Prayer Is a Burden
It is an effect of the fall that prayer is such a burden to us. The perfect communion that Adam and Eve enjoyed with God has been broken. This is why it’s so hard to pray, even for mature Christians.
Christ Jesus is the perfect mediator between us and God, and because of his atoning work, the book of Hebrews exhorts us:
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God… Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16).
This is a tremendous encouragement to pray. But let’s not forget the obvious. The author of Hebrews finds it necessary to exhort us to pray. So do Christ and Paul. What does this imply but that prayer is a burden to us? Prayer is not how we want to spend our time. Therefore, we need to be exhorted to pray.
One of my duties as a pastor is to pray for the congregation I serve. I began by dutifully praying for five families a day. This was not easy. I found myself putting it off, especially if I felt behind in my other work. Because of this burden, there were many days I did not pray for anyone. What did I do? I tried some different things, but what eventually worked is this: I now pray for three families a day. I find this much more manageable. It takes less time, it weighs on my heart less, and I don’t put it off no matter how busy I am.
Am I proud of this? No. It demonstrates the weakness of my flesh and how hard it is for me to pray. And yet, three families are better than none.
What keeps you from praying? Is it overwhelming? Is it time consuming? Is it hard to know what to say?
I recommend starting small. Whatever you begin to do, let it be small enough so that you’ll actually do it each day. I also recommend using written prayers to help you along. Christians for millennia have used the Psalms. You don’t have to pray through the whole Psalm, just part of it. Or you can use whatever passage of Scripture you happen to be reading to help you pray. When you read a command it’s an opportunity to confess your sin and to ask for help to obey. When you read a promise it’s an opportunity to give thanks to God.
I highly recommend using Luther’s Small Catechism as a prayer book. Pray through the 10 Commandments and their meanings. It’s simple. Turn the explanations into prayer by replacing the words “We should...” with “Dear God, help me to...”
For example, the meaning of the 5th commandment is: “We should fear and love God so that we do our neighbor no bodily harm nor cause him any suffering, but help and befriend him in every need.”
Turn it into prayer like this, “Dear God, help me to fear and love you so that I do my neighbor no bodily harm nor cause him any suffering, but help and befriend him in every need.” You can do this with all the commandments.
The explanations of The Lord’s Prayer are just as easy to turn into prayer. For example, turn the explanation of the 2nd petition into prayer like this: “Dear Heavenly Father, please give me your Holy Spirit, so that by your grace I believe your holy Word and live a godly life here on earth and in heaven forever.”
Albeit, some of the explanations are not as simple to turn into prayer by just a couple of word changes. But I’m sure you’re creative enough to figure out how to pray through each explanation.
I don’t usually pray through the Apostles Creed and its explanations, but when I do, I turn them into big prayers of thanksgiving for all that God has done and continues to do for us.
Don’t begin by praying through the whole catechism at once or you’ll never stick with it. Pray through two commandments or two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. Whatever you do, make it small enough so that you’ll do it again tomorrow, and next week, and next month.
When praying a written prayer, the Spirit will often bring things to mind that lead us away from what is written. This is good and we should pray as the Spirit leads.
I write this article because I’ve found prayer to be a burden. To be theologically precise, my old man finds it to be a burden but my new man loves it. In real life, though, even the joys of my new man are tainted by the grumblings of my old man. The advice I write here is meant to help you fight against the old man and enter into the God-pleasing work of prayer. Even if you begin praying out of duty alone, you may find yourself continuing because of Spirit-filled joy.
Jesus says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).