Why Men Don’t Pray

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Let’s listen in on the end of a Christian men’s group meeting:

Guy 1: Great Bible study! Now who has prayer requests?

Guy 2, raising a hand: I inherited a couple thousand dollars from an aunt who died, and I need prayer to know how to best handle the money.

Guy 3: Put it in a stock index fund. Tracks the stock market and since it’s always going up over time, you win.

Guy 4: Have you looked into a 529 account? Little Joey will be going to college some day. Gotta remember that.

Guy 5: There’s the upcoming mission trip for the youth. I hear a lot of the kids don’t have enough money to go. You could write it off. Advance the Kingdom and all that.

Guy 3 to Guy 5: But if he invests it, he could make money and still turn some over in the future. Let his interest fund the mission trip five years from now.

Guy 6: This is a blessing from God. He means it to meet your needs. Your car’s not lookin’ all that hot right now. Didn’t you say the transmission needed work?

Guy 2 to Guy 6: True, but…

{Twenty minutes later…}

Guy 4: College, man. I’m telling you. It’ll cost a quarter million for four years the way things are going. Save now.

Guy 1: It’s almost 9:30, guys. Looks like we’ve pretty much shot our time, so anyone want to close in prayer?

{Guy 2 raises his hand}

Guy 1: Go for it.

Guy 2: Thank you, Lord, for this time. We pray you’d bless us and all our families. Help us to know you more. Amen.

All the Guys: Amen.

Sound familiar? I’d say that’s an eerily close script for just about every group of Christian men I’ve ever been a part of. Mention praying for each other’s needs and for the needs of the Body and you’ll hear 99 percent advice and 1 percent prayer.

I don’t remember it being that bad in my ancient past, though. And as much as it’s easy to blame men for this (to say they just aren’t spiritual enough today), I have another theory.

Consider all the changes wrought in our society in the last fifty years.

  • Companies fire men at the drop of a hat, even if they do good work.
  • Women now fight them for their jobs—and win.
  • The feminist movement questioned men’s very raison d’être, and that questioning trickled down into society as a whole.
  • TV went from Father Knows Best to showing dad routinely outsmarted by everyone, including the family dog.
  • Men aren’t reading the lay of the society’s land well. Too many changes happening too fast. Even in church on Sunday, they hear the message they’re not doing it right.

In short, I believe many men—many Christian men—struggle with feelings of incompetence. They wonder if they do anything well. GaggedThey fear that the future will somehow reveal their inadequacies, and they’ll be made a laughingstock.

I’m no psychiatrist. I’m down on psychology. But when I talk to other men, I see them struggling with these issues. It’s like watching Death of a Salesman or Glengarry Glen Ross looping in the lives of many men.

I believe this comes out in the way men approach prayer today.

A problem arises as expressed through a prayer concern. Suddenly, a chance to show competence—to let someone else know that I’ve heard what he said and I might be able to resolve it then and there, as if God had miraculously touched my mind with the answer! I can be helpful! I can make a difference!

I can be competent!

A more disturbing side exists to this, too. Intellectual competence in providing the winning solution to someone’s problem isn’t the only competence issue at stake here. Prayer becomes a comptetence issue, as well.

To many men, providing a common sense answer to a prayer need means not running the risk that prayer may not work. We prayed about Steve’s inheritance and he wound up getting taken by some shyster financial advisor. Then who’s wrong? Maybe our prayers failed the competency test. Maybe our faith failed that test, too. Maybe we’re not godly enough for God to take our prayers seriously. We’ve botched everything else, so why not this, too?

That fear of being shown incompetent doesn’t afflict women as much as men. I think the main competence issue women struggle with concerns raising their kids. Yes, that’s a leaden weight, too, but I think men tend to struggle with competence in every aspect of their lives. It’s why shows of bravado empower men. To be king of the hill carries some meaning.

Now we can inject all sorts of spiritual advice into this. We can talk about dying to self. We can talk about grace. But men simply aren’t experiencing those in their lives because what they get from the church on Sunday doesn’t have enough steam to get them past the gauntlet of potential incompetence they must run through the rest of the week. The car breaks down, and it’s so complex they can’t fix it. When their kids ask for help on algebra, they can’t do it. They can’t work enough hours in the week to avoid the offshoring due to hit their company. They can’t meet all the requirements the parachurch ministry says they must meet to be a Christian husband. They don’t even know where to start in prayer to address all these lacks. So they don’t even try.

And that’s my take on why men today don’t pray.

19 thoughts on “Why Men Don’t Pray

  1. Kathy

    Is it different now than in years past? You see, I think most men offer advice when a need is made known, which is why communication between men and women is difficult. I want to vent about something, my husband offers advice about solving the problem (and I’m annoyed because I just want to vent). It seems the habit of offering advice might be how men communicate in most settings.

    Have you been in group situations with men in which it’s different? I don’t disagree with your post, I’m just curious.

  2. I’ve been praying with the same group (more or less) for around four years and as good as we are at not doing this, we still fall into it from time to time. But for some of us this is a group where a huge level of trust has built up and we’ve given one another the right to speak into our lives in that way. Still if it takes up the whole prayer session that’s not good, which is what I think you’re saying.

    • Scott,

      Putting off the prayer for advice varies with each group. But I see the problem getting worse.

      I used to run the prayer team ministry Sunday nights at my old church. Nothing grated on me more than people giving advice. I reinforced the idea that we pray and leave everything to God. He has the riches. He holds the keys. Not that a pray-er can’t hear from God and relate that to the pray-ee, but the prayer comes first.

  3. Of course, there’s the old college Christian pickup line: “Ya wanna come up to my place and pray?” I think prayer is so misunderstood (and ignored) that merely pointing out male issues with it is merely chipping an ice cube off Antarctica, but I have seen it in action. I’ve been trying to get our church to hold overnight prayer vigils on a quarterly basis. The usual response is “what are we going to pray for for that long?

