A preacher once lamented, “My preaching is better than my praying, and my praying is better than my life.” What he meant was that our prayers often reflect our aspirations more than they do our practice. But sometimes, our praying falls short as well. Why do we pray poorly?
We aren’t alone. In Luke 22, we see Jesus with His disciples. After leaving the upper room, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Jesus withdrew about a stone’s throw away and gave them one job, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation” (vv. 40– 41). According to Matthew’s version, Jesus said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matt. 26:38). But instead of praying, the disciples slept! They weren’t being lazy or insensitive. Luke offers a more natural explanation in verse 45 when he says the disciples were “exhausted from sorrow.”
There are many reasons we pray poorly. We may be tired, stressed, or even ill. Sometimes we are distracted by the very problems that we bring to the Lord. Talking about our concerns causes us to think about them, and before we know it, we are just worrying aloud. When Jesus found the disciples sleeping, he woke them and urged them to get up and pray “so that you will not fall into temptation” (v. 45).
Some of the things that cause us to pray poorly are under our control. Others are not. But we do not need to pray well to be heard. It is better to pray poorly than not at all.
>> There are some simple ways to pray better. First, pray when you are most alert. Second, find a quiet place without distraction. Third, pray using a posture that is more likely to keep you from falling asleep. Some people keep a prayer list or write out their prayers. No matter how you do it: just pray.
Help us when we feel too overwhelmed to pray. Give us simple words to utter. Show us how to bring our pain, fear, shame, or hopelessness to You. Give us strength to pursue You in all circumstances and conditions.