Offending God with Prayer

There are lots of people who pray. In our world, when a tragedy strikes or when a person simply wants to say that they are a friend to another person, suggesting that, “I’ll pray for you.,” or something similar is common.

At the same time, there are many people who will tell you that they find prayer to be an important part of their lives. People who do not worship the Lord with the people of God in a church, people who do not know or love the word of God, people who value the things of the world around them are still people who will say that they pray. And I am sure they do.

But what does God think of it when a person who does not know him, who does not follow him, who will not obey him, decides to pray?

Proverbs 28:9

If one turns away his ear from hearing the law,
even his prayer is an abomination.

Those words from the Scripture are strong and significant. God has told us through a book about wisdom that a person who turns away from hearing the word of God, a person who will not follow the Scripture, might indeed pray. But that person’s prayers will be—get this and don’t miss it—an abomination.

God is not a fan of empty religion. God is not a fan of empty religious expression. God is even clear that he is not the least bit open-minded about this. God has a way that he will be approached. And God has every right to say that, if a person approaches him in a way that actually opposes him, he will not accept it.

Let us not assume that all religious expression is good. Nor let us think that all prayers please the Lord. If a person is against the word of God, their prayers offend God.

The solution here is not to be offended by the fact that God will not do things our way. Instead, the solution is to submit to the Lord by submitting to his word. The God who made us is the Lord. he is our Master, Creator, and Judge. He is a merciful Father to all who will come to him in faith and repentance through Jesus Christ. But he is clear that he is not at all required to accept us through any other path. His word tells us to come to Jesus in faith for salvation. Prayers of those who reject the Lord, reject his Son, and reject his word are not things that please him.

Do Not Miss the For

If we are not careful in our Bible reading, we will miss little grammatical things that have big lessons for us. One such lesson is the use of cause words like “because,” ““for,” or “therefore.” These words remind us that what we are reading is the reason for something in the mind of the inspired author. And such things teach us how to live and how to pray.

Notice the simple cause word in this verse:

Psalm 57:1

 

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,

for in you my soul takes refuge;

in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,

till the storms of destruction pass by.

The psalm opens with a cry, “Be merciful to me.” The writer is pleading with God to help him. Later in the psalm, we will see that he is facing the attacks of opponents who would destroy him. And so he is asking for help, for protection.

In the second line of the verse, we see the word “for.” That is a cause word. What our minds need to do is recognize that the line to follow will be the psalmist giving God a reason why he should help. Why would God want to have mercy on the psalmist? Why would God protect him from harm?

The psalmist says that he is asking God to help for this reason: “in you my soul takes refuge.” The reason that the psalmist gives that God ought to help is that the psalmist has taken refuge in God. The writer has already run to God in relationship. He has hidden in God, sheltering in the Almighty. He is not asking for help because he deserves it or because he is better than his attackers. No, the psalmist makes the basis of his request that he has a relationship with God.

 

Do not miss the “for.” In that, we learn something of how to pray for ourselves too. We need God to help us. We are in pain or trouble. We cry to him for mercy. But why ought he to help us? Our answer should be quick. We ask God to help, not because we deserve it, not because we are good, not because they are bad, but simply because we have come to Jesus for mercy and found our refuge in the Lord. This is a wise way to pray, making our request not be about our goodness, but about the faithfulness of God to shelter his own.

The Raw Reality of the Psalms

God is so good to us. He gives us indications in his word that he understands us in ways that we might never imagine. Because God inspired real people, real human men, to write his Scripture, we gain insights into how God cares for us in our weakness.

Those thoughts came to me as I was reading through Psalm 55. In that text, David is talking to God about his own hurts, his own fears, his own discouragement. David expresses things to God that we are not often honest enough to say. Yet David moves to trust in the end.

In the first 2 verses of the psalm, David pleads with the Lord to listen and hear him. He is praying. He is desperate. He wants God’s help.

Then, from verses 3-8, David expresses his deep, human emotions. The wicked are causing him trouble (v3). David’s heart hurts and he is afraid (vv4-5). He wishes he could run away (vv6-8). This is not the false face of the modern Christian pretending to be OK while being eaten up inside by sorrow or fear.

In the next section, David identifies the cause of his pain. IN verses 9-11, he highlights the trouble all around the city. But in verse 12, David lets us know that the worst part of it all is that the one who is attacking him, the one trying to destroy him, that one is a former friend. David has been betrayed by a friend.

Psalm 55:12-14

12 For it is not an enemy who taunts me—

then I could bear it;

it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—

then I could hide from him.

13 But it is you, a man, my equal,

my companion, my familiar friend.

14 We used to take sweet counsel together;

within God’s house we walked in the throng.

How sad is that? How familiar is it? I would love to know that we have not experienced such things. But it just is not true. If you have lived long enough, you know what it feels like to have someone you consider a friend suddenly strike against you to do you harm, betraying a confidence, breaking a promise, or simply trying to do you in.

In verses 15-19, David prays, expecting God to bring justice. But then, by verse 20, he again expresses the hurt he feels.

Psalm 55:20-21

20 My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;

he violated his covenant.

21 His speech was smooth as butter,

yet war was in his heart;

his words were softer than oil,

yet they were drawn swords.

Do you feel this? My friend used kind words. Even when betraying me, he spoke softly, sweetly, deceptively. How much this must have hurt. How deep these wounds must have been.

At the end of the Psalm, David seems to summarize and come to a conclusion.

Psalm 55:22-23

22 Cast your burden on the Lord,

and he will sustain you;

he will never permit

the righteous to be moved.

23 But you, O God, will cast them down

into the pit of destruction;

men of blood and treachery

shall not live out half their days.

But I will trust in you.

David knows God can be trusted. He knows that God will protect his own in the end. David knows that God will do justice, being the final judge over the betraying friend.

The final phrase is lovely, “But I will trust in you.” With all the hurt, all the pain, all the fear, David still says that he will, in the end, trust in the Lord.

God is good. He shows us that he understands our experiences. He shows us, through inspiring this song to be written, that he has a better grasp of pain and betrayal than you might ever imagine. Then, of course, Jesus lived this out. Jesus was betrayed by a friend too.

Christians, get this truth: God understands. He understands it when you are afraid—he has seen it before. He understands when you feel betrayed. He understands when you have a supposed friend speak sweet words and then turn against you. And God understands your need of his protection and your desire for justice. And God would call on you to trust him. God would call on you to see that he is just, and ultimately, in the very end, he will handle all this rightly.

That understanding from the Lord, the emotional turmoil that David expresses, that all should help us to see the grace of God. God did not have to show us that he understands our hardships. God did not have to let us know that we are not alone in these feelings. But God did so. And in doing so, God shows us that he is wonderfully kind, wonderfully good, and perfectly able to keep us, even through hard times.