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The Prayer Guilt

I should pray more.

If you have ever had that particular thought or something along those lines, let’s shake hands. I know it’s been a recurring theme in my life, especially relating to youth ministry.

I really should pray more.

I’m a doer. I’m a let’s-jump-in-and-get-stuff-done person. Sitting down and taking time to pray is not something that comes easy to me. Yet I am fully convinced of the importance of prayer. That’s why I have often felt prayer guilt: guilt over the feeling that I should pray more, longer, better.

But is that really the point? This is the point well-known pastor John Ortberg raised in an article in Leadership Journal and it struck a nerve with me:

“Is the state of your prayer life determined by how often you pray? How long you pray? Is it measured by how many people you are praying for, or how much faith you pray with, or how many prayers get answered?”

These are valid questions he raises, because consciously or not, this is how we measure our prayer life. We do think in terms of quantity and quality. But is that what prayer is?

Ortberg points to the example Jesus set. We don’t see Jesus making long prayers (on the contrary: he warned against them), or using certain formula. We don’t see him praying just before meals, or just in the morning/evening. Jesus gave us an example of living a life of prayer in the sense of a continuous awareness of God’s presence.

“The goal of prayer is to live all my life and to do all my ministry in the joyful awareness that God is present, right here, right now. That is the prayer-filled life that can sustain and empower a life of ministry,” Ortberg writes.

Measuring our prayer life, then, is not about how often we pray or how effective our prayers are. It’s about being aware of God’s presence at any given moment, but especially when we do ministry. One word jumped at me: ‘joyful’. It’s not just about awareness of God’s presence; it’s about joyful awareness. Knowing that God is with us every day, every hour, every second should bring us joy.

How aware are you of God’s presence during your day? And when you become aware, does it bring you joy? There’s such freedom in knowing that our Father looks upon us with love and infinite care for our well-being. Once we fully realize that and revel in the joy that brings, there’s no place for feeling guilty over not praying enough or not praying well enough.

Love releases all guilt and shame. Your Father loves you. Enjoy His presence right now and let go of the guilt.

(John Ortberg, Getting Good at Prayer Isn’t the Point, Leadership Journal, Summer 2015 He gives some great examples of prayers in this article by the way, so read the whole thing if you have a few minutes. Worth your time.)

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