If you’ve ever felt too guilty to pray, you’re not alone.
While Anita came to faith in Christ at her church’s vacation Bible school as a young girl, she has always struggled to pray. Her lackluster prayer life makes her feel guilty. Her friend Brianna prays all the time, and God listens to her; why can’t she be like Brianna? But instead of taking her lack of prayer itself to the Lord in prayer, she feels ashamed and shrugs off the thought of praying altogether. “Maybe I’m not a natural pray-er.”
Carlos was born again after he visited his coworker’s church and heard the gospel. After his conversion, Carlos found prayer to be easy and joyful. But now that he’s settled into the Christian life, his sin patterns concern him and make him anxious. “Shouldn’t I be over these sins already? Why should God listen to me when I disappoint Him so much?” For Carlos, true prayer seems out of reach until he can get his act together.
Carlos and Anita both demonstrate a common struggle. Guilt sucks the oxygen out of the room as it relates to their prayer— whether it be guilt over their sin or guilt for not praying as they think God wants them to. Instead of a joy, prayer becomes a burden—another time for them not to measure up. Instead of confidently approaching their loving heavenly Father, they see God as an impossible-to-please taskmaster. Do you ever feel like Carlos or Anita?
“Guilt makes me feel that God doesn’t want me to talk to Him,” one person whom I surveyed said. Another confessed, “I feel far from God when I sin.” “I feel weary and frustrated for sinning in the same way multiple times,” said yet another.
Troubled consciences lead many people to feel ashamed and to hide from God, as Adam and Eve did in the garden in Genesis 3. But now that Jesus has come and cleansed us of our sins, we no longer need to hide from God in shame; we can draw near to Him in faith. Forgetting this truth will kill joy in your Christian life. Puritan Thomas Brooks writes, “It is the devil’s logic to argue thus: My sins are great, therefore I will not go to Christ, I dare not rest nor lean on Christ; whereas the soul should reason thus: The greater my sins are, the more I stand in need of mercy, of pardon, and therefore I will go to Christ, who delights in mercy, who pardons sin for his own name’s sake.” The cross flips guilt on its head and turns it from a hindrance to prayer into a motivator.
This is an excerpt taken from When Prayer is a Struggle: A Practical Guide for Overcoming Obstacles in Prayer by Kevin Halloran. Available where all good books are sold. Used with permission from P&R Publishing.