“If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” (Psalm 66:18)
Sometimes Dylan told lies. If his parents caught him, they would punish him. They would also encourage him to pray and ask God to forgive him. At first, Dylan really meant what he was praying – sometimes he would pray for God’s forgiveness even when his parents didn’t know about the lie and weren’t making him pray.
Soon, Dylan found himself praying to God all the time, but not for forgiveness! He would pray that his parents wouldn’t find out about what he had done or said. Dylan was more afraid of being punished than he was of being unforgiven. Soon he started to wonder whether God would listen to his prayers at all.
Dylan did not understand very much about Who God is and what God expects of His children. God does not forgive us if we are not truly repentant. He does not forgive us if we are asking for the wrong reason and our hearts are set on sinning again.
Over time, Dylan had let himself start viewing God as someone who does whatever we ask Him to do. But repentance, forgiveness, and salvation all come from the Lord. We cannot just sin, pray about it, and expect that to fix everything. God tells us in His Word that if we regard (or know about and hold onto) sin in our hearts, He will not even listen to our prayers.
Instead, Dylan ought to look at the sin in his heart and think about it like God thinks about it – as something very evil, hurtful, and displeasing to God and others. Instead of planning to tell lies again, Dylan should pray for help to resist the temptation to tell lies again. He should also be willing to take whatever punishment is coming to him for lies he has already told. Asking forgiveness doesn’t get us out of being punished.
God will not even hear our prayers if we are looking at sin as something we don’t mind keeping around in our lives. But there’s good news for people like Dylan – and us. Psalm 51:17 says this: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” God does hear the prayers of a broken and contrite (or repentant, humble) heart. If we come to Him with repentance and humility, thinking about our sins the way He does, then He has promised to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
God will hear you and forgive you only if you ask with a repentant spirit.
» When I ask forgiveness for a certain sin, am I determined to avoid that sin in the future, or do I still want to keep it around in my life?
» When I come to God, is it proudly, with my own interests in mind? Or do I come to Him with a humble heart, thinking about my sin the way He thinks about it?