Have you ever wondered about the role of your work ethic and your conscience in enabling effective prayer?
Definitely you’ve experienced this: that awful moment when you realise that you need God’s help, but haven’t been doing what you should.
Like the beggars we are, we go back to the throne of grace at such times, cringing perhaps that we need to cry for another demonstration of God’s unparalleled mercy… but conscious all along that we also probably need his discipline if we’re ever going to turn from our repeated failures to do what is right.
Thankfully God is unimaginably patient and knows we’re just dust, and if you don’t yet know the delights of Psalm 103 for cringing beggars, let me encourage you to go there now!
But God does discipline, and that can include unanswered prayer. No doubt you’ve seen a striking difference in this respect in some Christians lives. There are those individuals that stand out from the crowd, people who seem to be striving in everything they do to behave in that noble, honourable, excellent way that leaves them with a clean conscience, and God seems to especially attend to their prayers.
By contrast perhaps, when you want to pray, you immediately call to mind all the time you waste, your lack of prayer and study, failure to visit the sick, remember those in prison… and the list goes on.
Can you really expect God to answer your prayers?
“Well yes,” you say, and you call to mind the many times God has helped you after your cries for mercy just before you step out again to serve him, in faith and dependence on his grace. Yet in the back of your mind you know that there is a connection between our godliness and the effectiveness of our prayers, after all “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much,” is there in James 5.
Another passage that deserves more attention is Hebrews 13:18-19 where there’s a clear connection between expecting prayer to be effective, and the conscience of the one asking for prayer!
“Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honourably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.” (Heb 13:18-19 ESV)
Pray for us, says the writer to the Hebrews, because we are sure that we have a clean conscience… since/in that we’re desiring to behave honourably in all things. What he then goes on to show is the most amazing confidence in the effectiveness of their prayers, fully expecting an earlier visit to them than could otherwise be hoped for!
What if we emphasised God’s amazing grace to beggars like us to the point that we ignore the reality that God disciplines those he loves, and that his discipline can include unanswered prayer? What if there was something we needed to do in order to be able to know answered prayer?
Would that make our answered prayers something received by works and nullify God’s grace? Not at all! In just the same way when we initially repent of our sin, it is only by grace that we’re saved, through faith in Christ’s sacrifice, and God himself has to grant the repentance to us… yet there is a clear connection between our repentance and our salvation! When we delay our repentance, God delays our conversion! If we refuse to repent, we will not be saved.
So can we conclude that as long as we refuse to deal with the items on our conscience, God may just refuse to answer our prayers?
If so – there’s a clear connection between our work ethic, our conscience, and effective prayer.