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But I Don’t Feel Like Praying

by Alex Wilson

A big problem in Christian living is dryness. We know what we ought to do, but we don’t feel like doing it. Our duty is plain, but there is no desire to perform it.

We may experience this in many areas: “I ought to study the Bible more … or visit that lonely person … or write that letter of apology … or tell my office-mate about the Lord … or keep my body in better condition … or attend church regularly, but I don’t really want to, deep down inside. So even if I go ahead and do it, it wouldn’t be sincere. I’d just be a hypocrite, wouldn’t I?”

But perhaps this struggle between duty and desire, discipline and delight, is experienced regarding prayer more than anything else. Most of us should spend more time praying than we do, and we know it. But too often we don’t feel like praying, so we shirk it. How can we overcome our dryness? How can we become victors over our feelings, rather than victims of them? Here are some practical suggestions. (They apply to other duties too, not prayer only).

WHAT TO DO

  1. Pray anyway, whether you feel like it or not. We don’t send our children to school only on those days that they want to go. And we don’t go to our jobs only when we feel like it. So why should we offer our God any less honor and obedience than we offer our boss at work?

In prayer we should not only ask for blessings, but offer worship. Our moods may change, but Christ’s worthiness doesn’t. He deserves our praise and adoration just as much on those days when we have the spiritual blahs as He does when we feel bubbling over and ecstatic. Heb. 13:15 tells us to “offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually.” At those times when worship wells up spontaneously and overflows from our hearts, praise is not much of a sacrifice-it’s so easy! But when we have the blahs, we must sacrifice our wants to offer our Lord the praise He wants, and deserves.

When we don’t want to pray, we are in dangerous condition of heart, and need prayer more than ever. So, as someone said, “Pray hardest when it’s hardest to pray.” Here is another saying that has been challenging to me:

 Pray when you feel like it.

Pray when you don’t feel like it;

  Pray until you feel like it.

  1. Tell God how you feel. This avoids hypocrisy, and nullifies the excuse people sometimes make, “If I pray when I don’t feel like it, I’m only pretending-and that’s worse than not praying!” But you do not have to pretend. Go to God and say, “Oh Lord, I ought to pray now, so here I am. But I don’t want to be here. I’d rather be watching TV, or talking with my friends, or doing anything else than praying. My heart is cold, and empty of desire. But You want me to pray, and You deserve my praise, so I am calling on Your Name. Help me in my praying.”

Of course our Father already knows our hearts before we tell Him, so He won’t be shocked at the information! And it may be that a prayer that ascends from a heart as dry as dust-and-ashes brings great pleasure to Him. He realizes such praying is costly, therefore precious.

This whole matter of duty-versus-desire is a deep question. It appears in various forms. Two young hoodlums and drunkards in Scotland were converted. Thirty years later they met again and shared their experiences as Christians. One testified, ‘Tm still going on in the Christian life; and from the day of my conversion until the present I’ve never once had any further desire for a drink of wretched alcohol!” The other man replied, ”I’m afraid I can’t say that. I just wish I could. There’s never been a single day through all the years that I haven’t had the thirst for drink.” Then he added quickly, “But, thank God, I’ve never touched it from that day to this!” Which man experienced the greater victory? It’s hard to say, isn’t it? Or again, a recently-converted teenage boy once told Frank Mullins Sr., ‘I’m a better Christian than you. You don’t cuss but you don’t even want to. It’s no battle for you. I do want to, but don’t do it-so I’m better than you!”

In the same way it might be said that praying when you don’t want to is even better than wanting to. And yet, in the long run at least, it will be best and most God-honoring if we always want to pray and never want to cuss or get drunk! It is a grand thing to be able to say, “I cheat and lust and act grumpy or violent whenever I want to-but I never want to!” Yet we shall not have our wants and our wills perfected until we see our Lord face to face. Till then the battle continues. (Read the article, “Will and Emotions.”)

  1. Confess your sins, if you need to, and thus receive cleansing for your guilty conscience (1 John. 1:9). It is highly possible that your dryness stems from a sense of guilt. Maybe you have committed specific sins, or maybe you know you are arguing with God over some matter. In such cases, dryness is a call to us to repent and confess our sins to God. Perhaps, depending on the situation, we should confess also to people, and make restitution as well.

