We get together with two other couples twice a month to pray for our adult children. We have become close friends in the process, but even as close friends, we gulp when our initial Bible study prompts us to confess our sins.
Everyone wants to look good. I have trouble admitting things like being selfish about my prayer requests, or confessing that I often come to God with a “grocery list” but no praise in my heart. Even with friends who know me well, I fight that desire to fake it, to look better than I am.
Jesus says, “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.”
Hypocrites = pretenders. Jesus talked about people who were religious on the outside, but their religion was a mask because their hearts were not in it.
I understand that. Sometimes when praying with a group, my mind wanders. I’m thinking about next week’s work, or tomorrow’s dinner, or a quilt I want to make. Sometimes I doodle in my notebook as the other person prays. My heart is not in it.
Of course the Holy Spirit convicts me and I’m usually quick to “get with the program” as my husband says, but my conscience stings at such an easy slide into disinterest. Prayer is the most important activity of my day, of my week, and praying for adult kids should be primary, not boring or belittled by inattention.
Knowing what something “should be” and making it so are two different things. It is only by the grace of God that anyone can do what Jesus says we should do. He is right, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”
Last night was different. Only once did I experience that annoying temptation to wander off while another person prayed. I asked for, and received the ability to focus, and found myself so intensely involved in our communion with God that I was exhausted afterwards, even shaking a little.
Today I’ve added a couple more reasons to my list of why my prayer life suffers. I already knew that I will not pray when I’ve sinned but have not confessed it and been forgiven. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.”
The second I also knew; I will not pray if I think I can handle the problem myself. Why ask God if I assume I don’t need Him? Dumb, but it happens.
The new additions are these: I will not pray because it is extremely hard work and drains me both emotionally and physically (and could mean I’m basically lazy), and I will not pray if it exposes the real me to those I want to impress.
After this many years of praying with others, He keeps exposing my sinful attitudes and tells me once again that if I’m praying, I must pray as He asks. There can be no faking it, no pretending, no trying to look better than I am. I have to be totally open before Him and before anyone else who might be listening. Jesus surely asks even more; I must not pray like a hypocrite, but also I must not be one.