“Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1)
God answers the prayers of sinners, not perfect people. And you can become perfectly paralyzed in your praying if you do not focus on the cross and realize this.
I could show it from numerous Old Testament texts where God hears the cry of his sinful people, whose very sins had gotten them into the trouble from which they are crying for deliverance (for example, Psalm 38:4, 15; 40:12–13; 107:11–13). But let me show it from Luke 11 — in two ways:
In this version of the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2–4), Jesus says, “When you pray, say . . . ” and then in verse 4 he includes this petition, “and forgive us our sins.” So, if you connect the beginning of the prayer with the middle, what he says is, “Whenever you pray, say . . . forgive us our sins.”
I take this to mean that this should be as much a part of all our praying as, “Hallowed be your name.” Which means that Jesus assumes that we need to seek forgiveness virtually every time we pray.
In other words, we are always sinners. Nothing we do is perfect. As Martin Luther said, on his deathbed, “We are beggars. This is true.” Even if we have achieved some measure of obedience before we pray, we always come to the Lord as sinners — all of us. And God does not turn away the prayers of sinners when they pray like this.
The second place we can see this is in Luke 11:13: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Jesus calls his disciples “evil.” Pretty strong language. And he did not mean that they were out of fellowship with him. He did not mean that their prayers could not be answered.
He meant that as long as this fallen age lasts, even his own disciples will have an evil bent that pollutes everything they do, but doesn’t keep them from doing much good as they rely on his grace and power.
We are simultaneously evil and redeemed. We are gradually overcoming our evil by the power of the Holy Spirit. But our native corruption is not obliterated by conversion.
We are sinners and we are beggars. And if we recognize this sin, renounce it, fight it, and cling to the cross of Christ as our hope, then God will hear us and answer our prayers.