future is lost, and God is lost. Just like the sovereignty of God, hope fuels prayer. But a lack of hope is water on a fire.

Consequences of prayerlessness

This deadly poison is not just an end in itself, but there are greater consequences to bear. There is no bright light of hope behind any sin; however, this just leads to more sin, it leads one all the more away from God as time passes. Here are but a few consequences of prayerlessness. The order is intentional, for one sin will lead you to another:

  1. Pride. Pride puts self at the center and praises self for all the duties that have been well done and blames others for all the duties not well done. The more we do not pray the more we put ourselves at the center and dependence on God becomes left behind and forgotten.
  2. Lack of sensitivity to God. Prayerfulness enables us to be spiritually sensitive and sensitive to God and his working in us and around us. Do you wonder why most of us are not thankful and do not even see the work of God in us? It is because we are not sensitive and conscious of him and his kingdom. It is mostly true when we are prayerless. The implication is that you begin to live by sight and not by faith.
  3. Deadened Christian. The Christian who is living by sight, with no heart for prayer is one who appears to be alive in the Spirit, who appears to be actively guided by the Holy Spirit, but inwardly, there is no trace of divine pleasure, only religion.
  4. Dead church. It is clear from the Scriptures that it is Christ who is building his church and nothing will stand against his will. It is also true that Christ abides in a man actively and not passively; meaning that, Christ builds his church through man that are in communion, connected, sensitive and alive in him. Men who are totally dependent on him, and are empowered to maturity through the Word and Prayer. Read Acts 6 and see that prayer is at the center of the growth and existence of the church. Thus, lack of prayer leads to merely religious gatherings. We wonder why many of our churches are not effective in their respective communities, here is the reason.
  5. Depraved nation. This is the climax and today the result of prayerlessness is clearly evident. If the people individually have lost God and have taken the position of God, if churches are but gatherings, what shall a nation be? Paul was not uttering opinions when he said that we should prayer for all people, even kings and everyone in high positions (1 Timothy 2:1-4). If God is not asked and sought to intervene, we only lead ourselves astray.

Getting back to a life of prayer

By now we should be on the same page, that prayerlessness is not only a small issue that should worry us, but it is a deadly poison. The consequences are weighty! Oh Christian arise and see what you are missing. Prayer is indeed wonderful and humbling; wonderful in that you a mortal man is calling the Sovereign LORD to act and accomplish his will, and humbling in that you a mortal man realize that there is no power in you at all even to bring one divine act into existence. Is this not a divine privilege then dear Christian? Oh may we get back to this special task, for it is divinely given to us. Ryle says, “To be prayerless is to be without God, without Christ, without grace, without hope, and without heaven”[2]. Oh if that be true then prayerlessness is a great evil to a Christian that all should forsake. Our Savior says, “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened…your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:7-11, English Standard Version). O may we come back to prayer, coming back to communion with our God, and coming back to total surrender and dependency upon God. Below are three things to note if we are to get back to this divinely-ordained task which is for our advantage and God’s glory:

  1. Acknowledge and repent:

If we are going to recover and be people who are prayerful, we need to start by admitting our slackness and sin. We have fallen and need urgent help from somewhere outside ourselves. We need to acknowledge our hopelessness. The area of prayer is one that every Christian will admit that they have not grown in as they desire. I myself could wish to say that I have grown in this area, but sad to say, I am very far and many times I find myself slacking in this task. The hope to recover from this is found in no one other than our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ alone is our hope of glory (Col. 1:27), and in him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). May we be like David, who when grieved by his sin ran to God. In our prayerlessness may we say, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Ps. 32:5, ESV). O may we run to Christ who is the author and perfecter of our faith.

  • Have a right view of prayer:

After admitting our sin and hopelessness, we need to then get back to what prayer is. It is James Montgomery who wrote, “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed, the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast”[3]. Montgomery is basically saying that prayer is that vital breath for the soul. I think prayer today in some circles has been viewed as something mysterious, to be a magical or some form of voodoo-ish ritual, such that the act of it is like something ecstatic that takes over a person’s being. As if it is something you have no control over. This is wrong!

To pray rightly one has to have a right view of what it is! Prayer in simplicity is the talking part of a relationship. We all know what relationships are, and that they all involve talking or some form of communication. And really, that communication is the glue that connects all the parts of the relationship to bring about unity, even if there is diversity.  Is it not also true that one way of killing any form of relationship, be it marriage or friendship, is to stop talking? Imagine a house in which there is no form of communication and each family member is doing only what they wish to do. Such a family will never stand, and death is its destination. This can be true of one’s relationship with God also. For us to know the joy of our salvation, the two ways of communication have to be there. As God talks to us through his written Word, we are also to respond to him by prayer. Montgomery continues in his poetic piece on prayer to say, “Prayer is the simplest form of speech, that infant lips can try; prayer the sublimest strains that reach the majesty on high”. And though this is done with human words and thoughts, genuine prayer is performed in the power of and union with the Spirit of God.

