Throughout the Bible, prayer is a good thing. Obviously. Biblical characters pray in tight situations, they pray for one another, and the Bible frequently commands us to pray. Prayer is powerful and effective, we are told. Prayer is one of those things that Christians know they ought to do regularly, and it’s one of the first religious activities that the non-religious take to when they start feeling religious.
But believe it or not, the Bible has some negative things to say about prayer. In fact, prayer is even described as an abomination in Proverbs:
“If anyone turns away his ear from hearing the law,
even his prayer is an abomination.” (28:9)
That’s a crazy verse. An abomination is something that God hates. Detests. So if God so clearly wants us to pray, then how could our prayers be an abomination to the Lord?
The proverb is clear: if you stop listening to God’s law, then your prayers make him sick. I know. It’s pretty crazy. But put it in perspective.
Here you are, day after day, decision after decision, disregarding everything God tells you to do. He tells you to do these things not because he’s cruel and taxing, but because he knows how we function best in this world. He’s a loving father. So he tells you not to hate one another. And what do you do? You hate. He tells you to care for the disadvantaged. So you accumulate wealth. He tells you to seek righteousness, so you pursue pleasure.
And then the day comes that life gets too big for you to handle. Everything’s falling apart. So you ask God to bless you in your godless pursuits.
What does God say to this person? Even his prayer is an abomination. He doesn’t listen to God’s law, should God be giddy with excitement when he suddenly asks God to give him a bigger house?
Of course, the takeaway should not be that we stop praying, but rather that we start listening to God’s commands.
On top of that, we need to resist the urge to take this as an affirmation that we need to clean up our act before we can come to God. Because we can’t clean up our act. Coming to God is the only way to get cleaned up. As powerful as this proverbial warning against living a godless life while simultaneously invoking God’s blessing is, we can’t forget the truth of 1 John 1:9:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Proverbs warns us against habitual godlessness. This person is not a struggling saint trying desperately to obey but falling short. This person “turns away his ear from hearing the law.” He doesn’t care. He wants nothing to do with what the law says.
So if you find yourself identifying with this person—if you’re able to list a handful of commands that you’ve never made any effort to heed—then be careful about your prayers. At times like that, there are many prayers you could pray that God would absolutely abhor. But the prayer of 1 John 1:9 is always there, and that is a prayer that God always loves to hear.