When Prayer isn’t Prayer

Sometimes Our Prayer is Vain and Not Holy. It’s the same as No Prayer At All. When God Corrects That, We May, for a Time, Feel Prayer-Disabled. But It’s Part of the Process.

Sometimes prayer can proceed from vanity rather than from holy desire. Sometimes, our desire to please God is a desire to appear pleasing to God in some way, which, again, can sometimes be vanity and pride. These things not only get in the way of devout prayerfulness, they actually render prayer practically non-existent. But the Lord has the cure. He makes an omelet by first breaking a few eggs (and spirits)

“Standing by himself, the Pharisee prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men: thieves, rogues, adulterers — or this Tax Collector. I fast twice a week, and I give thee tithes of all my income.”

Sometimes our prayer or devotions are like the fasting and tithing of that Pharisee. They’re inert and have little or no effect or merit. On the other hand, the Tax Collector, out of humility and contrition, won’t even look up to Heaven as he prays and says, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” This kind of prayer is pleasing to God because it comes from a holy desire and from a place of humility and sorrow for sin. Scripture tells us that God will not spurn a humble and contrite heart, but he resists the proud.

When prayer comes from an unrighteous heart or “crooked” desire, when it’s out of vanity or pretense, it is not prayer; it’s performance. And so it can sometimes be the case that no matter how many prayers we say or for how many years we spend doing it, our spirits and minds are not practiced in engagement in prayer (which is a spiritual function) but in the performance that our prayerfulness has become. Prayer—real prayer—is, in a sense, foreign to our human faculties, despite spending such-and-such a period of time praying.

Eventually, the Lord purges us of these fundamental flaws that render our prayers inert. But when that happens, we may ironically feel disabled, rather than rejuvenated, in prayer. For example, we may feel an aversion to prayer, are annoyed rather than soothed by the pace of prayer and the time it takes; we resist taking time out to pray because it feels like an intrusion. “How is this happening?” we ask. “I used to love praying!” The answer is that we run into these obstacles because praying from holy desire, rather than with a vain or arrogant desire, makes prayer a new experience. So we find the same challenges to prayer that someone entirely new to prayer would experience. Your human faculties are new to prayer because you’ve been praying on spiritual crutches for so long. Now that the Lord has set you on a path to pray with holy desire, your body, spirit, and mind must go through a process of reeducation in prayer.In those situations, we simply need to start over again.

Pray like children, with simplicity and innocence. Reeducate the spirit, the mind, and even the body in prayer by praying. Build new habits and patterns. Establish new norms in this new life of prayer. If the Lord has brought you through the darkness to reset you somehow, it means He thinks very highly of you and that you are bound for great prayerfulness and holiness. As I always say, “Trust the process!” This other article may help.

Ave Maria, Virgo Fidelis!

Follow me on Twitter! And consider subscribing to my articles below.

Signup for my Newsletter

Stay up to date on everything I publish, and get an occasional exclusives.

See More


Subscribe to get notified of new podcasts & episodes