Most of us have not had models for what an authentic, manly prayer life looks like. Religious people—especially ministers—pray at church, and the prayers prayed in church are beautiful. But most of us find that sort of prayer does not come easily. Women seem to pray more easily than we do. They’re good at organizing prayer groups. They talk about prayer more easily. In fact, your wife may be the “initiator” in your home, the one who prays with the kids because it just seems to come more naturally to her. But who do we look to?
Not long ago my sons and I had the opportunity to spend a vacation together alone in the Rocky Mountains, After several days in a rustic cabin at 10,000 feet, where we had few modern conveniences, we moved to a friend’s condominium in one of the ski villages in central Colorado, where we actually had hot water and a television. During the few days we spent in these luxurious quarters, we watched some videos. We saw Apollo 13, Tombstone, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Shootist with John Wayne. Great men’s movies! But not once did I see a man praying in any of these films. Every once in a while, we see football players go down on one knee in the end zone and it looks like they’re praying, but this is not particularly inspirational for the rest of us.
Why Prayer is Foreign to Men
The truth is, as men, we’re given a double message. We hear sermons about it, and we hear stories about it. We read the Bible and see that all the great men and women were clearly people of prayer. History is full of examples of great men and women who prayed. But most of us haven’t known many men of prayer—and my personal opinion is, from years in seminary and in the ministry, that most professional Christian leaders truly struggle with prayer, too.
The bottom line: prayer is confusing, and foreign to the way many of us think and live. Why is that?
First, prayer isn’t objective. It’s hard to get your hands around prayer. It’s hard to know if you’re really praying or just thinking or if you’re getting it right.
Second, prayer can be frustrating. A friend of mine says that prayer is like trying to run a road race after a hurricane—everywhere you go, something seems to block your way! There are so many demands on our time, so many activities that seem important. When it comes to prayer, we have good intentions and may even start out all right. But then we get interrupted—the phone rings, or we remember something that we have to do right away. We say we’ll pray later. After enough of these put-offs we can feel guilty, or think that trying to pray is useless. Sooner or later, we wonder if we’re really cut out for prayer after all.
Third, it can be so hard to focus. For years I tried to pray in my car. I’d drive down the road, shut off the radio, and start trying to concentrate on praying. As often as not, I’d decide I needed a cup of coffee … or start thinking about something my wife, Susan, had said. Then I’d catch myself and begin to pray again . . . only to find myself thinking about a particular problem I was having with someone at church. After many years, I finally gave up trying to pray in the car.
Fourth, prayer is, in part, admitting our need for help—and here we step into a bind. Few men I know like to admit that they need help—even though we’re confronted every day with our inadequacies (which is particularly true if you have a family)! There’s so much we need to know that we don’t know. I saw a book the other day entitled What Men Understand About Women, and when I opened it up, every page was blank! I don’t know about you, but I have often felt that way—that I really don’t know very much about raising my children, relating to my wife, or exercising my responsibility as a husband and father. We want to be the best fathers we can be. We want to provide for our children. We want them to have good health, to get a good education, and to mature as men and women of faith, integrity, courage, compassion, and discipline. In the face of all these needs—if we stop to face them at all—we can begin to feel overwhelmed, if we’re not careful, by our inability to make a difference.
Realizing We Need God’s Help
Life is wonderfully complex—and challenging. Frankly, as your kids get older, you realize more and more how much you need God’s help to raise them and to guide them toward maturity. We don’t know nearly as much as we think we know. Perhaps your daughter is spending time with the wrong kind of friends. A young son may be sullen and refuse to respond. Another child is not studying—or not learning, anyway. In the meantime, you’re thinking about the importance of SAT scores, or about all the lessons your kids have to learn before they can make a good marriage. You can tell your child what’s right and how they have to live and even share with them the hard lessons you’ve learned. But a wise man realizes how very much he needs God’s help in the whole process of being a parent.
Many men I know are quietly despairing about their families. His relationship with his wife may be in trouble. A child may have a serious illness or disability, or may be in open rebellion. His parents may be getting older and struggling with bad health. He may be looking at years of college tuition or years of nursing home bills. He may have a sibling whom he has to bail out of trouble time and again. The point is that most of us have large challenges in our families.
Ironically, it is this sense of failure and great need—our sense of being overwhelmed by so much responsibility—that can actually be the starting point of a genuine intimacy with God in prayer.
One of the most encouraging things Jesus said comes from the only long sermon recorded in the Gospels, the one we call the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus begins with a radical statement: “How blest are those who know their need of God; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs” (Matthew 5:3, NEB). When I first read that, it gave me a great sense of relief—because if there is one thing I’m sure of, it’s my need of God. Jesus was saying, that is the starting place to becoming the man God wants me to become.
He talks in this sermon about the “blessed” man. He says there is a kind of relationship with God that, if we have it, we will be blessed, trusting God to give us what we need.
The word Jesus used that is translated “blessed” has several meanings. It means happy, good, satisfied, or approved by God. In other words, we men who have such a heavy sense of responsibility weighing upon us can find release from the internal pressure of holding on to the ultimate pressure to “make it all happen.” We can begin, instead, to relax and trust God for all that we and our families need.
No, the secret to peace, power, and security in life is not to become omnicompetent, or simply to study and work harder, or to be more and more responsible. Neither is it to be better organized, brighter, stronger, wealthier. Actually, the first step described by the Son of God in becoming complete and competent for the responsibilities we have is to stop relying on our own resourcefulness and recognize our great need of a powerful God! Literally, what Jesus said is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” In other words, those men who realize how small their personal resources are, and who turn to God out of this great sense of need, have taken the first step toward gaining all that they need to fulfill their responsibilities in life.
Learning to Pray Genuinely
A man who is going to grow in relationship to God, and meet his responsibilities, first needs to learn how to have genuine, intimate communion with God. This communion is the heart and soul of prayer. Power in prayer does not come from “getting it right”—that is, using the right technique, words, or system. It begins with the realization of just how inadequate we really are and that God is the only adequate One.
So if you think you’re not “cut out” for prayer, you’re in good company with the rest of us. All that is needed is you and your need!
My favorite story of prayer in the New Testament comes in the account of Peter trying to walk on water to meet the Lord. His prayer wasn’t eloquent or long or theologically deep. It was just real. When he started to sink, he yelled, “Lord, help me!”—and the Lord answered his cry. Peter knew his need.
On the one hand, prayer is based on a deep mystery. That mystery is how an eternal God can desire friendship and intimacy with willful men—like me. But on the other hand, prayer is simple: It is lifting up to God those areas of life where we are inadequate to do the job, seeking His help from the heart.
Taken from How a Man Prays for His Family by John Yates. Published by FamilyLife Publishing, a subsidiary of Campus Crusade for Christ. Copyright © 2004 FamilyLife. All rights reserved.