Preaching the Gospel, Preparing a People

Why We Struggle With Prayer: Part 1 Neglect

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Why We Struggle with Prayer

Part 1 Neglect

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Why We Struggle With Prayer: Part 1 Neglect

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All of us struggle at times to talk to God. In this series we will explore some of the most common causes to this trouble and what we can do about it.

Sermon Notes

A while back someone suggested to me that I could do a study on Prayer.  I thought about it and agreed it was a worthy topic but it was also a rather daunting topic to take on because prayer deals with relationships.  And not any relationship but the most important relationship we will ever have.  What can go wrong in relationships?  Almost anything except for one constant.  God is never at fault.  With that in mind, how do you tackle a topic where you have to tell your patient its all your fault.  No, that will not be an effective message.  So I thought about it for some time and this week decided to tackle a portion of the topic with this message.  I may still do a more in-depth study one day but need to find a starting point and see where it leads.  As I was working on the message a thought came to mind.  When a problem seems too complex to figure out you have to isolate the problem down to the root cause and then attack it from there.  Like repairing some difficult piece of machinery you have to get to the root of the problem and you do that by troubleshooting.  As I worked on it I remembered a time when I was in high school my family drove up to my grandmother’s house to bring home her car.  She had died a few years earlier and the car was given to my dad as he was the oldest brother and the most mechanically inclined so since it was an older car it went to him.  But he needed help getting it home.  We lived about 3 hours away and I remember that I left right away with her car and my parents were coming home a day or two later.  I got about half way and then I had to stop for gas.  Afterward, the car would not start.  I needed my dad to help me get it to start but he was not there.

In those days you did not have cell phones and from a pay phone you had to call someone that you knew to ask them to find a number of where he might be and then call that number to talk to someone.  He walked me through the basic troubleshooting that will start most any broken car.  Now a car can be broken in a thousand different ways but as complicated as they are you can reduce the problem to one of three root causes.  If a car won’t start you to first have power to run the starter.  In the old days with stick shifts you could bypass that need by push starting them.  With automatics that’s not possible so you have to have power to run the starter.  Now I did not have that problem as I had been driving the car and the battery was fully charged.  Next you have to have gas going to the engine.  In old cars you could look down the carburetor and push the accelerator and see gas squirt down inside.  With newer cars you could pour a little fuel down the intake and if it’s a fuel problem it will try to start.  Lastly it could be spark.  Without a spark the fuel won’t burn so there are ways to check the spark is working and if not there are things to do for it.  Once you have it narrowed down to one of these three, the solution is much easier to find. 

If you struggle with prayer, you can troubleshoot the problem by trying to find a root cause and once you do that, the solution is much easier to understand.  Most cars, no matter how long they have been parked and not run will start if properly motivated.  You can watch videos of cars abandoned for 30 or more years and they get them started again.  Its not that you can’t have a catastrophic engine problem.  If you run an engine without Oil you will ruin it and it will probably never run again. 

If you have an internal part break when its running the engine can destroy itself like when a rod breaks through the engine block.  These problems are not solvable without a new engine.  The equivalent in prayer would be the unpardonable sin.  The bible says there is no going back from that one.  But this is not the problem when someone struggles with prayer.  You are not a lost cause wasting away in some field abandoned for all eternity.  If you apply some basic troubleshooting to the problem you can most likely get things started again.  Then once things are running you can move on to repair different aspects and improve performance. 

The title of the sermon is:

Why do we Struggle with Prayer? (Part 1 - Neglect)

Originally, I was going to go through three simple steps to get your prayer life going again but fixing the problem can take time so I have decided to break this message into three sections to better cover the material.   Having this problem can seem overwhelming because the very thing you need to fix this is prayer and if you struggle with it then what?  Like any problem, being able to troubleshoot and isolate the issue makes the solution so much easier to find.  Today I want to help us Isolate why we struggle and what we can start to fix the problem.  Knowledge is power but we do have to apply the fix if we want to get better.  Even if you don’t struggle with prayer you may not have the relationship you wished you had. 

The purpose of troubleshooting is looking for the cause of the problem instead of the solution.  There are mechanics out there that don’t do this.  They simply apply solutions.  Car wont start, lets replace this and see if it starts.  That doesn’t work then lets replace something else.  Few people have time or money to approach care repair that way.  Fixing your prayer life can be daunting if you don’t know what the problem is to begin with.  You see a car abandoned in a vacant lot all you know is someone stopped driving it but you have no idea why. 

Likewise, have you ever tried to pray and you just cant start?  Or you try to start and after a few words, then nothing.  Nothing comes to mind.  Why?  Maybe studying is also hard for you.  You might even struggle with fellowship at church.  Maybe you have one of these and maybe two or three.   I have known people that were very involved in church and had many friends and still struggled with prayer.  So where do you start? The first point to consider when trying to find the cause of your struggle with prayer is to ask yourself this question:

Have You Neglected Your Relationship with God?

