Tuesday, July 04, 2006

So... Why Don't We Pray?

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There's a scene at the end of the movie, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (or the book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but the movie with Gene Wilder, not the creepy version with Johnny Depp which I didn't bother to see. But I digress...) In this scene, Charlie has been told he has won the grand prize, and he, Grandpa Joe, and Wonka get into the great glass elevator (Wonkavator, technically). The small passenger compartment has hundreds of buttons to press, each one corresponding to a different room in the factory.

Anyway, ol' Mr. Wonka tells Charlie something to the effect of, "You know, Charlie, I've pushed every button in this elevator except one. And I want you to press it now." So Charlie hits the button and the Wonkavator shoots out the top of the shaft and becomes a tiny, glass-encased hovercraft. Then there's the happy ending, and so on and so on. But I always found it odd that this eccentric candy-maker who could do pretty much whatever he wanted to do had actually tried everything but one little button on the elevator.

Why wouldn't he have pressed it at some point? In my mind, I've concocted all kinds of scenarios as to why Wonka kept his mitts off that button. Perhaps it would have given away some sort of secret about his identity to the public, or aroused the interest of his competitor, Slugworth. Certainly there must have been a good reason. Right? It's a perfectly good button. It seemed to work just fine. Why not use it?

Fantasies about chocolate-makers and oompa-loompas aside, I've found there's a button that many Christians seem reluctant to press as well. The prayer button.

Apparently it's not a new phenomenon. James chides the readers of his letter that "You do not have because you do not ask God." Or in the Wonka version, "You do not have because you never press the button." So, why don't we pray?

I don't buy the argument that we don't have time or that we don't know what to pray for or that we don't know we should pray. I've used all those excuses many times and I know they are nothing but empty excuses stuffed with rationalization. We know we're supposed to pray. To paraphrase the New Testament, even the heathen know that! Most times we know what we are to pray for. Needs and people come to our minds and to our attention often. I've even caught myself thinking, "I need to pray for that family," only to let it slide from my attention. And I know we're all incredibly busy, but there is always time to pray if we make the time.

So why don't we ever make the time? Why don't we follow through? Why do we leave prayer as the button we never press, the weapon in the arsenal we never deploy?

I want to explore that problem this week. In the meantime, help me out by offering your own experiences, excuses and explanations as well as those of others you know in the comments section here. Thanks!


HeyJules said...

You've heard of the one minute manager? Well, I've become the one minute pray-er. No longer do I save it all up till the end of the day and make some big hullabaloo about it. If someone asks me in person, sends me an email or mentions something when I read their blog, I just stop right then and there and take care of it.

I still do try to pray either every morning or every evening, especially in those rare times when I get to just sit and be with God for a long stretch of time but there's nothing in the bible that says praying these long, fervent prayers for others increases God's ability to hear them or react to them so I keep it short and sweet and find I pray far more often and with far more emotion if I do it IN the moment than to save it all up and try to remember them all at another time.

Michael Robinson said...

One thing that my wife and I do is pray before each meal when we eat together. I also make it a point to say a prayer in the morning. I like the idea of a time set aside 30 minutes or more but that typically only happens on weekends if at all. Prayer is an area that I have room to grow. I think the best prayers are the ones where the words sound like the words one might use in talking to a good friend that knows you real well.

Carol said...

Ed, as a women's ministry leader and not an ordained minister or theologian, I have no clue. But, I'll tell you a couple of possibilities based on my observations as well as things the women tell me.

First, we know sin separates us from God. It's difficult to look someone in the eye and have a meaningful, heartfelt conversation with them when you know you are habitually doing them wrong. This is the reason adultery drives couples apart without the wronged spouse even knowing what's up. I posit the same things happens with us and God. When we are engaged in unrepentant sin, it is very difficult to approach the throne in prayer and/or worship.

Second - we don't worship God. We worship ourselves. --So we can fix the problem ourselve, and probably better than God can so, why ask God?
--As long as it doesn't directly hurt someone else, it's not really a sin, so we don't have anything for which to repent and ask forgiveness.
--God doesn't do what we want exactly like we want Him to according to our plan and our time frame, so why spend time praying to Him-who-doesn't-do-it-our-way?

So, those are two things I often see happening: 1) unrepentant sin and 2) honoring ourselves (or something/someone else) above God.

I'm anxious to hear yours and others' thoughts on this. It is certainly an issue worthy of our attention and in which most of us can always improve.

Douglas said...

We don't pray if we doubt that God is favorably disposed towards us. We don't pray if we doubt that God is able to do what we ask. We don't pray if we thing the answer is going to be a "No," a "Grow," or a "Slow" instead of a "Go." I may not like the answer I get, but I'm delighted to get an answer.

Jennifer said...

I agree with you..... I thought Gene Wilder was creepy, but Johnny Depp was like scary creepy!

julie said...

For me, prayer is a natural overflow of a relationship. If I'm not doing what I need to do to keep my relationship open, prayer feels flat, disconnected or unnecessary. If I'm spending time in study, serving others, dealing with resentments, whatever I need to do to keep the relationship healthy, prayer spontaneously comes, and is meaningful. When other areas suffer, my prayer life is affected in equal measure.

Kim said...

I find that I have an easier time praying when I'm feeling thankful for something. When I'm really burdened, I struggle with what to pray at all. Lately, there have been some concerns I have had, and rather than just stewing, I have actually just said to God, "I don't know how to pray for this." I think that may be one reason why we don't pray.

I know that for me, I can also become careless about praying when things are going well and I have the sense that I'm the one in charge, when in reality I'm not.

Praying is something we do to build our relationship with God. It's always work to build relationships.

Tom said...

I'll vote against you and Jennifer. I thought the Depp version was outstanding, and I'm not one who likes "creepy." It was very creative.

Oh, were you talking about prayer? I forgot.

Dan Edelen said...

Fear is a big factor, too.

* Fear of not knowing what to pray.

* Fear that what we pray for won't come to pass, or that we'll get the opposite of what we pray so earnestly for.

* Fear that God won't come through no matter how much faith we say we have, casting doubt on His goodness and reliability.

* Fear that even bringing a concern before God will cause Him to put us in some painful, "growth" situation.

*Fear that He won't hear us because of something we've done, whether we've done something or not.

* Fear that better Christians than us have wrestled in prayer and we'll never be as good a Christians as they are, so what should we expect?

* Fear that we're not praying enough.

* Fear that we're praying for the wrong things.

*Fear that despite the fact that we recognize that all these fears are groundless in light of the Scriptures, we can't stop believing them.

I think fear is the number one reason for us avoiding prayer.

Irmiya said...

We don't pray because we don't believe it will make a difference.... so why don't we believe it will make a difference? For every prayer that has been answered (in a way that we can recognize)... two or more are not. It's our expectations ... and then our disappointments. We say, "why bother?" Just thinking out loud as I prepare for my sermon.