Confidence in prayer
Prayer is our greatest privilege as Christians and yet it’s also one of our chief struggles. There are no doubt many reasons for this, but the one I want to concentrate on here is that we struggle in prayer because we don’t believe the gospel. Or at least we don’t believe it as strongly/deeply as we need to believe it.
Maybe you can relate to the following scenario: *On Monday you have a good day (apparently good anyway). Up early, long quiet time, gracious and patient with your work colleagues all day, you even get an opportunity to witness to one of them at lunch time. You buy your wife some flowers on the way home, take the children out to the park before heading off to the church prayer meeting. At the end of the day you pray with confidence, thanking God for His goodness, etc. On Tuesday though, you have a bad day (it feels particularly bad anyway). Oversleep so no time for Bible and prayer, you get cross at your wife and children as you leave in a rush, you’re grumpy at work, you hear a colleague complaining ‘some Christian he is!’ You get home and slouch in front of the TV. It crosses your mind to pray before bed, but ‘how can I pray given the way I’ve lived today?’ says a little voice in your head.
What’s the problem?
The problem is that we don’t believe the gospel as deeply as we need to. All Christians confess to believing the gospel. The problem is that there is sometimes (often?) a gap between our confessional beliefs and our functional beliefs.
We confess to believe that we are saved on the basis of Christ’s performance not our own. We confess to believe that when Jesus died on the cross a great exchange occurred – He took all my sin on Himself and exhausted God’s anger and judgement at that sin; and through faith I’m united to Him and so His righteousness becomes my righteousness. We believe that in our heads but when the rubber hits the road we really struggle to believe it at a functional level. So when I think I’ve performed well I’m confident to pray, and when I know I’ve performed badly then I don’t feel able to pray. Maybe we even think that we’d better live a bit better first, and then pray.
What’s the solution?
Hebrews 4:16 reminds us that as Christians we can always approach the throne of grace with confidence. Why? Not because of our performance but because of Christ’s performance for us. The reality is that every day is a very bad day if I’m looking at my own performance. I should never feel confident to pray on the basis of how I’ve lived. But as John Bunyan put it: ‘my righteousness is in heaven, and He doesn’t move from there!’ It’s not that some days we need to come and humbly ask for forgiveness it’s that every day we need to come and humbly ask for forgiveness. Every day is a bad day but we have a Great High Priest who has made full atonement for all our sins. We don’t need to make our own atonement, and if we try to then we dishonour Christ and His work for us. Because my righteousness is in heaven my apparently ‘good’ performance cannot make it any better and my bad performance cannot make it any worse.
The reality is we never have a ‘good’ day when we can come more confidently in prayer because of our performance. But every day we can approach the throne of grace with humble confidence (not presumption) precisely because it is a throne of grace, where we’re not treated as we deserve to be treated but we’re treated as Christ deserves to be treated. Every time we approach that throne we come as sinful people, more sinful than we can ever imagine, always needing forgiveness, and yet entirely justified and righteous people, and therefore more loved than we ever dared dream. As Martin Luther said, ‘we need to beat this gospel into us!’
John Richards is a pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Mold.
* Adapted from Disciplines of Grace by Jerry Bridges