Do we take prayer for granted?
One suspects that a great many people do, simply assuming it’s something everyone does, having forgotten, or perhaps never knowing that prayer is a privilege reserved for God’s faithful?
An individual might be an embezzler, an adulterer or a drunkard, but let another person asks for prayers and said lout and cheat will assure them, in all sincerity, that they are praying for them, never stopping to think that their prayers have all the effectiveness of throwing a coin in a fountain and wishing for good things.
The prophets of old had quite a bit to say about this sort of thinking, for it is not a new thing. Many simply assume that, of course, prayer is going to work for them. However God is quite clear in saying otherwise in the Scriptures.
He told the sinful Israelites, “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers I will not listen (Isaiah 1:15; ESV).” Later, Isaiah reminds the people, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that He does not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2; ESV)” Likewise, we are told, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him (Proverbs 15:8; ESV).”
This was a principle understood by the Jews of Jesus’ day, and affirmed as evidence of Jesus’ close relationship with God. When certain men attacked the character of Jesus, one healed by Him retorted, “We know that God does not listen to sinners,… (John 9:31a).”
Likewise, the apostles of Christ reaffirmed the principle. For instance, the apostle Peter tells us, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil (1 Peter 3:12; ESV).”
All of which should serve to remind us, prayer is a privilege, and we should not simply assume that all prayer is equally effectual. It is the fervent prayer of the righteous which the Bible commends (cf. James 5:16). But if we turn away from righteousness and embrace sin, then we damage our ability to pray effectively.
Perhaps part of the disconnect is not just that we take prayer for granted, but we also tend to downplay the seriousness of our own sins. We feel in our hearts that we are not truly wicked, and based on that feeling, we assume God feels the same way about us. But God is not a respecter of persons, His standards remain the same for all men (cf. Acts 10:34-35). When we embrace sin or worldliness, we make ourselves the enemy of God (cf. James 4:4). Even those things which some might think to be minor faults can have serious spiritual repercussions.
Husbands, for instance, are counseled: “live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (1 Peter 3:7; ESV).”
None of this is to say that we should give up on prayer. God wants His people to “pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).” But He also wants us to not take prayer for granted. Prayer is a privilege, and we one we should earnestly desire.
But we also need to understand what might take that privilege away, and behave accordingly. If we do have sin in our lives, we need to repent, and do something about it. Thus, in the context of prayer, and a right relationship with God, we are told, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:8-10; ESV)”
The church of Christ invites you to come study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions concerning the scriptures you would like answered or addressed, please share them with us.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.