It’s Monday Grace!
I was taught to pray by reciting little poems. You may know them. “Now I lay me down to sleep…” “Be present at our table Lord…” “Our Father, which art in Heaven…” Not bad words, but not really mine. Even if I considered what I was saying, the words reflected someone else’s thoughts.
As I grew older, I was expected to pray on my own of course. Someone said I should use the acronym ACTS to guide my prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. In other words, I was to praise God first, then confess my own unworthiness (perhaps even listing my sins), then thank God for everything I have already received from Him. And only then could I ask for what I needed.
Now, that wasn’t bad. It is important to remember who God is. He is not a vending machine or a waiter in a restaurant. We should come with respect and humility. The problem was not the poems or even the acronym. The problem was the formality. Prayer became a kind of formula. And it became a burden.
Years ago I heard someone say that we should stop apologizing to God every time we pray. Now, that’s part of Christian tradition for most folks. We are to confess and repent. One friend talks about how he was at a funeral where the closing prayer was a confession of “our many and grievous sins.” Then the whole congregation walked down the hall of the church to the fellowship room where someone prayed for the meal and ended the prayer by confessing their “many and grievous sins.” My friend wonders how many “grievous sins” the people committed on the short walk down the hallway of the church.
If you feel that you have to confess your sins every time you pray, you aren’t going to want to pray. The experience begins with a negative. It might not be bad for you to acknowledge that something you are doing is wrong. There is room for confession (as long as you don’t think it either hinders or promotes your salvation). But think of it this way. When you have someone to whom you must apologize, is that an easy task? Do you look forward to it? Or do you procrastinate, finding ways to avoid it? Never mind what you should do, how do you feel about it?
You see, prayer is supposed to be a pleasure for us. It is supposed to be such a pleasure that we are in a constant state of prayer all day long (1 Th 5:17). Imagine spending all day confessing one sin after another!
No, prayer is conversation with the Lord, living in communion with Him. That means being aware of His presence and love. That means being quick to speak to Him about your concerns and your joys. That means seeking to see others in the way He sees you. We can pray all day long as we do our work and live our lives.
But not if prayer is so formal that God seems distant and unkind. If we have to start with a formula that makes us ashamed and fearful, we won’t see prayer as a joyful thing.
I have learned to begin my more serious prayer times by thanking the Lord for calling me back to the awareness of His presence and opening a time when I can talk with Him. I talk with Him a great deal through the day, but in those dedicated times, I want to remember His love for me. Then, when I have a request, which I often do, I think of His kindness and grace toward me.
Remember that Jesus already forgave your sin. Remember that the one motivation of the heart of God toward you is love. He initiated your relationship. He paid the price long before you understood the truth. He reached out to you.
Enter into prayer as one who is already forgiven and already fully accepted. You are His child, and He loves you. If you have done something wrong, talk with Him about it. He may reveal why you did it and what you can do about it now. But you are never condemned in His presence. You are always welcome.
If I were the devil and wanted to discourage believers, I would try to take away prayer. I would make it a burden and chore, a duty filled with shame. Then even those who wanted to pray would come defeated and weakened into their time with the Lord. They would hang their heads and wallow in self-disgust. Humility would become humiliation. Deference would become degradation. And the people would lack power and joy.
No more condemnation! No more shame! No more weak and discouraging prayer! Now, we come to our Lord with joy and thanks, knowing that He loves us just as much as He ever has and ever will.