This QuickWord was adapted from Contending for the Habit of Daily Prayer, Revised and Extended (Issachar Imprints, 2017), 57-59,70-71)
When we talk about prayer legitimacy, we are, in a sense, also talking about spiritual legitimacy. Here’s the reasoning behind that. If we feel that we stand before God illegitimately, we will always be hindered in prayer and in spiritual growth. So, we will be talking about spiritual legitimacy in the context of prayer legitimacy because prayer is that key point of access to God, so it makes sense to speak of legitimacy in terms of our prayer lives. And that is exactly what we are going to do . . .
But before we move forward in our discussion, an important truth needs to be stated. I just mentioned that if we stand before God illegitimately, or if we feel that we are illegitimate, then we are hindered in our prayer and spiritual growth. But it is important for us to understand that we are only legitimate in Christ. That is, we have no spiritual legitimacy or legitimacy in prayer in and of ourselves. We are legitimate to the degree that we have trusted in God for salvation and righteousness. Let’s read Romans 4:4-5 together:
Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
Now, here comes an important truth: the same process of divinely enabled belief and trust that brought us to salvation must also take place for any further change in character that we hope to experience after salvation! This is extremely important! Every genuine Christian knows that the battle between the flesh and the Spirit continues to rage even after we are saved. There are still areas that have not been surrendered, attitudes that need to change, habits that need to die, and habits that need to be started! This is where the Word of God and prayer are so crucial! Just as we continue to trust God for salvation, so we must also trust Him to bring about genuine, personal, Christ-like change in our character, and, consequently, in our behavior.
I remember a story, something I read from Max Lucado a few years ago. He was talking about how he and his wife were looking for a house and they came across a house that his wife just loved! She thought it was wonderful! She was just charmed by everything about this house. Then Lucado goes on to say they bought the house and guess what happened afterwords? She changed everything.
That’s the same thing that God intends to do with us: He loves us, cares about us. The old song Just As I Am is appropriate for us. We come just as we are. There’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, but He intends to change us. He does not intend to leave us in the condition in which He found us. And the same things are true about our life after salvation. We encounter all kinds of things about ourselves that need to change, but we can no more change those things by our own will power than we were able to save ourselves by our will power. So, it’s very important for us to understand that, if we are to have legitimacy before God, and when we go into the Secret Place—if we are able to stand there legitimately—it’s only because we have understood and believed in the grace of God, the blood of Jesus Christ. We have been justified by our faith.
Two Important Points
Now, there are a couple of things for us to consider as we are talking about this subject of prayer legitimacy, spiritual legitimacy; two important points. Actually, two things we need to become comfortable with if we are going to have prayer legitimacy and if we are going to cultivate a meaningful, dynamic prayer life.
The first thing is ourselves—we must be comfortable in “our own skin” as the saying goes. It may not make sense to everyone, but we have to allow ourselves legitimacy in prayer. It’s true that we are imperfect and can point out all the ways in which we are inadequate and disqualified for prayer. But we have not been invited into the Secret Place because of our adequacy or qualifications! On the contrary, it is through the blood of Jesus and His utter qualification that we are allowed, invited, even compelled to enter into the Most Holy Place! Let’s read Hebrews 10:19-22
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:19-22).
Now, what this means for us that, when we cry out to God, we mustn’t shrink from the sound of our own voice because we are aware of our unworthiness, but instead allow ourselves to begin to say about ourselves what God says about us: that we are considered righteous through faith (read again Romans 4:5).
So, the second thing that we have to become comfortable with is our families and those that are close to us—it may be difficult for some to cultivate a meaningful, dynamic prayer life because their families are not prepared to lend them legitimacy in prayer. Our families have witnessed our shortcomings, our failures, and because of that, they may take the lower road of judging us for what they have seen in us rather than for what God and His Word says is possible in us. For this reason, we should never present ourselves as being superior to those around us because we are pursuing prayer, but rather we should humbly acknowledge our inadequacies and hide completely behind God’s mercy and love. In the end, we must pursue God in the Secret Place regardless of others’ opinion of us!
