I have spent years of my life trying to figure out why prayer is so boring.
I have read books about “spicing up” your prayer life; some of them have really great advice. But there was always one common result: after a few days or weeks, prayer would be boring again.
Finally, I have come to this conclusion:
Prayer is Boring.
Yup. I said it. It’s boring. It actually is.
I think deep down we all know this, even though we might feel guilty admitting it. But isn’t this fact evident in our actions? There is one thing that we are consistent about in regard to prayer—we don’t do it.
How many sermons have we heard beating us up for our lack of passion in prayer? I know I’ve heard plenty!
How many books are out there about the “secrets of prayer”? It is like there is some secret recipe for prayer—an undisclosed ingredient that you have been missing. Is it praying in tongues? Is it calling upon the Holy Spirit? Is it reciting the right prayer sayings? Is it following the example of Jabez? Is it following the right order in prayer? Is it engaging in the right mental state?
The answer to all these questions is simply “no”.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that these questions are not worth asking and working through. I’m not saying that they are not important or helpful. I think they can help us understand more about God and more about prayer. I think it is a very worthwhile endeavor to study prayer and teach on prayer.
Here’s what I’m saying: Stop beating yourself up because you find prayer boring.
You’re not missing some long lost secret knowledge that will send your prayer life soaring as soon as you cross this mysterious threshold (assuming that you are a born-again follower of Christ, who has repented from your sinful rebellion against Christ, seeking His Kingdom and His Righteousness). Whether you go to the charismatic, full-gospel church, passionately crying out to God, or you go to the predictable environment of your Reformed congregation (I’ve spent a bit of time in both kinds of meetings), one thing will eventually follow—weariness and boredom.
Prayer is boring, and that’s ok.
Why am I OK saying this without fear of divine affliction?
Am I taunting God?
Am I calling him into question?
No, I don’t think so at all. On the contrary, I believe that what I am saying is quite consistent with what we read in Scripture.
Prayer is an act of faith. It is hard.
Let’s take a brief look at what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians.
7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness;
8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
9 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.
10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
1 Thessalonians 4.7-10
In this passage Paul parallels athletic training with spiritual training. Anyone who has done any serious athletic training (or serious training of any kind, really) knows that the training itself isn’t the fun part. Why do you have to “psych yourself out” for your workouts? Because usually you don’t want to do it. I’m not saying that you never get excited about working out. I’m talking about day-in and day-out training. What motivates you are the results achieved through the exercises more than the exercises themselves.
Paul says that the spiritual disciplines (e.g. prayer, fasting, Bible-study, etc.) require training. They require discipline (thus the name!). It’s easy to get excited about prayer or Bible reading for a few days or even a couple weeks, but consistent long-term spiritual exercise is hard work.
Look at the words that Paul chooses to use of his ministry in v. 10—“toil” and “strive”. Paul is not talking about an attempt to earn God’s approval or salvation through works (cp. Philippians 2.12-13 below). He is simply acknowledging that the Christian life and ministry are hard. Often, they are not fun.
That is where the faith comes in.
In discussing a near-synonym of faith—hope—Paul says in Romans 8.24-25,
24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?
25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
If prayer were always fun and exciting (and sometimes it certainly is!) it really wouldn’t require much faith.
When I sit in a room with 3 or 4 other men and we faithfully march through a list of prayer requests, it’s hard to believe that much is actually being accomplished.
When I sit alone asking God to do the same thing for the same people over and over again, it’s hard to believe that much is actually being accomplished.
I often just want to rush to go “do something”!
That’s where faith comes in.
When prayer is boring…
When prayer seems like a waste of time…..
When it seems like we are just going through the motions and could be using our time “more effectively”……….
In those moments we are faced with an essential question—perhaps the most essential question:
Where will you put your trust?
In how you feel? Or in God?
So, now that we have established that prayer is boring and it is ok to admit it, what do we do now?
Excuse ourselves from our prayerlessness because of its evident boringness?
NO! On the contrary! Press in! Prayer is work. It is difficult. But it is also essential to your (and others!) spiritual life, for in prayer our most basic and fundamental spiritual character is tested—our faith.
So, let these words from Paul in Philippians 2 be an encouragement to you. God hasn’t left you to work this out yourself, but he has promised that he will give you all the strength you need if you trust in him:
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.