Now a bad relationship with God will certainly show itself in your prayer life but I am specifically focusing on one cause here.  Our relationship with God can suffer for a whole host of reasons.  But today I want to focus on only one of these.  Neglect. 

Have you known someone who doesn’t take care of their car?  It rarely gets washed and never waxed.  There is trash in the car and maintenance never happens.  You are given an instruction manual that tells you when to do certain maintenance to ensure the care lasts a long time.  Have you known someone who keeps driving a car after things start to break and never fix them?  Maybe the heater or air conditioner stops working.  Maybe the power windows or seats stop working.  They neglect the maintenance and they neglect repairs and before you know it the car quits and it becomes too much money and time to fix so it gets abandoned somewhere.

This state of neglect does not happen all at once.  There is usually no one event that triggers it.  Maybe it starts when you stop reading the bible at home.  Or stop serving or even going to church.  Little by little you have less and less to talk to God about.  I have told the story of a young woman I knew as a teen who was very involved in church activities and had many close friends.  I told a story where I witnessed a miraculous healing of her.  She injured her knee and tore all of those ligaments.  She needed surgery and a prolonged rehabilitation.  She would miss out on many church activities that she so dearly wanted to do.  She came to church in an air cast while she was awaiting surgery.  She was anointed and instantly healed.  I saw her later that evening running and jumping about in joy.  A short time later she began to neglect her church family and then her relationship with God.  Not long after she left her beliefs behind.  

There are many causes for neglect and we certainly can’t cover them all.

If neglect is your problem you have to get a handle on it because if you don’t, the neglect can become terminal. 

Matthew 6 contains the model prayer that is often quoted when talking about the right way to pray.  It contains the elements that keep us from neglecting our relationship with God.  More than that, the verses before and after this section give more prayer instruction and even how to live.

Matthew 6 starts with Jesus telling His disciples how to conduct their lives.  He tells them to serve one another in secret and not so we can be rewarded.  We live in a world where if you do something great you post it to the internet and the world heaps praise on you.  Our youth is programed by social media to seek love through praise online.  Many have actually committed suicide when that love has turned to ridicule.  Notice what Jesus tells them in verses 3 and 4.

3 "But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 "that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.

We should not seek praise and approval of anyone but God.  Otherwise, we start doing things for selfish motives and when we don’t get what we seek then we feel bad and that makes the whole process worse.  He next tells us to pray in secret and not so that others think we are so religious.  People despise hypocrisy and so does God.  We should be very frugal with our advice for one another and very generous with our mercy.  Notice verses 7 and 8.

7 "And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 "Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

When you see vain repetition mentioned here, there are two things that should come to mind.  God does not like the prepared prayers that are memorized and you have all heard them before.  (Now I lay me down to sleep, etc.) They mean nothing to God so why go through the effort.  The other thing this should tell us is that what God wants from us is a heart-felt conversation.  We can be so psyched out to pray we don’t even really talk to him.  If you were having a conversation with your own dad, you wouldn’t use vain repetition right?

We wouldn’t keep referring to our dad over and over.  Dad, can I borrow the keys dad, cause dad, I really would appreciate it dad, because dad, I will be careful dad.  It sounds silly, but when we are praying do you ever do that with God? 

The next verses gives the model prayer.  This, you know, is not intended to be a memorized pray as its starts in verse 9 talking about praying in this manner.  It does not say with these words pray. But more than just helping us with our prayer, it helps us with what should be most important to us.  As the bible says, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  So if this is the content of our prayer then this is the content of our heart and if so, our relationship with God will not be neglected. Staring in vs. 9.

9 "In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.

We often start with our Father in heaven.  But often times launce into the matter at hand. But this reminds us that we need to be focused on His Holiness, His Kingdom, and especially His will in our lives.  That’s a tough one.  Do you pray for God’s will be manifest in our lives and that our will be in line with His? My friend who neglected her family in church and then left her beliefs did so because of her lack of faith in God’s will for her.  She wanted to get married and she could not find a suitable mate. 

She went through her teen years and had many friends but no one who might seriously date. God made family and marriage and he will bring His people together in His time.  The story of Abraham not waiting for Isaac and having Ishmael is a prime example of waiting for God’s timing.  It may not seem fair that Abraham had to wait a hundred years to have a family but that was God’s will.  Is our will the same as God’s   

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

As we read in other places, its OK to mention your needs to God but know that He already knows them.  Notice it does not have any place where it says, give me what ever my heart desires.  We don’t know what is best for us.  If we allow God to arrange our marriage’s and arrange our lives, He promises we will find true happiness.  Do we have faith to believe Him?

