January 26-27, 2019
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Why We Hate to Pray
Introduction and offering:
You might be wondering why I titled this two week series, “Why We Hate to Pray.” How many of would say, “I hate to pray.” See—no one! I’m not surprised. Who in their right mind would say that they hate to pray? Especially in church!
A recent Pew Research survey revealed that 55% of Americans say they pray every day! Evidently, there is a lot of prayer going on! It doesn’t sound like we hate to pray at all! So what in the world was I thinking?
Another question: How many of you wish you prayed more? Most of us believe we should pray more than we do—so why don’t we? What keeps us from praying more? I think that when we enjoy something, we tend to do it a lot. I enjoy eating—I do it every day. I enjoy golf—I play every chance I get. Do you enjoy praying? If you don’t, I’ll bet you don’t do it that much. What if I could show you a way to pray that is natural, rewarding, even fun? That’s what we’re going to talk about today.
The Big Idea: God wants a conversational relationship with you! Make your life one long prayer!
I want you to think differently about prayer—that it’s not an occasional activity but a lifestyle, an all-day ongoing conversation with God. God wants a conversational relationship with you.
I was struck on Tuesday in our Bible reading plan by the interaction between God and Moses at the burning bush. It’s found in Exodus 3-4 (p. 49). God called Moses by name (3:4) and told him what He was planning to do (3:7-10). Moses started asking questions and raising objections (3:11-4:17). God patiently answered each question or objection. They had a conversation! Notice a couple things about this conversation.
First, God initiated it. God started the conversation! Prayer is a response to God’s initiative. Prayer is entering into the ongoing conversation that God starts. I believe that God is speaking to us all day long, inviting us into the conversation. Much of the time, we’re oblivious! How different would your prayers be if you were aware of God’s initiative and were responding to Him? God wants a conversational relationship with you.
Second, God did most of the talking, and Moses did most of the listening. This is opposite how most of us pray. We check in with God, make a speech, and check out with an amen. It’s a monologue, not a dialogue, and we’re doing all the talking. How different would your prayers be if you listened more than you talked? God wants a conversational relationship with you.
Third, Moses asked God questions and waited for God’s answer. Again, this is opposite how most of us pray. We tell God what we want—and when we’re done with one request, we move on to the next, rarely waiting for a reply. How different would your prayers be if you told God less and asked God more questions and gave Him a chance to reply? God wants a conversational relationship with you.
Prayer is not an occasional ritual but a living conversation. We don’t just say prayers—we live in prayer. We live in ongoing conversation with God—listening, responding.
ILL: St. Augustine wrote his famous autobiography, The Confessions, one of the most influential books of all time, in 397-400 AD. Remarkably, the entire book is written as a prayer. Augustine addressed his life-story to God! Augustine saw his life as one long prayer—God taking the initiative and pursuing him, Augustine at first resisting, then responding.
This changed the way I thought about my life and about prayer. Make your life one long prayer!
God wants a conversational relationship with you. This is the Big Idea I’d like you take home. It’s a radically different view of prayer—from something we do occasionally to all-day-long ongoing conversation with God. He wants a conversational relationship with you. If you understand that, it changes everything. Prayer ceases to be a duty, and becomes a delight—a joy.
ILL: On Tuesday evening, I was driving here for the Rooted Launch night. As I drove, God and I had a conversation. I brought up to him something that I’ve prayed about a lot lately—with no results. But I did something different. After telling God what I wanted (for the umpteenth time), I asked him about this situation: “What’s going on? What are You doing?” And He said something to me that blew my mind. I didn’t hear an audible voice, but words, an idea, jumped to my mind—something that I had never thought of before, something that completely changed the way I was approaching that situation. I was so jacked that I spent the last few minutes of the drive thanking and praising Him! The difference: instead of me making a speech and telling God what I wanted, we had a conversation.
With the time we have left, I want to tell you why we hate to pray—why our wrong notions about prayer have left us prayerless and dissatisfied. I’m going to name some of the problems, and then point us back to this big idea: “prayer is a conversation between two persons who love each other.” Here are the reasons why we hate to pray—and what we can do about it.
