I have often been the subject of my own lies, telling myself that I’m too tired to pray, or letting myself off the hook for lack of prayer by convincing myself that I’ve been too busy to devote more time to prayer. However, this is all completely untrue. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do or whatever you’re going through, there is no good reason for why we neglect prayer. There isn’t an excuse in the world that would convince God that your lack of prayer is justifiable. Below are some of the common excuses we use to defend ourselves when we fail to pray. Beneath each excuse I’ve offered answers to discourage us from using them again.
Excuse 1: I have no time for private prayer because I’m too busy with work.
The Christian’s greatest work and duty is prayer. To use this excuse is to say that your secular work is more important than your duty to pray. Praying is an act of worship and obedience. Praying is directly commanded by God. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:18 that we should be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints”. By using this excuse, we contradict God’s command. Our duty to secular work does not compare with our duty to pray. Try waking up earlier, and pray before your earthly duties kick in as Jesus did before he carried out his daily ministerial duties (Mark 1:35).
We will eat our food, it seems, no matter how tired we are. We will watch the television or surf the internet as a means of relaxing when we feel shattered. If at our most exhausted state, the house started to burn down, we would, without even thinking, muster up the energy needed to save ourselves, our family, and if possible some of our belongings. If we could see the plans and carefully engineered schemes of the devil, in the same manner, we would muster up the energy to pray.
Excuse 2: God knows my heart, so even if I don’t pray, he knows what I need.
The answer must come from two angles. The first is blunt and honest in the form of a warning. The second is more reasoned and calculated.
Here’s the blunt and honest answer: There is no easy way to say this, but God knows the heart of such an objector to be a hardened heart, and the end of such a person is destruction. This excuse can be heard in churches around the world. They are “diseased trees” who have been overcome by “ravenous wolves”. Jesus tells us how we can tell a true believer apart from a false believer in Matthew 15:20, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognise them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognise them by their fruits.”
Jesus tells us that true believers can be recognised by their fruit. This kind of objection should cause the objector to repent and to recognise their own diseased heart. If this is you, then yes, the Lord does know what you need, and that’s the gospel. Turn from this way of thinking and spend time on your knees before the throne of grace.
Here’s the reasoned and calculated answer: It’s true that even before we pray, God knows what we need and what we will ask, so logically, it makes sense (to a certain degree) that there is no point in praying. However, we do not pray for God’s benefit, we pray for our own benefit. It demonstrates that we need him. We learn what to ask for and how to ask for them. It teaches us to love him and to respond to him in a way that glorifies him.
One of the greatest benefits of prayer is seeing them answered. If we never prayed, we would never know nor understand that God listens and is near. Moreover, if we never prayed we would never truly repent nor express thankfulness.
Excuse 3: I’m a Mum or Dad with kids and babies to look after. I can’t find time in the day to pray.
I’m not yet a parent, so I will not pretend to know what it’s like to parent a child, neither do I understand the strains and demands that children and babies have on Mums and Dads. Immediately, some Mums and Dads will read the above objection, resonate with it and wonder who I think I am to provide an answer to a situation I have no experience with.
I don’t know the first thing about flying a plane either, nor the demands of a pilot’s demanding schedule and shifts. However, I don’t need to be a pilot to know that prayer should not take a back seat within that environment.
Just hear me out. I am not telling anyone how to parent their children in this answer. I am simply rejecting the above objection as a justifiable excuse. I have known men and women who were godly and fervent in prayer before getting married. But soon after getting married, and having children, there was a noticeable difference in their church attendance, serving and above all, their godliness. I personally know at least four Christian couples (and know of many others) whose marriages have ended in divorce which can easily be traced back to a neglect of spiritual disciplines. Paul even warned against this (1 Cor. 7:6-8).
Prayer is not something that gives way to other demands because nothing is more important than prayer. Surely, the very sight of your child being born should lead you to prayer? As beautiful as your baby is, he/she has been born in sin which should remind us of original sin and that the baby will grow to transgress the law of God. Would we not want to, on a daily basis, bring this child before God pleading for his/her salvation and his/her cleansing by the blood of Christ?