    I don’t think many people consider prayer as spending time with God, even if it’s in companionable silence. And most people, especially men, who are conversationally challenged anyways, do not consider listening (I won’t go into the issue of ‘men’ and ‘listening’ :-)) as a part of prayer, at best thinking of prayer as a method of depositing requests for aid.

    • David,

      Women don’t have the problem as much. Also, you go to your average intercessory prayer group and it’s almost always all women. Older women, too. That doesn’t speak well for us men that praying women are the backbone of our churches.

      A Vineyard church my wife and I attended when we lived in Silicon Valley did quarterly all-day/night prayer vigils, though they did it somewhat differently. They’d have people sign up for one and two hour chunks of time over a 24-hour period, then have those groups of folks come to the church office and pray together. Those were always a blessing and the time flew by. We never ran out of things to pray for.

      This is not to say you couldn’t have the entire church together for the just an overnight session, but I think the way that Vineyard church did it was smart. More personal, too, since the space was smaller and more intimate.

      • Praying women have always been the backbone of churches, and families, and I don’t think that necessarily speaks badly of anyone or anything. How many historical (and present-day) believing writers, apologists, evangelists and pastors owe their belief to a praying mother, grandmother, or wife? (I don’t believe you were disparaging women as “prayer backbones,” rather, pointing out the lack of male leadership in this role – I’m just clarifying.)

  4. Oh, and as to the compentancy of men…This is the curse of sin as it effects men…Adam was silent and inactive when he should have spoken out and acted…And we’ve been paying for it ever since. The cure, of course, is to overcome the curse. Feeling of incompetence are the result of being reliant on our own strength. Not having our needs met by a church is the result of depending on a building to meet our needs. We do not have, because we do not ask, and when we ask, we ask for the wrong reasons.

    • David,

      No doubt that feelings of incompetence are based on self-reliance. But it’s also linked to respect, and I don’t think most men are getting enough respect in their lives. God built that need for respect into us, and I can’t say it’s the result of the fall. It’s there for a reason.

        • David, that in itself wouldn’t explain the historically recent social turn-around that Dan illustrated in the post. From one that’s been around long enough to know, the level of respect for men in general has plummeted in the last 50 years.

          Dan, can we blame it on politicians? Or are they just suffering the same phenomenon? And why did TV change so much…were women programming all the commercials? Or were they being programmed to? Did it work?

          Do you think men are praying more, less, or the same as we did 50 years ago?

          • Sir Chuck,

            While I may be labeled a curmudgeon for saying so, I believe many of the problems we face today come from an American Church that started falling asleep around 1920. The Church’s blindness allowed in Social Darwinism, industrialization, and higher criticism toward the end of the 19th century. By the 1920s, those had taken full root, damaging the Church. I would say that the majority of social problems we have today spring immediately from those three diseases we Christians failed to address in their infancy.

            I think all people pray less today than they did even twenty years ago, remarkable considering the “triumph of Evangelicalism” we hear so much about. With even fewer men attending church services, I’ve got to believe that men as a whole pray less. I know that I don’t pray as much as I did 20 years ago, and that bothers me immensely. I used to routinely pull prayer all-nighters and I can’t remember the last time I did that. I can’t even remember the last time I spent an entire unbroken hour in prayer! Isn’t that awful? I feel awful just writing it. What’s really sad is that I’m pretty certain I pray more than most men do.

            And don’t even get me going on the whole “practicing the presence” thing. It may be a worthy discipline, but it’s also always an excuse not to devote time to intentional, unbroken prayer.

  5. Diane Roberts

    What do you mean women don’t do this too? This advice giving goes on constantly in women’s prayer meetings. “Well, why don’t you…..”

    By the way, I really liked your last comment above mine, Dan. So true. We are where we are because of what has gone on before us.

  6. Marta Odum

    I weigh in with Kathy from up top. I think that most men offer advice when a need is expressed. I recently read the first half of that “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus” book, and apparently that is a knee jerk reaction for men, at least according to that mental health professional. And that has been my experience! As Kathy said, sometimes a woman just wants to vent… But anyways, apparently that is the way men bond with each other and offer support. As women, it is easier for us to nurture, and prayer for another individual is definitely a form of nurturing. I’d imagine that, especially for men who are new to the church, prayer is something they have to work harder on, in general, than women. Of course there are many exceptions to that rule. Pastors, ministers, etc. And there are definitely male prayer warriors!
    Great post! It was funny, and it made me think. God bless.

  7. I think a lot of our lack of confidence of men has been reinforced by “Stupid White Male Syndrome” on TV. White males are the only politically correct minority to persecute, so we’re portrayed as totally incompetent.

    Though I’ve seen some “progress” in the last couple of years.

    Sometimes, black men are portrayed that way now, too.

  8. I like the post, but I think we don’t pray because we are so independent and simply don’t know how to trust in the Lord. And, I don’t think it is really any different for women.

  9. Bill

    Dan,

    I know this is really late but I just saw your post. I am running a breakout session on this very thing in August at a prayer conference. I thought I was the only one very concerened about this awful malady.

    Questions:

    Is competence the only issue? Does it go deeper? I think it does.

    Have you done any more research on this matter? Is there anything else you can share?

    If it isn’t too much trouble, we can talk one-on-one if you wish or correspond. Actually, I’d love to. This is one of my biggest hot-buttons.

    The peace of Christ to you,
    Bill Van Loon

  10. Dan men and women do not listen well thus the pray poorly. Over 2 million people have bought my books on listening and tens of thousands have taken out training in listening skills. Learn to listen to humans, self, and God. Then pray.

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