So you feel unclean. Pray anyway.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 April

Stop letting your sins keep you from prayer. God already forgave you.

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 going to temple. Since the Holy Spirit now dwells in us Christians, we don’t need to ritually wash before temple; we are his temple. But like I said, it’s not about that. It’s about feeling clean because we haven’t sinned. Or because we’re pretty sure we haven’t sinned; as far as we know we’re good.

But if we have sinned, we figure we’re not worthy to approach God. We feel we’re too dirty, or he’s too righteous, for us to be around him. Some Christians even teach God is repelled by our sins; that if we’ve got 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.

It’s because these Christians either don’t understand, or don’t truly believe, Jesus covers everything. Every sin we’ve ever committed in the past, every sin we’ll commit in future, even sins we’re committing this very instant. (Cut that out, by the way.) Jesus knocked out everything. God doesn’t dole out grace on a sin-by-sin basis. 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 two reasons. Mostly 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. And the other is because the devil would prefer we never pray, so the longer it can keep us acting upon this unhealthy belief, the better.

Grace and time.

We humans grant one another grace on a case-by-case, sin-by-sin basis. It’s not because we’re deficient in grace—though compared to God, everybody practices way less grace than he does. It’s because we don’t know the future. We have no idea what future sins or offenses we’ll have to forgive, ’cause they haven’t happened yet.

We might claim, “I love you so much, I can forgive you absolutely everything.” Certainly couples, when they’re first getting married, think this. Certainly new parents do too. But just you wait. Hopefully it’ll never happen, but it might: That loved one will do something which goes way beyond your boundaries. They hurt you, or hurt someone you love. Might be a crime; might be a particularly huge lie; you thought you could forgive all, but this particular sin is 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?

Nope. Because he totally knows it’s coming. And always knew it was coming. He knew it before he created us. He knew it before he adopted us as his kids. He adopted us anyway—knowing we’d fail him in this way. We never take God by surprise. We can’t. That’s one of the side effects of existing in all of time: God’s never gonna say, “Okay, that went too far,” because he always knew exactly how far we were gonna go.

As for hurting God more than he’s ever been hurt before: Pretty sure Jesus getting crucified was way worse than anything he might suffer at the hands of anyone else. If you read your bible, you’ll know he’s experienced way worse things than we’ve ever done. Few people are as awful as the folks in the bible. And even if we are indeed one of those particularly awful exceptions, we’re still not gonna blindside God. He knows we’re coming. In fact he’s already watched us commit those sins. And yet he already forgave us. Long ago.

So do our hangups about pushing God too far, have any basis in reality whatsoever? None at all.

When we imagine God’s offended by our sin, we’re really projecting human attitudes upon him. We figure God, like humans, is outraged by our sins, is hugely disappointed in us, might even be a little angry and vengeful. Maybe God needs a bit of buttering up before we can ease back into his good graces. So we pile on the apologies. But it’s all a waste of time. God already knows how sorry we are—or really aren’t. He can tell whether our sorrow is true sorrow, or whether we’ve psyched ourselves into these emotions because we’re trying to gain God’s sympathy, or are even trying to punish ourselves by making ourselves feel terrible. ’Cause that’s what humans want: We want revenge; we want sinners to feel bad; we wanna see ’em suffer. Is that how God thinks? Not in the slightest.

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. Mt 6.12, Lk 11.4 But Jesus’s point in including it wasn’t because we need to get ourselves right with God before we can start talking to him. If begging forgiveness was a prerequisite, Jesus’d have put it first. Jesus put it in the last half of the prayer! 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 KWL
14 “For when you forgive people for their offenses, your heavenly Father forgives you as well.
15 When you don’t forgive people, your Father won’t forgive your offenses either.”

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, we don’t wanna go through those motions either. Making ourselves penitent sucks. We don’t enjoy reliving our mistakes. (We might still be a little angry with ourselves for sinning in the first place.) So, if we think we’ve gotta feel remorse before we can finally get around to praying… easier to just put it off. Pray once we really need to. But in the meanwhile, don’t pray. Try other things first, and see if they help; save God as a last resort.

Yeah, it’s a pretty messed up way to think of our relationship with God. But it’s a commonplace practice.

So stop it. We need to get it through our thick skulls: God’s 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.