One reality that christian leaders encounter all the time is how hard it is to pray. We encounter it in at least two ways. First, we know it ourselves as we struggle maintain the prayer life we are called to and know is vital to our wellbeing and the wellbeing of the ministries we lead. I cannot recall where I read it but I read once that the average North American pastor only prays about 2 minutes a week silently, that is when no one is watching. I am not sure if that’s true and I don’t want to sound too cynical but I can certainly picture it being not too far off some of the time. So, we know ourselves the struggle it can be to practice with regularity what we preach.
The second way we encounter this is that people are often admitting to me, often hard on themselves about it, that they do not pray, or have grown frustrated by unanswered prayer, or find prayer doesn’t “do” anything for them. Many want to pray, they intellectually understand the call to prayer, they may revere the muslim who prays five times a day or the christian monk praying in the wee hours, they may have a soul-deep desire but the flesh is (as they say) weak.
The gospels tells many stories of the student of Jesus not understanding him, not praying when they should, not grasping the power of prayer (even after miracles happen in front them) and so we might be comforted, at least a little bit, that when we find ourselves in the muck regarding prayer we are in good company.
The great Thomas Merton once wrote about all of this. He partly argued that we need to remember that we can be gentle with ourselves because any good that comes from prayer comes not becomes of our self-discipline but because of God’s love for His creation. Everything good that comes to us and happens in prayer is a grade and gift of God—Merton writes—even the desire to pray at all, and the attempt to pray, is itself a great grace. I really appreciate this insight because it can take some of the guilt off, it can lighten the load of those of us who seek to pray without ceasing and yet find it hard to do so when someone cuts us off in traffic or Netflix is calling, or the baby is hungry, or the coffee isn’t yet brewed.
I also love this insight because it is true that God calls us to prayer. There are always people praying, many many people praying at any given moment because that is what God wants and how God designed the world—it includes prayer. Sometimes that includes me praying, sometimes it includes me praying in a group setting, sometimes it involves others praying, always it involves the Holy Spirit working in the world.
So next time you feel like you should pray, thank God for the invitation, whether you take Him up on it or not. And next time you fail to pray thank God others prayed anyways.
In Christ we have freedom and in Christ the world is redeemed it isn’t all up to us, though sometimes God chooses to use us in his work. We are graced, that is to say it is a gift when this happens.
Thanks be to God.