When prayer is a struggle

When Prayer is a Struggle by Kevin Halloran has one of the plainest covers of any book on my shelf. But with a title like that it doesn’t need an eye-catching cover. The words simply resonate. They are words in season. I suspect many think that the subtitle should read: A book especially for (insert your name)

I find prayer a struggle. Not always, but often. And if you were to audit my praying, then you might wonder about the quality of my relationship with God. The good news is that I don’t have to pray. I’m not being marked on the length, depth or breadth of my prayers. God has given me a Triple A Pass — Access All Areas. An invitation to come to him, speak with him, ask him for what I need, thank him for what he has done, confess what I’ve done or failed to do, and fundamentally give God the honour and glory in all things.

I’ve been reading through When Prayer is a Struggle and been encouraged to value spending time with God. This is a book to read slowly, carefully, and prayerfully! I sometimes skim-read books, but I’m taking my time with this one. The author is taking me on a journey of hearing God in the Scriptures and responding to God in prayer. He models prayer throughout his book:

Father God, thank You for calling me to be part of Your family in Jesus. You know my struggles with prayer, my lack of faith, and my lack of love for You and others. Help my unbelief! Increase my love. Cause me to see the world as You do and to see prayer as a gift from Your gracious hand. Convict me of sin and lead me to treasure the cross more greatly. Thank You for all You’ve done for us by making prayer possible and powerful. In Jesus’s name, amen. (p16)

Halloran starts by focusing on the Lord’s Prayer. He reminds us why prayer matters and how it focuses firstly on God and only secondly on us. We pray to bring honour to God and to unite our hearts with his. Prayer lifts our eyes above ourselves and draws us into God’s vision for his world.

This book is subtitled A Practical Guide for Overcoming Obstacles in Prayer. It includes recommendations for what to pray, how to focus our prayers, how to let Scripture inform our prayers, and how to respond when we don’t know what to pray. 

The approach to prayer is gospel-shaped. We are not shamed into praying by preying upon our guilt. The gospel frees us to take up the privilege of praying. We are invited to mourn our sin, but to rejoice in the sanctifying work of Jesus. Our false views of God are challenged and replaced with a cross-centred perspective. We are privileged to have access to our Heavenly Father in prayer. Halloran shows an understanding of our mixed motives for prayer and we are encouraged to press on, as his redeemed children. 

There are some good tips for staying focussed, for building routine and structure, for praying regularly, for having the content of our prayers shaped by God’s concerns, and for overcoming our petty excuses for not praying. There is a whole chapter devoted to praying in the face of fears and anxieties. Very timely given our stressful circumstances.

I’m glad that I didn’t judge this book by its cover. I’ve read it once and I’m beginning to make some changes when it comes to prayer. I plan to read it again with a view to also encouraging others around me. Prayer is a struggle. It always has been, but we have the help of God’s Spirit who enables us to call on God our Father.

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