If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
"Everybody wants prayer, but nobody wants to pray." I still remember the old man standing in front of me in that small country church when these words came out of his mouth. From one of my first years in congregational ministry, these words have remained with me ever since. It is a truth that we would rather not think about, although most of us can easily acknowledge its validity.
A life of prayer is hard work, and yet so many in the church will be quick to praise "the power of prayer" even when so few actually spend time alone with God as a part of their daily routine. What is more, most American believers have pushed the practice of prayer to the margins of our discipleship. This is not surprising, for if we do not find value in the practice of prayer, we certainly will not be open to finding the value in learning how to pray. (What might be worse, many contemporary Christians do not think that one can actually learn how to pray – that it must be spontaneous in order to be sincere. What an injustice to many has been done by this perpetuate ignorance.)
Beyond the overall lack of time spent in prayer and meditation on scripture, there is something else that must be addressed. When the psalmist writes his thanksgiving testimony, he states, "If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened." Perhaps the lack of powerful prayer in the church today is the result of hearts that choose to cherish sin even in their coming before God.
I can admit my own failures in this, for often I find myself under the critique of James, "When you ask, you do no receive, because you ask with wrong motives ..." (Js 4:3). When my prayers seem unanswered, it is easy for me to throw it back on God: You just don't care, do you? or This isn't important enough for you, is it? or He's probably just out to teach me a lesson. All the while, I am missing out on the one thing that my life needs most – to be conformed into the image of Christ, who himself submitted his life to the will of the Father, and who made this his one desire.
So long as we continue to reconcile the ways of the world with the commitment of our faith, we will not understand what it means to be single-minded in our devotion. The more I try to hold on to the things that I regard as of great importance, before I submit myself to my heavenly Father, the more these cherished things in my heart will obstruct my relationship with him. It is the pure in heart that will see God, those who cast aside everything that hinders to run the race with everything they've got.
And yet, "Everybody I know says they need just one thing. But what they really mean is that they need just one thing more."