In high school I knew I should practice my jumper. I was a good ball-handler and was quick—I could get to the basket when I wanted. I knew this, but, of course, that meant the other team did too within a play or two of tip-off. The natural adjustment was to sag off me and dare me to shoot. I’d look my defender round in the eye—never met a man with square eyes, after all—and I’d hoist a fade-away three right in his face and begin back-peddling down the court, giving a gratuitous head nod to the cheerleaders as if to say, “Yeah, I know I’ve got game.”
This swagger lasted the approximate three seconds it took for the ball to clang off the rim or the backboard, or, in the most dreaded instances, to miss everything altogether. The choice was simple—become a methodical pass-only point guard or work on my jump shot.
I needed to work on my jump shot. My coaches would remind me, my teammates would razz me, the stat-sheet would taunt me. I would make resolutions all summer to spend hours in the gym hoisting jumpers; I’d schedule it all out.
But it never actually started. It was always “next week” or “next month” or “next summer” or simply “later,” but the amount of time I spent actually working on my jump shot amounted to no time at all.
Often my prayer life operates in similar fashion. I can admit it is important and powerful and a game-changer, yet I seldom spend time working on it. How many of us are this way? We want to become better at prayer . . . at least we say we do. Year in and year out, prayer is a thing reserved for our pastor to do well, while we wonder if next year might be the one in which we actually begin growing in it ourselves. But then we don’t, and we move along same as before.
And I think a lot of getting over the mental hump and diving into our prayer lives with purpose is removing the blockages. For me in high school, there were things that limited my propensity to work on my jumper: limited gym access, other sports, having a girlfriend (the main diversion, I think). If I would have been a single, one-sport athlete with gym keys, well, perhaps things might have found the net.
With prayer it is the same. There are some things that hamper our prayer lives—or even our attempts at having prayer lives—and by removing said things, we might enable ourselves to experience connection and power of God in a vibrant way.
So here are some biblical blockers to a steady, powerful prayer life . . .
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. – James 1:5-8
I think a healthy measure of doubt can be great in building faith. But that doubt should be had in seasons, and overcome by the presence of God. Thomas, for instance, ready to die alongside Jesus in John 11:6, encounters such a season after hearing about Jesus’ resurrection–he simply cannot believe the remarkable news. And what happened? What always happens with honest doubt, Jesus meets it and conquers it with deft touch.
And once overcome, the doubt should be cast aside and even firmer faith left in the wake. Our prayer lives should mirror the firmness of said faith, and a total confidence not in ourselves, but in the God who makes and loves and hears and acts.
Coin-flip prayers are no different than playing roulette, and our bets on God are a sure thing—a thoroughbred horse running in a race for dogs. We should enter His presence, confident in Christ, and acknowledging His power to do whatever pleases Him.
Come and hear, all who fear God,
And I will tell of what He has done for my soul.
I cried to Him with my mouth,
And He was extolled with my tongue.
If I regard wickedness in my heart,
The Lord will not hear; – Psalm 66:16-18
I remember having a big argument with my mother when I was in Junior High. She was mad, I was mad, and we said mad things to each other. And then came that uncomfortable moment when the madness had to be put on hold because my friends had arrived to pick me up. Their arrival was welcome, but what wasn’t welcome was the shameful thing I had to do now: after telling her she was the worst mother in the world and her rules and face were dumb, I had to ask her for money so I could go to the movies.
So that maybe didn’t happen verbatim, but it may have well have. And we do this with God. I’ve prayed for God to bless sinful relationships plenty in my day. I’ve prayed that He give me a raise, when I give Him nothing of my current paycheck. I slap Him with one sinful hand while holding out the other.
And this verse says it, “The Lord will not hear.” I’m still saved, sure. But my prayers are not powerful. That is why it says in James that the prayers of a righteous man are a powerful thing—keyword: Righteous. At the recent COMO Men’s Conference, Daryl Strawberry shared this thought in his own words: “God will clean up your mess, but he ain’t gonna bless it.”
And prayer is like this. Want your prayer life to be effective, get in line with God’s will. Obey Him. We cannot honestly seek to have God’s influence our life while “regarding” or holding sin close in our heart. A good way to combat this? Lead off prayer times with times of confession.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. –James 4:3-4
I went through a phase in which I prayed daily for a new Nintendo game. Yep, I prayed and prayed and prayed, and found out that there was no god because time and time again there was no game.
And this is how many of us operate. My faith is directly tied with the number of zeroes in my bank account or the number of inches on my flat screen; well, that is no faith at all—it is hollow greed masquerading as something else.
If I want my prayer life to be powerful, I have to question whose power I’m after—God’s or my own? I have to ask whose glory I’m seeking? Whose name do I want to see made great?
It is when I begin to seek God’s will and let His will direct my own (and not the other way around) that I begin to enter into His presence in prayer.
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” – Matthew 6:12
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:32
There are numerous verses we could add here, but the simple fact is that the Bible takes a pretty harsh stance on hypocrisy. Wanting God to constantly forgive us, a thing we are unwilling to do for others, is, well, hypocritical. It is hard, then, for me to come before the living, forgiving God with a clean conscious, while my heart is besmirched in the muck of grudge. To cut the weight of bitterness from our hearts allows it to soar to the heights of the throne room of Heaven itself; it liberates not only us, but our prayers too. That is why God elsewhere admonishes people not to bring Him worship without first dealing with their horizontal, earthly relationships; this directive holds true for us too. God desires us to be pure. That begins with our relationships and permeates to our prayer life.
Originally, I had nine of these, but in reading these four, it seems there is enough there for one day. In His power, I can remove the hindrances and commit to a more prayerful life, rather than again putting it off.
I may never have a pure jump shot, but I’ve been given all the faculties to have a meaningful prayer life—hey, that might even help with the jumper when all is said and done!