“Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they surely will not save them in the time of their disaster. For your gods are as many as your cities, O Judah; and as many as the streets of Jerusalem are the altars you have set up to the shameful thing, altars to burn incense to Baal. Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them; for I will not listen when they call to Me because of their disaster. ~Jeremiah 11:12-14, NASB
Why do some prayers go unanswered? A question for all generations.
In recent years we had a pastor who was diagnosed with brain cancer. Prognosis:terminal. We loved this man, we loved his family. So of course, as one body, we prayed. Specifically, we prayed for a miracle healing, and for a time, it seemed that God answered with a yes. He lived through surgery, and it seemed the tumor surrendered. His life extended a few more years, but then . . .well, you can guess. We buried our dear pastor on a rainy day in April.
Please don’t think I’m tying our church to the wayward people of Israel from Jeremiah. That is not at all my thought process. Here is what strikes me, though. When God says no, or (sometimes worse) is silent, we tend to blame it on our prayers. Didn’t we pray correctly? Did I not use the right formula? Perhaps I caught God at a busy time, and the request slipped through the cracks. If I’m honest, these thoughts have passed through my mind. And they reveal a misunderstanding of prayer in general.
Praying is to be a communion between God and me. A surrendering of myself to Him. The privilege wasn’t given by God for me to use as some kind of magic. Why do I pray? To empty all that I am before God. It is an act of worship, an acknowledgement that He alone is God, and before Him alone I will bow. Does He care about the specifics of my requests? Absolutely. But He will not be manipulated by my will. Prayer is intended to help my heart fall in line with His will.
In the verses from Jeremiah, we see God saying don’t pray for them. I don’t think He’s saying ‘I don’t want to hear from you.’ I think He’s saying, ‘their hearts aren’t right before me. They try to manipulate me as though I were like the idols they have prostituted themselves to.’
I’m not saying that all unanswered prayers are because of a wrong heart, sometimes God just says ‘no’. But be on guard, wayward heart of mine. Prayer is not a chant of magic. It is a heart bowed rightly before God. Do not confuse the two.