The number one obstacle to prayer

October 3, 2013
"I wonder what it is? What could it be? Let me think..."

“I wonder what it is? What could it be? Let me think…”

Ever since I prepared my sermon on Matthew 6:5-13 and the Lord’s Prayer a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about obstacles that often prevent us Christians from developing healthy prayer lives. I talked about one of these obstacles in my sermon: the spiritually dangerous idea that prayer doesn’t really change anything—or, specifically, that God doesn’t change anything as a result of our prayers. Whatever happens is going to happen anyway, so why bother praying? Read or watch my sermon for more about that.

Another important obstacle to prayer is our often hectic lifestyles: prayer becomes one more item on a long checklist, one more activity to shoehorn into a busy schedule. Even worse, our prayer life is mostly invisible to the rest of the world. Unlike other areas of our life—including our career, our marriage, our education—no one is holding us accountable to pray (unless we ask someone to).

If we don’t pray, who’s going to know—except for God, I mean?

I confess with embarrassment that when I first thought about going into full-time ministry many years ago, I imagined that the habit and discipline of prayer would be easier for me as a pastor than as a layperson. After all, I would practically be in the business of prayer, so I’d have more time to devote to it.

How quaint that thought seems now! Being a pastor, as I quickly found out, is as “busy” as any other job, with as many demands on one’s time. You might be surprised, as a layperson, to know how much a pastor can accomplish during a typical day without prayer. We pastors can fake a spiritual life if we have to—at least for a little while.

No, prayer is a challenge for most of us for any number of reasons. But perhaps the biggest reason is one that I haven’t mentioned yet. In fact, most of us pastors rarely if ever mention it, even though Jesus talked about it throughout the Gospels. Even in the Lord’s Prayer!

I’m talking about the “evil one” of Matthew 6:13: We’re used to King James language that says, “deliver us from evil,” but scholars today recognize that Jesus isn’t speaking of evil in general, but of a being whose very nature is evil: Satan, or the devil.

As a pastor, I preach about Satan. How could I not? As Christians we face a deadly Enemy in our lives every day. We are at war, as St. Paul says in Ephesians 6:10-17. If we lose this war, we may lose our very souls and go to hell. Or, if we wage this war poorly, we will at least bring upon ourselves a great deal of needless suffering, heartache, and frustration.

Or worse, we may even hinder people we love from receiving God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ for themselves.

As you can see, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

So, alongside all our other prayer concerns, we pray that God will protect us and rescue us from our biggest threat: Satan himself.

2 Responses to “The number one obstacle to prayer”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, I confess to the problem of making time for prayer, and I also agree that we have that worthy opponent, the devil, to fight us on that front as well as most others. I was interested, though, in your comment, “If we lose this war, we may lose our very souls and go to hell.” Does this mean you believe we can “fall from grace” and lose the salvation we once had gained? I am involved in a vigorous debate with someone at my office on that issue, he arguing you can fall and I arguing not (though, not quite as certain on this point as I once was!). I would be interested in your position on that point.

    • brentwhite Says:

      The possibility of falling from grace is Methodist doctrine. We don’t believe in eternal security. Frankly, it’s not a doctrine I would die on a hill to defend. I can see both sides. Regardless, I think it’s helpful not to presume upon God’s grace, especially if our life bears little evidence of being in any way Christian.

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