The Power and Frustration of Prayer

By President Randall A. Bach 

I am always fascinated when I see videos that capture crises. Most frequently, you hear voices of the affected exclaiming, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” over and over. In times of crisis, it seems like most people suddenly become aware of their dependence upon God, even people who otherwise do not know Him. I would like to communicate today with people who do know God and how to call upon Him.

Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, NLT). Nothing means nothing. No thing. Jesus stated this fact after describing Himself as a vine and us who abide, or remain in Him, as branches. He gives us an illustration that beautifully describes a dependent relationship which involves a superior (vine) and a subordinate (branches). The subordinate is dependent upon the superior and knows it. A primary vehicle of communication in this dependent relationship with God is prayer. Prayer includes worship, listening, and intercession. Author E.M. Bounds wrote, “Four things let us ever keep in mind: God hears prayer, God heeds prayer, God answers prayer, and God delivers by prayer.”1 Jesus made those truths crystal clear when He promised, “But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!” (John 15:7).

Maybe you are not one of those people who delight to dive from the high diving board into the prayer pool. Go ahead and start where the water isn’t as deep.

The Bible is packed with powerful admonitions and promises regarding prayer. God very obviously prioritizes prayer as an intended mainstay of Christian life, fullness, fruitfulness, and intimacy with Him. Books have been written assailing prayerlessness as the bane of individual and corporate Christian life. Powerful testimonies have been written about the incomparable joy of communing with the Lord in prayer, about how time seems to disappear as people are enveloped by the presence of God while in prayer. Why would anyone who loves God, desires to be obedient, and wants to be all that He commands not be absolutely consumed by and with prayer?

I Have a Confession

Yes. Why not be consumed with prayer? How often I have posed that question to myself. I confess to you that I have not been one of those people who always eagerly dives deeply into and dwells in the waters of prayer. I could write an article extolling the power of prayer that encourages and inspires some people about prayer while perhaps also discouraging others who feel defeated by seeming to fall far short of being the pray-ers they know they should be. I believe it is of more value to simply be candid that I have not always reached a depth of prayer which would be viewed as exemplary. Before I completely disappoint or shock many people, let me hasten to clarify, I absolutely do pray! I talk with the Lord throughout the day. I honor a morning devotional time in the Word and prayer. I intercede for others in prayer. I love the Lord with all of my heart and have dedicated my life wholeheartedly to serving Him. I belong to Him. I steadfastly trust Him with my life and calling. However, delighting to spend time in prayer does not come as natural to me as it seems to for many other people. I can hear the response, “But Randall, don’t you know that….?” Yes! I know! This isn’t about what I know. Knowledge is not the issue. Awareness about what the Word of God says about prayer is not a problem. It is what I do about prayer.

Recognizing that I should chafe less over devoting time to prayer, I signed up for a two-plus-day prayer retreat with denominational peers. It was led by a wonderful servant of the Lord whose passion is prayer. He is able to teach and lead others to join him in prayer without administering an indictment of guilt against participants who are not where he is in his prayer life. Facing more than two days of doing nothing but praying, I thought, “Oh my. Can I handle that without veering off to think about the things I need to do? What about the things I could be doing during that time – for the Lord, of course?” I sensed that, although unspoken, I was not alone in that room with my challenge. My fellow CEOs were also drivers, dedicated servants of the Lord who maximized their time and energy in pursuit of their callings and responsibilities. That retreat seemed to last a lot longer than it should have. I wish now we could have devoted some of our time to discuss our prayer challenges with complete candor instead of maintaining our appearance of dedication to prayer. I believe we would have felt safe enough with each other to be that candid.

It is always encouraging to know that someone else shares your struggle. That is why I write this piece about prayer, because I know many readers, including many leaders, will quietly identify with what I confess. I am not here to condemn you. Rather, I hope to encourage you.

Reasons People Struggle with Prayer

It seems to me there are several types of people who love God but struggle with spending time with Him in prayer.