 12 And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.

We have to repent over and over because we keep digging holes for ourselves.  Recognizing this helps us be more willing to forgive others when we admit our own failings.  Notice too that verse 12 is discussing the relationships we have with God and everyone else.  We have to learn to be more forgiving, more merciful, and kind to one another.  We all have heard the term tough love.  The disputes we get into with others often never have to do with tough love and more to do with our frustration with one another.  We get fed up with someone and turn to God and expect Him to forgive us.

So God wants us to seek forgiveness but freely give it to others as well.  In this process of forbearance, we can have much better relationships with one another and by extension, with God.  It is here that we get in so much trouble in our personal lives.  We constantly ask for mercy from God but then hold others to account for what they have done to us.

13 And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.   

Notice the linkage between these two sentences about protection and focus on God and His power and glory.  Its saying, God, you watch out for me and protect me from the evil one and his devices meant to entrap us and we in turn will stay focused on You and Your glory as we look for your coming kingdom.

This model prayer tells us the focus we need to have not just in prayer but in life.  Even after the Amen, the instruction on how to live keeps going.   

The next verses go back to that subject of forgiving others and God links our forgiving other to God’s forgiveness of us.  Pretty scary if you hold grudges.

Vs. 16-18 deal with fasting.

16 "Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 "But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 "so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

If you struggle with prayer, adding fasting will help bring clarity as to why its hard.  It’s the best way to hear God speaking.  Its like Elijah not hearing God in all of those supernatural weather events but only in the quiet still could he hear God speaking to him. Fasting quiets the world.

 Vs. 19-21 talk about laying your treasure in Heaven and not seek it in this life.  If we make fame and or fortune in this life we cannot be focused on God and His kingdom. Notice the focus of these verses is just the opposite of what people in this current world focus on.

When we focus on personal fulfillment we will never fill that hole because no matter how much we pour into it the bigger the hole gets.   The old saying of he who dies with the most toys wins is a lie.  We know it but inside we think about what we achieve in this life.  If all we achieve in this life is strong relationships with one another based on mutually serving one another then we die wealthy.

Notice the next few verses starting in 22.

22 "The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 "But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness,
how great is that darkness! 24 "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

The word Mammon means to riches that do not come from God. This is a device that Satan uses to cause people to neglect their spiritual lives.  Satan can see what your hearts desire is and he will often offer you a counterfeit of what that is.  Just Like my friend when she could not find a mate in the church, instead of waiting on God she was offered a mate outside the church.  And like we read here, you cannot serve two masters.  You cannot go in a different direction from where God is leading you and not neglect God and your calling.

We are told to live our life with light and not darkness.  People should see our faces and see light and hope, not sadness and despair.  If your ultimate desire in this life is separate from God’s righteousness and His Kingdom, then you are serving the wrong master.  God will give you your true hearts desire if we put Him first.  But that takes faith.

When we neglect God its usually because our priorities are mixed up.  I have talked with so many people that lament the loss of friends and loved ones who drifted away and sometimes its because they were offended by something but most of the time, its because their priorities were different from God’s and they spend the bulk of their time with other priorities.  It may be a hobby, or like my friend someone outside your faith.

Loneliness is a tremendous motivator.  If you are lonely and along comes someone who offers excitement or just something new, you can easily be swayed into neglecting your first love.  Some people it’s a Job. They want their career to take off. I was successful at my last Job but I was also held back because I would not put the Job first in my life.  I took Sabbaths and Holy Days off and while I was able to work around them, I was not looked at favorably by those who did put the job first.  We are going to be tested in all things in this life.  God wants to know that we value Him above all else.  If you don’t it will show up in your relationship with Him and your prayer life will struggle.  Vs. 25-30 talks about worry. 

25 "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 "Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 28 "So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 "and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 "Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

So in verse 31 we see another therefore linking all that came before to what comes next. 

31 "Therefore do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?'  32 "For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

So this very long chapter is telling us how to live and how to pray.  If you do these things than you will never have to worry about neglecting God in prayer.  You will not run out of things to say to God because your life will be so rich in righteousness and the treasure you are storing in heaven. 

The key to making this message a reality is all about what you really want in life.  No one likes having a rough time in prayer but are you willing to accept the life that would correct the problem.  If you had a car that had one foot in the grave and you were given a plan to restore the car would you?  Its amazing how two people will see different value in the same object.  I have seen collectors pay thousands for an abandoned car so they can go through all the work to fix it up when the person who drove that car into the ground did so without seeing its true potential.  God sees that potential in us and never leaves not forsakes us.  He will help us do the hard work to restore our relationship with Him because He values it.  If you answered yes to the question “Have you neglected your relationship with God?”, then the next question you need to asks is, do you value it? 

I hope you do and if so, the path for you is to re-evaluate your priorities and start putting effort into what manner a person you are called to be.

Next time we will continue with this series and tackle another reason why we struggle with prayer.