So, as we think about this subject of our families, and becoming comfortable with our families, and not only just comfortable with them, but comfortable with the fact that they may not accept the legitimacy of our new pursuit of prayer: our effort to try to go deeper in the Lord, as we said they may stumble over the things that they have seen wrong with us. Over the years I have observed a few times where, perhaps, one spouse—let’s hypothetically say that in a marriage the woman or the wife is very spiritual, very mature in the Lord, and the husband is acting out and not growing in the Lord. Then something happens and God gets hold of him and he begins to grow. And I have seen it happen to where the spouse, the wife, begins even to resent the spiritual growth of the husband. Why? Because now others are recognizing in him that he is growing in the Lord, that he is maturing, they are seeing progress in him and they are celebrating that. He might even be celebrating that as well, but now she has to allow him to become that person. But sometimes it’s hard to let go of the mistakes and the hurts, the things perhaps that he has done to her that have hurt her feelings over the years.
Well, it is good for us all to allow those around us that opportunity to grow in the Lord and to gain spiritual legitimacy and prayer legitimacy. But, when the shoe is on the other foot, and you are the one making the effort and those around you are not ready to grant you that kind of legitimacy, that’s OK. We don’t get arrogant, we don’t begin to declare something good about ourselves, we just say, “You know what? I’m gonna pray, I’m gonna seek the Lord, and I’m gonna trust that the fragrance of what God is doing in my life will eventually begin to flow into my family, into my relationships, and all those around me will begin to see that God is doing something in my life. I would imagine that that kind of prayer legitimacy and spiritual legitimacy is also going to lead the believer to the point where he or she is going to begin to realize, “You know what? I’ve hurt some people. I need to make sure that they understand that I know that, that I love them, that I’m growing,” and perhaps they will have to go and apologize and do some things necessary to help repair some relationships. So this is the kind of dynamic that can happen in our families.
So, as we close this quick word, let’s consider some questions.
Thinking about yourself and your time in prayer,
Do you cringe at the sound of your own voice in prayer? Do you hear that voice calling you illegitimate? Saying, “I’m not sure I’m worthy to pray, to worship God, or to stand here.”
How many times have you opted not to pray because of your imperfections and sins?
What makes you feel illegitimate in prayer? Is it something you know you’ve done wrong in the past? Is it a weakness that you have?
Do your loved ones and friends know that you desire to cultivate a secret life in God? Have you talked to your family and friends? Sometimes what happens in our families as we want to grow in the Lord, we may be uncomfortable with sharing with them saying, “Look, I want to start having prayer time.” We might feel a little bit of a stigma when we say, “Ok guys, I’m gonna go have some prayer in the back room; while everybody’s watching TV, I’m gonna go find some time to do that.” Our families may not yet be prepared for us to do that. But God is calling us to prayer; He’s calling us to a deeper place. We have to begin to cultivate that kind of a lifestyle and we’ve got to begin to grow into that kind of legitimacy, and some of the things we’ve talked about are some of the challenges that can happen.
One Last Thing…
Concerning our sins or our feeling of guilt when we come into prayer. We have heard that Scripture where Paul mentions that he would that we would all “lift up holy hands” (1 Timothy 2:8), and over the years we have heard ministers preach sermons that warn us not to lift up unholy hands. We’ve got stories of Achan in the Old Testament (Joshua 7) who had done something wrong and he tried to hide that and he and all of his family and everything connected to him were destroyed. Then we have the story of of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) who came to the church and said, “We have some land. We want to sell it for a certain amount and give the church the money,” but the truth is they didn’t actually give all the money that they had made from it. So they lied to the church and they died right there. [NOTE: The Bible actually says they lied to the Holy Spirit.]
So, we have, rightfully, a concern. We should never feel comfortable with entering into the Presence of God with sin in our life that we have not repented of or that we have no intention of dealing with. But what is the answer for unholy hands? It’s not to stay out of the Secret Place, it’s to go into the Secret Place and to lift those hands before God and say, “God, cleanse these hands! Touch my heart! Change me! Create in me a clean heart, O God!”
So those are just some words about prayer legitimacy, spiritual legitimacy. I hope thev’e helped you and blessed you today.