Prayer seems like it should be easy but in my experience it can be really difficult. I’m not alone. As a church we brainstormed some of the challenges we face when trying to pray. Things we came up with included distractions, fears, guilt, and time management. These are real obstacles. We wrestle with them but it doesn’t mean we have to settle. These obstacles can be overcome. I’m confident of this because God says when we truly seek him, he will make sure he is found (Jer. 29:13). So take comfort. As you take on obstacles in prayer God will show up.
Obstacle 1 – I don’t know what to say.
Prayer involves speaking. Sometimes this is out loud, sometimes internally. Either way prayer says something. But prayer doesn’t need to be full of words. It would be weird if you just went up to someone, gave a 5 minute monologue and walked off. The other person would be shell-shocked. But isn’t this what we do with God sometimes? Real prayer isn’t a monologue but a dialogue. When we feel as though we don’t know what to say maybe we should be listening for God to speak to us.
Obstacle 2 – I don’t know how to say what I want.
So many people have a preconceived idea of how prayer should sound. It’s easy to get up in the notion that prayer has to have a certain form or shape. Part of this comes from set prayers. Set prayers can have enormous value in the Christian life. They can bring a richness and unity to our prayers. But when I’m by myself they don’t resonate. The way they are formed and their language isn’t what I would use. If we think prayer has to sound a certain way it will always be a struggle.
The truth is we don’t need to make prayer sound a particular way. Just think about prayer in the Bible. There’s poetry, angry demands, set prayers, individual prayer and words spoken to Jesus. They each sound different. Form is not important to God – coming to him is. Jesus invites us to call God Father. This is relational. As a dad I don’t demand my children use specific ways to speak to me, I just want to be part of their lives.
Obstacle 3 – I’m not very good at praying.
This obstacle can be hard to overcome because it is so feelings based. The reality is that there is no bad prayer. That said, prayer is something that can be learnt. Jesus’ disciples make this clear when they ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. Why can’t we do the same? We can ask others to help us pray. We can learn by listening. We can learn by practice.
Obstacle 4 – Prayer is too hard.
It’s true. Sometimes prayer is hard work. It shouldn’t be but it is. It doesn’t have to be. One reason why we find prayer hard is because we put pressure on ourselves. It may seem hard because we are focused on form or the words we use. We may find it hard because we believe we need to pray for a certain length of time. The things that make prayer hard are general self-imposed. Learn to push these aside and embrace simple life of prayer.
Obstacle 5 – I don’t feel like God is nearby.
Prayer is radically different from other forms of conversations. Conversations are generally concrete. We see the other person. We hear them. We smell them. We feel them. Prayer isn’t like this. It can feel as though we are simply speaking into the air. This is the most difficult obstacle. Some people have special places they like to go to pray. It may be part of the house or outside. Either way it can help us sense God’s presence. Irrespective of this it is worth remembering that in the birth narratives Jesus was called ‘Emmanuel’. It means God is with us. When you sense God nearby, God is with you. When you don’t feel his presence, God is still with you.