The leading came again to continue the series on Conversations With God. This writing deals with the things that hinder our prayer time with the Father. I’ve identified five key obstacles, but there could be more. They are: Time; Insincerity; Pride, Doctrine and Language. I will address each one by one, with strategies to overcome them too.
Time is the most common complaint Christians give for not having a better prayer life. Time is the only constant in life and the one thing that we cannot control, yet we have not learnt to adapt to it and use it for our purpose. Like everything in the world, time is a resource that God has given to us to use with wisdom. The wise are never frustrated with time, rather they maximise the time.
If you think about it, we have plenty of time for the things we like to do like watch TV, hang out with friends, do some shopping etc. Time is like money in that we manage what we have, and if you are constantly running short of money before the month is out, it is likely that you are also always running short of time to do the things you need to do. However, the things you WANT to do, you will do. That is, we make the choice where the money goes, and where the time goes.
Jesus said regarding money that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt 6:21). Likewise, what you devote your time to is an indication of what you love. If you are constantly going days without speaking with God, it means that your heart is not with Him. If you habitually say blitz prayers in the morning and/or evening, to satisfy your spiritual ego that you’ve prayed that day, then it shows also where your heart is. It means that you don’t really desire to hear from God or spend time with Him.
This is not to belittle the fact that you are busy, and often have to fulfil many demands in a day. If you’ve got three jobs and three kids to feed, and you’re on your own, you may feel hard done by to be criticised by someone like me for not making time to pray. But get this: if you took the time to prioritize and got the most important thing done in the first place, you may find that you will be more efficient with the rest of the time in the day, and actually find grace and favour to do them well – and joyfully. God always rewards our faith and sacrifice.
It is the same old paradox again; of giving up what you cannot keep (time) to gain what you cannot lose (God’s peace). Jesus said it well in Matthew 6:33, that if we seek God’s Kingdom and His righteousness first, everything else we need will be given to us. He wasn’t being simplistic. He was being very practical. He said the things you worry about are reasonable (v32), but worry does absolutely nothing for you (v27). If you submit to the Lord of Time, He will make time work for you!
Now, how do you overcome the hindrance of time? You recognise your needs (one being to be guided by God), decide the things that are important to you and prioritise (give weight in time to what matters the most). I really would advise waiting at least an hour each day with the Lord. Why one hour? It is a reasonable integral of time which allows you to also perform your other duties in the day. So, you can imagine that you now have 23 hours in a day! It is best to give this ‘time offering’ first thing in the morning, sort of like the ‘first fruits’ offering, thanking Him for a new day. You will also be equipped with wisdom to face the day’s challenges.
I am not saying you need to be talking for one whole hour!!! Or singing and dancing for one hour just to show that you’ve spent time. But devote at least one hour to spend with God. This time can include singing and dancing, reading and writing, praying and crying, and meditation and listening. You may find that you are inspired to go on beyond an hour, because you start to realise you had more to share with or learn from God than you first thought (because of sleepiness, anxiety etc).
It is like spending time with your lover. If you don’t make the time, you won’t spend the time. Sometimes, you just need to be alone and quiet together. There may be long periods of silence, but you get used to the silence, and as inspiration comes, you speak or they speak. But whether or not anything has been said, you would have been in fellowship for that time, and nurtured your relationship. However, throughout the day, the lines of communication stay open (through text messages and phone calls), just as it should with God (through prayer, praise and thanksgiving).
Please avoid the common error of saying you pray all the time so you don’t need to allocate specific time to wait on God. It is a tactic of the enemy that I’ve fallen for many times, and that only leads to you praying to God when you remember or are desperate. You can’t reasonably have a relationship with a lover like that. We know that if we are not making time for our lover, someone else is making time for them!!! Though God is not unfaithful like that, He does want you to show Him that you depend on and desire His fellowship…even as the deer pants for the water (Psa 42:1).
