How do you begin your prayers? For a long time I started with confession. Otherwise, I felt like I was praying with an elephant in the room; God, I imagined, listened to my prayer, but only half-heartedly until I dealt with the nasty thing in the corner.
The Bible calls this self-righteousness–the false idea that God only loves me when I’m clean enough for him. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray first “Our Father, who is in heaven.” In fact, to make it clear that the father’s love precedes our ability to confess, he made confession the fourth part of his prayer.
When we start our prayers with “I’m sorry father” instead of “Our father,” we totally miss the point. We do not pray because we’re clean and penitent, but because we have a father who loves us. His love is not contigent on our righteousness, but in spite of our righteousness, because even our purest motivations are “like dirty rags” to him (Is. 64:6).
He’s not like many earthly fathers who say, “Do this, but not that, and then I’ll love you.” He’s the father in the parable of the two sons who welcomes both prodigal sons and self-righteous sons with inexplicably extravagant love.
His love empowers us to pray good, God glorifying prayers. His love empowers us to ask much of him, and even frees us to confess our sins to him, rather than hide them or minimize them. Your good, loving father waits for you at the door of every prayer; do not stop short of his open arms to try and clean yourself. Let his love clean you instead.