What Makes Prayer So Difficult (And So Worth It)
Joe McKeeverJoe McKeever says he has written dozens of books, but has published none. That refers to the 1,000+ articles on various subjects (prayer, leadership, church, pastors) that can be found on his website -- joemckeever.com -- and which are reprinted by online publications everywhere. His articles appear in a number of textbooks and other collections. Retired from "official" ministry since the summer of 2009, Joe stays busy drawing a daily cartoon for Baptist Press (www.bpnews.net), as an adjunct professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, writing for Baptist MenOnline for the North American Mission Board, and preaching/drawing/etc for conventions and churches across America. Over a 42 year period, McKeever pastored 6 churches (the last three were the First Baptist Churches of Columbus, MS; Charlotte, NC; and Kenner, LA). Followed by 5 years as Director of Missions for the 135 SBC churches of metro New Orleans, during which hurricane katrina devastated the city and destroyed many churches. Joe is married to Margaret, the father of three adults, and the proud grandfather of eight terrific young people. He holds degrees from Birmingham-Southern College (History, 1962), and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (Masters in Church History, 1967, and Doctorate of Ministry in Evangelism, 1973). Joe's father was a coal miner who married a farmer's daughter. Carl and Lois McKeever, both of whom lived past 95 years of age, produced 6 children, with Joe and Ronnie being ministers. Joe grew up near Nauvoo, Alabama, and attended high school at Double Springs. Joe's life verse is Job 4:4, "Your words have stood men on their feet."
- 2018 May 02
“In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)
Tomorrow is the National Day of Prayer. That’s a good thing. It keeps us focused on the importance of prayer, and probably dumps a load of guilt on all of us for not praying more or better.
Three aspects of prayer make it difficult, and probably even unreasonable. And then, one overwhelming reality keeps us at it with the strong confidence that praying is the best thing we can ever do.
The three impossible aspects of prayer that befuddle us…
1. The Object of our prayers is unseen.
In prayer, we are addressing One we’ve never seen and can’t even prove exists. And yet, we keep at it, drawing aside day after day, year after year, speaking to the Invisible, Unprovable Lord in the firm belief that He is there, that He hears, and cares and will answer.
2. The expression of our prayers is uncertain.
We simply do not know how to word our prayers. We are mortals addressing the Immortal, the creation speaking to the Creator, sinners kneeling before the Holy One.
We are never quite sure whether we should do it this way or that way. We hear someone else pray and either we are sure that’s not how it’s done or we envy them their ease in talking to the Father.
“In the same way, God helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). We do not know how to pray as we should.
We knew we didn’t. But here we find the great apostle admitting to the same problem. We’re not quite sure whether that’s comforting–as in “misery loves company”–or depressing, since we were hoping that others surely prayed better than we do. And we find they don’t! And how awful is that!
3. The outcome of our prayers is in doubt.
For good reason, pollsters never announce what percentage of our prayers get answered and what portion lie there unaddressed by the Almighty.
It’s impossible to know.
We may believe God answered this prayer or that one. We may believe He sent us what we needed instead of what we requested. Or, we may believe He said ‘no’ to our request. But we do not know for certain.
We do not know what would have happened had we not prayed.
There is no way to over-emphasize this: 95 out of 100 times, we will never know what God did with our prayers. We pray for the President of the United States, but have no idea whether our prayers did any good or not. We pray for our children when they head off to school, without a clue whether our prayers are responsible for keeping them safe and sharpening their minds and growing their hearts. We pray for the missionaries on the other side of the world, but none of them ever call to say, “Thanks for praying. Here is what God did in answer to your prayers today!”
So, we pray by faith.
Faith in prayer means we address One we cannot see, cannot prove exists, in the hope that He is there, that He cares, that He is listening, and that He will answer. We pray anyway.
Faith in prayer means we do the best we can at wording our prayer even knowing it’s always being done poorly. We pray anyway.
Faith in prayer means we may not know until we arrive in Heaven what God did in answer to our prayers. We pray anyway.
The question then becomes: Why then do we keep praying? What keeps drawing us back?
God has stacked the universe in favor of His children praying. Stacked the cards, so to speak.
It’s all in that amazing eighth chapter of Romans:
Verse 26 says, “The Holy Spirit intercedes for us.”
Verse 34 says, “Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father interceding for us.”
Get that? Both the Son and the Spirit are on our side, interceding for us with the Father.
Is that bizarre or what? I mean, wonderfully bizarre.
Now, do not ask me what form this takes, as two members of the Trinity address the Third on behalf of anything! Heavenly intercession is mind-boggling.
What about the Father? Is He hostile to us and has to be convinced to act on our behalf, to hear those weak babyish prayers we sent up? Verse 31 gives us the answer. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Get that? God is for us. God the Father is on our side, too.
(Note: The “if” in “If God be for us” in context means “since.” The first 30 verses of Romans 8 has established that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are working together for us. So, verse 31 draws it all together and says, “What are we to say to that? Well, SINCE God is for us, who can be against us?” The answer of course is that many people may be against us, but it doesn’t matter if the Triune God is for us. And man, is He ever!)
Is God for us? Smile, sinner. You hit the jackpot this time. “He who did not spare His own Son, how shall He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
So, we come to the Father in prayer.
When you get to Heaven, you will be amazed at what your prayers accomplished.
You will—if you keep praying.
Let us pray. And pray and pray and pray some more.
Let us encourage one another to pray. Let us make the Lord’s house a house of prayer for all the nations. And let us be a people of prayer.
For Jesus’ sake. In Jesus’ name. By Jesus’ blood. Amen.
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