The other day I preached on prayer and received a helpful comment from a church member. They mentioned the way in which sin keeps them from prayer; and how, over time, the guilt over sin makes it quite difficult to pray. I think this is a problem for many of us. Here are some thoughts to navigate a path of prayer through the fog of guilt.
Remember that sin will always keep you from prayer.
Just like sin against others affects our relationship with them, so to, sin puts a stress on our relationship with God. It is a breach. Like Adam and Eve hiding from God behind the fig leaves, we are ashamed and likewise hide. We may hide behind our schedules, work, family responsibilities, recreation, or even ministry—but we do hide. It is important therefore to see how sin affects our relationship with God. Prayerlessness is always a manifestation of sin and its effects. We should never be content to sit in a season of prayerlessness but rather to recognize why we are in it and labor to remedy it.
Remember that prayer will lead you out of sin.
It is ironic that prayer is actually the rescue chopper from the captivity of sin. It’s the only way out. Like making contact with a Search and Rescue Team, prayer discloses our location and position. The way out of the spiraling pattern of sin is to confess it and repent. We remember that when we do this God forgives us (1 John 1:9). Sin, at its core, is pride. Prayer, at its core, is the expression of humility. The only way out of sin is to humble ourselves before God, embrace reality, and plead for mercy and grace. Our hearts are tricky and quite deceptive (Jer. 17:9). We will tell ourselves that we can’t pray because we haven’t been praying. Our flesh will rage against humbling ourselves before God in prayer. This is where we must remember the basis of our access.
Remember our access is never based on our sinlessness but Christ’s.
If the basis for our access to God in prayer were our perfection, then personal sin should keep us from God. Thankfully, however, this is not the case. Our access to God comes not through our sinlessness, but through Christ’s!
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15–16)
We never come to God in prayer reciting our qualifications for approaching him. We don’t tip our hat to our heavenly Father and then run down our resume, “I have not done this and I have done that” (Luke 18:9ff). Never! We come to God in prayer covered in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We come pleading his blood and righteousness. His perfection is stitched to our soul. We are one with him and plead him as our representative. When we come in prayer we come as sinners covered in the blood of Christ. Remembering the truth of the gospel and preaching it to our hearts will provoke prayer—even amid personal sin.
Remember that prayer is an expression of faith, and it is by faith that we lay hold of Christ’s sin-atoning sacrifice.
Do you remember that first hour that you believed? What was your first action? Was it not a prayer of faith and repentance? Did you not call out to God in faith, confess his name, and repent of your sin? This is the path into citizenship in Christ’s kingdom. Prayer is tied to our faith in Christ. Prayer expresses our faith. By faith we lay hold of Christ. Like the woman with the issue of blood (Mk. 5) we cling to the garments of Christ. Prayer looks like the women on resurrection morning who fell at the feet of Christ and grabbed ahold of him with fear and joy (Mt. 28:9). Instead of sin keeping us from Christ, sin should drive us to him.
Remember that guilt multiplies.
The frightening thing about living in a state where we do not pray because of sin is the way it compounds. Guilt is a dangerous thing. Over time the compounding guilt will, like thick humidity, make us lethargic and even feel unhealthy.
“For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah” (Psalm 32:3–4)
We need the cool breeze of the gospel and the liberating refreshment of repentance to pass over our weary brows.
When we recognize the corrosive nature of sin and how it eats away at our spiritual life, we will be compelled to keep short accounts with God and fight through seasons of guilt from prayerlessness. It’s been rightly said, sin will keep you from prayer, and prayer will keep you from sin. But it is also true, prayer will lead you out of sin. Sometimes this is hard work. But it is good work. Remember, you are never too sinful to pray when your prayer is one of repentance. Christ is mighty to save, and his grace is greater than all of our sin.