        But it needs to be said again, as we hinted earlier, that dryness is not always a sin nor the result of sin. It may be strictly physical or ­emotional, and due to such things as poor health, exhaustion, or the weather. So if we find ourselves feeling low, we should search our lives for sin. But if the Lord does not convict us of any specific sins when we ask Him to, or if our coldness remains even after we do confess the sins we know about, then we need not feel guilty about our coldness. Instead, we should try to get a good rest.

  1. Use Scripture to motivate yourself to pray. Normally we need not be the helpless victims of our moods. Though we cannot control our inner feelings totally by will-power) yet we can influence them to some extent by directing our thoughts. For instance, when we are discouraged we can start counting our blessings. When fearful, we can recall verses about the Lord’s might and loving care.

In the same way, when we don’t feel prayerful, we can turn to passages like Rev. 4-5, where the hosts in heaven adore their Maker and the Lamb. Reading about that might raise our spiritual temperature a few degrees. Or we might turn to David’s glowing testimony to God’s goodness in Psa. 34, and respond to his invitation, “Oh magnify Jehovah with me, and let us exalt his name together.” Or we might find motivation from some of the big promises that the Lord makes about hearing and answering prayer. This is important, because if we can anchor our requests to some definite promise of God it gives us greater confidence in our intercessions.

One of the greatest men of prayer in church history was George Mueller of England. During the early years of his Christian life he would start praying the first thing after arising from bed. But his mind often wandered and he lacked expectancy in his petitions. Then he began reading Scriptures before praying, and found this procedure greatly strengthened his devotional life. The truths of the Bible furnished fuel for prayer, as it were. He fervently recommended this practice in a pamphlet entitled Soul-Nourishment First.

  1. Take practical steps to help you pray. People differ, and what helps one person may hinder another. But some Christians pray better (in private) walking around than they do kneeling with bowed head. The latter posture makes them very sleepy and they doze off. Some in their daily devotions kneel for a while and then walk around praying for a while. Of course God doesn’t give us any rules for posture (though kneeling may incline us to be more reverent, in general) or say we must always pray with closed eyes.

To keep their minds from wandering, some people recommend praying out loud during their devotions. This helps them concentrate.

A third practical step may be to use a prayer-list. A prayerful schoolteacher made out a list of four different individuals to intercede for every day of the month. But there were still others she was burdened to pray for and her list finally reached eight prayer-targets daily per month-240 persons she prayed for by name! Other Christians use a weekly cycle: every Monday they pray especially for the lost, every Tuesday for governments and world-affairs, every Wednesday for the sick, every Thursday for missions, etc. Devise your own system and see if it doesn’t help you.

  1. Resist Satan. Prayer is spiritual warfare in which we must stand against the kingdom of darkness. But on that topic, the following testimony of John Stott (“The Battle of the Threshold”) speaks clearly and forcefully. Then Sidlow Baxter provides stimulating insights on emotional restlessness in his article, “Will and Emotions”.

      To review, when I don’t want to pray I should (1) pray anyway; (2) tell God I don’t want to; (3) examine myself for any sins that need confessing; (4) use Scripture to change my don’t-want into a want; (5) take practical steps; and (6) resist Satan. God help us to handle the blahs.


THE BATTLE OF THE THRESHOLD

           (Adapted from a message to preachers by John R. W. Stott of London, England.)

     Dr. Andrew Bonar, the nineteenth century Scottish minister, wrote in his journal these words: “By the grace of God and the strength of His Holy Spirit I desire to lay down this rule: Not to speak to man until I have spoken to God; not to do anything with my hands until I have been upon my knees; not to read letters or papers until I have read something of the holy Scriptures. With me, every time of prayer, or almost every time, begins with a conflict.”

I too have found that in prayer there is a great need to resist the Devil. Is this your experience-that when your prayer-time comes around, morning or evening or mid-day, a strange disinclination to pray descends upon you? I experience this again and again. I know I ought to stop what I am doing and begin to pray, but I don’t want to. And a thousand and one innocent alternatives present themselves to my mind: there is another letter I simply must write before going to bed, there is another telephone call to make, there is another chapter in the book to read, and so on.

Why is this? You see, it is completely illogical. We know very well that when we do truly have communion with God in prayer, it is the most deeply satisfying experience that we ever have. When we penetrate into the presence of God and our spirit is in communion with Him, it is the greatest delight possible to man. I trust that each one of us can say that. Now if that is so, then the logic is, we ought to want to pray. If this thing satisfies me more than anything else, I ought to want to do it. Instead of that, I do not want to do it. I feel disinclined to do it. I do not know anything in my own experience that proves the warfare of the devil more evidently than this strange phenomenon – that I don’t want to do the thing that satisfies me most!

