I muttered prayers for the first time in many years.


This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series God versus religion - why?

“I muttered prayers for the first time in many years. They amounted to no more than incoherent mumblings that joined the distant thunder, pleas to a God who did not know I existed because I had never been to his church in all these years.” from “Immanuel’s Veins” by Ted Dekker

If this is you – I have to tell you, I believe the conclusion is wrong.
If it’s not you, but you think the statement is true – I believe it’s time to re-examine God.

What is prayer?

Let’s start with this –

In the Bible prayer is worship that includes all the attitudes of the human spirit in its approach to God. The Christian worships God when he adores, confesses, praises and supplicates him in prayer. This highest activity of which the human spirit is capable may also be thought of as communion with God, so long as due emphasis is laid upon divine initiative. A man prays because God has already touched his spirit. Prayer in the Bible is not a ‘natural response’ (see Jn. 4:24). ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh.’ Consequently, the Lord does not ‘hear’ every prayer (Is. 1:15; 29:13). The biblical doctrine of prayer emphasizes the character of God, the necessity of a man’s being in saving or covenant relation with him, and his entering fully into all the privileges and obligations of that relation with God.  1)Thomson, J. G. S. S. (1996). Prayer. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (3rd ed., pp. 947–948). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Honesty in prayer

First – note that it says it includes all the attitudes of the human spirit in its approach to God.  Surely, that includes mumbling.  After all – it’s not just our words that God looks at, it’s what’s in our hearts.  Someone who has it in their heart to reach out to God – maybe even especially if they’re afraid it’s in vain – is someone that God’s going to ‘listen’ to.

That the heart and words are both important are evident in the reference to John 4:24 –

John 4:24 “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Of course, as I always say – context is important.  It’s not exactly short – but it’s amazingly important and appropriate to what we’re looking at.

Jn 4:4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
Jn 4:7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
Jn 4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. )
Jn 4:10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
Jn 4:11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”
Jn 4:13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Jn 4:15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jn 4:16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
Jn 4:17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
Jn 4:19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jn 4:21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
Jn 4:25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Jn 4:26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

So we have here a woman who certainly isn’t living the kind of life she knows she should.  And we have Jesus talking to her – with that history and even being a Samaritan.  (If you don’t know – Jews normally wouldn’t give a Samaritan the time of day – they were despised.)  So what could any of us have done to make things worse that the situation of this woman.
And yet – she was honest.  Told the truth.
And in spite of everything – there was a piece of her that believed.

Does God really not hear some prayers?

OK – this one sounds bad.  At first glance, it even looks bad.

Isa 1:15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood;

Again, when we look at this one in context – we’ll see that the verse is both important and appropriate to what we’re looking at.

However – we’ll also see that the purpose for which this verse is being used is incredibly wrong!!

Once more, it’s kind of long – but bear with me – it’s critical to reaching the right conclusion.

Isa 1:10 Hear the word of the LORD,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the law of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
Isa 1:11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the LORD.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
Isa 1:12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
Isa 1:13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
Isa 1:14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
Isa 1:15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood;
Isa 1:16 wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds
out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,
Isa 1:17 learn to do right!
Seek justice,
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.

In case it’s not clear to you – this passage that starts out with apparent damnation is turning into something very different.  It turns out, these verses are a call to examine ourselves – see what we’re doing wrong – and change.  It’s a call to stop doing wrong – and start doing right.  Beyond that – it’s a call to start to do the right thing for other defenseless people (the fatherless and the widow) as well.

But then what?  What happens when we try to make the switch from wrong to right?  And are we on our own while we try?

In other words – are those mumblings ignored until they turn into full blown ‘church approved’ prayers?  Must we pray the ‘right’ way before God listens to us?

What follows in Isaiah is one of my favorite passages in the Bible –

Isa 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together,”
says the LORD.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
Isa 1:19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the best from the land;
Isa 1:20 but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Hardly!  
Rather than leave us to figure it out on our own – God is willing to reason with us.  To teach us.  To help us.
And to forgive us.

All this – long before we learn to say those ‘church approved’ prayers.

Does God need to hear ‘church approved’ prayers?

OK – you had to know this was coming.

Let’s look at Isiah 29:13

If we read only the first sentence of this verse, it again seems to support the idea that God won’t listen to some prayers.

Isa 29:13 The Lord says:
“These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.

The question, of course, is who are ‘these people’?

Based on the inference of too many people, it would be those who don’t really know how to pray.  Those that don’t really ‘know’ God.  Those that don’t know the right words.

However – again – context will show this to be wrong.

Isa 29:13 The Lord says:
“These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is made up only of rules taught by men.
Isa 29:14 Therefore once more I will astound these people
with wonder upon wonder;
the wisdom of the wise will perish,
the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”

Yeah – it’s not the mumbler who’s reaching out to a God they’re not sure will answer them.

It’s the ‘church’ person who knows the ‘church approved’ prayers – who has all the right words – but doesn’t have God in their hearts.

It’s the wisdom of the people with the ‘church approved prayers, who tell others that God isn’t listening to their mumblings, but don’t have God in their own hearts – it’s their wisdom that will perish.

And God will astound those people with the wonders He will do through the mumblers, the ones who haven’t learned the ‘right’ words, but do have God in their hearts.

Think I’m wrong?

Consider this from Jesus –

Mk 2:17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Oh – how about some context?

The Calling of Levi

Mk 2:13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,”Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
Mk 2:15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
Mk 2:17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Yeah – this was Jesus calling yet another despised person – a tax collector, who was a Jew working for the hated Roman government – who also essentially was stealing from their Jewish brethren in order to make their own living.  And Jesus was eating with someone like that – plus other sinners.  
Disgusting in the eyes of the ‘church experts’ of the time – the teachers of the law and the Pharisees.
And they couldn’t live with that.

So what did Jesus tell them – that He didn’t come for them, but for the sinners they thought so unworthy.

Jesus was telling the people with the ‘church approved’ prayers that He was going to spend time with and save the mumblers.

Conclusion

So – if you’re thinking God won’t listen to you because you don’t know what to say and all you can do is mumble some sounds –
Go for it.
He is listening.
In fact – He’s waiting for you.

If you’re thinking or even telling the mumblers that God won’t listen to them,
maybe you should pay attention to the references here – and question whether or not they apply to you.

Jesus loves the mumblers.

Please – don’t stop them from reaching out to Him.

And once more – mumblers – keep on mumbling, and remember these words from Jesus –

Rev 3:19 “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”

Yes – it may not be easy.  But while you’re mumbling to God – Jesus is standing there knocking – waiting for you to answer and open the door.  And then you, too, can eat with Him.

The door, of course, isn’t a literal door – but the door to your heart.
And eating – that’s got a dual meaning here.  One is to believe in Jesus.  The other, beyond that, implies a special relationship since the meal is involved – one where you have invited Jesus into your ‘house’ and He will be with you.

How great is that?

Finally, to bring context – appropriate yet again – to the verse from Revelation – here’s the whole passage –

Rev 3:14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Rev 3:19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
Rev 3:21 To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Consider that result from all of the references – and that simple little mumble to God for help.

And remember –

Isa 29:14 Therefore once more I will astound these people
with wonder upon wonder;
the wisdom of the wise will perish,
the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”

Astounding – isn’t it?

 


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References   [ + ]

1. Thomson, J. G. S. S. (1996). Prayer. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (3rd ed., pp. 947–948). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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