March 5, 2014

Why neglect prayer?

Prayer is linked to the blessing of a productive, fruitful life. If I am not praying, then a phrase from the Song of Solomon describes my situation, “ . . . my own vineyard I have not kept!” (Song of Solomon 1:6)

Jesus told His disciples a parable to encourage their prayer life and “not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). From the context, lack of prayer usually means lack of faith. I also get discouraged when prayer is not answered. However, not praying can mean that I have unconfessed sin in my life, or I am trying to handle life’s challenges on my own rather than seeking the guidance and power of God. I can blame prayerlessness on busyness, but if I am overwhelmed and do not pray, there are far more serious issues than a loaded schedule.

Today’s devotional reading points to Matthew 5 for indications about attitudes toward prayer. I can see several connections in what Jesus said . . . 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Poverty of Spirit is helplessness. Instead of despairing over my weakness, I need to consider that being impoverished is a blessed condition and let it draw me to God who has already placed me in His kingdom. He will take care of my emptiness.  

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This could mean grief over a loss, or grief over my sinfulness. When a loss breaks my heart, what better comfort is there than that which God gives? When sin fills me with sorrow, there is no other way to find comfort but to confess that sin in prayer.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Meekness is an attitude of utter dependence that is certain God will give me what I need. I don’t like feeling helpless, but I do like experiencing God’s responses to my needs — needs that I have expressed in prayer. Neglecting prayer to “bite the bullet” and “do it myself” means missing the glory of receiving His grand gifts.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” The usual response to this hunger is “try harder” – but it does not work. It only frustrates me until I eventually must go on my knees before God and admit that I cannot satisfy my own desire to be a righteous person. Far better to pray in the first place.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” suggests that if I am not treating others with the same grace that God treats me. When that happens, I cease to enjoy His mercy and stop praying as that well appears to be dried up. That is, if prayer becomes dry, I should not stop praying, but ask God to show me what I am doing that blocks His answers. 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” This is perhaps the most precious promise of all. While some say this points to the future and is about seeing God in eternity, I know that sense of seeing Him at work in my life and of having a deeper vision of Him when I pray. Obviously purity of heart is vital to this for sin puts up a barricade. Even though Christ died for my sin and I am accepted by God because of Him, and even though nothing in me can earn or deserve the favor of God, when I harbor impurity in my heart, my prayer life is hindered. As the psalmist said,If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18) 

Even with all this and more from Jesus’ words in Matthew 5, neglecting prayer isn’t all about what it does to my life. Prayer is also about giving God the praise that is due Him. For that, we are to, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him and bless his name!” (Psalm 100:4) 

When I neglect prayer, then I have also turned my back on God. 

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