Another hindrance to a growth in our prayer life is that we really don’t want to pray. We may see prayer as an obligation, or a burden. Even though we understand the purpose, and we have the time, we just would rather do something else. So this is really more about ‘self’. This person is insincere about their faith, and to them, it is really just a religion and they do the minimal to sail through.
Usually, insincere people like fellowships where the prayers are recited for them, and they only need to read their prayer, rather than actually having a heart to heart with God. When they are in the presence of people who are praying, they are easily distracted and drawn away with thoughts about what they are going to do that day, what they will wear, where they might go and who they might see. It is usually a time when they plan or organise their lives or catch up on sleep. For them, prayer time is never short enough. They are carnal, and the carnal mind cannot understand the things of God.
The truth about insincerity is that it really is about disobedience. Disobedience is usually what is behind the itch to run away from the presence of God, and not to open up to God in the first place. Jesus said people run from the light because their deeds are evil (John 3:19). How sad and true. They really don’t want to change! They like how they are, their ‘freedom’ to do as they please, and do not have time at all to feel guilty. Because that is all they will feel when confronted with their sin, whereas sincere people are convicted to change.
James taught that no sane or sincere person looks in the mirror and sees themselves filthy, only to forget and do nothing about it (Jam 1:22-25). Prayer is like a mirror, if we pray with our hearts, God will show us what we need to do. Now, we need to be ready to obey, and use our knowledge gained through prayer to correct the error in our lives. There are few sincere individuals who want to change, but are under addictions and trapped by false teaching and condemnation, who need assistance in prayer to be delivered of these strongholds. They, however, must realise their condition and seek the Lord with a pure heart, believing that He can do the impossible.
Some insincere people lie to themselves, and say that they want to change. In their minds, this is probably true. But in their hearts, knowingly or unknowingly, it is a lie. They have deceived themselves, and will continue to do the things that they want, rather than what they ought, because they do not truly care for God and His commands. Jesus said, “it’s not all who call me Lord that will be saved, but those who do the will of God” (Matt 7:21). These ones feel guilty because they know what they should do, but they have no spiritual backbone to resist their flesh, so they have lost the battle before it even began.
When they get tired of feeling guilty, they join the ranks of the unmoved and self-condemned. They may be so depraved as to teach what is contrary to the gospel to defend their position. These have seared their consciences, and will probably out rightly deny God and His power. Their hearts are hard, because they are determined not to change, and they are only irritated or angry that someone might be trying to make them feel guilty, for what they have no intention of changing.
If you are insincere, there is only one thing that will save you – a heart transplant!!! All the teaching in the world will not change or save you. Even though you see God move in your life and others, and see visions, you will soon forget them, because being deceived is a choice you have made to make your life easier. Once you’ve gone down the path of dishonesty and deception, it is a hard struggle to go against the tide, which is pushing you to hell. If you know this is you, drop everything now, and pray for God to perform a heart transplant in you! Only then will His words bear any fruit in your life. After that, you can ask Him to teach you to pray, and learn from the counsel of others.
Pride is a form of insincerity, and usually, those who are insincere are proud. However, it is necessary to look at pride separately, as a reason why many believers are unable to mature in their prayer life. Pride is also commonly known as vanity, and it is one of the things Jesus taught against when He taught His disciples how to pray. Consider these verses from Matthew 6 (NIV):
V5 – “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
V6 – “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
V7 – “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
V8 – “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him”
Jesus gave the warnings before He gave the teaching on prayer, because it is very easy for pride to creep into our prayer life, and for self-righteousness and hypocrisy to follow. We must actively guard against pride, because if we don’t, and we are taken by pride, we will have a very great fall (Prov 16:18), which is not only humiliating, but a horrible shame as we will be eternally separated from the God we initially sought to draw near to in prayer.
Many genuine Christians are taken by pride. It is a bit of a paradox, because religion is about humility, but humans get so proud about their ‘humility’, they like to show off how pious and religious they are. Real humility is not something we can attain with our might, and is not something the humble is aware of in himself, because those who are humble are focused on God and not on themselves. When complimented on their spirituality, all they can see is that they are still miles away from where they want to be – perfect like their Father (Matt 5:48).
