Jesus called us to deny our self, take up our cross, and to follow him. This is the cross-life. It is the only entry into the abundance life Christ promised. Yet it involves suffering and hard work–not to earn salvation, but to follow the Savior.
Part of the pain and work is prayer. Prayer, especially as praise and thanksgiving, can be joyful communion with God as he reveals his love and goodness to our souls. But prayer can be hard and agonizing work. It often is for me. I must deny myself to pray over worries and concerns regarding others in this fallen and bleeding world. I must deny myself to keep praying when nothing seems to be happening and when my thoughts wander. Yet Jesus said to his disciples before his own supreme suffering on the cross, “Could you not pray for one hour?” How many of us today pray for one hour at a time, or even one hour a week?
In hedonistic American, where for so many the principal values are personal peace and affluence (Francis Schaeffer), we tend to avoid the difficult and medicate the painful at all costs. Yet the gospel calls us to embrace certain kinds of pain–the pain of struggling against a sinful world and a sinful self–for the sake of the greater good of the Kingdom of God. Prayer can sometimes be painful, but it is no less needful. God is listening.