I received a letter from a woman who had been sexually abused by her father when she was a child. Her concern was that there were months of this devastating time in her childhood she had blocked out. She simply couldn’t remember what had happened. “How can I come to God with a clean heart when I can’t remember so much of that horrible time? Will God hold that against me?” she asked.

My heart ached for this woman who had already suffered so much and was now tormented by the thought that the offenses acted out upon her would hinder her prayers and follow her for the rest of her life. I wanted to tell her that part of the miracle of prayer is that God knows what we need before we even ask him. When it is our earnest desire to be clean, he sees that—whether we can remember every detail of our lives or not. Yes, he wants us to come before him with a pure heart but he also tells us that he hears our honest petitions. Notice what verse 19 of Psalm 66 says:  “Certainly God has heard me.”

We can’t keep worrying about how clean the corners of our soul are. If we get caught up in that whirlpool of self-loathing and doubt we’re only headed down. But if we come before the God who makes all things new, believing in faith he knows our true hearts, we are certain to be uplifted.

Believing

Surely Jesus’s words recorded in Matthew 21:22 have caused much confusion among believers:  “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” “Whatever” covers a lot of ground.

Perhaps you have been exposed to prosperity teaching, which seems to advocate “if you can name it, you can claim it; if you can mark it, you can park it!” This theology is not an accurate understanding of what the Bible teaches. Prosperity teaching takes the wonderful truth that our Father is the King of kings and reduces it to the conclusion that we should all then live like royalty on this earth.

For instance, I was channel surfing one night and landed on a religious talk show. Three college students were being interviewed about their faith. One girl held up a picture of a red Mercedes convertible and announced proudly that this was what she was “believing” for. As though that’s what Jesus had in mind for her!

But beyond the self-indulgent misinterpretations of this verse is a much more serious heart cry from those who long for God to intervene when life is falling apart and who can’t understand why he doesn’t appear to hear their prayers. From 1987 to 1992, I was cohost of The 700 Club with Dr. Pat Robertson. I received hundreds of letters from viewers who stumbled over this misunderstanding of prayer. They said things like:

  • “I prayed in faith that my husband would be healed of cancer, but he died. What did I do wrong?”
  • “I have given and given to the church and this ministry believing for a miracle in my own finances, but I am still in debt. What am I doing wrong?”
  • “I have kept myself pure and prayed, believing that God would bring me a husband, and I am still alone. Why isn’t God honoring my prayers?”

I witnessed such torment in people’s lives. Many felt they were doing something wrong, and if they could just find out what the key was, things would been different. Can you imagine the agony of believing your child or your husband would not have died if you had somehow worked out this puzzle in time? Or the pain of the woman who sits home alone wondering where her soul mate is as she watches the years pass by, taking with them her ability to be a mother?

To these situations add the agony of silence. If you believe that somehow whatever reality you are living in is your fault, who do you dare talk to? How can you voice these things aloud and risk seeing disapproval in the eyes of someone else?