In three different places in his letters, Paul makes prayer sound like hard work. In Romans, Paul asks the Christians to “strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.” (Romans 15:30) Toward the end of Ephesians, Paul warns them to “keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18) The Colossians are told to “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving,” (Colossians 4:2) and are reminded of how Epaphras is “always struggling on your behalf in his prayers.” (Colossians 4:12)
Striving… persevering… watching… struggling… is this prayer we’re talking about or and Olympic event?
We learn here that real prayer will be a struggle – a spiritual exercise that requires the same self-discipline as physical exercise. Your prayer life will have to overcome obstacles. Here are just a few:
- Negligence – Make a firm commitment to pray daily for a friend in need and you’ll see this obstacle raise its head on day one. The enemy does not want you to pray. He would rather you read (or even write) a book on prayer than actually pray. Your mind will be pulled toward trivial (or even important) things in any attempt to thwart that commitment. Only one person on earth will know whether you kept your promise to pray. Overcoming negligence is to remember the spiritual war going on beyond this earth and stepping up to play your part through prayer.
- Impatience – What should we do when the things we’ve requested in prayer again and again have not come about? We should pray. If our souls are moved with passion to pray for circumstances to change, Jesus teaches us to “always pray and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1) We become frustrated over unanswered prayer and the temptation is to give up the effort. Jesus calls us to be persistent in prayer. Overcoming impatience is to persevere until a clear answer comes.
- Routine – When you strive to make prayer a part of every day and begin to make it a habit, a whole new obstacle arises – routine. We all fall into patterns of praying where we’ll repeat certain phrases or mention the same concerns in sequence. The words of my prayers can begin to sound stale. It is a struggle to force myself to return to the fire that ignited my prayers to begin with. Have I stopped to remember the tears of my grieving brother? Have I recalled what it’s like to face surgery or await test results? Have I allowed my heart to imagine what a war-torn village looks like? Overcoming routine is to ensure that words like “peace” and “health” do not lose their magnitude.
Prayer is the Christian’s engagement in the spiritual battle. We should expect these obstacles and many more when we commit to bringing our requests before God. If prayer has become and easy pastime, something is wrong. If prayer is a struggle for you, take heart – the Bible said it would be. Keep up the fight.