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Why We Don’t Pray (Part 1: Prayer and Fasting)

In light of our recent entry into a month-long season of prayer and fasting, I am going to put up a series of posts here with some thoughts on the subject. The following are some thoughts I shared with our staff at this month’s all-staff meeting as I have been reading and preparing for this season

Prayerlessness is the inevitable result of pride or a lack of faith, usually both. You fail to pray, instinctively, because you are too proud to realize you need God or too unbelieving to grasp God’s willingness to help.

Most approaches to correct prayerlessness are “law based.” When you hear a sermon that says,“You only pray 6 min a week; ergo you stink,” you resolve to go pray more. But how long does that last?  A few days, at most. Sometimes not even to the parking lot.

The answer is not to get more disciplined or to develop a new system or a prayer notebook. Prayer is the natural result of desperation and faith. When the Gospel has cultivated humility and faith in us, we will obey that verse in 1 Thessalonians, “Pray continuously,” instinctively. (inspired by Paul Miller, A Praying Life.)

Here are two important truths to remember about prayer:

1. Prayer actually changes things

  • Sometimes our theology gets the best of us. In the movie Shadowlands about the life of C.S. Lewis, his wife asks him, “Do you believe prayer changes things?” He replies, “It doesn’t change things, it changes me.” You guys know I am a Lewis-ophile, but I think that is profoundly wrong. While prayer does change us, sometimes we are afraid we are going to offend the sovereignty of God by actually believing what God’s word says about prayer. God has sovereignly chosen to do much of what He does on earth in answer to prayer.
  • Exodus 17:12­-13: In a battle that God would sovereignly have Israel win, he made the outcome dependent on the posture of Moses’ hands and raised up people to support him. Literally, when his hands were up they were winning. When his hands went down, they lost. You don’t get a much clearer world picture than that.
  • Matthew 7:7 does not say, “Ask, and you will be changed for the asking; seek, and you’ll be different because of the journey. Knock, and your own heart will be changed.” It clearly says that we should ask and expect an answer in response.
  • John Wesley said, “God does nothing on earth except in answer to prayer.” This may be somewhat of an overstatement. The point, however, is that our faith added to God’s “will” produces His work on earth.

2. Our only hope is the mercy of God

  • In Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book Give Them Grace, she writes about  books that guarantee success in parenting and how they make promises to give a series of parenting tips that will guarantee your kids come out well-behaved, godly children. But they overlook the fact that God was a perfect father and still 1/3 of angels left and Adam rejected him.
  • If there were a foolproof way to raise kids, we would not depend on God. We should lay our parenting down at the feet of Jesus and say, “Their hope is not in my parenting, but in your grace.”
  • Often, what keeps us from praying is how good we are at what we do. We give lip-service to prayer because we know we are supposed to do it, but, ultimately, we think that the battle is won by techniques, skill, and strategy.
  • Prayer recognizes that at the end of the day our only hope are the merciful hands of God, and that is a great place to be. 1 Peter 5:6-7, 10 brings me a lot of comfort. It doesn’t lessen my responsibility, but leaves me at the feet of Jesus, counting on Him to raise me up and make me overcome. Again, the feet of Jesus are a great place to be. My kids would be better off in the merciful hands of Jesus than they would even be in the hands of someone who parented perfectly, implementing all the biblical wisdom on parenting flawlessly.
  • Hope in God’s mercy. Hope placed there is never unfounded. It’s a never-ending reservoir.
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J.D. Greear, Ph.D., is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastors the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Tagged by Outreach magazine as one of the fastest growing churches in America, the Summit has grown in the past 8 years from 400 to over 5,000 each weekend. The Summit Church is deeply involved in global church planting, having undertaken the mission to plant 1000 churches in the next 40 years. J.D. has authored Breaking the Islam Code and the upcoming Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.