Do you like to pray? Is talking with God something you look forward to–is it the highlight of your morning, day, or night? Or is it something you put off as long as you can?
“With my whole heart I have sought You.” (Psalm 119:10a)
Human beings don’t want to spend time with God. Even though they previously enjoyed God’s presence, Adam and Eve hid from God after they sinned rather than face Him, and things haven’t changed much since. Because it’s human nature to stay as far away from God as possible, we shouldn’t feel surprIsed that those who reject Christ don’t feel like praying. The Bible says, “…the carnal mind is enmity against [at odds with] God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” (Romans 8:7) But what of us who follow Christ? Why are there times we don’t particularly feel drawn to seek His presence? I believe that there are two reasons we might not feel like praying: because we have grieved the Holy Spirit of God, or because we are distracted and exhausted.
To begin, let’s take another look at Romans 8, quoted above:
“Those who live according to the flesh [those who live to please themselves] have their minds set on what the flesh desires [on what they/their sin nature/their bodies want]; those who live in accordance with [who listen to/who obey] the Spirit have their minds set on [think and meditate on, do] what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you [How do we know if the Spirit of God lives in us? “Those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their mind set on what the Spirit desires.”] And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” (Romans 8:5-9 NIV)
Christians can grieve the Spirit. We are told that “the mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God,” and while this passage is typically used to describe the unregenerate, I believe it also accurately explains why we may not always feel like praying. As Christians, for example, we can still choose to indulge our flesh and watch a movie instead of studying the Bible, or stay up late on Saturday, knowing we will not be able to attend church the next morning as a result. We may spend too much time getting ready, thereby failing to allow enough travel time and speed to be punctual; we may eat more than our bodies need or what we know is bad for us.
Granted, most people would be tempted to deride us for our scruples regarding these very “modest” sins, but they are fleshly desires even as sexual immorality or theft are. We tend to classify sin on a sliding scale from not too bad at all to genuinely atrocious (and some sins certainly have greater repercussions), but God judges differently–He speaks of living according to the flesh versus living according to the Spirit, and exhorts us to set our minds on what the Spirit desires because indulging our flesh creates a rift in our fellowship with Him.
The second reason we might not feel like praying is because we’re distracted. Ironically, the more we have, the more we are at risk of becoming preoccupied and engaged by that which is not Christ, and less inclined to actually seek Him. God understood this tendency and warned the Israelites:
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord…” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12 NIV)
There is much in this world that threatens (and frequently succeeds) in distracting us from God. We really don’t need much more than Him (I Timothy 6:8 says, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content”), yet this world frequently obscures Christ’s true value. This is why Jesus told the parable of the sower:
“Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22) There are many things–good and bad–that distract us from God. Both the worries that occupy our minds and the pleasures that fill our lives distract us away from the simple purity of a love for Christ, and can cause us to become unfruitful because rather than craving intimacy with Christ we become too preoccupied with everything else.
I love the saying “Everything – Christ = Nothing, yet Christ + Nothing = Everything” because it is true. Without Jesus I can have everything this world has to offer, yet it will not suffice because I do not have the only One who matters; but if I have Him, I really need nothing else because I have all that matters.
But are there any situations which God can use to impress on us this truth with greater acuity? To answer this, let’s examine what it is that tends to draw people closer to Him–what makes them uncharacteristically interested in God and motivates them to especially desire intimacy with Him.
Death is one of the things that motivates people to seek God more. Whether because of increasing age, illness, or the death of a friend or loved one, coming face to face with death tends to make us interested in God and what comes next, perhaps because for the first time the temporary nature of our existence here seems real.
Persecution and deprivation are other circumstances that tend to open our eyes to the permanence of only one treasure–Christ. When everything else we have and value in this life is stripped away, it becomes painfully obvious that all that remains is God.
So in conclusion, why might I not feel drawn to spending time with my Savior in prayer? I might not desire fellowship with Him because of the same reason Adam and Eve didn’t–because I have been indulging my flesh instead of having my mind set on what the Spirit desires. Alternately, I may have allowed the things of this world–its worries and concerns, its pleasures, or even my material blessings–to crowd Him out.
Help me set my mind on what Your Spirit desires, and please don’t let the cares or pleasures of this life distract me from seeking You with my whole heart! Amen.