I can’t help it. I am so aware of my sinful shortcomings (good thing) that I feel too embarrassed and unworthy to pray (bad thing . . . very bad thing). I just can’t ask for things I need because I don’t feel I’ve earned them. The mental confusion that I have to work very hard to overcome derives from a mixing of a sense of personal responsibility (generally a good thing) with the basis for confidence that I enjoy God’s favor (bad thing). My life performance, good or bad, is not the determining factor for God’s favor. Everything begins with grace. Everything begins with God.
Jesus knew one day that he was speaking to a group of people who shared my prayer dysfunction. They felt too dirty to approach the royal throne of heaven, and so they didn’t. Jesus used the comforting and familiar situation of a child asking for help from a parent. Even naughty children know that relationship trumps performance: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).
If your prayer life is being slowed down by guilt, begin each prayer with a confession of your sins. Treasure Scripture’s words of forgiveness given to you freely by grace. Call on the Father, your Father, to send the Spirit he himself promised.
Don’t be afraid. He loves you unconditionally.