Feeling Guilty About Your Prayer Life?

Years ago, when I was a younger man in ministry, I first heard Martin Luther’s famous quote on prayer: “I have so much to do today that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”¹ Since then, I have heard some version of this statement numerous times… and if I’m being honest, it has led to a sense of guilt at my own prayer life. Perhaps, like me, you have felt the heaviness of shame at hearing of someone else’s habits of faithful prayer. Maybe on a busy day, you feel like you’re doing good to say “thank you” to the Lord before shoving a hoagie down your gullet as you rush off to your next meeting. That seems like a world away from Luther’s three-hour stint in the prayer closet. So, what should we think about such a gap? What are we to do with the burden we feel for not spending a longer amount of time in prayer?

First, it may be that there are some things that you need to cut out of your schedule so that you can spend more time in prayer. Longer and planned periods of prayer are a blessed resolution for God’s people. Indeed, one in which we would do well to grow. So ask God to reveal any “grievous way” (Psalm 139:23-24) in your prayer life that is keeping you from drawing near to Him in longer durations, and repent by His grace. After this, however, I want to give you some perspective that I hope will provide balance and refreshment to your prayer life, and help you see that prayer is not always what we first imagine when someone mentions the topic.

Consider how your prayer life would be impacted by seeing prayer as a component of your ongoing communion with God, interspersed throughout your daily activities. Charles Spurgeon is reported to have practiced prayer in this way. In his biography of Spurgeon, Arnold Dallimore writes, “Spurgeon was ever a man of prayer. Not that he spent any long periods of time in prayer, but he lived in the spirit of communion with God.”² Dallimore illustrates this by telling of an occasion when Spurgeon was enjoying a cheerful walk with a friend and naturally extended an invitation for them to pray: “Come, Theodore, let us thank God for laughter.”³ Another similar instance with an acquaintance led Spurgeon’s companion to say, “The prayer was no parenthesis interjected. It was something that belonged as much to the habit of his mind as breathing did to the habit of his body.”⁴

Certainly, we would say that Spurgeon was one committed to praying “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), but it was because he was committed to living his life in relationship to God. Whether walking with a friend or stepping into the pulpit to preach, he lived before the face of the God whom he needed and treasured. The same was true of Nehemiah while he was still in the service of King Artaxerxes of Persia. As Nehemiah was seeking the king’s permission to return to Judah, the king asked him what he was requesting, and Nehemiah responded, “So I prayed to the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 2:4). His prayer was uttered in the middle of a conversation… before he even answered the king. For Nehemiah, prayers were to be expressed anytime and anywhere, even in the midst of an urgent, personal exchange.

This practice makes perfect sense when you consider that Christ has secured for us confident access to God the Father, so that we can always draw near to His throne of grace in prayer (Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 4:16). Plus, everywhere we go, we encounter reminders of our need for God and evidence of the grace He has poured out on us in Christ. This means that as we move throughout the minutes and hours of our day, we are constantly encountering reasons to offer supplications and thanksgivings to God. With this in mind, let us embrace prayer as a habit to permeate our lives. We can accept that long chunks of prayer are not the only way to stay intimately connected to God. Michael Reeves further explains the benefit of this thinking when he says,

“We don’t need to ‘fit’ God into each day, that is to see our prayer life as something different from the rest of life. In fact, the danger arises precisely when you do think your prayer life is something separate.… When you know that each day is already all God’s and that we have fellowship with him all the time, then prayer suffuses the whole day more naturally. Then you find yourself intuitively praying through the day more, and without feeling the need to be hyper-spiritual and concentrated the whole time. For me, very often it’s unclear whether I am praying at a particular moment or working; it is both at the same time.”⁵

Reeves is not suggesting that there shouldn’t be planned times of prayer in our lives, but rather, that prayer does not have to be monk-like, shut away in quiet seclusion, in order to be pleasing to God. In fact, prayer that “suffuses the whole day” takes very seriously the reality that all of life is about God and, therefore, should be lived in relationship to Him.

This perspective on prayer is not to be used to excuse the way many of us have trained ourselves to be distracted with devices and social media feeds, but I hope it does point us to a more vibrant prayer life that is not boxed into one corner of our day, even if it is for three hours. There is a variety to prayer that should keep us from frequent bouts with guilt over whether we have prayed long enough.

Note: This article originally appeared on thecbcd.org. We encourage you to visit the Center for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship where you can find helpful, biblical resources by a number of trusted pastors and authors.

¹ Nick Aufenkamp, “A Simple Way to Pray Every Day,” Desiring God, February 6, 2017, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a-simple-way-to-pray-every-day.
² Arnold Dallimore, Spurgeon: A Biography, 178.
³ Ibid.
⁴ Ibid.
⁵ Michael Reeves, Enjoy Your Prayer Life, 29-30.

Brent Osterberg




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