Last night in our small group at church we watched and discussed a video about prayer. The specific topic of the video had to do with obedience as an aspect of our prayer life. One of the suggestions of the speaker on the video was that when we have questions about the effectiveness of our prayer, i.e. when we wonder why God is not answering our prayer, then we need to look inside ourselves and see if we are carrying any disobedience that is blocking our ability to reach God in prayer.
I both agree and disagree with that claim. Since the speaker wasn't there in person for me to ask questions of and understand more about what he intended to teach us my response here will be one-sided by default. I welcome any of your thoughts in response to my thoughts.
First my agreement. If I am knowingly carrying unconfessed sin in my life that is something that is going to have an effect on the nature of my communication with God. How can I humbly approach a holy God when I an intentionally keeping Him out of a part of my life? How can I praise God for who He is when I am unwilling to let Him be God over all of my life? How can I ask God to grant my request when by my action, or inaction, I am not loving Him with all my heart? (Exodus 20:3; Matthew 22:37)
Quite simply, I can’t. Any attempt of mine to approach God in a way that I know is deceitful is flawed from the outset. It must be, for God is holy and I am not, something that at times I am acutely aware of.
Now, my disagreement. As I said above, God is holy and I am not, and this is something that God understands, and has eternally understood, much better than I ever will.
I know that God the Father has given His Son for the forgiveness of sin, which in my case specifically means my sin, every last bit of it. (Belgic Confession, article 21 and 22.)
Being claimed by God in Christ and forgiven of my sins means that I am justified. Being ‘justified’ means that I am, in God’s eyes, free of sin and able to approach Him without fear and trembling, but in confidence. (Hebrews 4:14-16; Belgic 23)
Further, God’s work in shaping me in the image of His Son is an ongoing work, something that began when I confessed faith and will continue until the moment I pass into Heaven. (Belgic 24) I will always have rough spots that need shaping and polishing. One day it may be unconfessed sin. Another day it may be hardness of heart.
This isn't to excuse my lack of perfection before God, particularly when I am holding back from Him, but to remember that His Son was perfect and did a perfect work of atonement, precisely so that in my imperfection I can know God’s love and eternal assurance.
Should I confess my sin as I approach God in prayer? Absolutely. But I will admit that there have been times when I have held something back. And there have been times when I haven’t first searched my own heart before coming before Him, such as when responding to the request of someone else for prayer, or when I am just overwhelmed by a particular set of circumstances.
But I don’t think that those failings on my part are the reasons why God hasn't answered some of my particular, and persistent, prayers, such as to bring healing for a friend with cancer or for the salvation of my children. At the end of the day, and at the end of time, God has His own reasons for answering, or not answering those prayers. And knowing that God is perfect in every way, I trust that God’s reasons are correct.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep praying, and try to cooperate with the work that He’s doing in me.
"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:14-16
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.