  • Action people – doers, are hands-on in their orientation. They are fine with praying and do pray, but prayer tends to be mostly about briefly asking God to accompany and help them with their tasks and needs. These tend to be take-charge people, drivers who prefer to personally handle matters and only bother God when they really “need” Him.
  • Faith-anchored people trust that God is going before and blessing them. In fact, all is going so well that there does not seem to be a need to spend inordinate amounts of time in prayer. God knows their needs. It is like a presumed understanding without having to talk much about it.
  • People who find communication of any kind difficult. They struggle with what to say in prayer. How do you talk with God when it is difficult to even talk to people, when you are a person of few words?
  • People who are haunted by a feeling of unforgiveness. They know they have sinned, perhaps in a big way. Although they have asked God to forgive them, they are not convinced that He has because they do not deserve forgiveness. How can you converse with God when He knows what you have done and is probably super disappointed? Uncomfortable!
  • Relationally guarded people who are not comfortable with developing close relationships. For whatever reasons, they feel safer when keeping distance between themselves and others. Intimacy is threatening. They might be friendly but do not let others see inside the barriers they put up. They are protectively private. Although not by intent, those people can place God in the same outsider category of relationship. That makes prayer awkward and too revealing of self.

How to Develop Your Prayer Life

If you are someone who struggles with spending time in prayer, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Start with discipline, although discipline is not the end. Commit yourself to a consistent plan for regularly engaging the Lord in prayer along with reading from His Word. Even if it feels like your prayers go no farther than the ceiling, hang in there with discipline. God really is listening, and He is pleased that you are spending time with Him.
  2. Give yourself a track to run on. When you struggle with what to say, follow a plan such as ACTS: A=Adoration, C=Confession, T=Thanksgiving, S=Supplication. Don’t dismiss an acrostic-devised plan as corny. It guides you to be purposeful and prioritized in prayer.
  3. Always begin with gratefulness. Express thankfulness to the Lord for every good thing in your life. Can’t find anything? Don’t make it complicated. Are you breathing? There is a place to start! If prayer involves relationship, and it should, then remember that you don’t begin a relationship by asking for things.
  4. Submit yourself to His will for and in your life. This is central to developing a prayer life. You need to be cooperating with God instead of contending with Him. Prayer is not very inviting if you are fighting inside with yourself over following God’s direction and commands.
  5. Look upon prayer as a gateway to a deepened relationship with God. It is what He desires. Relationships do not quickly happen; they are developed. As that happens, prayer becomes more than one-way communication. You can actually reach a place of being able to hear from Him through the Holy Spirit. In fact, when your relationship with Him extends to allowing the Holy Spirit to fill and consume you, you are then able to converse in a special language given by Jesus. He will speak through you, to you. That is rarely the starting point, but it should definitely be a desired high point in prayer.

If you are an avid and devoted person of prayer who loves to become disconnected from time when communing with the Lord in prayer, one who has tapped into the surging waters of the Spirit in prayer, I celebrate you! You form the foundation upon which God does anything and everything. Thank you for your loving patience with brothers and sisters who are not where you are in prayer. Thank you for not grading them. Thank you for gently encouraging them. If you struggle with prayer, please don’t write yourself off and decide that is just who you are and you must resign yourself to it. No, no matter where you are in your walk and communion with the Lord, there is more!

Maybe you are not one of those people who delight to dive from the high diving board into the prayer pool. Go ahead and start where the water isn’t as deep. Wade in and walk toward the deeper end. Remember that you are never alone as you make that journey. God eagerly desires to join, walk, and then swim with you.

1 Edward McKendree Bounds, Prayer and Praying Men (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1921), 63.

About the Author

Randall A. Bach delights in opportunities to serve the Lord, including his current assignment as president of Open Bible Churches. He earned a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Regent University. Randall and Barbara, his wife, have been in ministry for over 40 years and call it “our adventure together.” Randall loves the church, pastors, and church leaders and is convinced that God loves to work through them to make disciples, develop leaders, and plant churches. A voice for Evangelicals, his work has been featured in several publications, including Ethics: The Old Testament, The New Testament, and Contemporary Application. He serves as a member of the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Randall has produced and edited several publications and other resources, including the Message of the Open Bible, We Believe: Core Truths for Christian Living, and a doctrinal course for youth called We Believe for Kids! He also led the creation of Acquire, Open Bible’s online leadership development site.

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