“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” ~ Psalm 51:10-11
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7). Jesus linked together the act of hearing from God (through study) with the act of conversing with God (through prayer.) The disciplines of Scripture study and prayer are the one-two punch of the Christian life.
You never hear anyone say, “That boxer has the best one punch.” You know what you call a boxer with just one punch? Knocked out. And the devil will pummel anyone who doesn’t have both prayer and time with God’s Word in his or her arsenal. Overcoming your sin-addiction will require of you to learn this essential spiritual discipline.
Having talked with God most of my life, I cannot imagine what it’s like for a person who goes through their day without it. To see a beautiful sunset and not be able to complete the moment by saying, “God, you’re just showing off now.” To encounter something difficult and not be able to off-load the frustration. “Father, why’d this happen? Please help me to get through this.” To face temptation and not be able to cry out, “Lord, help. I’m sinking fast.” To have a choice to make and to be able to say, “Jesus, give me your wisdom right now. Show me the way.” The reflex to pray is so cathartic that I can’t imagine doing life without it.
Now I wasn’t born yesterday. I understand why prayer is a struggle for so many. To this day, I go back and forth with God about the frustrating complexities of prayer. There’s the conundrum of Why pray if God already knows what’s going on? There’s the challenge of How do you pray to a God you can’t see or hear? There’s the catch-22 of When I pray, I never seem to get what I’m praying for, so why bother?
My advice to you with Bible reading was pretty much Just start reading. My advice to you here is similar: Just start talking. The first thing you need to know about God when it comes to prayer is that what he responds to primarily is your heart. You don’t need to have all the buzzwords down right now. Prayers loaded up with highfalutin language are as phony as turkeys loaded up with hormones. God is neither fooled or impressed. What God is after in prayer are two main things: honesty and humility.
Honesty and humility are especially important in your fight for sexual purity. When you feel the hot breath of lust on your neck, don’t pretend it’s something else. Call it what it is. When you’ve broken God’s heart with another failure, confess it too him right away. You can’t hide it from him anyway. “He who created the eye – does he not see?” (Psalm 94:9). When part of you believes, but another part of you doesn’t, say so (Mark 9:23-24). When part of you wants to sin, but another part of you doesn’t, admit it. You can even tell God that it sucks to be caught in this tug of war (Romans 7:15, 24-25).
Augustine cried out to God, “Make me chaste!” then added with his next breath, “But just not yet.” (He still preferred that his lust “be satisfied rather than extinguished.” Which perfectly describes the heart of the porn struggle, does it not?)
Having said all of this, prayer is much more than therapeutic venting. There are better ways to pray than others, and the quicker you learn them, the better off you’ll be. When the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray,” he gave them a model to follow which we call the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:1-4, cf. Matthew 6:9-13.) The point in teaching them this prayer was not that they should recite only the words of the prayer (though there is certainly nothing wrong with doing so – it can be a wonderful aid to worship or a jumpstart into fuller prayer). Jesus’ point was that they should follow the pattern of the prayer. (The prayer is never prayed a single time in the remainder of the New Testament.)
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
In prayer, it’s OK to run kicking and screaming into God’s presence, if that’s how you honestly feel. But we should eventually tune our hearts to begin with praise. We should ‘enter his gates with thanksgiving’ (Psalm 100:4). I can remember times when I was in the full thrall of temptation, fully intending to press forward with my sin. As a sort of cheap resistance, I would woodenly begin to thank God for the good things I’d experienced that day. By the time I was through, my heart wasn’t so wooden anymore, the temptation’s back was broken, and I was free, at least for that night. One battle won.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
We always want to come rushing to God with our needs, our wants, our concerns. There’s nothing wrong with that. But did you know that God has needs, wants and concerns pressing on his heart? There’s a world out there that has yet to fully accept God’s rule. His kingdom is growing, but not yet full-grown. In petition or ‘intercession’, we learn to talk to God about those people and places where we want the reign of God to break in. There are lost souls that need to come home. Nations torn apart by war. Suffering that runs amok because of injustice or disease or tragedy. Churches and ministries we wish to see strengthened. This form of selfless praying has tremendous power to suck the very oxygen out of temptations which by nature are patently selfish.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
Like we said, there’s nothing wrong with personal requests. “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him,” (Psalm 62:8). Picture a little child climbing up into his or her daddy’s lap and giving him a full run-down on everything that happened that day, and you’ll catch a glimpse of what prayer ought to be at its very heart for you and me.
“And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Daily, we need to learn to come clean before God with confession, asking for his pardon for the ways we’ve played fast and loose with his laws. Rather than being something dreary and moribund, keeping an inventory of our souls is a life-giving discipline to practice. It keeps us honest before God, and continually seeking for his help.
Don’t skip too quickly over the second phrase in the sentence. The more I realize how much amazing grace God has given to a messed-up sinner like me, the more willing I should be to give that same grace away to the messed-up sinners around me. Even those who hurt me.
“Lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil.”
We need protection, from the evil that is inside, in my heart. And the evil that is out there, in the world. Yet Jesus will never allow me to pin the blame for my struggles on something outside of myself. I’m so pathetically weak on my own that I’m to pray – not that God gives me strength when facing temptation – but that I stay out of temptation’s way altogether. How pitiful is that? Temptation is like an old girlfriend we’ve never gotten over, the whiff of whose perfume makes our knees wobble. Better not even to face her.
“For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory. Forever and ever. Amen.”
The prayer ends as it begins – with praise. It’s a reminder to us that each day, in fact the entire span of our lives, ought to be bookended with a humble yielding to God. “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised.” (Psalm 113:3).
So just start reading. And just start praying. If you’ve never done this before, of if you’ve made stabs at it but it’s still not a habit, then begin by devoting twenty minutes a day to it. Read the Bible for ten minutes. Then pray for ten minutes, talking to God first about what you’ve just read, and then perhaps working your way through the steps of the Lord’s Prayer. In time, it won’t seem like enough time. But the goal right now is to jumpstart a habit. The habit will begin to shape your behavior. Which will make an imprint on your character. Which will soon have you knocking on freedom’s door.
What ideas in this reading did you find helpful or challenging?
What are two things God looks for in every prayer? How can these things help you in your fight for purity?
What are the different elements to the Lord’s Prayer? Write them out, then take five minutes to pray to God using this outline.
Prayer and Worship
“Father, I thank you for…”
“Father, please help me with…”
“Father, please be with…”
“In the name of Jesus, who died for my sins, who rose from the dead and who is with me now through the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Today’s Worship Suggestion: “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” (Joseph M. Scriven, Charles C. Converse)
Leave A Comment