April 06, 2023

Why Are There Times When I Don’t Feel like Praying?

Nathan W. Bingham & Burk Parsons
Why Are There Times When I Don’t Feel like Praying?

Prayer is a great blessing, but it can be a challenge to prioritize sometimes. Today, Burk Parsons helps us get to the root of this struggle, encouraging us to humble ourselves before our heavenly Father in prayer.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: Joining me today on the podcast is Dr. Burk Parsons. He’s the senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel here in Sanford, Florida. He’s also one of our teaching fellows at Ligonier Ministries. Dr. Parsons, why is it that sometimes Christians just don’t feel like praying?

DR. BURK PARSONS: Well, there are many answers to that question. We have to start by admitting that one of the reasons we don’t feel like praying sometimes in our lives is because we’re sinful. And being sinful, we have hearts that can sometimes deceive us and even feelings that can sometimes deceive us. Feelings are oftentimes the greatest liars, and too often we give into our feelings. Too often we rely too heavily upon our feelings. And sometimes, we need to reckon with our feelings and admit that we have those feelings, but then get up and do something—act, do what we ought to do, do what is our duty, do what is our responsibility.

But I think more deeply than that, one of the reasons we sometimes don’t feel like praying is because, quite frankly, in some ways praying can be difficult. Because when we pray, we are humbling ourselves before God. And we, as human beings in our natural sinful state, are not naturally humble. We ought to be, but we’re not. We’re naturally prideful. And praying to the Lord is essentially admitting that we are not God, that He is, and humbling ourselves before Him, and expressing that we are in need.

Now, we like to pretend that we are not in really need of anything. As human beings, our natural way of thinking is to think we are self-sufficient, we can take care of ourselves, we are not in need of anything or anyone. And so when we pray, we are admitting need. And when we pray and when we confess our sins, when we repent to the Lord, when we ask the Lord for things, all of those things have different aspects of making it difficult to pray.

But fundamentally, when we pray, we know that we are really humbling ourselves. And when we humble ourselves, we feel it in our flesh. Because when we humble ourselves, it’s really death to self; it’s really taking up our crosses and dying to self. And when we pray, it kills the flesh, it works against the flesh, it fights against our flesh, and our flesh doesn’t like that. Sometimes when I wake up, I want to just go—I want to start going, I want to start working, I want to start producing, I want to start getting things done. The last thing I sometimes feel like doing is getting on my knees and pausing and being patient and praying. And something that even you’ve talked about before, Nathan, in your life—about how sometimes we don’t pray because we don’t make it a priority. And I think that’s very insightful. I think a lot of Christians do not make prayer a priority in their lives; they make other things a priority—whether it’s making coffee, whether it’s letting the dog out, whatever it is—all good things, but sometimes we have our priorities wrong.

I think another reason, along those same lines, that a lot of us struggle to pray is because some of us who are productive, and we do like to work hard, and we do like to be diligent and to use every minute of our days well as good stewards, I think sometimes we don’t feel that prayer is productive. I think we sometimes don’t feel like prayer is actually accomplishing anything, that it’s not doing anything. At least, we don’t feel it doing anything immediately. We don’t see the effects of it immediately. And that’s because we are thinking with materialistic, strictly physical, earthly, temporal thinking. Our mindset is on the things of this earth rather than on the things of God and the kingdom of God. And we forget that even humbling ourselves, even going to the Lord, is having an immediate effect, because prayer not only affects us and changes us, but prayer is also an end in and of itself. It’s not only a means to another end, it is an end, in that we are coming to God, we are worshiping God, we are communing and fellowshipping with our Lord.

But I think, Nathan, one of the reasons we really do sometimes not feel like praying is because we know that when we pray, it’s going to hurt. We’re going to need to repent of some of our sins—or all of our sins, I should say. We’re going to need to be real with God.

And we also know—and this is, I think, one of the things we don’t talk about very often, but important to talk about—that especially if we are going to the Lord to ask Him to do something—like save one of our friends, or save our father or our mother, or that God would save our child, our son, our daughter—that maybe we’ve gone so often, we’ve prayed so long and for so many years for a particular thing that has not happened, that sometimes prayer can feel as if God’s not listening to us, or that He’s just not responding in the way that we want and the timing that we think He should.

And so, I think we sometimes struggle to pray for lots of these reasons, but that what we must do is we must strive to humble ourselves like little children and come to the Lord knowing that we need to commune with Him, and not having to commit to a particular time or a particular place or even that our prayers would have to be a particular length.

I think sometimes people don’t pray because they’ve been raised with a sort of legalism that almost requires a certain length of prayer, that if you’re not praying for however many minutes or however many hours or whatever it is that pastors or parents sometimes set for people, that they don’t feel like they’re really praying properly because they’re not praying long enough. And I think that that legalism leads people to run away from prayer and to stop praying sometimes or to think, “I just associate prayer with legalism.”

When Jesus taught His disciples the Lord’s Prayer, it took about twenty-five to thirty-five seconds, depending upon if you’re praying it in Greek, Hebrew, and English. And we have to remember that. Prayer doesn’t have to be long. Prayer doesn’t have to follow a particular formula. And we can pray not only in the mornings or in the evenings, but we can pray throughout the day wherever we are. We don’t have to have a particular position, a particular direction. We don’t have to have beads or a certain hat or a carpet. We can go to God and pray to Him, and commune with Him, and fellowship with Him, and ask Him of things, and thank Him for things, and repent of things all day long.

And so, prayer ought to become for the Christian something as freeing and as routine as inhaling and exhaling—inhaling praises, exhaling petitions; inhaling words of confession and repentance, exhaling thanksgivings. So let us, when we don’t feel like praying, preach the Word of God to our feelings and say: “I know I need to commune with my Lord. I know I need that for my life. So Lord, help me to pray.” And sometimes we forget that we can pray for help to pray.