Pride is a problem when you do not know how to spend time alone with God, but you are very good when it comes to praying in a group, or leading prayers in a gathering. Pride is a problem when you can never articulate your sins to God, through confession, but always ask for blanket forgiveness on ‘any sin’ you may have committed. Pride is a problem when you read the Bible as one who knows it all, but do not ask nor wait on God to enlighten your mind with new understanding. Pride is a problem when you pray only for your fleshly needs, but do not raise spiritual growth needs for God to fulfil (whether personal or for His Church).
People who are proud approach prayer as one of the things they have to tick off in a day, rather than a mode of communication with their Lord and Saviour. They can pray for long periods. They can be very fluent and articulate. They can be very passionate and knowledgeable of the Scriptures. But at the end of the day, the whole thing could have been more an exercise of their flesh than a communion of their spirit with the Lord. They are the ones for which Jesus’ saying is true: “these people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matt 15:8).
Pride is a great hindrance to our prayer life because it makes prayer unfruitful. Prayer cannot achieve its purpose (to make us humble and more like God), when we use it as a weapon against spiritual growth (by showing how much we don’t need God, because we are already there). Like the Pharisee and the sinner, one short phrase of confession and plea for grace is better than a thousand eloquent words of self-righteousness.
Most of the people in the world do not pray because of doctrine. Doctrine is spiritual teaching about rules and guidelines that differentiate one belief in God from another. If you do not believe in God, then, because of that unbelief, you wouldn’t pray nor would it cross your mind to. If your belief in God is that God does not hear prayers, then you wouldn’t pray because there’s no point if he doesn’t hear. If your belief in God is that he only listens to perfect people, and you have to find a perfect person to talk to God on your behalf, then you just won’t pray to God yourself. These are examples of different belief systems that determine our relationship with God and whether we seek to build one or not.
The real question is who will you believe? I say believe Jesus. Faith in Jesus is the only faith that leads to a personal relationship with God our Maker. It is the only faith that accepts you just as you are, because even while you were in sin and did not believe, God showed His great love for you through His sacrifice. It is also the only faith than gives you access to the power of God. The Bible says that we shall become the sons and daughters of God (John 1:12). Jesus also promised that we can have anything we ask for if we believe (Matt 21:22), and do even greater things than He did if we follow Him (John 14:12-14). God doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, sick or well, black or white, child or adult, male or female – as long as you are a sinner in need of salvation, He is ready to make you whole again.
The Bible teaches that there is only one mediator between God and man, and that is Jesus (1 Tim 2:5). Jesus is the Mediator, because He is the Sacrifice. He made the atonement for our sin, meaning He paid the price. He is like our defense lawyer in court, who not only defends us before the Judge, but accepts our sentence too, so that we are sent away free and justified. Because He is innocent and ready to stand in for us, when we go to God in prayer, we do so boldly because of our Friend, Jesus! We can say, “God, I want to talk to You as one who’s clean, because Jesus already settled my case”. God, who Himself, prepared this salvation for us, said that He will receive anyone who accepts it, and what is more…He will grant them whatever they ask in prayer, in the name of Jesus and, with it, eternal life (John 3:16). You need not go through your pastor, priest, friend or anybody else!
So, you are invited to come boldly to the Throne of God in prayer (Heb 4:16), bearing only the name of Jesus as your proof of worthiness. You can commune with God, and develop a relationship with Him on your own terms, as His child. This is because He paid the price for YOU, and He wants to teach you His ways – His wisdom and righteousness.
Jesus taught us that God is a Spirit, and those who are called to worship Him (commune with Him), must do so in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). God does not want to communicate with us in the flesh; otherwise, He would appear to us in the flesh and speak with us simply. He wants us to seek Him, and to find Him in the Spirit, in the state He abides, so that we will go higher. Only those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, will shun the flesh to pursue the spirit, in order to draw near to God. Fasting is, therefore, a good means of drawing nearer to God. As we pray, God wants us to break out of our flesh, and enter the realm of the spiritual.
