Prayer Life Paralysis
Have you ever felt like everybody else is “getting prayer” except for you? I know I’ve struggled with that feeling so many times. I want to grow in my prayer life, but how do you even describe what that means?
Maturity in prayer is hard or maybe even impossible to quantify. Does it have to do with how many hours you spend praying a week? Is it a question of “quantity versus quality”? Do I have to have some sort of emotional reaction that leaves me overwhelmed and in tears, or do I need more than a magic percent of my petitions granted if I want to call my quiet times “effective”?
I think most of us agree that prayer is an area in which we would like to grow. I know it is for me. My problem is, even if I set aside time to pray, I end up distracted and discouraged. I feel like I’m wasting God’s time as well as my own. There’s a nagging voice in the back of my head that says I should be doing this better by now.
Rom. 8:26 echoes this frustration: “We do not know what to pray for as we ought” (ESV), but the rest of that verse offers such tremendous and glorious hope: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
Unfortunately, even with the help of the Holy Spirit, it’s hard to persevere in our prayer lives when we keep facing daily challenges, frustrations, and distractions.
I find it helps if I can identity the root of the problem. So where does the problem lie? Sometimes I get so overwhelmed with how many things I should be praying for that I hardly pray at all. It’s the sheer number of options that gets me!
I’ve never once ordered a fancy coffee at Starbucks. Know why? I get to the front of the counter and see way too many choices and hardly know what any of them are. So I order a black coffee, or if I am feeling brave, a latte. I’m like that in my prayer life, too. I have sick friends, hurting friends, unsaved friends… how in the world am I supposed to organize my thoughts and cover all of them? That doesn’t even begin to mention all the missionaries and all the countries and all the lost people groups in the world that I wish I could pray for more effectively.
When we get overwhelmed by all the prayer needs out there, let’s remember that praying thoroughly for a small handful of people and issues is far better than giving up before we even try. I like to remember Jesus’s words in Luke 16:10, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (NIV). If we’re faithful praying for a few people or issues that God brings to mind, I believe He’ll increase our prayer burdens as well as our capacity to cover these issues in intercession like we should.
If you are like me and sometimes struggle with this concept of “prayer life paralysis,” here’s a few quick suggestions.
1.) Don’t be afraid to start small.
“Who dares despise the day of small things?” (Zech. 4:10, NIV) Maybe you’re not the prayer warrior you hope to be; that’s no excuse to give up trying. If you have 10 unsaved friends and feel overwhelmed praying for them all, ask God to help you narrow down your prayer list to one or two and make a commitment to pray for them each day. As you grow in your focus, it will be easier for you to add to your prayer list later on.
2.) Set specific goals.
Instead of just saying, “I want to be a better pray-er,” come up with one actionable goal you can set for yourself. But be realistic. “I’m going to spend five minutes praying for my family each evening before bed” is a more reasonable goal than “I’m going to spend every minute of my hour-long commute talking to God.”
3.) Ask God what He wants you to focus on.
Maybe you’re sweating because you’re not praying for your next-door neighbor, but really, God’s calling you to pray for the family your church just sent out as missionaries. It’s true that all people need our prayers, but if you ask God to help you focus on what He wants you to be praying for, that might narrow down your focus so you don’t feel so overwhelmed by all the prayer needs out there.
Just like the little toddler who’s just learning how to walk, we shouldn’t give up because we can’t run a marathon. Instead, we should keep getting up and persevering in prayer even if our progress can only be measured in centimeters.