Question:

What should you do if you have been baptized and trying to live the Christian life, but your prayer life is not as it should be? You go for weeks without praying and asking God to forgive your sins. Then when you do pray for forgiveness, you never feel like you've been forgiven because you waited so long to ask.

I study my Bible every day and my faith increases every day. I believe every word the Bible has to say, so I know what I'm supposed to do, but when I pray, I feel I'm not doing it right. What must I do to be right in God's sight? Should I be baptized again and start over? Can I pray that God will forgive all my sins up to now and then begin a better prayer life? What must I do? I think we should have more teaching on how to pray because for me anyway, it does not come naturally.


Answer:

Prayer didn't come natural to the apostles either. "Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples"" (Luke 11:1).

No, I don't think you need to be baptized again. You've mentioned nothing wrong about your baptism. It simply appears that you are experiencing some growing pains. Wisdom is realizing how little you know and you're becoming a bit wiser. "Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning" (Proverbs 9:9).

I'm guessing from your description of your problem that for the most part you see prayer as asking God for help for yourself -- mostly in regards to your personal sins. A common mistake that Christians make is to assume there is always sin in a person's life. It comes from "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us" (I John 1:8-10). Sin is always a problem in any person's life, but John isn't stating that every moment of our life is filled with sin. Sin will always be an issue in anyone's life, but the goal is to sin less frequently as we mature. "My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (I John 2:1).

What ends up happening is that there are days when you don't really know that you've committed any sin. But because you think it has to be there, you pray a vague prayer that your sins might be forgiven. Such rarely seems satisfactory and it saps any purpose behind your prayers. I prefer David's approach: "Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression" (Psalms 19:13). David is asking for help in learning so that he doesn't sin unknowingly. When you do learn you have been erring according to the Scriptures, then you repent of that sin and pray for forgiveness.

But what do you do between times? You realize that prayer should be a bigger part of your life, and you are right. The problem is that you are limiting your prayers. Take some time to examine the prayers recorded in the Bible. How many of them are prayers asking God for forgiveness of personal sins? What you ought to notice is that the vast majority of the prayers are on behalf of other people.

Start making a prayer list for yourself. When you realize that someone is struggling and in need of prayer, add his problem to your list. As the problems get resolved, jot down the date and note how God answered your prayer. Here then begins the change in attitude. You pray primarily to help others in their struggles. There is a need and a purpose to your prayers that is specific in its nature and in time.

I pray best when I'm helping people through issues in their life. I pray to God for solutions to their problems. I ask for wisdom for myself and others who are helping them through those issues. Most importantly, I find my prayers filled with joyous expressions of "Thank you!" as I see God unravel what I thought was a knotty problem.

That brings up another point in prayer. We do favors for people and sometimes get put out because the person forgets to acknowledge our help. Not that we wouldn't help anyway, but it would be nice to get some appreciation back. God is no different. "So Jesus answered and said, "Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?"" (Luke 17:17-18). Have nothing particular to pray about? Spend a few moments thanking God for the small pleasures in life that He sends your way.

Life is filled with decisions to be made. Before making major ones, take a moment to pray to God for wisdom and guidance.

One other suggestion: notice the length of Jesus' prayers. Instead of making prayer time a marathon session, fill your day with short prayers given as the need arises. You are less likely to put off prayers if you stop thinking you have to spend the next fifteen minutes on your knees. A few statements at a time of need is more likely to be done and not forgotten.

What I'm suggesting is that you discover the purpose in prayer. Then it stops feeling like a chore that you often forget and more like a quick call home to your father.

Thank you so much for your quick response. This has been so heavy on my conscience for so long. I have started a prayer list and it does seem to help. I am going to do as you suggested and study the prayers in the Bible.

I guess I just never heard my particular problem discussed before, although I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way. I'm just never sure if I'm in a safe condition because I feel that maybe I have not asked forgiveness of a particular sin and I know God cannot forgive a sin unless there is repentance and confession. I know and believe that God answers every prayer either with yes, no or later and I do pray for everyone in my life and my church family, but at the same time I feel unworthy to ask God for anything unless I know I have repented of every sin that I have committed and as I said, even though I do Bible study every day and the greatest enjoyment in my life is studying the Bible, my prayer life is just not on a regular basis and I just was not sure where to go from here.

The most important thing in my life is to spend eternity with the Lord so I see I am going to have to make some changes and try harder. I was just unsure if the Lord could let me start again and continue from where I am now. I know there have been those that have fallen away and then return, so are you saying that when they return to the Lord and ask forgiveness for all the sins they committed while they were in an unsafe condition, that the Lord will forgive those sins and they go on from where they are when they return? Even though I have never left the church, I kind of feel that I am in this category.

Well, thank you again for your response.

The answer to the question: "How detailed does a confession of sin have to be?" touches on this issue. I don't know of a passage that states a detailed list of every sin you committed must be given. When you do know of a wrong that you've done, then you should not hide from the fact. The prodigal son admitted his sins to his father, but he didn't enumerate each one. It was enough to state that he understood he wasn't living right.

We serve the God who is both just and merciful. Far too many imagine God as just waiting to pounce on a person in order to cast him out. It is just the opposite. "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). God knows your heart and knows why you acted as you did. If something was truly done out of ignorance, God will take it into account. "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God" (I Corinthians 4:5).