How to Overcome 6 Obstacles to Prayer
Many Christians know they should pray more than they do. With so many needs, troubles, temptations, uncertainty, and reasons to be grateful, can we ever pray “enough”? The form of prayer ranges from focused, private time with God to a continuing conversation with Him throughout the rest of the day (the teaching to “pray continually” in 1 Thessalonians 5:17). In the same way, the content of prayer varies, too, and may include:
- Thanksgiving, gratitude
- Praise, worship
- Requests, petitions
- Listening (This is why many call their prayer time with God “quiet time”)
- Protection from evil
- Strength when tempted
- Confession of sin
Praying continually to God throughout the day is not only commanded in the Word, it is necessary. The best way to cultivate this habit is to have some focused, private time with God each day. Most Christians know this, but may still struggle with spending this kind of time with God for one or more of the following reasons.
6 Obstacles to Prayer
1. Awkwardness –No matter how much you love God, it is usually awkward when you first start praying to Him. I know it was for me. I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I would fall back on memorized prayers that were comfortable and safe, but did not feed me much spiritually. Any new endeavor is awkward at first: riding a bike, learning to play a musical instrument, or training for a marathon. Why do we think praying would be any different? The key is to push past the awkwardness and keep at it, just like you would for anything else you are learning. Prayer may feel stiff, awkward, strange, and even painful at first, but God will more than reward your efforts if you do not give up. This obstacle is a normal stage and it will pass, I promise.
2. Time – The second obstacle is finding the time to pray and doing so regularly (i.e., daily). We live busy lives and most people have more than enough on their plates already. Yet, the time you dedicate to prayer is a barometer of God’s importance in your life. Where does He fall within your busy schedule? When a valued relationship is faltering or failing, what do we do? We communicate and spend time with the other person. It is no different with God:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”— Mark 12:30 NIV
This is not simply a feeling of love for God, but loving Him with your whole being, so of course time must be spent tending the relationship. Anyone who has overcome this obstacle will assure you that when God is put first, all the rest of life falls into place naturally, where it should be (i.e., after God).
3. Lack of Private Prayer - Private prayer time is a whole new level of prayer that tends to get pushed aside in the hustle and bustle of life. This is not the same as praying on the go or praying in public, in church or prayer groups. Jesus prayed in public, too, when He asked the Father for something (John 11:41-42), when He thanked the Father before a meal (Matthew 14:19, Matthew 15:36), and when He prayed for others (Luke 23:34). Yet, Scripture indicates that Jesus prayed far more often in private1. When the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray, He taught, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. . . “ (Matthew 6:6 NIV). Anyone with a vibrant, Spirit-led prayer life knows how necessary this is. (For more on praying in private, read Jesus Said Pray in Private Using Simple Words).
4. Attentiveness – Once we’ve overcome any awkwardness and made a commitment to spend daily, one-on-one time with God, the next obstacle is lack of attentiveness. Again, this is nothing new and something experienced by anyone who has committed to praying regularly on a daily basis. When I first started praying regularly, I fell asleep more often than not. (Often, we don’t realize how tired we are until we slow down and get quiet.) If I didn’t fall asleep, I would be distracted with worries, thoughts about what I needed to do after prayer time, temptations to get up and do something else, etc. Just like in meditation, the key is to bring the mind back to the task at hand; in this case, back to praying to God. This is done gently, but persistently and with deep faith that God will reward the effort, if we do not grow weary and give up (Galatians 6:9).
5. Superficial Prayer – It is lack of intimacy that fuels superficial prayer; in contrast, heartfelt prayer cultivates intimacy with God and is fuel for the Spirit within. We must push past memorized prayers and lists of prayer requests, instead seeking to pray like Jesus prayed, in the Spirit. This is where you really start to put yourself into your prayers, open your heart to God, and feel His Spirit leading your prayers. If you, like most people, desire intimacy in relationships, but often find it lacking, use that natural desire to embrace this heartfelt type of communication with the Creator.
6. Awareness of His Presence –Once you cultivate an awareness of His presence when you are praying, all awkwardness, lack of attentiveness, and superficiality are banished. The sense of His presence overcomes all other thoughts, feelings, and distractions, for He is the great I AM (Exodus 3:14). Ultimately, prayer is about entering the presence of God purposefully and regularly in faith, seeking with dedication to connect with Him. It is not about getting answers to our requests; it is about giving those requests to Him, receiving His peace by trusting that He hears and will answer, and just enjoying His companionship. Then, like the little children Jesus referred to in Matthew 18:2-4, we go about our day, knowing that our all-powerful, all loving Father is taking care of things. Because we experienced intimacy with Him in focused prayer time, we will naturally maintain that contact and continue to talk to Him, picking up the conversation throughout the day, giving Him back any problem, worry, or need that comes up, and then continue walking in His love, in the light (1 John 1:7).
The Remedy for All Obstacles
Intimacy with God is the remedy for all obstacles to prayer. The clearest indicator you have overcome these obstacles is when you have the firm conviction that prayer is for your benefit-- not for Gods because He requires your praises; not for the benefit of other people because they have needs and problems; not even for your own trials, sufferings, and needs. The act of prayer itself is what you need, to enter a place of childlike humility, simply in need of the Father’s presence.
Fullness of Joy in Prayer
Once you get to the place where you pray for this reason, you know you have overcome the obstacles to prayer. Once you connect with Him in an intimate way, you will become addicted to prayer, unable to get enough of it because you will not be able to get enough of Him. Prayer is simply getting into God’s presence. What an honor, what a privilege . . . what a joy!
"You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At your right hand are pleasures forevermore."— Psalm 16;11 NKJV
1. Bible verses regarding Jesus praying in private: Mark 1:35, Luke 4:42, Luke 5:16, Luke 6:12, Luke 9:18