This week I picked up Paul Yonggi Cho's book, "Praying With Jesus". As is my normal practice when looking at a book for the first time, I read the blurb on the back cover and then turned to the contents page. I found myself staring at the list of chapter headings with disbelief as I saw for the first time a truth about prayer which had been staring me in the face for years but which I had never seen before.
The Lord's Prayer
Cho's book is a study of the Lord's Prayer, that prayer Jesus gave His disciples when they asked Him to teach them how to pray. With complete simplicity Cho has based each chapter on a line of that prayer. There they are, laid out starkly on the first page of the book:
1. Our Father Which Art in Heaven
2. Thy Kingdom Come
3. Give Us This Day
4. Forgive Us Our Debts
And that's where I stopped reading. Surely that line of the prayer about forgiveness is in the wrong place!
I was taught that sin separates us from God and that He cannot hear our prayers if we have unconfessed sin in our lives. As a young Christian I was taught the ACTS model of prayer - Adoration, then Confession, and after that Thanksgiving and Supplication. It's a good model because it gets all the important bits, but it's not the model Jesus gave His followers. In the Jesus model requests for our own needs precede asking for forgiveness!
Does God Hear When Sinners Pray?
So can God hear our prayers when we are still living under the shadow of unconfessed sin? Several thoughts come to mind. The first is that in the book of Job, Satan, the accuser of the brethren, stands before God and engages in discussion with Him (Job 1:6-12). If Satan, the ultimate rebel, can be heard by the Lord, how much more so His beloved children who have put their trust in Jesus for their salvation, even if wearing the filthy rags of sin.
Secondly, how could we be saved if God does not hear the prayers of sinners? In Romans 10:13 Paul quotes the prophet Joel, "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved". He does not add, "as long as they confess their sin first". In verse 9 of the same chapter he says, "if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved". There is no mention of sin or forgiveness here. Yet those who respond to the Lord in his way are clearly heard by Him.
This is not to say sin is unimportant. The Lord repeatedly calls upon His people to turn from sin - "be holy because I am holy" (Lev 11:44-45, 1 Pet 1:16 etc). If we truly love our Saviour we will want to live lives that please Him. Confession of our sinfulness is part of the Lord's Prayer and should be part of our daily walk. I once heard it said that our goal should be to continually reduce the length of time between sin and subsequent repentance until we reach the point where the two come together and we do not fall into sin at all. But thoughts of sin should not be the dominant feature of our prayer lives.
Prayer College Assignment
Read Lk 11:1-13. See how much of the teaching on prayer in that passage is about having our needs met. The Lord does not want us to be so condemned by our sin (Rom 8:1) that we give more priority to recounting our failures to Him than to asking Him to provide for us. Give some thought to whether you are praying with the priorities Jesus taught in that passage.