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“You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong” – James 4:2-3 NLT
There it was, in black and white – the reason I had been making much slower progress in certain areas of my life than I should have (or none at all). After some thought, it became clear that I had some reservations with prayer which stopped me from connecting with God. It seems that other people share some of these reservations about praying, so let’s tackle a couple.
1) When you don’t feel ‘good enough’ to talk to God
Sometimes it feels like you shouldn't/can't pray because you've been away from God or you’ve done something ‘bad’. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While we sometimes have to ‘earn’ our position with people around us, our relationship with Jesus is not based on performance, it is based on His love. He doesn’t keep score of what we’ve done wrong. If God wanted us to be perfect before we could even speak to him, then Jesus’ entire life, death and resurrection would have been pointless.
An example of this is the story of Cain, who had just killed his own brother, Abel out of jealousy. Naturally, there was a consequence for Cain’s actions: being exiled from his home country. But even in his punishment, Cain asked God to go slightly easier on Him, and not only did God hear, He listened:
Cain said to God, “My punishment is too much. I can’t take it! You’ve thrown me off the land and I can never again face you. I’m a homeless wanderer on Earth and whoever finds me will kill me.”
God told him, “No. Anyone who kills Cain will pay for it seven times over.” God put a mark on Cain to protect him so that no one who met him would kill him.
– Genesis 4:13-15 (MSG)
If God can do this for Cain, He is more than willing to listen to you as well. No matter what you’ve done. Simple as that.
In another part of the Bible, God says:
I looked for someone to […] take a stand for me and stand in the gap to protect this land so I wouldn’t have to destroy it. I couldn’t find anyone. Not one. – Ezekiel 22:30 (MSG)
Two things jump out here: 1) God looked simply for ‘someone’, not a good or perfect person, just a person. 2) While God doesn’t necessarily need us to make decisions, He actively invites and seeks people who are bold enough to put up their hand, open their mouths and join Him on this journey of life. We can either play an active or passive part – it’s our choice.
It’s that clear that our behaviour doesn't push God away from us, but sometimes we feel more distant, maybe because of guilt or condemnation from ourselves and others. But remember that there’s no condemnation in Jesus, so whenever you’re ready, He will be there listening.
To be clear, this doesn't mean that we should live a reckless life. But our primary focus shouldn’t be ‘being good’, but knowing Jesus. From this relationship our lives, and as a result our behaviour, changes. Our relationship with God is not earned, it is a free gift, whether we choose to accept it our not. The first way to build this relationship is by chatting to God, and getting to know Him through is Word, the Bible.
2) When you feel like you can’t find the right things to say
You are free to try (and maybe, get it wrong sometimes).
Sometimes I am focused on getting things 100% right, so much that it prevents me from even trying in the first place. This perfectionist tendency can sometimes show itself in our prayer lives (or lack thereof). It’s easy to be worried about getting prayer wrong ‘because your motives [desires] are all wrong’.
While that is a risk and reality, we have just learned that God isn’t looking for perfection, He is looking for you. So if your motives are off, He can easily guide you back on track, but you’ve got to start somewhere. Think about it like this: when drafting an essay, or a report, it’s rare to get to the final version without sharing a ‘draft’ with someone, and getting some feedback. It's similar with God, everything is a process.
I’ve put this into practice by being very intentional with prayer. I've written down things I want to talk to God about, and asked Him to refine my motives and show me what I should really focusing on. Then I've prayed by talking and asking questions out loud about the things I've written down (speaking out loud is so important, just try it you've got nothing to lose).
If you’re looking for a bit more structure than that – it’s always good to start with what Jesus recommends in Luke 11. You can also try what UCB recommends. Also, look at what Paul tells the Philippians:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition [asking, requesting], with thanksgiving [thankfulness], present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus – Philippians 4:6-7
So, feel free to ask, feel free to experiment and grow in this area which is so fundamental to your walk with God. You’ll get there. Finally, all of this is contingent upon the fact that we are speaking to God in faith. Faith is:
“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd” – Hebrews 11:1-2 (MSG)
In this week’s subscriber email, we’ll be learning more about the importance of faith. Thanks for reading again everyone, speak to you next week :)