I sometimes think about this pictorially: As I come to pray, God is there inviting me. He is in a garden, surrounded by a high stone wall. And there is a gate there, and I must pass through the gate into the garden, into God’s presence. But outside the gate, with drawn sword the Devil stands, to oppose every inch of the way, to stop my getting through to God.

The Devil knows much better than we do that the only way that we renew our strength is by waiting on the Lord. And he attacks our prayer-life more than anything else. Therefore before we get into the presence of God, there is very often this conflict Bonar mentioned, which I call “the battle of the threshold.” And brethren, too often we lose the battle of the threshold! For five or ten minutes it seems we cannot get through, we do not feel that we are in the presence of God, our spirit is downcast, and so we give up and go on our way. The Devil has kept us from communion with God.

Now how do we win the battle of the threshold? How do we get through? No Scripture has helped me more than James 4:7-8. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” My brethren, I humbly say to you that I have proved that verse again and again. I proved it this morning. I had a spiritual battle in my bedroom. I was assaulted by the Devil, but I took my stand upon this very verse and he fled. This is a definite promise of God. We must remember that the Devil seems to be much stronger than He really is. The Devil is a defeated enemy, and a great deal of his strength is bluff. We need to call his bluff, to resist him. For then he will flee, according to God’s promise.

It is a great thing to realize as we begin to pray that this dis­inclination to pray is diabolical in its origin. The New Testament writers are so much more aware than we are of the spiritual conflict in which we are involved. I guess there are days that we go through when we never even think about the Devil. And yet we are told that these principalities and powers are what we are wrestling with. And oh, my brethren, they are seeking to keep us from praying! Let us then take this promise, and as Scripture says, “by faith and patience inherit” it (Heb. 6:12). The way to inherit the promises of God is not only by faith but also by patience. Sometimes we have to take hold of a promise and persevere, holding on to it until we inherit it. Hold on until the Devil flees. Then, as James says, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”    


WILL AND EMOTIONS

   By  J. Sidlow Baxter

Most of us need to lift our prayer life from the tyranny of our moods.  Let me give one illustration, a leaf out of my own diary.

When I entered the ministry in 1928 I determined that I would be the most self-disciplined preacher in the history of the world. Talk about perfectionism! Talk about making plans for the day! They must have been a marvel to both angels and demons.

But, just as the stars in their courses fought against Sisera long ago, so the stars in their courses seemed set on smashing my well ­made plans to smithereens. Oh, I would start. You know, I’d rise at 5:30. Then an hour and a half of prayer and Bible reading. Half an hour for breakfast. Thirty minutes for a constitutional – to walk up to the woods, breathe deep and, when nobody was looking, run now and again – that’s a constitutional.

I had everything all planned out; it was wonderful.

Now I won’t take time telling you all the subtle subterfuges which Satan used to trip me up and trick me out of keeping my plans. But I found that with increasing administrative duties and responsi­bilities in the pastorate my plans were going haywire. My time for prayer was getting crowded out and my periods of study with the Bible were getting scarcer.

That was bad enough, but it was worse when I began to get used to it. And then I began excusing myself. My prayer life became a case of sinning and repenting. Every time I got down to pray I had to start weeping and asking the Lord’s forgiveness. I had to repent that I hadn’t prayed more and ask Him to help me to do better in the future. All such things really take the pleasure out of praying!

Then it all came to a crisis. At a certain time one morning I looked at my watch. According to my plan, for I was still bravely persevering, I was to withdraw for an hour of prayer.

I looked at my watch and it said: “Time for prayer, Sid.” But I looked at my desk and there was a miniature mountain of correspondence. And Conscience said, “You ought to answer those letters.” So, as we say in Scotland, I swithered. I vacillated. Shall it be letters? Shall it be prayer? Shall it be letters? Prayer? Letters? Yes, no. Yes, no. And while I was swithering a velvety little voice began to speak in my inner consciousness: “Look here, Sid, what’s all this bother? You know very well what you should do. The practical thing is to get those letters answered. You can’t afford the time for prayer this morning. Get those letters answered.”

