Jesus taught His disciples, “Now He was telling them … that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Lk. 18:1). I think He meant it. Paul instructed the Thessalonians, “Pray without ceasing,” (1 Thes. 5:17). I think he meant it. In prodding the Ephesians to stand fast in the Lord, the apostle counseled them, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18). I think he meant it.
Still, of all the privileges and responsibilities of the believer, prayer may well be the least exercised privilege and the least respected responsibility. Prayerlessness is so prevalent in Christian circles we almost never talk about it. But we must.
What exactly is prayerlessness? Consider these things.
Prayerlessness is a declaration of self-sufficiency. Do you remember when you learned to ride a bicycle? On the first day you told your dad it would not be a problem. You did not need his help. It looked easy; you would just get on and ride. Of course Dad knew better, and after a skinned elbow, so did you.
To refuse to take your needs and concerns to God is a similar declaration of self-sufficiency. We are saying to Him, “Thanks, God, but I don’t need You. I’ll work it out.” Only after worry and failure do we learn that our sufficiency is in God.
Manasseh was Judah’s most wicked king. He made Jerusalem “to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD destroyed” (2 Chron. 33:9). He was self-sufficient. He did not need God; he would run his own life. But when the Assyrians took Manasseh captive to Babylon, he discovered he was not as self-sufficient as he thought. “And when he was in distress, he entreated the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God” (2 Chron. 33:12-13).
Manasseh was king of God’s chosen people and the ancestor of our Lord Jesus, yet he was a prayer-less pawn in Satan’s hand. How much like him are we. Until we recognize our insufficiency to handle all that Satan brings our way, we will be guilty of prayerlessness in a tacit declaration of self-sufficiency.
Prayerlessness is a refusal to exercise a blood-bought privilege. At the dawn of human history, Adam and Eve were in paradise, the beautiful Garden of Eden, the garden of God. They were in fellowship and harmony with their creator. He walked and communicated with them in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8). But suddenly sin separated them from God and broke that fellowship. What is worse, they were driven from the garden and access to God. Cherubim were placed at the entrance with a flaming sword to prevent man’s direct access to God, part of man’s punishment for sin.
Still, God loved His errant children and sent His Son to die for the believer’s sins. Paul describes it this way. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins … and were by nature children of wrath … But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ … remember that you were at that time separate from Christ … having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. … AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY (Gentiles), AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR (Jews); for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.” (Eph. 2:1-18).
Denied direct access to God because of sin, we believers have regained that access through the blood of Christ. Our privilege to go to God in prayer is the result of His Son’s great sacrifice. Romans 5:1-2 makes this abundantly clear. “Therefore having been justified (declared right with God) by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace (favored state) in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.” Those who remain unjustified not only remain without God’s peace but without access to Him, access that comes only as a result of Christ’s blood (to pay for all the believer’s sins). Those of us who have peace with God and access to Him through Christ’s blood, and yet do not exercise the privilege purchased by that blood, slap our Lord in the face every time we are guilty of prayerlessness.
Since the blood of Christ brought us near to God again and restored our direct access to Him, how painful it must be for the Lord Jesus to view our callousness with regard to exercising this costly privilege. Prayerlessness is a cruel refusal to accept a purchased privilege.
Prayerlessness is sin against a holy God. Israel had clamored for a king. She wanted to be like everyone else. In spite of her unworthy motives, God granted Israel’s request. He directed Samuel the priest to the Benjamite house of Kish. “And he had a son whose name was Saul, a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people” (1 Sam. 9:2). When Samuel saw him he responded, “Behold, the man” (1 Sam. 9:17), a greeting presented to Israel’s rightful king many generations later (Jn. 19:5).
Not long after Saul’s anointing as king, the folly of the Jews was evidenced. Samuel reproved Israel for her ingratitude and exhorted them, “If you will fear the LORD and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the LORD, then both you and also the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God. And if you will not listen to the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the command of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you…” (1 Sam. 12:14-15). Delivering a rebuke is never pleasant, but the people received it and requested that Samuel “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, so that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil by asking for ourselves a king” (1 Sam. 12:19).
Samuel’s response could have been those ever-popular, four little words, “I told you so!” Yet he recognized a godly responsibility and responded, “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you…” (1 Sam. 12:23).
Samuel recognized that prayerlessness was sin against a holy God. Jesus’ admonition, “they ought to pray” picks up on that theme. Prayer is not only a blood-bought privilege, it is a demanding responsibility. It is the responsibility of those whose access to God has been restored. We must use this avenue of God’s mercy, not only in our behalf but also in behalf of those who do not have such access. If faithful, consistent, thoughtful prayer is Christ’s command, then prayerlessness is nothing short of sin against Him.
Prayerlessness is an open invitation to the Devil. There is a clear relationship between prayer and righteousness in Scripture. Prayer does not produce righteousness, but those living righteously will not fail to pray. Remember, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (Jas. 5:16). Just as righteous living will drive you to prayer, the converse is also true. Unrighteousness will keep you from prayer (see 1 Pet. 3:12; Jn. 9:31; Psa. 66:18; Prov. 15:29).
John Bunyan once said, “Prayer will make a man cease from sin as sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.” The sin of prayerlessness not only disquiets the heart of God, it entices the heart of Satan. That old Serpent knows if he can keep us prayerless he can keep us powerless as well. But more than this, a heart that is closed to God is always open to Satan, and he only needs a crack.
On the night that He was betrayed our Lord Jesus agonized greatly in prayer. He had arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane and instructed His disciples to remain there as He went deeper into the garden with Peter, James, and John. Positioning them, the Master disappeared into the darkness, into the inner recesses of the garden. Having labored in prayer the Master returned to find the three disciples sleeping and rebuked them saying, “And He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Keep watching and praying, that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’” (Mk. 14:37-38).
Perhaps a consistent, vital, involved prayer life has not been a part of our Christian lives. Maybe we are busy preaching, teaching, parenting, or fulfilling other important responsibilities for God. Maybe we have relegated prolonged prayer to those “who can’t do anything else.” After all, “If you can’t go or give, you can always pray.” What a shame not to recognize the peril of such an attitude, the peril of prayerlessness. Whatever else Christ has gifted us to do, He has commanded us to pray, each of us.
The whole armor of God, by which we withstand in the evil day, is energized and vitalized by “pray(ing) at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18). Lord, energize us!
Woodrow M. Kroll, Fundamentalist Journal