When Prayer Is an Abomination

Mark Beuving —  September 30, 2013 — 4 Comments

Don't PrayThroughout 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.

 

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Mark Beuving

Mark Beuving

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Mark Beuving currently serves as Associate Pastor at Creekside Church in Rocklin, CA. Prior to going back into pastoral ministry, Mark spent ten years on staff at Eternity Bible College as a Campus Pastor, Dean of Students, and then Associate Professor. Mark now teaches online adjunct for Eternity. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of "Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music" and the co-author with Francis Chan of "Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples." Mark lives in Rocklin with his wife and two daughters.
  • M.

    Mark – do you think there’s a place for prayer when you’re in what I would call “willful sin” (i.e. knowing that you’re in sin but not willing to stop). Do you think there’s a place for a prayer that comes before God terrified and trembling and says “Lord, I know I’m not worthy. Thank you that it has never depended on my worth. I feel like I can’t get out of this right now, I don’t want to get out of it Father. All I can do is pray that – despicable and selfish as I know I am – somehow your promise to never forsake me still stands. I can’t keep myself in your hands, Father, so please keep me in yours despite myself. I know that James warns sin when fully grown gives birth to death – please, Lord, don’t let me die! I fall on my face before you and throw myself on your always glorious, always shocking mercy. I’m not worthy, Lord, but somehow – arrogantly I know – I plead the blood of Christ of my behalf. Please continue to keep me and work this out somehow – even when I’m bent on my own destruction and your dishonor.” Is there place for a prayer like that? Or is that prayer all self-deception and cheap grace?

    • Malek

      Mark – would love a response to the question if you could please.

      • nike

        Hi Malek

        Anyone who sins willfully and fails to yield to God’s instructions/laws/righteousness will reap Proverb 29:1 (sudden destruction without remedy). Willful sin is like nailing Christ to the cross again. We have to remember that if we die in our willful sins then hell fire will be the final destination.

        Proverbs 28:9 and 15:8 made it clear that God will NOT hear such a person’s prayer. The only option for someone who sins willfully is to confess, repent and return to God.

        Anyone struggling with willful sins should seek help from trusted spiritual leaders or church members for prayers. Also for the person to be accountable to at least 2 people who can lift him or her up in prayers. Lastly, the person should get rid of willful sin or avoids it. see Micah 6:8 – God had shown us what to do, which is what He requires – to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

        God bless you
        Nike – London

    • MarkBeuving

      Hi Malek!

      Sorry, your comment slipped passed me.

      I think there’s absolutely a place for exactly the prayer you’re describing. Proverbs aren’t always meant to be sweeping or to cover every last instance of human experience—often they’re meant as warnings or general principles. The kind of prayer you described is what I was trying to get at with referring to the 1 John 1:9 prayer. It’s a prayer of repentance, of faith, a cry for mercy. John promises that God is faithful to cleanse us in response to that prayer. I think the kind of prayer that Proverbs 28 is describing is the prayer that seeks God’s blessings on whatever actions you want to pursue even as you live with no regard for God’s law.