In D.A. Carson’s book, A Call to Spiritual Reformation (now over 20 years since its first publication), readers are confronted with the question, “What is our greatest spiritual need?” Carson takes readers through the various writings of the Apostle Paul as a means of answering that question. For reformation and renewal to take place, we must be a people who are about the business of prayer. It is truly our greatest need. Halfway through his book, he pauses to share his observations on the various excuses we give for our neglect of prayer. I have taken a moment to reflect on these excuses and want to propose the question to readers: “Which one(s) may describe you?”
1) “I Am Too Busy to Pray”
Perhaps the quintessential reason for the neglect of prayer, especially for Americans, is the busyness of life. Carson observes, “The result is that we seldom take time to think, to meditate, to wonder, to analyze; we seldom take time to pray” (111). Long busy work days are are medicated not by the salve of prayer, but the panacea of entertainment. Busyness often leads to spiritual laziness. The excuse of busyness is most exemplified in the example of Martha in Luke 10. While Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, Martha concerned herself with the busyness of serving others. Though service to others is commendable, service can quickly turn to busyness anddistract from the greater task of dwelling with Jesus.
2) “I feel Too Dry Spiritually to Pray”
As a minister working in a church (and as a seminary student), I’ve heard this one many times before. In fact, I’ve probably cited it as a personal excuse on more than one occasion. Though its true we may have spells of spiritual dryness, Scripture no where allows us to use this as an excuse to neglect prayer. If anything, this should be a greater impetus for prayer. Carson observes that these excuse is driven by two presuppositions: 1) Our approach to God should be tied to how we feel and 2) Our obligation to pray is diminished when our feeling to pray is diminished (114-5). A cursory reading of the Psalms would quickly reveal that despite our perceived spiritual dryness, our call to pray stands.
3) “I Feel No Need to Pray”
Though Carson’s reflection on this excuse differs, I feel as if this excuse easily arises from an inadequate view of God’s sovereignty. The thought goes something like this: “If God is in control, why do I need to pray?” Christians everywhere continue to deal with the tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s free-will, but more often this excuse comes from laziness rather than internal theological debate. While Scripture affirms God’s sovereign will, God’s people are consistently implored to go to God in prayer. English Calvinist Baptists in the early 19th century were responsible for launching prayer-driven missionary activity knowing full well (they were no weak-blooded Calvinists) that God was sovereign and salvation belonged to Him alone. A recent article catalogs how Calvinists throughout history have affirmed missions, prayer and evangelism.
4) “I Am Too Bitter to Pray”
Let’s be honest, its not always easy to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, especially when that persecution may be coming from the one sitting on the pew in front of you. We may be harboring bitterness regarding a situation and therefore feel too sour to pray. Carson remarks, “It is very hard to pray with compassion and zeal for someone we much prefer to resent” (119). Bitterness causes strife, envy, dysfunctional relationships and scars and divides the church. When we let it become an excuse for not praying then create an environment in which these sins can take root and destroy the fellowship of the church. Citing Ephesians 4:31-32, Carson reminds readers of “the matchless forgiveness we have received because Christ bore our guilt” (120).
5) “I Am Too Ashamed to Pray.”
Shame causes retreat and avoidance. When we’re embarrassed or ashamed, we are often unwilling to face the ones who are aware of that shame or embarrassment. Ever since Adam was ashamed to face God in the garden, man has been ashamed of their sin and unwilling to face their Creator. Though sin naturally leads to guilt and shame, it should never end there. David’s exclamations in Psalm 51 demonstrate that when sin occurs, our only relief is to cry out to God in prayerful repentance. Only then we will find the relief from self-imposed shame and guilt. We must run to God in prayer “back to the freedom of conscience and the boldness…that follow in the wake of the joyful knowledge that we have been accepted by a holy God because of his grace” (121).
6) “I Am Content with Mediocrity.”
When we are content with mediocrity, we dismiss the awesomeness of a God who deserves our constant admiration and prayerful requests. Spiritual mediocrity comes when we are satisfied with the bare minimum. We want Christ, Carson observes, but we don’t want to be inconvenienced by him. This causes a dysfunctional prayer life. James would not allow those congregations to settle for a mediocre spiritual life; he implored his readers saying, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:7-10 ESV). May we heed these words against a mediocre prayer life.
So which excuses do you often fall for? What must we do to escape their grasp? Pray. Struggle in prayer as you struggle to pray. Pray that you may see through the allure of these excuses as they encroach upon your life. May we turn to God in prayer to combat our excuses not to. May we be a people who persevere in prayer despite our temptations not to.