The other day, I was reading a devotional snippet on prayer, and the author fell into one of the traps I think it's so easy for us to paint no only our prayer, but all of our faith, into.
It's the trap of "no possible way."
The author of this particular article was arguing that unrepented sin not only inhibits God from hearing our prayer, it prohibits Him from hearing our prayer. Sin stands in the way not so God has trouble hearing us, but so that God cannot hear us at all. And the answer, according to this author, was that we must first pray a prayer of repentance before we come to prayer at all.
You may already see the problem.
How are we supposed to pray a prayer of repentance if God cannot hear our prayer at all? To whom, or to what, are we praying this prayer of repentance?
I would go so far as to say, how do we even come to know we are sinners at all without the relationship of prayer? Sin is not something we naturally understand; it is only in the light of God's grace that we come to understand our fallen nature at all. We cannot come to know grace until we can come to know God, and we cannot come to know God until we strike up a conversation with Him. But according to this author I was reading, it would be impossible to strike up that conversation at all because we would be coming as sinners, and God could not hear us. And then what is God? He is nothing. For He does not hear, and He does not answer.
And this...this is the frustration that so many have with the idea of God at all. We've spent so much of our Christian lives trying to catalogue and divide and define and understand how God works and then work our faith around that. We've come to all of these conclusions that, while they may sound righteous if you don't dig too deeply into them, actually do nothing but set up all these barriers that we could never possibly get through. What we end up with is no possible way for man to come to God at all.
No wonder people are turned off on the whole God thing. No wonder they roll their eyes at us. At Him.
It's not just prayer we're doing this with, although it was this article on prayer that I found so assaulting here recently. We do it with the idea of baptism - you cannot come to belong to Jesus until you have come to belong to Him. Uhm...what? We do it with the idea of Communion - you cannot sit at God's table unless He knows to put a chair out for you because of some random requirement you've met to be so invited. We do it with most of our grand doctrinal ideas, actually, and even with most of the disciplines. It's absolutely insane.
I don't know how much of this you've heard or come in contact with over the years, but I'm sorry. I'm sorry that in all our attempts to understand how to come to God, we've spent more time building walls than building walkways. I'm sorry we put these ridiculous ideas into your head that there's just no way to get there, that there are always going to be things standing in your way.
I don't know...I can't claim to know...how God deals with sinners, except to say that I am one and I have always found Him gracious. I don't know how often my unrepented sin has stood in the way of the conversation I'm trying to have, how many times God has turned a broken heart away from me because of my stubbornness. But I know this: He's heard every word. Every. Single. Word. Every single broken, bent, unrepentant word I have ever prayed, God has heard.
And the same is true for you. It doesn't matter how broken, how bent, how stubborn or unrepentant your words are; God hears them. He hears every single word you decide to pray. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
See, there is a very real way for man to come to God, and it's this: you just come. You just come as you are, however you are, wherever you are. You just come and bow and pray and scream and cry out and question and whatever you need to do. And God will hear you. And if you need to work on the sin thing, so be it, but don't do it on your own. Don't think it's up to you to heal your sin to draw near to grace. No, it's just the opposite. Draw near to grace, and He will mend your sinful heart. Just come. Okay?