A question often asked here at Harvest USA is a common one. “Why do people—even Christians—go back to a gay
life after they have come for help?” It’s a legitimate question. For Christians who believe the Word, the Scriptures, and believe that faith in Christ makes one a “new creation,” the issue may seem confusing, but the answer must be honest and biblically grounded. Here is the third reason which explains what might be happening here, as we have seen some common denominators over the years in our ministry.
Failure to develop a prayer and devotional life
By developing a prayer and devotional life, I’m not talking about the kind of desperate praying that one does by begging God, “Please change me!” I understand why some pray such prayers and are exhausted by the years of praying in this way. Many of the people who come to Harvest USA have already prayed these prayers for far too long. Their early connections with or interest in the gospel really had to do with finding relief from an intolerable situation. Once someone really comes to God on his terms, this kind of immature prayer fades away. After all, it is a prayer that is wholly focused on self, wishing (demanding?) that God alter his life by divine fiat so that no further effort or struggle need occur. It’s an understandable prayer, and we feel for those whose cries speak it.
We must replace the “change me” kind of prayer with a prayer life that realizes that it’s only in communion with God wherer I can come to my senses about my heart, my struggles, and the world around me. This is the kind of prayer life that doesn’t look to God to make me feel better about my struggles but has, as its focus, a growing desire to know the living Lord in the depths of the chaos and unbelief that swirl though my soul.
Psalm 88 is a classic study of a heart given to prayer, even where there seems to be no resolution to the struggle. This is not a feel-good psalm! It is one of the few psalms in which the psalmist doesn’t experience any obvious joyful breakthroughs. In fact, it’s filled with unbelievable sarcasm. The end of the psalm is as distressed as the beginning. That is, until you look carefully at some of the words.
The one common refrain throughout the psalm is, “I cried out to you.” This is repeated three times and is a key to understanding the psalm and the one who wrote it. The suffering psalmist realizes that coming before the Lord that is the important thing—not necessarily to gain relief, but to know that the God of the universe is aware of his suffering. Upon closer observation, one realizes that the process of the prayer by the psalmist is the resolution.
This reminds me of a line from the movie, Shadowlands, the story of C.S. Lewis and his wife, Joy. In the movie, he was once congratulated on his wife’s remission from cancer. One of his college friends tells Lewis that his prayers seem to be changing things. Lewis’ response is remarkable. He says, “Oh, I don’t pray to change things. Prayer changes me.” Whether or not Lewis actually said those words in real life, it is still a profound and true statement.
Bringing our hurtful, unbelieving, struggling hearts before the Lord in true honesty (as honest and true as the psalmist of Psalm 88, whose words are scathing!) is crucial for any believer, and especially so for someone who is struggling with homosexuality. Prayer must turn from attention to self to attention to the One who loves us, no matter our sin or struggle. He does care; he does pay attention. But he wants, first and foremost, our hearts to be dependent on him and not on getting his gifts, like changed circumstances, so that we can go on and live our lives as we please.
Updated 5.3.2017, 6.1.2018
John is the founder of Harvest USA. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and Westminster Theological Seminary, PA. He is a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). John and his wife, Penny, have been married for more than 30 years and have three grown children. Their home is in the Philadelphia area.More from John Freeman