In most churches the majority of the prayer requests are about physical health. One reason for this is because physical problems are more obvious and painful. Why is it that most church goers don’t make very many confessional or spiritually focused prayer requests? One reason is probably because sin is not visibly obvious and doesn’t physically hurt. Its effects might but sin itself doesn’t. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a prideful thought and you got a stomach ache for a week? But it just doesn’t work that way.
Sin and Responsibility
I think there is another reason we stay away from making confessional and spiritually focused prayer requests. We tend to request prayers for the things that we have the least responsibility for. This is especially true of men. We don’t mind praying for a broken arm or an illness that we caught. Why? Partly because we don’t typically blame people for being sick and we don’t look down on them for their body failing them. We can continue to uphold our manhood and show strength of character when we have a cold or the flu or cancer. When we are physically sick people show a lot of compassion toward us.
Receiving Confessional Christians
What happens when we request prayers for sin in our lives? Men may feel a chink was taken out of the armor of their manhood and character. They may feel that people will look down on them and perceive them to be weak. Instead of a caring and loving reaction some people reject and avoid that person. When we sin we bear responsibility for our poor decisions. To make prayer requests about our sinfulness may not be met with the same love and compassion that we received the last time we had the flu. It may be met with contempt and bitterness by other Christians and the result is that no one will want to try that again.
How to Improve
How do we make this better? All Christians need to start from the humble posture that even though they too may not have felt safe to express their sinfulness to another Christian, they are in fact fellow sinners. Before we look on other people as unworthy, we need to remember that we stand right next to them in unworthiness. Instead of looking at those who admit they are weak and saying, “Aha! I knew it. You are so weak and are a miserable excuse for a Christian.” We need to be saying, “We are a lot more alike than I thought.” A high horse is a safe place to criticize. It is hard to criticize with your arm around someone.
I spoke with a brother a few weeks ago who said he came forward 10 years ago to have prayers for sin he was struggling with. Over the following months and years not a single person called, wrote, or asked him how he was doing with his struggle. He finished his story by saying, “I will never do that ever again.” I think that is sad. It is also very avoidable. We can avoid it when we stop comparing ourselves with others and start comparing ourselves with God. When we do that we will realize that we too are unworthy and sinful. We will respond like Isaiah when he came into the presence of God, “Woe to me! I am ruined.” And God will respond to us as he did with Isaiah, “your guilt it taken away and your sin atoned for.”
When we look with contempt at those who are contrite and repentant, we put our own forgiveness in jeopardy because it shows a profound misunderstanding of what God has done for us through Christ. ” Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” – Col 3:13. Let us also remember that those who confess may be the strong ones and those who criticize or shun may be the weak, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Cor 12:10. Let us also remember to keep people who come forward or ask for help in our prayers on a regular basis. It often seems something magical takes place on Sunday morning during the closing prayer where the names of those who came forward are erased from our memory and it is replaced with the thought of where we are going for lunch. Receiving a contrite brother or sister appropriately means we take the time to remember them in our prayers on a regular basis and that we follow up with them to see if they need any further support. I know I could do a lot better with this than I do.
Looks like you’ve got quite a queue of books to read but here’s another…The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero. You might find it interesting…
We cheat ourselves of real intimacy and the chance for real spiritual growth by hiding our sins and struggles. But you often feel like a black sheep when you try to lead a charge to take off the masks…
I hope and pray we will do better with this one.
Excellent thoughts Matt.
In our addictions recovery group, we commonly reveal our weaknesses to one another. We talk about the release of that action and how we wonder why very few are willing to be so vulnerable.