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There really is nothing wrong with what the "sinner's prayer" says, even though we have tended to put it down in the past. And getting people to actually say the things that are said in the sinner's prayer is a very good exercise. I just wish that we could get them to continue saying those things. Our complaint about the prayer is more that it tends to become a once-and-for-all ritual, that exempts people from continuing to grow in their faith.

The thought I want to express in this article is our need to do exactly what people do when they say the sinner's prayer. They put words to something that could easily just pass momentarily through their minds, and then be lost. By putting words to the thought, they become more committed to what may have easily died out. If you are sorry for something, don't just be sorry. Say it; and while you are at it, ask for forgiveness. If you want to follow Jesus, don't just assume that wishful thinking will cause you to do that. Say it, to him and to others. And if you recognise your need for his help, then say that too, and express your willingness to co-operate with him as he tries to help you in your spiritual walk.

It is said that the path to hell is paved with good intentions. Sometimes the first step in turning those good intentions into reality is for us to just voice those good thoughts; and when we do this through prayer, it becomes the substance that cements our relationship with God.

Simply saying, "God I want to do the right thing. Please help me" has a way of making us more committed to acting on what may otherwise have been nothing more than good intentions. And saying it regularly, whether daily or hourly, will have positive effects in how you live.

This principle works in other areas of life as well. I can, for example, have many positive thoughts about friends and relatives, but if I don't ever get around to expressing them, the relationship suffers because of it. If you have a positive thought about someone, it will be ten times more effective if you just say it. That reinforces in the minds of both of you that you really do appreciate the person, and that you are working on having a good relationship. When you are grumpy, or even when you have a valid criticism to make, it will be far less likely to threaten the relationship if you have previously expressed your positive thoughts toward the same people.

And the same is true of our relationship with God. I personally don't know of any better prayer than the one that Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he said, "Thy will be done." Each time I think of something to ask for from God, I realise that nothing else matters half so much as that God's will be done. He knows what is best for me, and ultimately that is what I want. But after you've prayed that same prayer a thousand times, it's easy to think that even that much doesn't need to be said. "God knows my heart," we say, and because of that, we can end up taking for granted the fact that we want God's will to be done in our lives.

Backsliding usually starts with a falling away in our prayer life. We stop saying it, and it isn't long before we stop thinking it, and eventually it isn't our desire at all, because we have become so full of our own will and so full of doing our own thing that God is little more than a word in a book.

So even if you've said it a million times before, keep on saying it. "Thy will be done." And while you're at it, you can say the rest of the Lord's Prayer as well. When you do, you will discover that the Lord's Prayer and the Sinner's Prayer are basically the same... except that it is more acceptable for people to keep on saying the Lord's Prayer.

Reciting the Lord's Prayer can be a meaningless ritual, and no doubt it is for many. But I have found in recent years that it contains all of the things that I most want and need in my Christian walk. And yet if I don't say those things at least daily, they can fade from my attention, and I can become distracted and more involved in lesser things. I don't often say the exact words from the Lord's Prayer when I pray, but I do use it as my outline.

"Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." Do you want God to be worshipped and honoured? Do you love him yourself, and worship him? Then say it to him every day. He wants to hear you saying that.

"Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Do you want God's will... in your life and in the lives of others? Then say it, and it will make you more attentive to ways that you can conform to his will and contribute to building his kingdom. Nothing matters more in your life and the entire history of the human race than the building of God's eternal kingdom of love and faith.

"Give us this day our daily bread." That's the line that can most easily be left out in our affluent Western society. But if there are any genuine physical needs that you have, then they need to be placed before God and faced with the knowledge that he is in control of your life. Preceded as it is by a prayer for God's will above all else, you do not need to be afraid to ask if you have a need. Just say it, and know that when you do, God hears it.

"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." We all need forgiveness every day, as we continually fall short of our full potential. We all need more love for others too. If you really want those things, do not be slack about saying it. And in saying it as it is expressed here, we are reminded of the relationship between our love for others and God's love for us. It's one of the best reminders in the world for getting us down off some high horse of supposed religious superiority.

"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." I cannot imagine anyone ever backsliding if they would just say (and mean) those words every day of their lives. God is faithful to keep us on the right track when we are humble enough to ask him for such protection. Backsliding happens when we think we know more than God, and we start using human reasoning and trivial excuses for sinfulness in some area of our lives. If you want to do what is right, then say it, and say it over and over. Acknowledge your need for God's help in keeping you honest and humble and loving. Those who hunger and thirst after doing what is right will do it... providing they keep on asking for God's help.

"For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever." We end up right back where we started, and that is praising God. But in particular, we are reminded that it is God who calls the shots, and God who should get the credit for everything good in our lives. If you believe that, then say it, and when you do, you will find yourself in exactly the right position to be used by God.

(See also Our Father, Thy Will Be Done, Thy Kingdom Come, and As We Forgive Others.)

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