The Kryptonite of Prayer

I’ve always thought that prayer was the result of being a disciplined person which is why I’ve always been surprised that I haven’t been more consistent in praying. You see disciplined living is something that I do pretty well (except when it comes to avoiding junk food). But for whatever reason I’ve often struggled with consistently praying in a deep and meaningful way.

Convinced that I need to try harder, I’ve committed myself to daily prayer regimens but found that the only thing consistent about them is my failure. I’ve read books on prayer by E. M. Bounds and Martin Luther and felt guilty by their example of rising in the middle of the night to pray for 3 or 4 hours. I assumed that I just wasn’t as committed or as disciplined as they were.

And while that might be very well true, I’ve come to realize that discipline on its own is not the key to a vital prayer life. Ironically, it turns out that what I thought was the key might, in fact, be the nemesis. When it comes to prayer, self-discipline might be kryptonite.

My thinking started changing when I read A Praying Life by Paul Miller. (For those of you in the reformed theological world Paul is the son of the late Jack Miller of Sonship fame.) I’ve been on a roll of reading a lot of good books lately and this one on prayer is no exception. It’s simply fantastic. Here’s a line that hit me really hard…

“If you know that you, like Jesus, can’t do life on your own, then prayer makes complete sense.”

Do you see how this is the opposite of self-discipline? Discipline emphasizes what I can do through self-effort. Prayer emphasizes my helplessness.

“The very thing we are allergic to—our helplessness—is what makes prayer work. It works because we are helpless. We can’t do life on our own.”

Or…

“We tell ourselves, ‘Strong Christians pray a lot. If I were a stronger Christian, I’d pray more.’ Strong Christians do pray more, but they pray more because they realize how weak they are.”

It’s kind of an odd twist but the more mature a Christian is the more they realize their sinfulness, weakness, and helplessness. A less mature Christian is more confident in themselves, quicker to give advice to others, and less aware of their own sin.

The bottom line is that if we think that we can do life on our own, we won’t take prayer very seriously. So instead of trying harder, I’ve been reflecting on my weakness. Instead of relying on my natural discipline, I’ve been meditating on John 15:5: “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

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