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The Hardest Place to Learn to Pray

The Hardest Place to Learn to Pray

American culture is probably the hardest place in the world to learn to pray.
— Paul Miller, "A Praying Life"

I’m meeting with a group of men on a Tuesday morning in an intense, year-long discipleship relationship. When I presented to them an option for the next topic for our study, they all chose prayer. To help us with our study, I chose Paul Miller’s book, “A Praying Life”.

Early in chapter one, Miller states “American culture is probably the hardest place in the world to learn to pray” (pg. 3). Whether or not miller overstates this claim, I agree that our culture makes it difficult to pray. I began to create a list of attributes of our culture, and these are some words that I believe describe the context in which we live: busy, self-sufficient, noisy, affluent, efficiency, instant gratification, focused on achievement, and constant entertainment. 

Other descriptions of our culture exist, but if these describe the context we live in – even in the least bit – learning to pray is difficult. No wonder a group of Christian men desire to study prayer. 

Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to find ways to combat some of these descriptions of our current culture. Believe it or not, I’m actually writing this blog post in my notebook, with an actual pen. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to type it out? Of course! But typing on a computer is too fast and efficient. I have less time to think and contemplate. I could post more blogs if I typed them out. Then I could get many other things done on my to-do list. 

How does this relate to prayer? Prayer isn’t efficient. It doesn’t provide instant gratification. It is best done in quiet, not in noise. Busy schedules, constant entertainment and affluency drive us away from prayer, not to it. 

Prayer is our engagement with our Father on the level of a relationship. It is one way that we get to know who God is. As we engage God in prayer, it slows us to the point of patience, a characteristic often lacking in our culture. (Who doesn’t get annoyed when our Amazon Prime box doesn’t come in two days?) 

Prayer is an invitation by God for us to engage in relationship with him. Relationships take time, require intimacy, and often have times of trial and struggle. This is prayer. The reason I struggle with prayer is that I fill up my time with business or entertainment. Either I want to appear like I am achieving (so I get busy) or I want to be distracted from the responsibilities of life (so I seek entertainment). Prayer invites us to be neither busy nor entertained, but to simply be present with God our father. Prayer doesn’t provide for us any medals or awards. It’s not efficient, doesn’t provide instant gratification. But we do receive something greater, something counter-cultural. We receive God.