But I still swithered, and the voice began to reinforce what it had said. It said. “Look here, Sid, don’t you think the Lord knows all the busy occupations which are taking your time? You’re converted, you’re born again, and you’re in the ministry. People are crowding in; you’re having conversions. Doesn’t that show that God is pleased with you? And even if you can’t pray, don’t worry too much about it. Look, Sid, you’d better face up to it. You’re not one of the spiritual ones!”

I don’t want to use extravagant phrases, but if you had plunged a dagger into my bosom it couldn’t have hurt me more. “Sid, you are not one of the spiritual ones.”

I’m not the introspective type, but that morning I took a good look into Sidlow Baxter. And 1 found that there was an area of me that did not want to pray. I had to admit it. It didn’t want to pray. But I looked more closely and found that there was a part of me that did. The part that didn’t was the emotions, and the part that did was the intellect and the will.

Suddenly I found myself asking Sidlow Baxter: “Are you going to let your will be dragged about by your changeful emotions?” And I said to my Will: “Will, are you ready for prayer?” And Will said, “Here I am, I’m ready.” And I said, “Come on, Will, we will go.”

So Will and I set off to pray. But the minute we turned our footsteps to go and pray all my emotions began to talk: “We’re not coming, we’re not coming, we’re not coming.” And I said to Will, “Will, can you keep on?” And Will said, “Yes, if you can.” So Will and I, we dragged off those wretched emotions and we went to pray, and stayed an hour in prayer.

If you had asked me afterwards, “Did you have a good time?” do you think I could have said yes? A good time? No, it was a fight all the way!

What I would have done without the companionship of Will, I don’t know. In the middle of the most earnest intercessions I suddenly found one of the principal emotions way out on the golf course, playing golf. And I had to run to the golf course and say, “Come back.” And a few minutes later I found another of the emotions; it traveled one and a half days in advance and it was in the pulpit preaching a sermon I had not even yet prepared. And I had to say, “Come back.”

I certainly couldn’t have said we had a good time. It was exhausting, but we did it.

The next morning came. I looked at my watch and it was time.

I said to Will, “Come on, Will, it’s time for prayer.” And all the emotions began to pull the other way and I said, “Will, can you keep on?” And Will said, “Yes, in fact I think I’m stronger after the struggle yesterday morning,” So Will and I went in again.

The same thing happened. Rebellious, tumultuous, uncooperative emotions. If you had asked me, “Have you had a good time?” I would have had to tell you with tears, “No, the heavens were like brass. It was a job to concentrate. I had an awful time with the emotions.”

This went on for about two and a half weeks. But Will and I stuck it out. Then one morning during that third week I looked at my watch and said, “Will, it’s time for prayer. Are you ready?” And Will said, “Yes, I’m ready.”

And just as we were going in I heard one of my chief emotions say to the others, “Come on, fellows, there’s no use wearing ourselves out; they’ll go on whatever we do,”

That morning we didn’t have any hilarious experience or wonderful visions with heavenly voices and rapture. But Will and I were able with less distraction to get on with praying. And that went on for another two or three weeks. In fact, Will and I had begun to forget the emotions. I would say, “Will, are you ready for prayer?” And Will replied, “Yes, I’m always ready.”

Suddenly one day when Will and I were presenting ourselves at the throne of heaven, one of the chief emotions shouted “Hallelujah!” and all the other emotions suddenly shouted “Amen” For the first time the whole territory of James Sidlow Baxter was happily coordinated in prayer. God suddenly became real and heaven was wide open and Christ was there and the Holy Spirit was moving and I knew that all the time God had been listening.

The point is this: the validity and the effectuality of prayer are not determined or even affected by the subjective psychological condition of the one who prays. The thing that makes prayer valid and vital and moving and operative is “My faith takes hold of God’s truth.”

       Brothers and sisters, soon now we shall be meeting Him. When you meet Him, and I speak reverently, when you feel His arms around you, and when you embrace as well as adore Him, don’t you want to be able to look into that wonderful face and say, “Lord, at last I’m seeing face-to face the One I have for years known heart to heart.

Why don’t you resolve that from this time on you will be a praying Christian? You will never, never, never regret it! Never!                                                                                                                          

                             (The above 2 articles after Bro. Alex’s  article was originally from The Alliance Witness.)

Alex Wilson was editor of the Word and Work print magazine for many years. He also was editor of the online version for many years until he was no longer able.  He was minister of the Portland Avenue Church of Christ in Louisville, KY for many years. He went home to be with the Lord in 2017.




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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33