Why Don’t We Pray? Look in the Mirror

Prayerlessness is a lack of faith in Christ


“I will lift my eyes to the hills — from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:1-2, NKJV).

Any time you begin to look at yourself, lift your eyes to the hills, and then keep looking up a little higher to the Maker of the hills. And if you are in a city with no hills, look at the tallest skyscraper, and then lift your eyes a little higher. Prayer happens when we lift our eyes away from self and onto Christ.

I recently spoke with a pastor about the life of a woman deemed a prayer warrior, Frances Owens (see story on page 23). One thing stood out: Prayer is selfless. This woman prayed every day over names of missionaries who were thousands of miles away, people whom she had never met. She did not receive a “thank you” from each person, because she was unknown to them. She received little credit, and she did not get to see all the results of her prayers. But she still prayed.

Perhaps she prayed because it was about who she was talking to more than what she was asking for. Originally this article was entitled, “Ten Reasons Why We Don’t Pray,” and then those 10 were narrowed to five. Then as I read through the five reasons, I realized that they all boiled down to one reason: We do not pray because we have weak faith that looks at ourselves, instead of looking to Christ.

We are self-centered.

THE ROOT PROBLEM

The root of our prayerlessness is a lack of faith in Christ. Instead of looking to Christ, we base prayer on ourselves. Note the emphasis. The issue is that our faith has turned inward to ourselves, instead of upward to Christ. In essence, our prayerlessness is due to self-centeredness, instead of Christ-centeredness.

You could give many reasons why you do not pray, and most of them will begin with the first-person singular pronoun. You may say, “I’m just not good at prayer.” Exactly. The reason you do not pray is because you are looking at you. It’s not about how good you are. Look at how good He is.

Looking at oneself causes weak faith, which negatively affects your prayer life. Looking at Christ causes a strong faith, which encourages your prayer life. In Romans 4:19-21, Paul speaks about Abraham’s example of faith:

“He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

In other words, Abraham did not allow his age or the fact Sarah’s womb was barren to weaken his faith. If Abraham kept his eyes on himself, he would’ve fallen into unbelief. Instead, Abraham gave glory to God and was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

Anything not arising from faith is sin (Rom. 14:3). Praying without faith is a sin. And letting that lack of faith keep us from prayer is also a sin, because we’re commanded to pray. Opting out of prayer is not an option. It is disobedience. His Word tells us to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). And Jesus shows us how to pray in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13).

Unbelief hinders the work of God (Matt. 13:58). The disciples could not cast out a demon because of their unbelief (Matt. 17:20).

Yikes, now we see the problem. What’s the solution? It is not found in ourselves, but in Christ alone.

THE DIAGNOSIS

How do you know if your prayerlessness is due to self-centeredness? What does it look and sound like when prayer is based on self, instead of Christ? And what does God’s Word say?

When your eyes are on yourself. You doubt His promises that He hears His children (1 Pet. 3:12). You doubt His Word, not because you question its truthfulness, but because you question its application to you. You may pray, but you do not think He is listening.

Turn your eyes on Christ. His Word is trustworthy. “The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever” (Ps. 119:160). And He is faithful when we are not (2 Tim. 2:13; Rom. 3:1-4).

When your eyes are on yourself. You do not think you have strong enough faith for your prayers to be effective. You despair about your lack of faith. Ironically, focusing on your lack of faith is in itself a lack of faith.

Turn your eyes on Christ. There is hope! God loves the saint with weak faith and the saint with strong faith. Whether your faith in Christ is weak or strong, Christ still accomplished salvation for you. It is about faith in Christ, not faith in the quality or size of your faith. Faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain (Matt. 17:14-21).

I think the reason that faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain is because of how great is the object of our faith. Jesus is the one accomplishing the work. When your faith turns inward to yourself or outward trusting solely in other things or people, you fall into unbelief. Instead, faith must be upward to Christ. See also Mark 9:23-25.

When your eyes are on yourself. You pray based on your feelings instead of on God’s Word. “I don’t feel like I mean the words that I’m saying.” “I don’t feel capable.” “God feels far away.”

Turn your eyes on Christ. Our feelings are faulty. Whereas His Word is always true. Second Corinthians 5:7 says, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” God may feel far away. And there is a sense in which God is nearer to those who walk with Him. But God is not far away because He is omnipresent (Ps. 139; Acts 17:27-28). We turn our eyes away from feelings and onto His character and attributes.

When your eyes are on yourself. You think that you are too sinful to pray. You are afraid to approach God. You approach God as if you are your own high priest. Sin indeed damages our communion with God. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” It is also true that if we’re harboring unforgiveness in our lives that hinders Christ’s forgiveness (Matt. 6:14). We must repent from our sins and then look to Christ.

Turn your eyes on Christ. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Why is He faithful and just to forgive us? Because He is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:1-2).

We can approach God’s throne boldly, not because we are confident in ourselves, but because Jesus Christ is our great high priest (Heb. 10:11-23). The confidence is based on Jesus, not you.

When your eyes are on yourself. You don’t pray because you don’t think He understands you.

Turn your eyes on Christ. He does understand (See Heb. 4:14-16; Isa. 40:28-31).

When your eyes are on yourself. You focus on instant gratification. You do not pray because you do not see quick results. Perhaps you are too busy with other things.

Turn your eyes on Christ. He is the treasure, not the answer to your prayer. Prayer is not just about us. God does everything for His glory, even answering our prayers. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).

The list could go on and on. Praise God that He has grace on us in all these shortcomings (Ps. 103:14). Our prayer life will likely grow stronger as our view of God grows bigger.

THE GOSPEL IS THE ANSWER

Are you discouraged because of all the ways you fall short? Me too. But isn’t that the first part of the gospel (Rom. 3:23)? At the beginning, I said prayer happens when we look away from self and gaze at Christ. That sounds like the gospel. Repentance is turning away from self, and faith is turning to Christ. Might it be that the answer to having a deeper prayer life is the grace of the gospel, not the works of the flesh? Maybe praying is not about trying harder but trusting deeper.

Praise God when our faith turns to sight (1 Peter 1:8-9).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9, ESV).