The following ten pitfalls of prayer are not in any particular order despite the fact they are written in a count down fashion. Written below is just brief synopsis of each. I go into more details about each and how to avoid them in the podcast.
9. Major on the minors. I spend a great deal of time praying about peoples’ physical needs, but often forget what is most important– their spiritual health. The Apostle Paul prayed that people would grow in maturity in Christ. He prayed they would come to know the fullness of God’s love. I neglect these prayers, all too often.
8. Not praying for our country and our leaders. I don’t spend a lot of time moaning and groaning about government, but I certainly have no right opening my big mouth if I am not praying. I should respond to every newscast that disappoints, frustrates or annoys me with prayer. Better yet, this should be a standard discipline rather than a reaction.
7. Enter into prayer with too little intention. Do you ever go to the grocery store without a list and come out with a bunch of stuff you didn’t need and simultaneously forget what you needed most? If not, then please call me and become my personal shopper. I often times have that experience of prayer; hence, the failure to intercede for folks when I said I would, prayer for our nation, etc. Pray lists help prevent this from happening.
6. Enter into prayer with too little attention. I have noticed over the past five to ten years a shift in the primary struggle for people with prayer. The struggle has gone from “I can’t find the time” to “I can’t stay focused.” I know personally that I have this problem for two main reasons: 1) I am conditioned by my culture to be constantly multi-tasking and nurtured toward an ever shorter attention span. 2) I am fatigued. A tired mind is a mind that cannot focus. Do either of those describe you
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5. Failure to plan for changed behavior after confessing a sin. In our worship, we have a time for silent prayers of confession. I find myself too often confessing the same things week to week, but fail to sit in prayer and commit to a different course of action. I ask for forgiveness, but also need to really reflect and figure out how I am going to avoid sitting there a week later praying the same thing. I need to offer that commitment to God in prayer.
4. Prayer narcolepsy. Okay, this pitfall is not totally bad. Someone once told me that when you fall asleep while praying, it is like a child falling asleep in the arms of a parent. That’s a great image. Unfortunately, my prayer narcolepsy is a symptom of the fatigue mentioned above, which is a result of living out of balance. Falling asleep while praying devours my time with God. Imagine your spouse falling asleep every time they spoke to you. It would be tough to build a relationship.
3. Both my attention and intention is on something other than God. A Jewish Rabbi named Abraham Heschel once said something to the effect of, “Do not forget that the object of prayer is God.” If I am honest with myself sometimes I pray because I want to check it off my to do list. Sometimes prayer is all about me and my self-development. What would it mean for your prayer to be fully focused on God? I am finding that the best antidote is heaps of praise.
2. Spend too little time listening. This awareness came home to me a couple of years ago when I realized that I often would ask for guidance on something, but then did not pause to listen. God is constantly speaking, but are we listening?
1. Believe too little too much. Have you ever punctuated a prayer with words like, “but whatever your will is may that be done.” Did you do it because you fully trusted how God would answer or did you do it because you suspected God would answer the way you hoped. I find that when a miracle is needed, I have my doubts, so I add words like the ones above as an escape clause for my unbelief. I would like to come to a place of saying those words in the spirit of trust and surrender that Jesus had rather than in my spirit of unbelief.
I will stop here at 10 before I am completely demoralized about my prayer life. I thought of many other pitfalls. Perhaps, this topic merits a sequel, “10 More Pitfalls of Prayer”. If you have a pet pitfall not in this list please share it via the comments.
May God guide your steps around these pits that you might know His presence and power abundantly.
The number one struggle that most people report to me with prayer is staying focused. They prayer for only a few moments and then their attention wanders to everything under the sun. You can conquer your wandering mind with just few simple strategies. I’ve compiled several easy strategies in the free guide below. Plus have an entire podcast episode dedicate to the problem of focus, Four Reasons You Can’t Focus in Prayer and How to Overcome Theme [Podcast Episode 3]
Four Reasons You Can’t Focus in Prayer and How to Overcome Theme [Podcast Episode 3]
Staying Focused in Prayer, Lession from My Lenten Discipline
Prayer Instruction, How to Respond When God Answers Prayer
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