Remember that the welfare of the child’s soul is more important than the welfare of the body. Therefore, the soul of the child deserves greater attention than the body. I’m not recommending you should cast off the child’s physical welfare at all! On the contrary, as you nurse the child with milk, warmth and attention, pour out your prayers before Lord. As you cradle the child back and forth, make known to God your requests. After all, your child is not your own. Your child belongs to the Lord, so care for his/her physical welfare in the shadow of his/her spiritual welfare.
Excuse 4: I’m old and don’t have long left, so there’s not much point for me to pray now.
I struggle to make sense of this. The nearer we are to the grave, surely the more fervent our prayer life should be and the more active we should be in preparing ourselves for that day?
Not only should we be motivated to pray because our final day is drawing near, but we should also pray more zealously being motivated by thanksgiving. Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” Growing old is a sign of God’s grace. We should be overflowing with thankfulness expressed through prayer for what is behind and determined to face what is ahead by the grace of God and the help of the Spirit.
Excuse 5: I am too young to pray. I have plenty of time ahead of me to think about stuff like that. I’ll think about praying more when I’m older.
If this is you, it sounds like you think there are better things to do than to experience a relational closeness with your Creator; the one who made the things you wish to enjoy before you cast your mind on him. You are as liable to death as the oldest person you know, and have as much need of prayer as the sickest and most needy person in the world.
I’ve given up many great opportunities by putting things off until later. And I’ve lived to regret it. Every single person I have met who has become a Christian in their old age has regretted that they did not follow Christ in their youth. Even though you do not see it now, your life is fragile and uncertain. This alone should drive you to your knees in repentance, seeking to have a relationship with your Creator through Christ the Saviour.
Excuse 6: I don’t know how to pray, so I don’t do it.
I can relate to this excuse most of all because I have struggled with prayer, still do and always will until I am perfected in glory. But learning to pray is part of the experience of growing in our knowledge of God.
Before I answer this excuse, I want you to ask whether it really is the case that you don’t know how to pray, or whether the truth is that you will not pray? This excuse can often be resolved by re-examining the real reason why we do not pray. Let me explain.
When I was a teenager, my Mum, busy upstairs would shout down asking me to put the washing machine on, and my reluctant response was always, “But I don’t know how to do it.” Even after my Mum taught me how to use it, I would still use the excuse, “Sorry, but I’ve forgotten how to do it.” The real problem was not that I didn’t know how to do it, the truth was I really didn’t want to do it because it meant I had to give up watching television or something else I was invested in at the time in order to wash the clothes. Even if I didn’t know how to put the washing machine on, it still is a terrible excuse because I could have easily learnt how to do it.
If you really want to learn how to pray, the best way to learn is to actually start praying. It’s like swimming. You can’t learn to swim unless you get into the water. Just talk to God. There is much more to say on how to pray, but for now I would suggest using the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9:13 as a structural guide. As you read the prayer out loud, expand on the prayer of Christ. Below is the Lord’s prayer. The Bible text is in red and my comments on how to expand each point are in blue:
Our Father in heaven,
Understand and reflect on who you’re praying to. Do you know that you have been adopted and that praying is extremely intimate and valuable.
hallowed be your name.
God has many names, but try and communicate back to God who he is. Express to God your understanding of who he is. He is holy and perfect, for example.
Your kingdom come,
Demonstrate a desire for God’s church to grow and expand.
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Sometimes our desires are not God’s desires. A big part of prayer is to align our will with God’s. We should desire to do God’s will above our own. Ask for this. What do you want in life? Is this what God wants for your life?
Give us this day our daily bread,
Feel free to ask God for daily things. What is happening today? What do you need help with? Id it financial, emotional, physical? Ask the Lord to supply for your needs.
and forgive us our debts,
You must repent of sin and ask the Lord for forgiveness every day. Even though in Christ all our sins have been dealt with, we still should commit ourselves to the Lord and confess our sins to him who is gracious and just to forgive us.
