There are countless emotional obstacles that keep us from freely praying to God each day and moment by moment. But there is one overriding reason, Paul says, for you to fight through and go to God in prayer: the Holy Spirit himself is the one beckoning you, drawing you into God’s presence. God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7).
I was struck recently, in recently reading this passage, by the fact that each of these nouns refers back to the Spirit, just as in Galatians 5 each of the “fruit” points back to the Spirit. But here in 2 Timothy, Paul also uses contrasts to help us see what the work of the Spirit does and does not look like:
- Not the spirit of fear, but it is the Spirit of power,
- Not the spirit of fear, but it is the Spirit of love,
- Not the spirit of fear, it is the Spirit of self-control.
What is Paul’s point? Why would he say this to us, and in fact say it twice in parallel ways in Romans 8:15 and 2 Timothy 1:7?
The impulse in your soul to be fearful, to run away from God, or to dread God’s presence—God wants you to know does not come from him. But that internal urge to run to God, to trust in his strength and his power is from the Holy Spirit—that’s God’s Spirit speaking.
The longing in your soul to have loving fellowship with God is from the Holy Spirit. Even that careful, faithful reckoning of the mind that has to take place when your emotions are all over the place—when you don’t feel like trusting God, you don’t feel like believing his promises, you don’t feel like it’s a good day—yet you reason from the gospel, and so trust God anyway. That is the Holy Spirit sustaining your faith. That is the Holy Spirit providing self-control. Not the fearfulness, not the running away, not the terror of God’s presence.
Three Types of Prayer-Killing Fears
In other words, that fear in you that keeps you from coming to God in prayer is not God speaking to you. Whatever it might be:
- Fear because of guilt. You’ve had a bad week, you’ve had a bad day (you know good and well what you did today) that’s not worthy of God. How could you come into God’s presence after acting like that, after saying that, after doing that? How could you do that? This fear of guilt in you tends to keep you away from God.
- Fear that comes from laziness because you know it’s going to take work. Real repentance takes work, real relationship with God takes work. It’s not just saying some little fluffy prayer. It means coming to God and opening up the wreckage to him and saying, “God, here I am. This is where I am. Help me, search me, clean me. I have to be willing to give up these things that are keeping me from You, I have to be willing to pursue these things that I’ve been ignoring in my life.” There is a fear that arises from laziness: we say, “I’ll do that tomorrow … or never.”
- The fear of doubt asks, “Does all this really even matter? I know the Bible talks a lot about prayer, I know it talks a lot about repentance, but sometimes I feel like I’m talking to myself when I’m praying, and sometimes when I’m confessing sin I don’t feel any different afterward.” Doubtful fear asks the heart-sickening question, “Does this really make any difference whatsoever?”
Don’t Let Your Fears Outshout Your Father
Whatever is causing that fear that drives you away from God, God says, “That is not me speaking to you. Don’t listen to that internal inclination.” That compulsion which draws us to God in prayer no matter what mistakes we’ve made, no matter what hard repentance it will require, what our emotions may be at the moment: this is God speaking to you.
When you feel drawn to pray yet again—and you are able to say “I know I don’t deserve to go to God in prayer, I know this is going to be hard to fess up to my sins, and I know my emotions are all over the place, but I’m going to trust God’s revelation. I’m going to trust his fatherly provision, direction, protection for my life”—this is the Holy Spirit. This is what the Holy Spirit leads people to. This is what it means to be a child of God, the Spirit of God in you leading you to do this, to cry out “Abba, Father,” to go to God and speak to him.
Anything that keeps you from speaking to God is not this Holy Spirit. That in your breast that draws you to God in spite of all the obstacles that is the Spirit of adoption that says you are a child of God, and you belong there not because of who you are or how good you’ve been, but because God is your Father.