Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me.”
Today we look at three verses in Isaiah, in which God said to Israel,
“When you spread your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you.
When you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood!
Stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right.” (Isaiah 1:15-17)
That sounds serious. If you do wrong, God will hide his eyes from you and he won’t listen to your prayers. It also works in reverse: if you quit doing wrong and start doing right, God starts listening to you again. What could be simpler? If you want a better prayer life, get your act together and do right.
When St. Augustine, who lived about 300 years after Christ, was thinking about becoming a Christian, he prayed about his sex life, “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.” (Augustine, Saint, and Maria Boulding. The Confessions. New York: Vintage Books, 1998, VIII,17, p.198, paraphrased). In modern language he would say, “Lord, help me lose my sexual addiction and learn self-control. But not yet.” Do you think God listens to that kind of prayer? Augustine said to God, “I was afraid you might hear me immediately and heal me . . . of the morbid lust which I was more anxious to satisfy than to snuff out” (Augustine and Boulding, p. 198).
Isaiah and Augustine raise two important questions about prayer:
1. First, a general question: Does God always stop listening to prayers from people
caught deep in sin?
2. And second, a personal question: How do we know if God has quit listening to us
because of our sin?
In the New Testament, James says, “We all sin in many ways” (James 3:2), so if God never listens to those who sin persistently, we might as well quit praying right now. If we have sins we aren’t prepared to give up, or addictions so entrenched that we can’t evict them, what can we do? I like St. Augustine’s approach. Instead of hiding from God until he could change manage his addiction, he spoke to God about his love of sin and his desire for holiness.
The personal question raised by Isaiah and St. Augustine goes like this: “What does God think of me? Has he quit listening to my prayers because of my sin?” Is God’s word to Israel also his word to me: “Even when you offer many prayers, I will not listen”?
If you want to know what God thinks about you, ask him! You could say “God, do you think the bit of scripture I need most right now is Isaiah’s angry pronouncement, “I am not listening because your hands are full of blood”? Or should I listen to Christ’s compassionate invitation, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened” (Mat 11:28)? It can also be helpful to ask a more mature Christian about your situation. But choose your counsellor carefully. If you talk to someone who thinks God is generally angry and unhappy with humans, guess what answer that person will give you.
Our father, we are troubled by sins that infect our lives, by impure motives, by a worldview where we think you sit in stony silence waiting for us to improve. We invite you into these crazy mixed up lives of ours, into our selfish motives, into our unmanageable behaviour. Speak to us the word that will set us free. Show us the next step to grow in love for you and our neighbours. Change our heart’s desire, until all we desire is you.
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.