Friday, July 07, 2006

Doubt, Pride and Shame

A good writer doesn't give away the answers to the question too quickly. So, call me a hack.

I asked the question, "So, why don't we pray?" and I've already given you the answers that I've come up with right there in the title. Doubt, pride and shame. I thank those who offered their comments, which I believe fit into these three categories.

When I first started hashing this thought out in public, it was at Meg Logan's Blog. (Meg was away from the blogosphere for awhile, but is back at it again. I heartily recommend a trip over there.) But in one post on prayer, I mused about this subject and Meg, very bravely, admitted that her problem was doubt. It is very easy for us to doubt that our prayer will make any difference at all in the situation we pray about. Why is that? Because we've all prayed for something and not received what we prayed for. All of us. I've met no one who is batting 1.000 in the GWPF's (Getting What we Prayed For's). In fact, I'd say I know more people who are closer to .050 than to .500 in GWPF's.

So doubting is natural for us. Since we often think of prayer as a way of getting what we want instead of remembering that it is a way for us to want what God wants, we can get discouraged watching request after request go unanswered -- or at least not answered the way we want.

If we don't think something is going to "work" it becomes a less attractive way for us to spend our time. But prayer is not about getting God to change His mind, it's about molding us into the image of Christ Jesus. "Thy will be done" -- remember?

The mental image I use when explaining how prayer works is of a person in a rowboat holding a rope which is tied to the dock. By pulling on the rope, the dock is not brought closer to the boat. In fact just the opposite is true. Prayer is most effective when our will is brought into line with God's will. But the doubting mind keeps us from seeing the true purpose of prayer, and so drives us away from prayer. We may not really hate the idea of praying. We just can't find a pressing reason to make it necessary or even efficient.

Then comes pride. Pride makes us think that prayer is unnecessary because we can handle the tough stuff ourselves. Pride makes us believe that we're not in that bad shape. Pride says that we are rugged individualists who have no need for a crutch. Pride tells us that "God helps those who help themselves" yet forgets that this old saw is not taught in Scripture.

Oh, pride. It's just our own poor perception of ourselves taking action. It's usually more of a "male" thing, but it brings down plenty of females too. Urging us to "be strong" and to "deal with it" and the like. Funny how Jesus never had any real problem with being too proud to pray -- and I doubt we think we're stronger than Him!

We do so love to have a good opinion of ourselves. Self-actualization, self-worth, loving yourself before you can love others... the world tries to sell us that whole bill of goods daily. Scripture teaches something else entirely. And the Bible is full of examples of godly people who weren't too proud to come to their Creator.

Shame. There's a word we don't hear much anymore. I suppose it stems from the whole pride nonsense. But deep down we still have shame, even when the world tries to tell us we shouldn't. And that shame can get in the way of our relationship with Christ.

John and Martha have each sat down in a room together. This married couple hasn't spoken to one another since Martha was caught lying to cover up an adultrous relationship. John and Martha try to make small talk -- about the weather, the kids, work... but they are not alone. Also in the room is the 1200 pound gorilla they both seek to ignore, but which refuses to be ignored. How awkward and uncomfortable John and Martha each feel. Both are fully aware of the problem, but neither is willing to address it. They wish to avoid a confrontation.

I think it's that shame which drives many away from prayer. We are fully aware that God knows our sinful hearts. He knows what we shouted at the person at the coffee shop yesterday. He knows what we were fantasizing about the attractive young person in the next car at the stoplight. He knows that we're so self-absorbed that our efforts at a relationship with Him are superficial at best. And since we know that HE knows all that, we wish to avoid the confrontation.

I'm not big on confrontations myself, but even more I hate having the gorilla in the room. Many years ago there was a young lady I worked with who had a problem with something I did. I heard through the grapevine that she was upset with me, but whenever I went to her to discuss it, she left the room at breakneck speed. She hid in her office with the door shut. She sneaked out of work via the side door at an unexpected time. All this to avoid a confrontation which needed to be worked out. Running from confrontation seldom accomplishes anything but delaying the inevitable. Yet still many people run. By the same token, many run from prayer, too ashamed to go to God to get rid of the 1200 pound gorilla.

Now maybe I'm just being simplistic here. But I think prayer avoidance comes down to these three categories. Again, not having time is just an excuse. Claiming to not know what to pray or how to pray or even not knowing we should pray are childish rationalizations meant to make ourselves feel better about snubbing Almighty God. It's back to doubting in prayer or God's ability to answer prayer, being too proud to ask for help, and feeling too much shame to come to the One we continue to sin against.

But isn't understanding the reason for our running a step toward getting that prayer life on track? I'm challenging you and me both to deal with the reason why we don't pray, then let God put it as far away as the east is from the west, and get back to a deepened relationship with our Savior and Lord.


Kim from Hiraeth said...

There is at least one other reason.

I am reminded of a sermon by Jonathan Edwards, "Hypocrites Deficient in the Duty of Prayer."

quoting Edwards:

"If you have left off calling upon God, it is time for you to leave off hoping and flattering yourselves with an imagination that you are the children of God. Probably it will be a very difficult thing for you to do this. It is hard for a man to let go an hope of heaven, on which he hath once allowed himself to lay hold, and which he hath retained for a considerable time. True conversion is a rare thing; but that men are brought off from a false hope of conversion, after they are once settled and established in it, and have continued in it for some time, is much more rare."

MegLogan said...

"it is a way for us to want what God wants, " -SO true... I long to desire what God desires! Seems I was once doing far better in this area than I am of late!

"We just can't find a pressing reason to make it necessary or even efficient."-- Yet again, very true statement. This is one of my primary fears, that I will pray and not say anything but vain repetition, that I will have nothing to say, that I am too proud to even think there is something I NEED to say.

"He knows that we're so self-absorbed that our efforts at a relationship with Him are superficial at best."-- Again, hit the nail right on the head. So often I am praying for myself! and asking for this or that, but really what I need is a deeper knowledge of Him, a closer relationship with Him, a heart that is so attached to His that I desire what He desires...

(ps thanks for the plug!)

julie said...

Doubt and shame are certainly a good starting point.

Kelly said...

How about sheer laziness? I often want to pray -- and what's more, really listen to what God has to say to my heart. But I have so many other urgent demands on me right now (mother of two young children, wife, women's ministry director at church, etc.) that I often lack the mental energy to converse with the One who loves me. I can excuse it by pointing to my to-do list, but really -- I have to say it's laziness. I make time for all the other things in my life that are important, don't I?