My church had its Bible study last night. We’re going through Jim Cymbala’s When God’s People Pray. In last night’s lesson, “Obedience in Prayer,” the message I was hearing was that God will not bless us if we are holding on to our sins. Such sins can include living together without being married, dishonesty in one’s finances, or such heart-sins as bitterness, unforgiveness of others, and “secret sexual sins.” We went through Bible passages about God not hearing the prayers of those who hold on to their sins.
It was a discouraging lesson, at least to me. One person in the group was trying to comfort me by saying that Isaiah 1:9 states that we should be willing and obedient—-not perfect, but willing to forsake sin and follow God. That made me feel slightly better, but it did not entirely remove my discouragement. What exactly counts as being willing? And am I even willing, for that matter? Am I willing to get rid of my sexual desire, as if that is even possible, considering it is a key part of human nature? Am I willing to become “reconciled” with people I’d rather have nothing to do with? Am I willing to stop being an introvert and to start being an extrovert (which some evangelicals define as love)?
I’ve had negative experiences with the sort of mindset that was being promoted last night. One year, due to my social discomfort, I was not “reaching out” to my roommates in love, and so someone told me I was not following Jesus. That entire year, I felt as if God did not like me, did not approve of me, did not really accept my worship. The whole idea that I have to “obey” God for God to hear my prayers puts me into depression, for I can never “obey” God enough, at least not in the manner that many evangelicals would like.
These sorts of ideas put me into depression. The thing is, many people in the non-Christian world do not understand it. They think they should be able to feel good about themselves, even though they have sexual desire, or are not reconciled with every human being who has been in their lives. They do not understand why anyone would think differently, and they would see the religious notions I have gotten over the years as psychologically unhealthy. Well, they are, at least for me. Other Christians don’t seem to have a problem with them.
And there’s not only me to consider. Suppose people around me have grudges, for legitimate reasons? Are their grudges hindering God’s blessing? I’m not responsible for them, you might say? Well, suppose God not blessing them impacts me? And, since I care for them, I want for God’s blessing to be on them. But I cannot tell them to forgive. If I had been through what they had, I’d have difficulty forgiving, too.
There were some things in last night’s lesson with which I identified. Jim Cymbala was saying that, when he has a fight with his wife before church, he feels a need to apologize to her before he prays there, otherwise his prayers might not be powerful. He wants to preach the Gospel and minister to people powerfully. He wants God’s presence in church. For that to happen, he needs to pray. But can he really pray when he is unreconciled with his wife? Not really, according to him, so he needs to reconcile with her—-he needs to say he’s sorry. I can identify with this, on some level, for, whenever I am mean to someone I love, I feel distant from God.
All of this said, I can understand why some people leave the Christian God and seek guidance, wisdom, and peace elsewhere. It just seems that the Christian God demands too much of us. We’re only human.