There should be no excuse for any of us. It’s not as if we have nothing to pray about! God has allowed enough trouble in all of our lives to keep us on our knees. And yet, for some this could be the sticking point.
It’s hard to pray when trouble troubles us. Yet James sets his remarks about prayer in the context of trouble. “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray,” he says (James 5:13). We should, but do we? It has been my experience that my prayer life seizes up as soon as trouble pokes its ugly head into my life. But in the end I look back and recognize that without the trouble there would have been very little praying at all. If we are desperate enough, trouble forces us to spend time with God.
When we first came to live in America, our children were thrilled with the music programs in the public schools. All of them wanted to play an instrument. “I want to play the drums,” seven-year-old Pete announced! I was aghast and hastily signed him up for clarinet! This was a serious mistake. The net result of all this was that he never practiced because he didn't want to play the clarinet; he wanted to play the drums. One day he came whistling into the carrying his clarinet. “Pray for me, Mom,” he said. “It’s try outs at school for band, and I want first chair clarinet!”
“I can’t pray that for you, Pete. You haven’t practiced in months.”
“If I’d practiced, I wouldn't need you to pray,” he retorted! Many of us are like Pete. We never practice prayer, but when urgent business arises, we expect to know exactly what to say and how to say it. Trouble gives us the grand opportunity to practice for the concert.
What sort of trouble was James talking about? All sorts. Little troubles and big ones. He mentions relational troubles: “Confess your sins to each other” (James 5:16); and he deals with sin troubles: “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (v. 20). Is any among you hurting? Has your spouse left you? Has someone mistreated you at work? Have you been passed over or gotten the bad part of a deal? Is there someone out there friendless, loveless, childless, cashless, jobless, powerless, clueless? “Is anyone in trouble? He should pray!”
Trouble is a great growth hormone. It takes us from being spiritual dwarfs to spiritual giants – if we respond rightly to it, that is. A few years ago, our family moved into crisis mode. I listened to myself praying. I was shocked. I heard myself praying like an unbeliever. I was praying panic prayers, indulging in angry tirades, and using bargaining language. “Where is my prayer life just when I need it the most?” I asked God. Hard on the heels of that thought came the realization that this trouble was going to do wonders for my prayer life! And it had. Trouble can, in fact, jump-start our prayer life. If we respond to divinely permitted trouble instead of reacting against it, we will find that the situation does two things for us. It will show us that our devotional life isn't working, and it will show us how to work on making it work!
God is such a God of grace. Sometimes He must feel very like the father whose son was in college and who only got in touch when he wanted money! Does the Lord hear from you and me only when we want something? The amazing thing about the Lord is His patient love. He will hear us out whenever we get around to approaching Him.
So when trouble comes, don’t resist it as if it is an enemy; rather, welcome it as a friend. Let it drive you to your knees. Think about it. If trials persist, it just may be that you will persist in prayer. One day I may write a book about the prayers God didn't answer at once. Looking back, I can see how constant pressure kept me in the Lord’s presence, and for that I am grateful.