Is it easy or hard to pray? Many Christians have experienced both: times when prayer is as natural as breathing, and times when it seems hard, even impossible.
We suspect that for more Christians than care to admit it, prayer is often difficult. But no one else would know they feel this way. Who will confess having a hard time with something as simple as prayer?
We keep our inner struggles to ourselves. We want to be known as good Christians. And we might think good Christians don’t have trouble praying.
But surely some of us do. And we can turn to Scripture for help. Heb. 4:16 has important advice about prayer: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
The command to approach God boldly seems to recognize a common problem: a lack of confidence in prayer. This can have several causes.
One is an incomplete understanding of prayer. Prayer is too often thought of as no more than asking God to do things. And anyone who has prayed knows God is not a vending machine, dispensing whatever is desired when the right button is pushed. Without a broader understanding of prayer as listening to God’s word for us and seeking God’s presence, disappointment is certain.
Second, a person’s struggle with prayer might stem from living in an age in which people have learned the natural causes of things once mysterious. Weather patterns, physical ailments and cures, are understood scientifically. Petitions to God for rain or for healing might seem like vestiges of ancient beliefs of people who could not explain such things except as acts of God.
Third, we may lack the confidence to pray because we have forgotten how special we are to God. We wonder if God will hear us. Aware of our sin, we feel unworthy. Or, we feel helpless when God’s will is different from our desire, and our prayers seem to have no effect.
Yet the Christian who struggles with prayer wants to do better. Jesus relied on prayer. How can we do less? We want to experience the relationship with God that prayer promises.
Help can come in the form of the mercy and grace that Heb. 4:16 refers to. We will receive these things, the Scripture says, if we can muster the confidence to approach God.
In turn, our acceptance of God’s grace and mercy can build our confidence to pray. The words “grace” and “mercy” both relate to forgiveness. Knowing that God will forgive us, we overcome the feeling that we are unworthy to pray.
“Grace to help us” also refers to God’s good will and favor. God knows our doubts, our lack of faith. And God accepts us, even loves us, anyway. Though prayer is mysterious to the modern mind, God grants us the grace to pray in spite of our doubts and questions.
Finally, Heb. 4:16 says we will receive help “in our time of need.” We all have times of special need, but a constant need we all share is to become more aware of the presence of God in our lives.
This need is especially great for the contemporary Christian, immersed in a world of the material and the secular. To touch the realm of the spiritual is our soul’s great need. Then God’s still, small voice can speak to us. One way to listen for it is to read the Bible in a prayerful way. This can be a step toward approaching God more confidently.
Whether our prayers are bold or feeble, let us pray: “Lord, teach us to pray.”
This column was reprinted with permission from the Mennonite Weekly Review.