As I was looking through the books on one of my shelves this week, a small pamphlet fell to the floor. It was entitled, "Keys to the Deeper Life" by A. W. Tozer. In picking it up I glanced through it and my eye came across the heading of one subsection. It was curiously called: "When Praying is Wrong." Since most of us would be hard-pressed to think of a time when praying could possibly be wrong, I read what he had to say and decided to pass it along to you to ponder as this week's "thought." (I have taken the liberty to update from the KJV the biblical texts he cites.) Enjoy.
When Praying is Wrong
"Most evangelicals no longer initiate, they imitate -- and the world is their model. The holy faith of our fathers has in many places been made a form of entertainment, and the appalling thing is that all this has been fed down to the masses from the top... The radical element in testimony and life that once made Christians hated by the world is missing from present-day evangelicalism. Christians were once revolutionaries -- moral, not political -- but we have lost our revolutionary character. It is no longer either dangerous or costly to be a Christian. Grace has become not free, but cheap. We are busy these days proving to the world that they can have all the benefits of the gospel without any inconvenience to their customary way of life. It's "all this and heaven too."
This description of modern Christianity, while not universally applicable, is yet true of an overwhelming majority of present-day Christians. For this reason it is useless for large companies of believers to spend long hours begging God to send revival. Unless we intend to reform, we may as well not pray. Unless praying men have the insight and faith to amend their whole way of life to conform to the New Testament pattern, there can be no true revival.
Sometimes praying is not only useless, it is wrong. Here is an example: Israel had been defeated at Ai, and "Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the ground on his face before the ark of the Lord until evening came; he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads." According to our modern philosophy of revival this was the thing to do, and if it lasted long enough, should certainly have persuaded God and brought the blessing. But, "the Lord said to Joshua, 'Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions... Go consecrate the people. Tell them, 'Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel says, ' That which is devoted [to another god] is among you, O Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove [the accursed thing] from among you."
We must have a reformation within the Church. To beg for a flood of blessing to come upon a backslidden and disobedient Church is to waste time and effort. A new wave of religious interest will do no more than add numbers to churches that have no intention to own the Lordship of Jesus and come under obedience to His commands. God is not interested in increased church attendance unless those who attend amend their ways and begin to live holy lives. Isaiah spoke of this same thing in as well: "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, for your hands are full of blood. Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight. Stop doing wrong and learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow..." (Isaiah 1:11-17).
Prayer for revival will prevail when it is accompanied by radical amendment of life, not before. All-night prayer meetings that are not preceded by practical repentance may actually be displeasing to God. "To obey is better than sacrifice" (I Samuel 15:22). We must return to New Testament Christianity, not in creed only, but in complete manner of life as well. Separation, obedience, humility, simplicity, earnestness, self-control, modesty, cross-bearing -- these all must again be made a living part of the total Christian concept and be carried out in everyday conduct. We must cleanse the temple of the hucksters and the money changers and come fully under the authority of our risen Lord once more. And this applies to this writer, and to this magazine, as well as to everyone that names the name of Jesus. Then we can pray with confidence and expect true revival to follow."
I needed to hear that. The Church needs to hear that. We all need to hear and consider it if we struggle with why God is not answering our prayers. Grace does not mean God turns a blind eye to all sin. It means He loves His people enough to do whatever He knows is necessary to get them to consider their sins, repent for those sins, and turn from them -- even if what He must do is refuse to answer their prayers until they have turned away from them (Ezekiel 14:4-5). His will for our lives, is, after all, "our sanctification" ( I Thessalonians 4:3 / Ephesians 5:15-20 ). And because that is His will for us, He will not relent from His work of purifying and conforming us to the likeness of Jesus -- the stated purpose for which He chose and predestined us (Ephesians 1:4-5 / Romans 8:28-30).Tozer's words made me do some soul-searching which led to repentance. Maybe the Spirit has moved in you too, and you sense the need to do the same. If so, remember the words of Luke, that when we repent, "times of refreshing come from the Lord" (Acts 3:19).
In the Service of Jesus, Pastor Jeff