Tim Challies posted some good thoughts on prayer recently in Prayerlessness is Selfishness after reading H.B Charles, Jr. book. I haven’t read the book, but I am a firm believer in prayer and believe that signals dependence on God. Well, of course this is what Challies is driving at – that when we don’t pray, we are not depending on God and with that comes the statement ‘I can do this myself’
“The things you pray about are the things you trust God to handle. The things you neglect to pray about are the things you trust you can handle on your own.” – H.B. Charles, Jr.
And I’ve heard this many times before. It’s not that I disagree with the statement, for I certainly do think that can be a signal of self-reliance. But, I think there is another option that typically gets overlooked, that I fear far too many Christians experience: Discouragement.
It is one thing to not bring things to God in prayer with an underlying assumption that we can handle it ourselves. It is something entirely different to bring Him everything in prayer in faith believing that He will take care of it, completely dependent on Him, only to be met with…Silence. And by silence, I mean inactivity. Nothing.
Now, I do believe that God uses times of silence to test our hearts, purge out sin and build our faith in Christ and be found in Him. We should not expect that He will immediately act upon our requests or otherwise be some genie in a bottle that grants our every wish. There is a reason for dry times and seemingly lack of movement on God’s part. To be sure, it is very well a process of divine discipline (cf. Hebrews 12)
Extended delays on multiple fronts can be wearying. It can make that Christian who cries out to God repeatedly get discouraged and feel abandoned. It is not that we are abandoned but it sure can feel that way. I personally don’t think there’s any greater feeling of despair than to feel abandoned by God and left to our own devices. Because if the one person we DO trust does not seem attentive to our concerns, what hope is there?
Please allow me to speak some real stuff from the heart. If you’ve never experienced this, then God bless you. I don’t know what percentage minority that would make you. And if you haven’t felt this way, the tendency is to castigate that Christian who has experienced this. For those that have experienced this kind of despair, it can get to the point where it seems prayer doesn’t matter. The knuckles get worn out from persistent knocking on the door and it hurts too much to keep knocking. Is that a fatalistic attitude? Yes, probably. But it is a real attitude that emerges through dashed hope and wondering why God does not care enough to tend to concerns. They don’t necessarily have to be prayers for self but prayers for loved ones and various trying circumstances that wear on the soul.
Now I don’t bring this up to excuse prayerlessness only to bring awareness to another option. Because I’ve observed we can get really glib with trite formulas about why people do or do not do the things they do, prayerlessness being no exception. We might brush it off as me-centeredness or selfish praying, anything to deflect real battles of the soul. But how do you know that? It is quite presumptuous of us to really know what that person is really facing or how selfish their prayers are. The reality is when life gets hard and we turn to God and he doesn’t seem to be there, it is discouraging and you wonder what is the point. It can take a hit on your prayer life.
But, this is the real battle, to hang in there in prayer when it does seem hopeless and you’re questioning whether God is really there and cares. It is a battle of walking by faith and believing in what God said over what the circumstances say. That of course presumes that we are aware of what He has spoken in His written word. The battle is in trusting God despite the fact that he may appear to be absent, believing Jesus’ words that we should not expect rocks for bread. The battle is to keep praying with hope and expectation, trusting that God will take care of it despite what it looks like.
In the meantime, we need to realize this battle is real and is another reason for prayerlessness. It also reminds me of the importance of intercession, to stand in the gap for those who have become too weary to pray.