Prayer then as it is clearly explained in the Fisher Catechism is “an offering up of our desires to God for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies”. It is to be done “with understanding, faith, sincerity, fervency, love, and perseverance”. And what are we to pray for? The Fisher Catechism continues to say, “for all things tending to the glory of God, the welfare of the church, our own or others’ good, but not for any thing that is unlawful”. Finally, what is the usefulness of this task to the Christian? Question 56 in the Fisher Catechism insightfully states, prayer “tends to maintain fellowship with God, without any interruption of our lawful callings, Psalm 73:23. It is also a mean to repel sudden temptations, 2 Cor. 12:8, 9; and to dispose the heart for a more solemn performance of the stated duties of prayer and praise in the season of them”[4].

Prayer is also a spiritual discipline that underpins all the other disciplines of the Christian. It is that which waters all other disciplines. Saunders says:

It is the first and most important Spiritual Discipline, because it is the one that connects us directly to the heart of God. All the other Disciplines draw on it deeply; if the others are flavours of the spiritual life, then prayer is the life-sustaining water to which they are added.[5]

Is prayer not the manifestation and demonstration of faith which is exercised here on earth? Is it not right to suggest that if indeed we are to live in total worship in the glorious coming kingdom, that worship should be true now? Oh how can you speak of a glorious coming Kingdom without knowing the King that rules there? And how can you claim to know that King if you never speak to Him? Ryle has it spot on when he says, “If we wish to be with Him in heaven, we must be His friends on earth. If we wish to be His friends on earth, we must pray”[6]. If this so, then prayer is also the mark of the elect of God, for it is they that cry to Him (Luke 18:1-8).

Finally, prayer is never divorced from faith. Prayer strengths faith, and faith moves a man to pray. In simplicity, faith is the assurance in God and His working. This is the eye that sees through the physical circumstances and looks onto the sovereign Lord. Thus, faith is the genuine acknowledgment of who God is; it is a positive declaration that God is the only true and living God, who is self-sufficient, all powerful, all wise, all knowing, unchanging and ever true to His promises. It is such belief and constant affirmation that makes prayer possible. Since it is only God who can move mountains and bring anything into existence, faith and prayer then moves God to act. This is better illustrate in the words of our Savior, Jesus Christ as he says whenever we are praying, we are to do it in his name (John 14:12-14). Praying in Jesus name is a call to affirm, acknowledge and submit all your requests to Christ, who is able to bring anything into existence that is in accordance to his will. That is why James says that you should not doubt in your praying (James 1:6).

Pray:

After acknowledging and confessing our sin of prayerlessness and having a right view of what prayer really is, the final and only thing one ought to do is to pray. Pray now, run to God now, you do not need to reach the conclusion to do so. Stop reading and pray; talk with God.

Conclusion

Prayerlessness should bother us, and lead us to repentance. We must run to Christ, the living fountain to be cleansed from this sin that so easily entangles us. There are no 5 steps or 7 steps to prayerfulness. The only solution is to turn to God in repentance and begin talking to Him. To maintain this, you must be saturated in the Word of God, and ask and allow the Spirit of God to guide you. And the more we find our lives at the foot of the cross, the more we will find ourselves desiring God, and the more spiritually minded and focused we will be. The more we will realize our total dependency on God and the more we will pray and realize that we still have not prayed as we ought to. By this will God be glorified as we find our satisfaction in him!


[1] Pink, A.W. (1970). Profiting from the word. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust. P. 45.

[2] Ryle, J.C. (1977). Practical religion. Grand. Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. P. 65.

[3] Montgomery, J. What is prayer? Sited from: https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:ElVNjFzkXSQJ:https://www.bartleby.com/360/4/68.html+&cd=11&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=na

[4] Fisher Catechism, sited from: https://reformed.org/documents/fisher/index.html

[5] Saunders, M. (2011). The beautiful disciplines: Helping young people to develop their spiritual roots. Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books. P. 38.

[6] Ryle, J.C. (1977). Practical religion. Grand. Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. P. 65.

2 thoughts on “A healthy perspective on prayerlessness

  1. This is worth reading, and my the Lord our God help us to pray and read more, I now it not easy on our own put with God that strengthens and empowering us all things are possible.

    Like

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