We are four days into the new year, and by now some of your are starting to feel resistance to your new commitments , disciplines, routines, and resolutions. For those who are seeking to pray more (more fervently, more consistently, more dependently on Jesus) you will do well to be aware of the hinderances to prayer that you either are facing, or will soon enough. Brian Hedges book, Christ Formed in You is a great read that I highly recommend. In his chapter, "Training in the Spirit: Disciplines," he talks about three common obstacles that we run up against when seeking to cultivate a vibrant prayer life: legalism, self-sufficiency, and unbelief.
Legalism: Sometimes I'm more motivated by a sense of obligation than privelage, and begin to thinkof prayer in terms of law rather than grace. After all, I'm a pastor. I'm supposed to be a mature Christian! Why then is prayer so difficult? As Paul Miller rightly says, "Private, personal prayeris one of the last great bastions of legalism."
Self-sufficiency: Often, I'm too self-sufficient to pray. I either let busyness crowd out time with God, or, when I actually start praying, I try to fix myself up to sound or feel more "spiritual" than I really am. But what's missing in both cases is a clear sense of my helplessness-- my need for God.
Unbelief: And sometimes the obstacle is a simply lack of faith. It's not that I stop believing God altogether, but that I forget his character. When I imagine him looking at me, I see an angry judge or a disappointed authority figure, rather than the kindness and love of a father.
He explains that the the only way to overcome these obstacles is to constantly apply the gospel to our praying.
The antidote to legalism is praying in Jesus' name, resting in the reality that we have access to God in prayer only because of Jesus. "When we thoughtfully and intentionally pray in Jesus' name, we undercut the legalism that so often drives prayer. We're not praying in order to get God to accept us. We're coming because we are already accepted in Christ!"
The anitdote to self-sufficiency is remembering our helplessness and coming to God as children approach a good father-- messy, without pretense, helpless, and as we truly are. "Unfortunately, many of us have been taught to pray in very un-childlike ways. We change our tone. We use spiritual sounding words... we veil our hearts and pretend to be something we're not. We try to act all grown up and in the process loose our sense of helplessness."
The anitdote to unbelief is, Hedges points out, closely related to the antidote for self-sufficiency. "When we forget to come to God as children, we're also forgetting that we come to him as our Father. And thus we distrust his heart. The anitdote is to remember his character as our kind and loving heavenly Father."
Hedges has much more to say, so you should get his book to read it all. It's been a real encouragement to me.