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 next time you’re feeling too weak, too wimpy, or too guilty to pray, recognize the tax collector in yourself. The times you feel the weakest or least spiritual are the times when you most need to pray.
Don’t let the enemy’s lies keep you from running to Jesus. After all, prayer helps us know the truth. And truth, as Jesus reminded us, will set us free (John 8:32).