Why we hate to pray.
- I don’t know how to pray.
This is particularly true if you are new to Jesus but even for many of you high mileage units! I remember as a new Christian, I had no idea how to pray. I would kneel by my bed at night and feel lost.
Think about this: how did you learn how to talk? From the moment you were born, your parents started speaking to you. At first, you were clueless. Then you associated the sound of one voice with food. Slowly you began to learn words—first word is usually, “no.” Then a few more words, and finally, you learned to string words together in a sentence, when you were about 22. In other words, you learned to talk by observing others talking.
Most of us learned to pray in the same way—by watching and listening to others pray. Unfortunately, we also tend to pick up some bad habits along the way.
As a new Christian I learned to pray by listening to the prayers that were said in our church. One leader would say beautiful flowery prayers. “Our gracious and loving Heavenly Father, as thou drawest the shades on another day and wrappest thy loving arms around us, we approach thy throne of grace with confidence in thy almighty mercy.” I’d kneel by my bed and try to pray like that—but my 13 year-old brain didn’t work like that. I stumbled and stuttered and felt awkward and silly.
What I learned from listening to prayers at church was that there was a holy language and holy tones of voice to pray and I didn’t know them. I didn’t know how to pray.
Then a friend came to my rescue. He gave me a book by Rosalind Rinker, Prayer: Conversing with God. Ros taught me that prayer is a conversation between two persons to love each other. She taught me that I don’t need special words, or King James English, or a holy tone of voice—that God just wants me to be myself and have a conversation with Him. Talk with Him like I would a friend. It set me free, and suddenly, prayer felt natural, honest—enjoyable. It turns out that’s what Jesus said too!
In Luke 11:1-13 (p. 892), Jesus is praying, and His disciples ask, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Lord, teach us to pray. That’s a good prayer—and one that He will answer. I pray it often. “Lord, teach us to pray.” And Jesus did. He gave them what we call the Lord’s prayer (read v. 2-4 together). The first thing you should notice is that this prayer is short, simple and natural. A child can pray this. “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus says, “It’s this simple.”
Then Jesus told them a story (5-8) that God is a friend who will happily hear their prayers and respond—so ask, seek and knock (9-10). And God is a father (11-13) who is more generous than any earthly father. Think about that. “Lord, teach us to pray,” and He gives them a simple prayer and reminds them that God is their Friend and their Father.
Don’t know how to pray? Keep it simple and have a conversation with your Friend and your Father who loves you. God wants a conversational relationship with you.
#2—I hate to pray because…
- I think prayer is making speeches to God.
What is the number one fear in America? Public speaking. Most of us hate to make speeches. We’re not good at it! And that’s what we think prayer is: making speeches to God. No wonder we hate to pray!
Where did we get this idea that prayer is making speeches to God? We learn to pray by hearing others pray and it’s what we have had modeled for us. Most churches have a pastoral prayer in their service—the pastor makes a speech to God on behalf of the whole church. I’m not saying it’s wrong—in fact, we’ll see that there is biblical precedence for it. I’m just saying that for many of us, the only prayers we see modeled are this kind: making speeches to God.
ILL: I was talking with my mom last week; they had a guest preacher at their church, and he gave a 45 minute prayer! Then he gave an hour long sermon! My mom said they won’t invite him back.
I’ll bet that most of the prayers you’ve heard have not been conversations with God, but speeches to God. It’s all we know.
As I said, there are prayers in the Bible that are speeches to God. Look at 1 Kings 8:22 (p. 293). You’ll see that this is King Solomon’s prayer of dedication at the new temple he’s built. The prayer runs from v. 23-53. Solomon prays a long and beautiful prayer to God—it’s a speech to God, but he’s praying as the representative of the people. And there’s the catch. When you and I pray alone, we’re not trying to represent a whole group of people—we’re just trying to talk with God. But we’re using this “make a speech” model.
