If there’s one negative experience most Christians have in common, it is guilt over prayer. More specifically, it is guilt over the lack of a strong or consistent prayer life. Either we don’t pray, or we pray at set times and places, such as before a meal or at bedtime, making such prayers feel more like “vain repetitions” than serious time before God.
Guilt is not bad for us. When we hear someone confess to a serious crime who then says he or she feels no guilt over that crime, we are justifiably angry and even horrified. Of course, guilt must not become an end in itself or it will not produce any valuable change in our behavior and contributes both to a lack of prayer and an overabundance of hopelessness.
God gives us hope in the gospel. If we approach prayer as a mere duty, such as something we must do before bringing a forkful of food to our mouths, we are not living in light of our hope in the gospel. Prayer becomes a means of earning God’s favor, or, at the least, preventing his displeasure. Yet the Bible does not portray prayer as a means to appeasing God—that has already been done in Christ: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:26). Jesus has appeased God’s wrath; constancy and consistency in prayer cannot, so we need not trust in prayer or other “works” to save us—God saves us through Christ!
So where does guilt come in? Guilt is only beneficial if it leads to genuine sorrow for actual sin. We need not feel guilty for not praying when we are unable to, such as while we are sleeping or when our concentration must be on our work. However, prayer is time with God, and just as we would not want to neglect speaking with and talking to the members of our household, neither should we neglect our prayer time with God. If we are convicted of having neglected our relationship with our Father, guilt is a helpful emotion for directing our thoughts and attentions to prayer.
If guilt leads us to repentance, we need no longer fret about the guilt because “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Where there is forgiveness, there is no guilt. Paul affirms this in 1 Corinthians 1:8, when he says that Jesus “will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We who are forgiven are found not guilty by God.
Thus, the answer to our guilt for not speaking with God is to acknowledge our negligence, ask forgiveness, and open the channels of communication. Christ will forgive us and give us hope and joy and peace in exchange for our guilt. When we have Christ’s forgiveness and trust in his acceptance of us, we can pray, as the author of Hebrews calls us to:
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:6).