Finding joy in prayer is a task that is often hard for Christians. There are many reasons for this difficulty. For one, real prayer requires a kind of meditative state that is alien to modern people who are constantly bombarded with entertainment, information, tasks, or messages. It is simply difficult for a modern person to employ focused attention. Our environments, along with our life choices, train us otherwise. And this plays itself out in our thought life. Another thing that makes praying hard is that most of our prayers are petitionary — meaning that we pray them asking God for some kind of benefit. Perhaps we want something material, or we need to get out of trouble, or we desire some advantage in the battles we’re facing. When positive results don’t come instantly, like they do in other less spiritual areas of our lives, we get frustrated, and question the value of our prayers.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with petitionary prayer, and it would be wrong if we never engaged in it. But ironically, it is our unbalanced petitionary prayers that may hinder our joy, and retard our spiritual growth. In the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:5-14), Jesus teaches us in vs. 10 to adopt an attitude of surrender to God’s desires for our whole lives. The verse says, “your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” But our motivations are often the opposite of this. We want our will to be done on earth, as God’s will is done in heaven. Obviously, this is a formula for failure.
The truest and best prayer will seek to find out what God’s will for our lives is. We will engage in discussion with God through meditation, bible reading, life examination, and openness to spiritual illumination in an attempt to know him better, and to understand what he wants for us. Then, once we understand that, very much in the same way that we understand what a spouse or friend wants because of our mutual love and relationship, we will be self-driven to do whatever it is. Our prayers will become in line with what God’s plan is, and they’ll be answered as we walk out that plan. There’s no getting around it. Surrender is a primary ingredient to functional prayer. If prayer does anything, it changes us to become more of what God wants. And when we prioritize that way, we get better benefits than anything we could have asked for otherwise. Afterall, Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33 that if we seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness first , that all the things we desire or need will be added to us. That’s because they’ll also be what God wants. And that if we seek the right things, we’ll find them (Matthew 7:7-8). When that happens, joy will be granted from the prayer, as well as found in the act.