ILL: When I was in college at the preacher factory, I took a class called “Public Worship.” It was all about running church services, and one of the elements we were to master was the pastoral prayer. After all our reading and lectures, our assignment was to write a pastoral prayer—about one page long. I poured my heart into it…and got a C! A C! I was so upset! It was an honest, heartfelt prayer—I don’t think God gave me a C. But isn’t that what we worry about when we give a speech? It won’t be received. It will fall flat. It will be a C.
This is why public speaking is the number one fear in America. We’re afraid of failure. If prayer is making speeches to God, no wonder we hate to pray.
Which would you rather do: have a conversation with a friend, or make a speech to God? God wants a conversational relationship with you.
#3—I hate to pray because…
- I’m easily distracted.
My mind wanders. How many of you have wandering minds right now? Here’s what happens to me: I start to talk with God, and my mind wanders all over the place. For a long time, I felt guilty. I would apologize and try to get my mind “back on track.” I felt like a failure as a pray-er.
Then I learned that prayer is a conversation between two persons who love each other. Let me ask you: what happens when you’re talking with a friend and your mind wanders to another subject? One of two things. First, you talk about that subject. “Hey, I was just thinking…” This is how conversations naturally flow from one subject to another. Or second, if the subject is inappropriate (I don’t mean necessarily bad, but just not something your friend would be interested in, not fitting), you just let it go and re-focus.
So here you are praying, and your mind wanders. What should you do? Does God know where your mind wandered? Yep. So just go ahead and make that part of the conversation. “Look at what I was just thinking Lord. What do You think about that? What would You like to say to me?” And here’s the cool thing: there are no inappropriate subjects with God. He wants to talk with you about all of it—the good, the bad and the ugly. I talk with Him about my happy thoughts and my concerns, but also my greedy thoughts, my angry thoughts, my selfish thoughts. He already knows them, so rather than pretending and covering them up, we just talk about them.
When your mind wanders somewhere, it’s usually to what you’re worried about or care about. Make it part of the conversation.
If your wandering mind makes you feel like a prayer failure, you’ll probably hate praying. But Wandering minds make for interesting conversations. And God wants a conversational relationship with you.
#4—I hate to pray because…
- I don’t know what to pray about.
I start talking with God and I run out of material after a couple moments. Anybody else? I remember the first time I tried to pray for an hour. I prayed my heart out—everything I could think of—and checked my watch. 7 minutes. Once again, I’m a prayer failure—and no one likes to fail. Been there, done that, flopped, don’t want to do it again.
If this is you, I’ve got something for you. Let’s look at Romans 8:26-27 (p. 972). In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
“We don’t know what we ought to pray for.” That’s me. Sometimes I’m clueless. But the good news is the Spirit helps us in our weakness. He intercedes for us. This could mean several things, and one of them is simply that the Spirit comes alongside us and helps us when we don’t know what to pray about. He brings to our mind what to pray for.
This is consistent with the idea that prayer is a conversation between two persons who love each other. Have you ever been in a conversation with a friend and you run out of things to say? What happens? Usually, your friend brings up something. God is our friend, and when we don’t know what to pray about, He does, and He happily helps us. Practically, it means that I often ask the Holy Spirit to help me pray, and then listen for what He brings to mind.
Have you ever asked God, “What do You want to talk about today?” Try it—see where He leads the conversation.
Here’s another one: Philippians 4:6-7 (p. 1013). Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Don’t be anxious, don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. Every worry, every fear, every anxiety can be a catalyst to prayer. Don’t know what to pray about? What are worrying about? Pray about it. What concerns you? Pray about it. What causes fear or anxiety? Pray about it. Have a conversation with God until His peace fills your heart and mind.
Isn’t this what friends do? When I’m bothered, I talk with a friend. God wants to be that friend. God wants a conversational relationship with you.
#5—I hate to pray because…
- What’s the point?
“Nothing is going to change. When I pray, it seems like nothing happens. Besides, God does what He wants, doesn’t He. So it really doesn’t matter if I pray. What’s the point?” Anybody identify with this? If you think prayer is pointless, you’ll probably hate to pray!
