Prayer Guilt…and Other Guilts
DECEMBER 17, 2019
François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon, better known as just Fenelon, is one of my mentors.
He was a Bishop in Cambrai, France who died around 1715 and is probably the only Roman Catholic this Presbyterian minister claims as a mentor. And hero. I’ve read his collection of letters so many times I’m wearing them out. His wisdom was phenomenal; his surrender to Jesus was as complete as I’ve seen in anybody except Jesus; and he prayed a lot. I can tell by his life that he prayed a lot. He’s sort of the Dean Karnazes of prayer; you know the Ultra Marathon Man. Never heard of Dean? He can run all night just as Fenelon can pray all night.
That’s where the fires of guilt heat up for me. Prayer.
Prayer is commanded in the Bible everywhere, modeled by all the greats in the Bible, including Jesus, and I know it is way more powerful than my doing stuff for Jesus. My Bible software program picked up 303 hits in 296 verses on prayer. I’ve read them all at one time or another because I’ve read through the entire Bible several times. I’m a Bible teacher, and I’d rather read and teach than pray. But look, the fact is, prayer is a regular part of my life. I pray a lot, but I never feel I pray enough. On the radio when Steve Brown and I talk about prayer sometimes he will say, “You’re a man of prayer.” I wince. Yes, I am. And…no, I’m not.
Talking about it the other day with the Father I confessed for the umpteenth time that I’m antsy, twitchy, and struggle to stay in one physical location long enough to pray through my prayer list that is frankly thick enough to choke an alligator. I’m like an Irish Setter…high strung and easily, momentarily, distracted. Prayer guilt haunts me with that ongoing uncomfortable, knowing feeling that I really shouldn’t be in ministry because mature saints would pray more than I do, and with much more fervor; prayer laced with Puritanesque, Princetonian, seminary vocabulary, and Biblical theology would be good too.
Now, I know a guy who can pray! My friend Jeff Kisiah with Man in the Mirror prays so naturally. After a regular devotion I give for our Area Directors he’s always waiting for me outside, and when I leave the building this big bear of a man puts his paw on my shoulder and prays so powerfully that I melt under his humbling, Scripture-laced prayers and closeness with God. Sometimes I then pray for him and my prayers seem like a preschooler’s in comparison.
You know there’s something I just discovered in this issue of prayer guilt: I count weakness in one part to be failure over all. In actuality I pray a lot because in the morning there’s nothing I like better than connecting with the Father over coffee and Bible, and we talk a lot. And during the day I pray a lot too…sort of stream of consciousness prayers about whatever I’m doing and who I’m with. What I feel guilty about is that I’m terrible about praying through the entire list of requests for prayer. Intercessory prayer lists knock me to the ground and quickly get me in an arm-bar. About request number 20 I’m ready to go run five miles and I’m scratching my eyes out. But then, really, who invented long lists for prayer requests anyway? And where is it written that I have to pray through the whole list every day? In the vague recesses of my mind I remember spiritual leaders say they mix up their prayers during the week. On Monday they pray for missionaries, Tuesdays for friends…that kind of thing. That works. And isn’t it ok if whenever I think of someone, I pray for them on the spot; doesn’t that count for intercessory prayer? Why do I think I have to pray for everybody every day? Where did I pick up that rule?
So what prayer guilt taught me is that sometimes when I feel guilty about one part of an area of my life, I apply the guilt to that entire area. Which is ridiculous, I know, but there it is.
Here’s another truth I learned: Contemplating my prayer guilt lead me to the realization the other day that I’m a veritable cornucopia of guilt. I got a cramp writing my guilts out:
- Social Media guilt – I don’t post enough and I’m not sure I’m doing it right.
- Personal ministry guilt – Who should I spend time with individually?
- Book guilt – So many good Christian books to read, so little time (maybe I should never watch TV).
- Website guilt – Not what you think: there are so many sermons to listen to and blogs to read, but I don’t even read a fraction of them.
- Email delete guilt – I get good stuff from good people that I can’t even read and I have to delete. Now that’s just being focused, right?
- Home upkeep guilt – There’s always more to do than I can do around my house.
- Work guilt – Do my co-workers think I’m producing enough, contributing to the effort?
- Father guilt – Did I listen enough to my kids today?
- Husband guilt – Did I meet my wife’s needs today?
- Bloggers guilt – I’m writing, but is this stuff I’m writing worth anyone’s time to read?
Ah, guilt, the gift that keeps on giving.
With my tendency to justify myself, repress or ignore my guilt, or criticize others in hopes of feeling better about myself, the only thing that ever really works to de-guilt is realizing a) I’m neurotic, but Jesus loves me; b) I compare myself with others too much, proving I’m insecure, and it’s a waste of time, and that insecurity and guilt are related; c) I often think I’ve violated God’s law when I really haven’t, I’m just living up to man-made standards I picked up somewhere along the line; and d) I simply need Jesus.
“Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Ah…Abba isn’t angry after all, not since He graciously put me “in Christ.”
Freedom floods in, and I just want to pray, and blog, and spend time with a hurting friend, and…life flows. Guilt saps my energy. Grace fuels it. Grace fuels prayer too.
You with me?
Get grace and you just can’t stop talking to Him about Him and others.