When It Hurts to Pray

Have you ever been anxious about a decision you had to make? Cold sweats, stomach knots, sleepless nights and all? Then suddenly remembered you had a much easier method of dealing with it….just pray about it. So you start to pray and then…

You stop. Because you remember how many times you neglected that devotional book you were suppose to be reading. Or the crappy “I really don’t want to be here” attitude you had last time you went to church. Or how rude you were to the girl in class who couldn’t seem to keep her irrelevant comments to herself for 5 minutes. Or the way you blew off your friend when they asked for a listening ear. Or the small dig you made at the guy who drives you crazy. Or a host of other things that remind us we aren’t worthy. We aren’t perfect. And we are very, very broken.

Have you ever been there? Where you felt like you had to do something, say something, be something better than you are in that moment before you’re worthy of approaching the throne?

Like studying your Bible for 30 minutes or feeding the homeless or helping the helpless makes you more deserving of God’s attention. Or, even worse, neglecting all of these disqualifies you from approaching God in prayer.

Why do we do that? Why do we think we have to polish ourselves before we can ask God for things?

Maybe it’s because, in that moment that we are pleading with God for something for ourselves, we realize how little we deserve the chance to even ask. We are reminded of God’s infinite power. We know what he can do. And when we acknowledge what He can do, we remember all of the small things we have failed to do. All of the little ways we fail Him everyday. And suddenly, like a child with their head bowed in defeat, we compare our resumes, and feel unworthy. We feel ashamed that we are asking for things when we have failed to give Him anything.

Maybe it’s the Devil’s way of deterring our prayers. The enemy has a knack for reminding us of our failures every time we try to succeed. In a lot of ways, I think the memories of the past are the Devil’s most valuable weapon. He throws those mistakes in your face in hopes that you will give up entirely. And maybe that’s where the guilt comes from when we begin to pray a selfish prayer.

Maybe we realize the painful truth that we haven’t been giving it our all. When we start to ask for something, we feel better about asking when we have something to offer in return. And when we ask for God’s help in a season of being lukewarm, we are faced with the harsh reality that we expect a level of effort from God that we haven’t been offering ourselves. And that stings.

Or maybe, it’s because that’s the love we, as humans, are most familiar with. As a child, if you wanted something from your parents, especially something big, any semi-insightful kid wouldn’t dare ask for it right after getting in trouble. Most kids, wouldn’t even ask after an average day of behavior. Oh no. If you wanted something from your parents, and you knew it was going to be a long shot, you asked after you voluntarily cleaned your room, took out the trash, washed the dishes, and made a special effort to not fight with your siblings for a whole 24 hours. You wanted all of the stars in the universe working in your favor in hopes that you would get what you wanted.

Is that not the attitude we have sometimes with prayer? Like “God I know this is a lot to ask, but I’ve done this and this and this and I’ve really been working on this and I’m putting a lot more effort in than her and I deserve this. Okay I know I don’t deserve this, but I’ve really worked for it. I’ve worked for it God.” We would never verbalize it like that, obviously, but I think that’s the thoughts we have behind the scenes sometimes.

And in those times when we start to pray and then realize all of the ways we haven’t put in effort lately, we feel as if the answer is automatically a “no.” Because we haven’t done enough to deserve a “yes.” We should be in trouble, not being rewarded.

We are constantly stuck in this cycle of subconsciously trying to earn what we ask for in prayer. Trying to be good enough, holy enough, saved enough for God to want to “reward us” by answering our prayers. It’s as if we are using our good deeds to motivate God to want to help us out. We want dad to say yes, so we try to provide him with incentive. You know, because God might feel guilty for answering our prayers when we haven’t yet earned an answer.

But while this is an easy attitude to fall into, I’m glad it’s not the truth behind the story. Not even close.

We don’t have to be good enough, righteous enough, or strong enough, for our prayers to be heard. We don’t have to fix ourselves before we are worthy enough to approach God.

When I think about that simple statement, that we don’t have to try to make ourselves perfect before we come to God, I’m reminded of the words Christ spoke to the multitudes in Matthew 11:28:

“Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Were the people tired from all of the good works they had been doing? I’m sure some of them were. But I also believe that some of those people were tired from weathering the storms of life. They were beaten down by trying to follow the old law perfectly. They were constantly reminded of their sin, because of their continual needs to offer sacrifices. And they were probably feeling weary from constantly trying to reach perfection, but failing.

And the words Christ offered to them were simply, “Come to Me.” He didn’t tell them to put forth more effort and then come. Or do more good deeds and then come. Simply, come.

We’ve been studying Hebrews on Wednesday nights, and it’s all about how the New Law is superior to the Old Law. Over and over again it points out how much better the new way is, because of Jesus’s sacrifice. And while all of that is enlightening and inspiring, there has been something we learned a few lessons back that I never knew, and it has been a game changer.

In chapter 9, the writer is describing the old tabernacle and the details surrounding the topic. In the midst of this description, the author describes the ark of the covenant, overlaid in gold, which had the tablet of the covenants inside. Now catch this. The cherubim of glory and the MERCY SEAT were above the ark of the covenant. Any light bulbs going off?

By intentional design, the MERCY SEAT was ABOVE the tablet of the covenants. Mercy was literally above the law.

Because of Christ’s death, we are offered grace and mercy. A mercy that transcends our understanding, offering us love, grace, and acceptance when we least deserve it.

The kind of love that does not offer us “better answers” because we have earned it. A love that doesn’t ignore our petitions because of how much we don’t deserve it.

The love that simply asks us to come. To bring our requests to Him. Not with a long list of our good works in tow to offer us a better chance of approval, but simply, to bring our requests.

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Because of Christ, we have the gift of approaching God’s throne with confidence. We don’t have to hang our heads low, and feel unworthy. We don’t have to prove ourselves before we ask for something. Honestly, we would never do enough good to deserve God’s ear anyways.

But He offers it freely to us.

“The Lord is righteous in all His ways, Gracious in all His works. The Lord is near to all who call upon Him in truth.” Psalm 145:17-18

He is near.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14

He hears us.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1

And HE is GOOD.