Recently, I read a very short book by John Onwuchekwa in preparation for a teaching session I did for some youth in India. He started his book with the well-known comparison of prayer to breathing. Prayer is like oxygen to a believer: It’s how we breath (see James 5:13–20). I started thinking and writing. Here is what I shared with the Indian youth. It was fruitful for me, as I pray it was for them, and now for you.
If prayer is like oxygen, and I don’t want to breathe or feel like breathing, it presents a problem.
Prayer, we all will acknowledge, is hard. Sometimes it feels like a duty and we don’t see fruit when we pray. We forget to pray. We only pray when we need something. I feel guilty when I don’t pray.
What makes such a simple action so hard? I mean, we can stop right now, close our eyes and pray. The problem clearly isn’t that we don’t know how to pray. It’s that we don’t want to pray. This morning I woke up, read my Bible and got distracted, and the prayer I offered, well, to be honest, was shameful.
Now what? Let me make a number of suggestions.
First, don’t give up. You’re not the only one. Even the disciples struggled (Mark 14:37–41). You’ve experienced this. Trying to pray before bedtime or when you get up and you fall asleep. Try something new and don’t only pray at the times you’re tired.
Second, don’t think this is a once-off struggle. The struggle is real. Prayer is to come before our God and express our dependence on him. The problem is our sinfulness, and the world tells us that we don’t need God. We can handle life by ourselves. So this is a continual battle. There is no one-time, fix-all solution.
Third, there have been people before you who struggled with the same and have accomplished much through prayer over time. The disciples are a case in point (Acts 2:42; 4:23–31; 6:1–6).
Fourth, we need to refocus our look on Christ and realise our dependence on him. We need to make him our source of desire. Our desire is fuelled by what Jesus has done for us: He delivered us from darkness and eternal death; he gave us new life; he gave us an inheritance with him in heaven. We frequently forget what Jesus really did for us. We should, in prayer, remind ourselves of who we are and who we are in Jesus.
Fifth, don’t stop. Keep breathing. The best thing when I struggle to breath is to breath with others. Get together with someone and start breathing together and breathe with the body when we breathe together as one body on Sunday evenings. When someone else breathes, breathe with them in your heart.
Sixth, even better, God created the world through spoken word (Genesis 1). To get breathing, follow God in breathing with him. Start breathing his word. Breath the Psalms (e.g. Psalms 3; 22; 23; 30; 51).
Seventh, if you’re a person who forgets what to pray for, keep a list on your phone for the week. Grab your phone and before you go on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Remind yourself that life is hard and not only an Instagram picture. All of us need to breathe. Go and check out the list and breathe over it for a couple of minutes.
Eighth, remind yourself that you’re in a war (Ephesians 6). If you want peace, you need to take it to the Lord in prayer (Philippians 4:6–7). You cannot live life, much less life in peace, on your own power. You need Jesus and his strength. Live life in reality, not in a vacuum.
Ninth, look to breathing as a relationship, not a to-do list. Go to our Father, Brother, and Helper and talk to them. Don’t see it as a task but enjoy the fellowship with God. It’s not as simple as just getting more discipline. It is far more than that. Engage in breathing without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Luke 18:6–7).
Let us all keep on breathing until we die. It’s not easy, but that is why Jesus made us part of a body to breathe together.
Breathing with and for you,