When I wrote to her, I thanked her for her honesty. I told her it was God’s plan for one man and one woman to join their lives together in marriage and within that union to enjoy every good gift God has provided, including sex.
I told her about a man in the Bible called David, who loved God but really messed up. I reminded her of his prayer after he had sinned with Bathsheba. David is known as a man after God’s own heart, yet he had arranged for Bathsheba’s husband to be killed in battle so that he could have her. Even though David got what his flesh wanted, his spirit grieved at the separation he now felt between himself and God. His prayer is recorded in Psalm 51:
God, be merciful to me because You are loving. Because You are always ready to be merciful, wipe out all my wrongs. Wash away all my guilt and make me clean again. I know about my wrongs, and I can’t forget my sin. You are the only one I have sinned against; I have done what You say is wrong... Create in me a pure heart, God, and make my spirit right again. Do not send me away from You or take Your Holy Spirit away from me. Give me back the joy of your salvation... The sacrifice God wants is a broken spirit. God, You will not reject a heart that is broken and sorry for sin. — Psalm 51:1-4, Psalm 51:10-12, Psalm 51:16 NCV
Only when David had repented of his behavior and honestly sought God’s forgiveness were the floodgates opened and David washed anew in the presence of his Father.
Please understand: each of our personal situations are different. We all come to God in different ways, asking for repentance in different ways. And although God will always, always forgive us, His response to us comes in different ways. It may be a floodgate as with David; it may be a still, small voice in the night, or a feeling of calm like no other. It may come instantly or over time. It may be that our shame is replaced with peace or even that for some time we walk out the consequences of our choices. But the point is that if we call to Him, God will be there. We’ve all sinned. It’s up to us to honestly examine our hearts and make sure we’re not allowing our own guilt to keep us from the One who forgives and that sin itself is not standing in the way.
Our Behavior Toward Others
There are other times where our prayers can be hindered not just by how our behavior affects us but by how our behavior affects others. Consider, for instance — and I mention this because it’s so common — our behavior in the marriage relationship. When we live with someone day in and day out, we have many opportunities to treat our spouses in a way, shall we say, not quite how God intended. No marriage is perfect; we all understand that. But if we continually disrespect our spouse — for whatever reason — without working things out, we build a wall between not only our spouses and ourselves, but God and ourselves.
Peter knew this when he wrote:
In the same way, you husbands should live with your wives in an understanding way, since they are weaker than you. But show them respect, because God gives them the same blessing He gives you — the grace that gives true life. Do this so that nothing will stop your prayers. — 1 Peter 3:7 NCV
I am assuming it probably goes both ways. In fact, I know it does!
The rule works for any relationship. If you know you’ve been harboring ill will toward anyone — family, spouse, friend, co-worker, etc. — and “coincidentally” you find your prayer life not what it used to be... ask God for the grace to change your heart and attitude.
In my life, one of the greatest rocks to climb over has been when I am unwilling to forgive. I’m sure I’m not alone in that burden. It’s hard to admit we’ve done wrong and say we’re sorry. But often it’s even harder to forgive. We sometimes thrive on self-righteousness — knowing we’ve been wronged and wanting to hold that hurt against another indefinitely instead of letting it go.
To my mind the most amazing declaration from the cross is when Jesus cried out,
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. —Luke 23:34
Jesus asked God to forgive His torturers while He was still in physical and spiritual agony, not after He had risen from the dead. He prayed that prayer of forgiveness in the midst of the storm, not when the sun began to remind the earth there are better days ahead. Can you imagine how difficult that must have been?
Forgiveness is hard.
It is even more difficult when the person who wronged us is not sorry in the least. But when I listen to Christ’s words recorded in Matthew’s gospel, it’s clear to me that if I want to live freely and lightly, then I need to study how Jesus lived:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. — Matthew 11:28-29 MSG, emphasis added
During my struggle with depression, someone I cherished as a friend walked away from me because of the choice I made to get help and take medication. Initially I felt wounded, but as can often happen, my wound turned to anger.
Every time I tried to pray, I saw the person’s face. And with that face before me, my view of God was blocked; my prayers fell at my feet.
This seemed hugely unfair to me! I tried to reason with God that I was not the one who had broken the relationship, but He would have none of it. I had a dilemma. I knew I had to forgive the person, but I had absolutely no desire to do so. So I started where I was. My first prayers were pathetic: “Dear God, I know that I have to forgive, so I choose to do so even though I don’t mean a word of this.”
For weeks I prayed for this person even though my heart was not in it. But an interesting thing began to happen to me. The more I aligned my will with God’s will, the more He began to change my heart. As the weeks turned to months, I found myself praying for this person and really meaning it. It was an amazing experience and one I’m truly grateful for, since it freed me from carrying around the weight of unforgiveness for the rest of my life.
As I have told my son countless times, forgiveness is God’s gift to help us live in a world that is not fair. More important, though, is the lesson: the more we allow our anger to fade, the more we center ourselves on forgiveness and God, the more opportunity we have to feel His presence and response to our petition. The boulder of bitterness and resentment rolls from our path, and once again we’re in communion with God and His will.
There’s no doubt this covers a difficult topic. The reasons for God’s seeming distance from us are many, and we’ve all felt that separation at one time or another. But no matter what, we need to remember this: God is sovereign.
One of the greatest lessons I took from that dark moment of my first night in treatment is that God is always there, no matter how we feel. There will be times in our lives that illness or depression, insecurity or doubt, the enemy of our souls or the enemy that we can be to ourselves will make us doubt God is listening. Our feelings, however, do not change the facts and do not alter the character of God. He is with you! Hold on to that truth!
In the midst of uncertainty or days when God might seem far off, God is present. No matter what appears to be true, we can still praise him in the storm.
There is a calm for ev’ry storm
We meet from day to day,
A hallowed peace that dwells within,
And smiles the clouds away.
The star of hope still brightly shines,
Though wild the breakers roar,
And in its beams the words we trace,
Life’s dream will soon be o’er.
There is a Friend, a constant Friend,
Who slumbers not nor sleeps,
But safe within His tender care
The trusting soul He keeps;
His bow of love still spans the sky,
And points to yonder shore,
While on its beams the words we trace,
Life’s cares will soon be o’er.
There is a morn when we shall wake
At home beyond the tide,
And in our Savior’s likeness then
We shall be satisfied;
O hearts that yearn and bleed and break
For joys that come no more,
Look up and read the blessèd words,
Life’s tears will soon be o’er.
— Fanny Crosby
Excerpted with permission from Get Off Your Knees and Pray by Sheila Walsh, copyright Sheila Walsh. Published by Thomas Nelson.