18 October 2022

So you feel unclean. Pray anyway.

Probably the most common reason Christians don’t pray… is because we don’t feel clean enough.

I’m not talking about ritual cleanliness. (Most Christians don’t even know what that is anyway: It’s the idea of ritually washing yourself before worship. Since the Holy Spirit now dwells in us Christians, we don’t need to ritually wash before temple; we are his temple.) But it’s not that; it’s feeling clean, because we feel dirty, because we sinned. Maybe we sinned recently; maybe we didn’t, but we’re aware we sinned a lot over the past few weeks, so we figure we’re not worthy to approach God. He’s too holy, and we’re too gross.

Some Christians even claim God is repelled by our sins. If there’s any sin in our lives, there’s no point in approaching God ’cause he’ll just turn away from us and ignore our prayers. Or even leave, in offense and outrage, like a heavenly snowflake.

It’s because these Christians either don’t understand, or don’t truly believe, Jesus covers everything. They don’t recognize when God accepted us as his kids, he was entirely aware of every sin we were gonna commit in the future. Even sins we’re committing this very instant. (Cut that out, by the way.) But Jesus paid for everything. God doesn’t dole out grace on a sin-by-sin basis: You and he are good. You’re his kid. He’s happy to talk with you!

Now I can say this, and you might understand it and sorta believe it… but Christians still find this a really difficult hangup to get past. For three reasons.

  1. Partly it’s because other people don’t act this way at all, so it’s a wholly foreign mindset, and we’re not familiar with it.
  2. Mostly it’s because it’s our mindset. We’re so used to karma! We can’t fathom the idea of preemptive total forgiveness. We’d certainly never do it, so of course it’s hard to imagine God doing it.
  3. And, y’know, the devil. It’d prefer we never pray, and the longer it can keep us acting upon our unhealthy beliefs, the better.

Grace and time.

When people practice grace, we don’t really practice unlimited grace like God does. We only grant grace on a case-by-case, sin-by-sin basis.

It’s not because we’ve run out of grace! We don’t have an unlimited amount like God does, but even so, we have an awful lot of grace which we could grant. But we usually don’t. Because we don’t wanna be taken advantage of. We don’t want people to take advantage, to treat us lightly, to exploit us, to consider our grace cheap. You know, like people regularly do to God.

We’ll forgive them this time… but if we have to forgive them for the same thing again, or for the same thing over and over again, or forgive ’em lots of things because they just won’t stop sinning against us, we might have to rethink how gracious we’re being with these people. We might need to cut ’em off!

Unlike God, y’see, when we enter relationships with other people, we don’t know what we’re getting into. We think we do, when we get married; we’re generally assuming this person will never, ever intentionally hurt us. Hopefully they don’t! But sometimes they do—and we gotta decide how far our grace extends.

With children the thinking is a little different: Kids will intentionally hurt us. (They just will. They’re kids; they know not what they do.) And we’re willing to show our kids a lot of grace, out of love.

But sometimes loved ones do something which goes way, way beyond our boundaries. Spouses might cheat. Children might commit crimes. Either might hurt you personally, or hurt someone you love. Might be a felony; might be a massive lie; you thought you could forgive all, but these particular sins are a real struggle. In part because you’ve never experienced this sort of hurt before. You can barely handle it.

Think God ever gets caught by surprise like that? Never. He always knows it’s coming. Knew it before he even created you. Knew it before he created the universe and time. Adopted you anyway—knowing you’d disappoint him, loving you anyway.

We never take God by surprise. We can’t. That’s one of the side effects of existing at every point in all of time: God’s never gonna say, “Whoa, didn’t expect that. Okay, that went too far.” Because he always knew how far we’d go.

We never hurt God more than he’s ever been hurt before. (Pretty sure becoming human, then getting betrayed, then getting crucified, hurt the absolute worst.) But even those guys who betrayed and crucified him didn’t blindside God: He knew it was coming, and said so multiple times. In fact from his exists-at-every-point-in-time perspective, he’s watching us commit our very worst sins right now. And forgave us. Long ago.

So do our worries we’re too unclean to interact with God, to have any kind of relationship with a holy God whatsoever, have any basis in reality? Nah.

Whenever we imagine God’s so offended by our sin he draws away, really we’re projecting our attitudes on him. We would be outraged by our sins, so we imagine God acts the same way we would. Might even be angry and vengeful—so we’ve gotta butter him up, and be nice to him, and worship him good and hard, before we can ease back into his good graces. So we get weepy, and apologize… and all this stuff is a waste of time, because God already knows how actually sorry we are—whether we’ve psyched ourselves into feeling awful so we can gain his sympathy. Or even karmically earn his favor, as if that’s possible.

We’re treating God as if he’s a petty human dictator who needs praise lest he smite us. And it’s not in the slightest how he thinks. Especially about us.

Penance and procrastination.

Even so, popular belief and practice is that Christians oughta begin every single prayer by apologizing to God for sucking.

True, in the Lord’s Prayer we’ve got the “forgive us our sins/debts/trespasses” bit. But Jesus’s point in including this line wasn’t because we need to beg forgiveness before we can interact with God. If begging forgiveness was a prerequisite, Jesus’d have put it first in the Lord’s Prayer, not in the last half!—after we already asked for God’s name to be great, for kingdom come, and for daily bread. Forgiveness is important, but Jesus didn’t emphasize God forgiving us; he emphasized us forgiving others.

Matthew 6.14-15 KJV
14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

See, God’s not the one who needs to practice forgiveness. That’s on us.

God doesn’t want us to psyche ourselves into feeling bad, or remorseful, or repentant. And really, what masochist wants to go through those motions anyway? Self-flagellation sucks. (Especially when you’re literally whipping yourself!) We don’t enjoy reliving our mistakes. Some of us are still irritated at ourselves for sinning in the first place!

And for a lot of people, if we think we can’t pray till we make ourselves feel bad for sinning… well that’s no fun, and it’s way easier to simply put off prayer. Save it for the weekend church services. Save it for Easter or Christmas. Pray once we absolutely need to, but the rest of the time, don’t pray at all. Save God as a last resort.

Yep, that’s why a lot of Christians seldom pray. It’s a pretty dysfunctional way to have a relationship with God, and a really messed-up way to think of him. But it’s all too commonplace a practice.

So stop it! We need to get this through our thick skulls: God dealt with our sins already. We’re forgiven. We’re good. We needn’t feel guilty or uncomfortable. Get rid of the hangup, get over yourself, and just pray already. Put it off no longer.