I hate that sinking feeling I get when I first see the announcement that another evangelical leader has burnt out, had an affair, been defrocked for abuse, or been living a double life. It’s a strange sensation of disappointment, pity, rage, and fear. As a pastor, it’s a feeling that has grown all too familiar.
A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in my office and an email notification popped up on the screen. Before I even clicked, I knew it was going to contain more disappointment. A member at church had fallen back into sin—again. Frustration washed over me as I began to imagine the conversation in my mind. It was one we’d had a dozen times.
For nearly ten minutes, I spun in my desk chair playing out the familiar scene line by line: I’ll open with this probing question, then I’ll bring up the sin and point to this Scripture, and after I’ve listened for a while I’ll really dig in hard this time because this is just unacceptable! Why does this member keep slipping back into the mud? I mean really, I’ve got better things to do than to deal with this problem for the hundredth time.
It was in that moment of exasperation that a thought caught me square across the jaw: Hold on. When was the last time I prayed for this member to persevere through temptation? Suddenly, my whole perspective changed. What if this member keeps falling into sin because I keep failing to pray?
We all know we ought to pray. The question is, how often to do we actually want to pray? If you are like me, Jesus put his finger on our pulse when he chided: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). So often it takes an unexpected crisis or some catastrophic fall into sin to jolts us awake. A bit sheepish, we find we’ve been sleeping instead of heeding Christ’s warning to “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”
What do we do? How do we re-awaken our desire to pray? How do we move from knowing we ought to pray to actually longing to pray?
Perhaps this answer surprises you, but stick with me. I believe revisiting doctrines we’ve taken for granted or long forgotten will rekindle our passion for supplication and intercession. Three truths from the treasury of God’s Word will aid us. Let’s see if we do not find, with C. S. Lewis, that “the heart sings unbidden while [we] are working [our] way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in [our] teeth and a pencil in [our] hand.”
When we consider the state of mankind apart from God, we are talking about the doctrine of original sin. John Calvin puts it succinctly: “Original sin, then, may be defined as the hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature.”
After Adam and Eve fell into disobedience and rebellion in the Garden, they passed down sin to all men like a contagion permeating every part of human existence. As a result, the world where God once said, “Let there be light,” was plunged into a state of deep darkness. Ironically, people became simultaneously perpetrators and victims of sin. Paul explains to Titus, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3 ESV, emphasis mine).
Mankind was blind to the depths of our depravity until the dawn of the gospel: “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Matt. 4:16 ESV). Jesus entered the world, and as his light shone, humanity was finally able to see its true state—and it was not pretty. As the light searched in the darkness, it revealed the ghastly effects of sin: We were a people covered in leprosy, lame, blind, demon-possessed, wasting away, and dead.