How many of you have prayed for something, and it didn’t happen? You’ve asked God for something, and didn’t get it? If your hand is not up, you haven’t prayed! If you pray, you’ve been disappointed. We don’t get everything we want or ask for. Why is that? Sometimes we ask for the wrong thing.
ILL: My three year old asked to play with my razor—I shave with a blade; I’m a man! I told him no. Is it because I don’t love him? No, it’s because I do love him and don’t want him to slice his face to ribbons!
Sometimes we ask for the wrong thing, and God lovingly says no. And, sometimes we ask for what seems like the right thing, and it still doesn’t happen—and I don’t know why. There is some mystery here, and I have to trust God when I don’t understand. But there is another issue at stake. Is prayer primarily a means to get what I want from God, or is prayer a conversation between two persons who love each other?
We say, “What’s the point? Nothing is going to change.” But maybe what’s changing is…me. Maybe the point of prayer is not getting something from God, but simply getting with God, knowing God, loving God. Maybe what changes most when you pray is you! When my life becomes a prayer, when I’m in all day conversation with God, His concerns become mine. We don’t just talk about what I’m concerned about. We talk about His concerns too. I begin changing, and what I care about begins to change. His heart becomes mine. Jesus makes this clear.
Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:9-13 (p. 831). This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Before we ask for our concerns—our daily bread, forgiveness for our sins, leading and deliverance for our lives—what do we ask for first? Your name be hallowed, your kingdom come, your will be done. In other words, God’s concerns first. “What do you want to talk about today, Lord?”
“What’s the point? Nothing is going to change?” Oh yes it is! You are going to change. When you have an ongoing conversation with God, you will change!
“But,” you say, “that’s my point. I pray and I don’t change. Prayer doesn’t do anything for me. I don’t feel closer to God. I don’t connect with God. It feels like a pointless exercise.” May I ask, “Are you have an honest conversation with God, or just saying prayers? Are you listening or just making speeches?” The point of prayer is connecting with God, and if you’re not connecting, I’m guessing that you’re not praying—you’re not having a conversation between two persons who love each other. God wants a conversational relationship with you.
#6—I hate to pray because…
- I’m not good enough.
I don’t think God really wants to hear from me. I’m not worthy. I’m not good enough.
Ok, news flash: you’re right! You’re not worthy. You’re not good enough. And neither am I. None of us are. This is why Jesus came. He came to bring us back to God. I am not good enough, but Jesus is. This is why we pray in Jesus’ name. What does that mean?
To do something in someone’s name, means we do it as their representative, with their authority. The US ambassador to England doesn’t approach their prime minister in his own name, but in the name of our President, in the name of our country. He doesn’t have any authority on his own—in his name—but he’s there in the name of the US.
ILL: All of you parents have seen this. One of your kids is misbehaving and their brother or sister says, “Stop it.” And the kid replies, “You’re not the boss of me. You can’t tell me what to do.” But when the brother or sister runs off and comes back and says, “Mom says, Dad says to stop it,” that’s different. Now they are speaking in the name of Mom, in the name of Dad.
When we pray in the name of Jesus, it doesn’t mean that we just slap that phrase on the end of our prayer, like a magic abracadabra. No. It means that we acknowledge that we are not coming to God in our own name, in our own authority, in our own goodness. We know that we are coming because of Jesus.
In never pray, “Lord, I stand before you in the name of Joe.” I come in the name of Jesus. I know that I’m not worthy, but He is. I know that I’m not good enough, but He is.
Jesus came to bring you back to God. God wants a conversational relationship with you. Jesus makes that possible.
For many of you, this is a radically different idea of prayer. My encouragement: Try it—you’ll get better with practice. Don’t get discouraged if it seems uncomfortable, if you don’t seem to hear from God. Just keep listening—you’ll get better with practice. God wants a conversational relationship with you. He’ll help you—because He wants the relationship even more than you do! We’re going to give you a chance to practice as we take communion.
Communion: Have a conversation with God. Say yes.
Next Steps Meeting—Welcome Center.
Prayer team down front.
 Rosalind Rinker, Prayer: Conversing with God, Zondervan, 1959. P. 23