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).


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 challenged me for years:

Pray when you feel like it;
Pray when you don’t feel like it;
Pray until you feel like it.

2. 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, “I’m 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 newly-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.

3. 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.

4. 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. Thetruths of the Bible furnished fuel for prayer, as it were. He fervently recommended this practice in a pamphlet entitled Soul-Nourishment First.

5. 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 gen- eral) 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.

6. 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. I have been blessed by it, and highly recommend it to you.

To review, when I don’t want to pray I should:

  1. Pray anyway.
  2. Confess to the Lord that I don’t really want to pray—at least now!
  3. Examine myself for any sins I need to confess.
  4. Use Scripture to change my don’t-want into a want.
  5. Take practical steps that may help me focus more clearly.
  6. Resist Satan in the name of Christ our Lord.

May God help us to handle the blahs.