Friday, 27 January 2012

Guilty Prayers

Every night, before I lay my head on my pillow, I say the Lord's Prayer. I'm usually tired from a night spent cleaning offices with my family; it's probably 11:30 PM or 1:00 AM, and even if I was wide awake a few minutes ago, my eyes will start to droop as soon as I get underneath those warm covers and start "My Father who is in Heaven...." Many, many nights, I realize with a pang that this is the first time that I've talked to the Lord all day long. That morning I woke up late, read a little, jumped on the treadmill, and kickstarted a day of running and doing and talking and running and working, without taking even a few moments to speak with the one who is responsible for every breath I take. And do I feel like plunging into a lengthy bout of intersession at this time of night? No, I want to turn off the lamp and wrap myself in homemade quilts, rolling around until I'm comfortable and drifting off to sleep.

Oh, the guilt. It's all-too-familiar. Sometimes I feel it after sitting down to pray for a relatively long period of time; when I'm finished I usually think, "Isn't there someone else I can pray for? Shouldn't I do this for a few more minutes?" That is why I paid attention to this passage when I ran across it this morning. It's from Emily Freeman's book Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life (which I am absolutely loving, by the way), and it shone a light on the way prayer might look under the old Law, and how it looks under Jesus' grace.
...there is a difference between the discipline of sitting down with God and the pleasure of knowing his voice. It is one thing to make yourself do something. It is entirely another to find pleasure in relationship. 'The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God' (Heb. 7:18-19 NIV). 
Let's stop for a moment and concentrate on what we just read, "the pleasure of knowing his voice," and "pleasure in relationship." When was the last time I felt real pleasure in my relationship with God? When was the last time you did? Every now and then I feel satisfied after praying, but that is probably a) because I'm proud of myself for actually dedicating time to prayer, and/or b) it's still accompanied by that sense of guilt and an I-should-do-this-more-often feeling that niggles at the back of my head like a greasy worm. But this kind of thinking is "weak and useless," a theology of burdens which no one can bear. How much prayer is "enough", anyway? If I spent 24 hours on my knees, maybe someone could find fault with me for not fasting as well! The Bible does not give us a detailed road-map for prayer, complete with on-ramps and rest stops.

Emily goes on to say this:
To wear the mask of the spiritual disciplines is to turn back to the old way. I could pray for five minutes or for two days and I would still be as righteous as I would be had I not prayed at all. But the amazing reality is that now I know I am righteous in Christ, there is new motivation to spend time in intimate communion. You and I can now go to him in freedom and joy, not to gain favor but because we already have it. 
"Intimate communion" in "freedom and joy," what a blissful thought! This is the kind of prayer like that I would like to have. What about you? Do you ever feel guilty because you "miss" your prayer time? Are you trying to earn your own righteousness by adhering to a law of your own making that stipulates how much quality time you should spend with God, or are you cultivating a vibrant relationship with him by speaking little things to him throughout the day, punctuated with longer sessions of intercession and digging deep into his Word? Structure and schedules are great things, and following Moriah's tip to set aside 10 minutes a day is a wonderful idea, but I'm learning that guilt is not bringing me any closer to my Father. I need to set aside what is "weak and useless" and pursue a relationship with the one who longs for my words and my listening ear. 
The Bottom of the Bed, a photo by Alyssa L. Miller on Flickr. 


  1. I do feel guilty if I skip devotions. I normally find time in the day now. But I've been focusing on not doing Bible because I'd feel bad if not, but because I really WANT to.

  2. Loved this post! So appropriate for where I am right now as well. Trying to spend time in prayer and drawing closer to God out of love for Him rather than out of obligation/guilt.

    I personally find it's helpful to just set apart 30 mins or so to read my Bible and pray. But, I am also trying to pray and meditate on scripture throughout the day rather than only at set times.


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