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PRAY: No More Prayer-Guilt, Part III

I hadn’t planned to make this a three-part series. The previous posts about prayer-guilt focus on the guilt we experience because we don’t pray or because our prayers may not sound as eloquent as those of others. This one fits a different pattern, but I think it belongs here, too. Not long ago, a friend wrote and requested prayer. When she did, she said “I guess it seems a bit selfish when there are so many more important issues, but. . .” and continued with her specific request. Of course it honored me that she asked for prayer. I had the blessing of cooperating with God in his answer, something that brings me joy. As I read her note, I realized that often we feel guilty about asking for prayer. Others’ needs often seem more urgent and thus more important than our own. We know people are busy, and we hate to bother them, so we remain silent. Sometimes, we don’t ask for the opposite reason. Our need is so overwhelming, so painful that we don’t want to dump it on anyone else. It already hurts us—why should it also hurt our friends? I know the answer: because it’s biblical. Scripture says we are to “bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Opportunities to carry physical, material burdens for others don’t come often. But opportunities to bear burdens of the spiritual kind—those come as often as we open our eyes, ears, hearts, and lives to those around us. Once again, the enemy rears his ugly head. He wants us to believe our prayer requests are unimportant or that we shouldn’t trouble anyone else. He’d love us to keep our needs, hurts, and problems to ourselves instead of sharing them with fellow believers. After all, if he can paralyze the body of Christ, he won’t have to fight as hard in his war against it. And since prayer is our power source, if he stops it or convinces us not to let it begin, he effectively pulls the plug. God’s funny. What’s biblical is also right. Not long ago, I witnessed a powerful, real-life example of this truth. The daughter of some precious family friends has been diagnosed with an eating disorder. After two weeks in the hospital, she’s undergoing therapy at a Christian treatment center. Many people would have chosen to hide the specifics of this situation. They would have made up a reason for her absence or told a half-truth to cover it up. Our friends and their daughter chose the opposite route. They’ve brought the problem into the light. They’ve shared the truth—and the prayer need—with friends at work, home, and...

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PRAY: No More Prayer-Guilt, Part II

Why does the mention of prayer evoke so much guilt? I believe it happens because prayer has so much power. That’s why the enemy of our souls wants to convince us we’re not good enough, smart enough, or godly enough to pray. Helllooooo? What’s wrong with this picture? Don’t we pray because we want to have a relationship with God? It’s hard to get to know someone unless you talk to him. But where in Scripture does it say anything about being good enough, smart enough, or godly enough to approach him? Yes, he says we need to have “clean hands and a pure heart.” But where do we receive these? We run to him. Yet somehow, this lie of the enemy persists. We hear about a Mother Teresa or a Corrie ten Boom and, because our faith-life doesn’t look exactly like theirs, we wonder if our prayers matter. We remember all the times we should have prayed and didn’t, all the times we meant to pray and forgot, all the times we heard someone else’s prayers that sounded better, smarter, or more godly than ours. We feel guilty—so we don’t pray. And the enemy has us exactly where he wants us. Have you read the story in Luke 18 about the tax collector and the Pharisee? When we read this passage, we tend to focus on the Pharisee and his self-righteousness. Scripture says he was praying “to himself.” Those words point out his misplaced focus. But I think we have the wrong focus, too, when we fail to examine the tax collector’s prayer. Do you remember how it begins? “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13d) This man knew he wasn’t good enough. Scripture says he wouldn’t even look to heaven but kept his eyes downward. Maintaining a posture of humility, he “beat his chest.” In that day and in that culture, women were the ones who carried out actions like these. Any man who would do so was intentionally signifying abject lowliness and humility before God. This man also knew he wasn’t smart enough. He doesn’t attempt a fancy, flowery expression of praise. In fact, he can summon no other words—nor does he need to. His choked heart-cry says it all. Finally, our penitent friend knew he wasn’t godly enough. He calls himself “a sinner.” He separates himself from the rest of the congregation not because he thinks he’s better than they are but because he knows himself and his own sin. He begins at a place of weakness and bewilderment, of uncertainty and longing, of sin and sorrow. And what does he do? He cries out to the only One who can help. The...

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PRAY: No More Prayer-Guilt, Part I

Why do guilt and prayer so often intertwine? We feel guilty when we don’t pray enough. We feel guilty when we promise to pray for someone and forget. We feel guilty when we need prayer. We feel guilty when our prayers don’t sound as profound as those of the person next to us in the prayer group. Do you see the pattern? Satan uses guilt to pull our focus away from God and onto ourselves. I’m learning (albeit slowly) to turn away from that kind of guilt and toward Jesus. When I sin, I seek to confess and forsake it. But I refuse to dwell on guilt when I could pursue my loving Father instead. I use some simple memory tools as a part of my war against prayer-guilt. First, I Do the Math. That means I divide my regular prayer requests up among the days of the week or month—or sometimes hours of the day. I know I can’t pray as effectively if I try to cover too many needs at one time, so I don’t—and I don’t feel guilty, either. For years, our family has prayed for missionary friends and for the nations they serve on different days of the weeks (Americas on Monday, Europe on Tuesday, etc.). I follow the same practice in my personal prayer life. It’s been interesting through the years to see the exciting things God has done on the days and at the times we’ve prayed! You can do the same with requests for friends at church, from work, etc. Divide them up—and multiply the effectiveness of your prayers. I’ve also found a way to become Guiltless by Association, tying tangible objects to my prayers for specific people or situations. When a dear friend was going through treatment for breast cancer, a little brown Pink Ribbon bear sat on my computer monitor. When my fuzzy buddy caught my eye, I prayed for my friend. Another friend who served as a missionary in a closed country made me a bookmark. Its presence in my Bible reminded me to lift her up. Once again, grace replaced guilt. The result? More prayers—and more power. The bonus blessing of those prayer cues is that one prayer leads to more. The math and the objects may have prompted my prayers—but the best memory tool was the prayers themselves. Prayer, like other habits, becomes stronger over time. That’s a great way to eliminate prayer-guilt. And unlike many other habits, it’s one you won’t want to break. As you can see, I use simple tools for a simple heart and mind. What prayer prompters help you? Share them, and we’ll learn...

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