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Ask the Lord to help you to forgive those who’ve sinned against you and who’ve hurt you in the past and presently. Resolve any grudge or enmity you have with others.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Ask God to protect you from your own sinful desires, the temptations of Satan and the evil influence of the world around us that we should be holy as Christ is holy. Ask God to sanctify you—to continually work in you by the Holy Spirit to make you obedient to him.
Excuse 7: I don’t feel like God is listening to me. I never feel close to him when I pray.
It’s incredibly frustrating when your prayer life feels more like a duty than a privilege. It can become discouraging when praying becomes a thing you feel like you have to do rather than something you feel like you want to do. It’s tough to be motivated to pray out of guilt rather than desire. It’s difficult to be motivated to pray when the thought of it doesn’t excite you.
It’s wonderful when you do feel or experience a closeness to the Lord when you pray, but those times can be rare. We shouldn’t be judging how fruitful our prayers are based on how we feel during or after our prayer time. Remember, that our relationship with God is not based on our feelings and experiences. Our relationship with God is based on the finished work of Christ, holding fast to knowing him and by holding firm to his promises.
If God has promised to listen to our prayers and petitions, then who are we to begin doubting them just because we do not feel particularly close to the Lord. A lot of Christian teenagers struggle with this after coming home from summer camp. After having an intense hilltop experience with God’s people and feeling especially blessed and close to the Lord, they try to maintain this feeling after coming home, but fail. To read about this issue, I have written an article on it. Click here to read it.
Some of our prayer times will inevitably be joyful and the Holy Spirit might manifest his presence in a special way. But if our motive for prayer is to have this experience, we won’t end up praying much because the vast majority of our prayers are simple conversations with God.
I love my wife more than anything in this world, but I’m ok with the fact that not all our conversations have to do with how we feel about each other. We talk about all kinds of things, from interests, planing, what we need for the week, how our day’s been and so on. So it is with prayer. A prayer of repentance is not enjoyable. A prayer of thanksgiving is joyful. A prayer of grieving is painful. A prayer for help is urgent.
Excuse 8: What’s the point in praying? He never answers my prayers.
How do you know he doesn’t answer your prayers? God answers your prayers in one of three ways. For example if you ask, “Father, please can I have a new car?”, he will answer with either “Yes”, “Not yet” or “No”. If God doesn’t give you a new car, it’s either because that’s not what he wants for you, or it’s not the right time.
Whilst you can ask anything of the Lord at any time, the task ahead of you is to know what to ask of God and when to ask.
I can’t help but feel that the real question the person with this excuse wants to ask is, “Why isn’t God doing what I’m asking him to do?” The answer is simple. What you’re asking for is not what’s good for you. A child will ask his Mum for all kinds of things. He really wants to eat a whole box of chocolates. But Mum knows better. Mum refuses to give him what he wants all the time because she is protecting him from his own wants.
Having said that, sometimes our ‘unanswered’ requests are reasonable requests—to be healed of cancer, to relieve stress, to save a family member etc. It can feel like the Lord is giving us the silent treatment at times. But he isn’t. He is teaching us. He is teaching us patience, perseverance, long-suffering, and above all else he is teaching us lean more heavily on him and to cast all our worries on him knowing that the will of God is good even if we don’t understand his ways.
Persevere in Prayer
I’m sure you can think of many other excuses. I’ve certainly been very creative with my excuses not to pray. Our prayer lives are investments. We are investing in our relationship with the Father, through the Son, by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Do what Paul told the church in Romans 12:12 to do: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Praying is difficult. Actually, I would say that praying is the most difficult aspect of the Christian life. Praying can be laborious and can feel impotent and ineffective. But learning to pray is part of the beauty of knowing God. It is my prayer that your prayer life and mine would be enriched as we invest in our relationship with our Saviour by persevering in prayer.
Written by: Pastor Gwydion