This article is an excerpt from Cries from the Heart.
We all know the story of the children of Israel, who turned to God when they needed him, but ignored him when things were going well. How do we measure up? Poet Kahlil Gibran admonishes: “You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might also pray in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.”
Abraham Lincoln, conscious of the same spiritual laziness in the United States of his day, proclaimed “a national day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer” in 1863. His words at the time are even truer today than when they were first spoken – a telling comment on our present condition.
We have forgotten God…Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace – too proud to pray to the God who made us! It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
Too many of us forget God when we are healthy and happy, when we are doing well. But God needs people who carry the depth of their belief out into the world every day, people who not only appeal to him in times of distress, but who pay him homage because they love him.
In the busyness of our lives, we often neglect the things of the spirit, and our relationship with God becomes lukewarm. Rick, a friend who works as a sales manager, tells me:
In my life, being busy is a big obstacle to prayer. There is seemingly so much to do. Society moves at a rapid rate, and stress is more common than the common cold. I find myself caught up in busyness, trying to tackle my to-do list, but missing God. If I am honest, the big to-do list is self-inflicted, and the stress my own fault. The reality of the situation is that letting go of my busyness and turning to God is the only way to have a real life.
There are many things that stand in the way of our relating to God: inner laziness, hypocrisy, pride, lack of faith, self-centeredness. All of these are impediments to a meaningful relationship with God, and therefore require us to take a stand against them. It is a question of deciding what our attitude will be, and then working to stick to that decision.
Insofar as the self pushes for its own way, it hinders the working of God. In each of us there is an unfathomable mass of ideas and emotions that are neither concentrated on God nor at one with his will – this is simply a fact of human nature. And because of it, our prayers will always be burdened by our personal failings and by the weight of self. That is why the Lord’s Prayer says: “Forgive us our sins; deliver us from evil.” - Eberhard Arnold
Many people have experienced that a burdened conscience blocks their communication with God. For example, a woman wrote to me about a Gulf War veteran who told her that he had done terrible things during the war, and that since then he has been unable to pray. He was desperate: “I can’t talk to God anymore. Pray for me, that I can learn to pray again.”
Often a sense of guilt does indeed block our way to God. Yet if we are truly repentant, we will find someone we trust to whom we can speak out our sins and shortcomings. It is true that forgiveness comes from God alone, but an open and honest confession has a mysterious power; through it complete freeing can be given, the soul healed, and the relationship with God restored. As the apostle James advises, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:
No one should be surprised at the difficulty of faith, if there is some part of his life where he is consciously resisting or disobeying the commandments of God. Is there some part of your life that you are refusing to surrender at his behest, some sinful passion, maybe, or some animosity, some hope, perhaps your ambition or your reason? If so, you must not be surprised that you have not received the Holy Spirit, that prayer is difficult, or that your request for faith remains unanswered.