How to Pray about Your Sin

This article is part of the How to Pray series.

Pray in Jesus’s Name

When we conclude any prayer “in Jesus’s name,” as he instructed, we confess that we are coming to God on the basis of Christ’s merit, not ours. We are saying, “Heavenly Father, there is not enough goodness in my best works to warrant you listening to me or answering my prayer. I ask you to listen to me as one who trusts in the blood of Jesus to wash away my sin. I believe that you will forgive me and help me not because I deserve your mercy, but because my Savior’s suffering and death paid the penalty for my sin (Eph. 1:7), because he rose to intercede for me at your right hand (Heb. 7:25), and because he gave the Holy Spirit to make my prayers more holy, selfless, and blessed than I could ever muster” (Rom. 8:26-28).

Praying in Jesus’s name is an acknowledgement of our total dependence on his provision. We push away from any personal claim on God’s blessing and lean entirely on Christ’s provision. Prayer in Jesus’s name is not an incantation to make our petitions worthy of divine attention; rather, appealing to God through our Savior’s name is a confession that whatever would be identified with our name has been polluted by our sin. We are unworthy of even approaching God apart from the mercy and merits of our Savior. So, we when we pray in Jesus’s name, we automatically confess our sin, profess our faith in him, and submit our petitions to the purposes that bring glory to his name.

Unlimited Grace

Bryan Chapell

This book helps us see evidence of God's grace throughout Scripture so we see that far from encouraging sin, grace fuels and empowers the obedience that God commands.

Pray for Forgiveness

Because Jesus’s name provides blessed access to his Father’s mercy, our Savior gives us allowance and instruction to ask God to “Forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:4). These words open our eyes to the gracious heart of our God. He delights to show us mercy (Mic. 7:18) and makes no secret of how to receive it. Our only qualification for receiving pardoning grace is trusting that Jesus made it available by paying a price that we could not. He shed his blood to pay the penalty for the sin of all who trust in him. Now, whoever asks for pardon in his name—confessing that what is behind our name would qualify us for nothing but the wrath of the holy God—receives God’s mercy forever.

The more this mercy captures our hearts, the more we are willing to ask God’s forgiveness and the more we desire to honor the Lord who loves us so. This same desire causes us to become more aware of our constant need of God’s grace. Thus, Jesus’s instruction to request forgiveness as a regular pattern for our prayers should greatly encourage us (Matt. 6:5-13). Christ’s pattern for our prayers reveals that the frequency of our prayers for forgiveness is not a frustration to him. He does not tire of our confessions, so we need not tire of confessing. We need not fear that our need of limitless grace will make our God less willing to forgive. If our sins repeat, our God urges us to come to him again, again, and again. His intention is for us to sicken of our sin long before we exhaust the grace in him.

By praying as Jesus taught, we acknowledge both that sin regularly sifts into our lives and that his inexhaustible grace is adequate to secure our pardon. Thus, prayers for God’s forgiveness not only confess the weakness in our nature, but also honor the grace in his.

Pray in Humility

God does not bless our prayers because our devotion warrants or purchases his blessing. We should remember our best works are “filthy rags” in comparison to God’s holiness (Isa. 64:6). When we have done all that we should do we are still “unworthy servants” (Luke 17:10). If God’s blessing were dependent on our prayers’ adequacy—because they were pure enough, long enough, frequent enough, or fervent enough—then we could expect no blessing. Even if we repented of the inadequacy of our prayer, our repentance could not be complete enough to merit God’s kindness.

We need not fear that our need of limitless grace will make our God less willing to forgive.

God does not bless our prayers because they have achieved a sufficient level of worthiness to trigger his response. Scripture mercifully portrays God blessing those who acknowledge their insufficiency. In Christ’s parable of the Pharisee and the publican, only the man who acknowledges his unworthiness receives God’s mercy (Luke 18:9-14). When a grieving father brings his demon-possessed child to Jesus, the Savior promises healing “for him who believes,” not for him who measures up. The father responds to Jesus’s promise by confessing, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Then, Jesus heals the boy. Such humility is not a product we manufacture but a grace we receive, as we confess to God that nothing in us deserves his forgiveness; not our conduct, not our service, not our prayers—nor even our humility. When we simply pray, “God be merciful to me, a sinner without any merit of my own,” then God fulfills his promise to forgive as a gift of sheer grace.

Pray with Devotion

Since our works do not qualify us for a holy God’s blessing, there are no routines or rituals that compel God to forgive us. Yet, in his grace, Jesus steers us toward helpful habits that focus our prayers and aid us in humbly appealing to, and experiencing, God’s grace.

Jesus teaches his disciples the Lord’s Prayer so they will have a pattern to guide their prayers. The Bible also tells us that through the ages devoted believers regularly pray numerous times through each day, during times of worship, at meals, on special occasions, and whenever circumstances or the Spirit prompt. Regular prayer is possible because there is no requirement of length or location. Believers send impromptu, arrow prayers to heaven in crisis, and they offer formal prayers in celebrations and worship. Believers pray in public and private, and in various postures—kneeling, standing, sitting, prostrate, lying in bed (1 Chron. 17:16; 2 Chron. 6:12-13; Ps. 63:5). All these examples inform us what can characterize devotion, but we should not make any a benchmark of faithfulness. God’s people pray whenever they need to voice his praise, seek his aid, experience his presence, bow to his will, or confess their sin.

These devoted patterns of prayer involve God in every dimension and phase of the believer’s life. Prayer becomes a humble reflex—as instinctive as breathing. Such spiritual reflexes are not rules or rituals that compensate for our sin. Rather, they are the familiar doorways to a constant and spontaneous outpouring of a humble heart longing for the presence, pardon, and peace of God. These doors lead to devotional lives of unceasing prayer—constrained not by any legal compulsion, but by love for our God who is always listening and always ready to forgive (1 Thess. 5:17).

Pray about Specific Sins

Since our hearts are drawn by Christ’s grace to pray in ways that conform to his will, it is often helpful to pray using words inspired by the Holy Spirit. We can read a passage of Scripture slowly and pray about the issues or shortcomings in our lives that the text brings to mind. To be more specific, and more open to the Spirit’s work in our heart, we can insert our name and concerns amidst the confessions and struggles presented in the passage.

When confessing hidden sin, we may pray with David, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps. 51:4). We may bow with the publican to confess public shame, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). We may need to say with the prodigal, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21); or more simply with Peter, “I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).

Whether we have a specific Scriptural prompt or a heart-conviction prompted by the Holy Spirit, the more we are willing and able to identify the dimensions of our sin, the more we will appreciate the magnitude of God’s grace. Then, as gratitude for our God’s unmerited and unlimited grace grows, so also will our desire to walk closely with the One who so loves us.

Bryan Chapell is the author of Unlimited Grace: The Heart Chemistry that Frees from Sin and Fuels the Christian Life.

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