Prayer has always been challenging for me.
For a long time I found myself sitting somewhere between finding it difficult to set apart time to pray and feeling as if I couldn't be holy enough to be heard. Juxtapose these concerns with the doubt that my requests would even be answered if I did get my act together and finally pray, you can see why prayer was a challenge for me.
I don't know where you're at with God. Maybe you love him and desire to know him more. Maybe you hate him and blame him for things that have taken place in your life. Maybe you have a vibrant prayer life that is rich with ongoing interactions and so much more than dropping a to-do list in God's lap. Maybe you carry guilt that you should be praying more intentionally but, for reasons like I've mentioned above, you've been slow to foster a life of prayer. Maybe the only time you pray is when you're in trouble and you find yourself calling out to God or whomever might be there to hear you in your time of distress. Perhaps you don't relate to any of these 'maybes' and you find yourself somewhere else altogether.
Wherever you may sit, my hope is that we can look at a few pieces of encouragement found in the Bible and stumble forward together in learning to enjoy an ongoing and open line of communication with the Living God.
Let's start with this common concern: I'm not good enough to get God's attention.
As I mentioned above, I have wrestled with this thought myself. If the God I'm wanting to pray to is both my Creator (the One who knows me more deeply and intimately than anyone else) and is all-knowing, then he for sure is going know that I have too much garbage in my life to turn his ear to me. I'm sure he's has enough holy people to talk with and respond to already. Could he really have time for a sinner like me?
A few years ago I came across a story in the Gospel of Luke, which is the third book in the Christian New Testament. It's possible that I had read it earlier in life but this was the first time it had struck me with great clarity. Throughout his time on earth Jesus used stories to teach, provoke, challenge, correct, condemn, inspire, love, and engage with the people around him. On one occasion he shared a story about man who believed he was morally perfect and deserving of acceptance, and another man who was so ashamed of his life that he didn't even want to be seen by others. If you'd like you can read this story in full by looking up Luke 18:9-14.
The parable takes places in a temple. Two men go into the temple to pray. The first man described is a scholar. He is well-educated, religious, morally upright, and has diligently observed and followed God's law from childhood. His prayer goes like this:
"God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give away tithes of all that I get."
In others words, "God, thank you for me. Thank you that I'm so awesome. Actually, God, you should be thanking me for being so good. God, you're welcome."
The second person in this occurrence is the tax collector who the first man compares himself to. He stands far off in the distance, I imagine he was hiding off in a corner hoping not to be seen by any person but only heard by his God. His prayer goes like this:
"God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
His prayer is succinct. His prayer is not inflated with pride. His prayer is not self-righteousness.
His prayer is honest. His prayer is heard and answered.
Jesus concludes with this sobering statement:
"For everyone who lifts himself up will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be lifted up."
Friend, take encouragement and instruction from the words of Jesus. Be humble and honest. Be broken and messy. Go before God as you truly are and not as you think you should be. He hears, responds, and blesses those who recognize their need for him and has little interest in those who are full of themselves.
Perhaps this will cause you to rethink your thoughts on prayer. Preparing this has definitely caused me to reflect deeply. My hope is that together we can be refreshed by the goodness and grace of God as we pursue him through a lifestyle of prayer. Next time we'll look at another common concern which often keeps us from approaching God.
What concerns have you had in regards to prayer? I'd love to hear from you.