In the flesh, we have a language that we use to communicate with ourselves. People from Paris speak French, and in London, they speak English. If we do not know the language of a people, we cannot communicate with them, or we might be able to speak a little, but there will be hindrances, because those who know the mother tongue speak with ease and accuracy. But we can learn the other languages to communicate with foreign people. The best way to learn is not only to live among the people, but to listen and try to speak, and then we pick up things and get more fluent.
When praying in our mother (fleshly) tongue, we still fall short of the right words to say to express our emotions. Sometimes, our words get in the way… We may be distracted with trying to speak with grammatical accuracy or get stuck on the pronunciation of words. Sometimes, there are no words. When in situations like these, there is a barrier in our communication, not because we don’t want to communicate, but simply because we don’t know what to say or how. The Bible says that the Spirit intervenes at these crucial point to help us to communicate to God according to His will (Rom 8:26-27). This is the ability of praying in the Spirit (Eph 6:18, Jude 20).
God gives the gift of speaking in tongues to His children to help them to communicate with Him, without the language barrier. When you are not thinking of what to say, but only that you want to worship and be used by God, you make yourself and your parts (mouth and tongue) available for God to direct and use. The language of the Spirit is incomprehensible to the speaker (1 Cor 14:14), but discernible by those given the gift of interpretation (or by those who perceive their mother tongue is being spoken unknowingly by the worshipper (Acts 2:7-11)). The gifts of tongues and interpretation are both given by God, as well as other gifts, to help believers be more effective ministers for God (1 Cor 12:7-11).
Speaking in tongues and praying in the Spirit are contentious practices even among believers. This is because there are many Christians living without these abilities, and these are made to feel inadequate, as though they have not received the same Spirit or the empowerment for ministry. There are still those who speak babblings by their own power, and infiltrate the Church, and cause many to doubt the genuineness of this gift. Paul encouraged the believers not to compare themselves, but to seek only to please God, by desiring the best gifts (1 Cor 12:28-31), the greatest being love (1 Cor 13).
If you cannot speak in tongues, even though you have asked for it repeatedly, take a lesson from the linguist. They immense themselves among the people who speak the language they want to speak. They spend time learning the dialect and practicing, and become better. This practice of internalising the language by full immersion in the culture is equivalent to fasting and praying continually, in expectation that God will bestow this gift to you. Remember that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled (Matt 5:6).
You can pray in the Spirit, by getting still and quiet before God and listening to your spiritual conversation. Just as words to a song come by inspiration, you can pray by inspiration (first in your natural tongue, then with spiritual tongues as you perceive them). He wants to give us the gift, and we are encouraged to ask, believing. We must trust also that when the ability comes, it will be by His Spirit, and not by any other (Luke 11:11-13). All gifts from God are received by faith, but be weary of faking an ability to fit in (Prov 25:14). Wait on God, and He will answer your prayer.
Photo credit: http://www.unsplash.com
If you liked this post, you might like WHAT DO YOU MAKE TIME FOR?
Are you blessed by this ministry? Why not partner with me?
Categories: Issues of Life, Series, The Disciple's Notebook, The Latest, True Religion
Awesome write! I particularly enjoyed the analogy you used in the penultimate paragraph. internalizing the language by fasting and prayer…that’s striking. truly the concept of prayer has been confused and misinterpreted. if only it can be seen as conversations between lovers, first it will take off all the spookiness attached to prayers, then also it will force us to ask ourselves this sincere question: “Is God really my Lover?”
Thanks Ovie! You got the message down. Is God really the Lover of my soul is the question. And often, we realise He isn’t because someone or something else is taking His place. We then need to ask ourselves how much we need Him, and how far we’ll go to seek Him. Maybe our prayer isn’t so much “help my unbelief” as it is “help my disregard”!!! Cheers, and have a great day.