6 Remedies For An Apathetic Prayer Life From The Psalms

Anyone out there feeling apathetic, unmotivated and bored when it comes to prayer?

(I just raised my hand.)  Prayer is probably one of the hardest things in my entire life. It’s honestly a constant battle for me.

Recently, my wife and I had a group of students over and we all acknowledged our struggles with prayer.  And why we don’t do it more often, with more passion.

‘We don’t pray because we don’t want to be disappointed.’

‘It feels like it doesn’t work.’

‘Other things like school and work get in the way.’

Sound familiar?

 

The Right Answer Is Hard To Believe

I’ve never met an honest Christian who doesn’t struggle with prayer.  Even though we know how vital it is.

For example, Mark records one of Jesus’ promises about prayer: ‘Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’ (Mark 11:24)  We can debate about what that practically means, but it certainly seems to suggest that prayer really works.

Jesus himself made prayer a huge priority.  ‘But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.’  (Luke 5:16)

But you already know all this, right?  And yet prayer can still be the last thing we get around to.  Or enjoy when we actually do.

Six Insights From The Psalms

You probably know by now that there’s no silver bullet or easy fix.  But when we dig into what Scripture says, it’s amazing how much we can learn there.  (#rocketscience)

The Psalms, Israel’s prayer and songbook, are a great place to start.  While it isn’t a quick fix, learning to pray in a way that fits with how God created us is going to be way more motivating – and less boring – than trying to figure it out on our own.  Or reading the latest book on prayer that promises to help us find ‘the key’ we’ve been missing.

So, here are 6 insights from the Psalms that should help.

  1. Incorporate singing more into our times of personal worship.  We sing when we gather for church, but I never sung during my personal devotions.  That is, until roughly 6 months ago, mainly just because it wasn’t part of the model I learned in college.  But remember, the Psalms are songs, and any songs with rich lyrics are great ways to worship and engage our whole being.
  2. Remember the connection between the quality of our obedience and prayer life. Psalm 1 shows us that there are really only two ways to live: ‘Blessed is the man [whose] delight is in the law of the Lord… He is like a tree planted by streams of water… The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away’.  (1, 2, 3, 4)  This prayer is placed at the very beginning of the psalms for a reason.  To remind us that a life of obedience (however imperfect) is intimately connected to our life of prayer.  If we’re openly disobeying God in some area of life, we’re not going to be very motivated to have a conversation with him, right?
  3. Embrace the freedom God has given.  The psalms vary tremendously in length, with the shortest (Psalm 117) comprising just 2 verses, and the longest (119) taking 176.  They express every emotion you’ll ever experience.  And they vary in primary purpose from praise and thanksgiving to confession to fervent petition. So although your prayer life should generally reflect the balance of the psalms, there’s an amazing degree of freedom in what that looks like on any given day.  In other words, it’s just like any other healthy relationship.
  4. Add other items to the shopping list.  When the psalmists ask God for something, it’s never just a shopping list of one thing after another.  For example, when David asks God for intimacy in his temple (Psalm 27:4), he also meditates on God as his ‘light and salvation’ (1) and remembers that God has been his help (9). Remembering who God is and what he’s done will inject our requests with passion and spur us on to ask with expectancy.  We’re not just talking into the air; we’re asking our good, good Father for things he’s delighted – and more than able – to give us.
  5. Never forget God’s unfailing, steadfast love.  God’s ‘steadfast love’ – his covenant, never-ending love that doesn’t depend on us but Christ – appears 136 times in 52 different psalms.  When we know that we can’t lose God’s love or favor, it gives us a deep security to keep engaging God even when we’re in a season where we’re not exactly killing it.
  6. God wants us to be joyful.  If Psalm 1 is there to remind us that obedience matters, the final five Psalms (146-150), with their clear focus on praise and thanksgiving, make an even clearer point.  God could have ended this model prayer book on any note, and he chose to end with an unmistakeable litany of joy and thanksgiving. Do you believe that God is for you?  Wants your best?  This is one of his best efforts to convince us.

So there you go, 6 insights from the psalter that will motivate us to keep praying.  To do it more biblically and well.  To help us avoid the ruts of boredom and apathy that so often accompany our conversations with God.  (Or keep us from talking to him altogether.)

A Final Thought

As I read through this post before hitting ‘publish’, it occurrs to me how so much of what God teaches us about prayer is true of any healthy relationship with another person.

For example, we don’t approach our other relationships with a formula, do we?  Some of appreciate the ‘ACTS’ prayer pattern, which consists of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication (petition).  It helps us find balance, but we would never approach a real person like that.

Imagine going out on a date and trying to (even loosely) take that approach.  ‘You know, you are so wonderful.  I’m sorry that I didn’t return your call sooner, but I’m so thankful you gave me another shot.  Can we go out again next week?’  Awkward.  And forced. Real relationships and conversations are more organic than that.

In any event, let’s try to put a little thought into the ways our relationships with others could lend some vitality to our prayer lives.  Remembering that God is a Person should help us enjoy our conversations with him more than we often do.

Your turn:

  1. Are you enjoying your times of prayer these days?  
  2. Which of the above suggestions would be most helpful to you?  

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Hey Bryan,
    Another great post. This has caused all sorts of thoughts in my mind that if you and I would talk about it, we’d probably spend two hours on this topic. 🙂

    From the surface relationships many young adults have with their “friends” and their parents, to the relationships Pastors have with their peers. (I’m sure you know what I mean)

    Your #2 on the insights is very insightful. I don’t think most of us realize that when we’re in disobedience to God, we won’t be motivated to talk to him. This is much like the relationship between parent and child. When the child is being disobedient, the only conversion or connection they have with their parents is what they have do communicate, but not because they want to. They become rather disconnected.

    By the same token, when a husband and wife are at odds with each other, communication is the first thing that is compromised followed by a lifestyle of intimacy.

    Good stuff here, Bryan. You should develop a book from this post. Much to expound on. I might use some of it for my Wed. nights Bible Studies.
    Thanks bro.

    • Hi Alex, thanks so much for your very kind words! And yeah, I bet we could talk forever about all this stuff. 🙂

      I really appreciate your thoughts about the parallels between us/God and parents/kids or husband/wife. And how communication becomes forced, not desired.

      It’s amazing how the way we connect with God (or don’t) can’t help but show up in all our other relationships.

      Feel free to use anything I’ve written with abandon. 🙂 No doubt you’ll improve it substantially!