Sometimes it seems as if I’m praying to a wall. No apparent answer greets repeated requests; no recognizable acknowledgement responds to prayers of praise and gratitude. Meanwhile, frustration increases and disappointment soars as life sours before me. When this happens, I could conclude that God doesn’t exist and that I have been wasting my time praying to him. Indeed, several tweeters and bloggers have written messages that shout that such a decision is the only rational one. I could decide to vent my disappointment and anger in my prayers. Some prayers in the Bible (See Psalm 13) suggest that course of action is a legitimate one.
Several biblical passages suggest another alternative when our prayers seem to fall on deaf ears. In Isaiah 58, God entreats the prophet to “lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression…” Had the people ignored the worship of God. No! God continues, “Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God, they ask of me righteous judgments and delight to draw near to God.” The people of God under consideration still worshiped God. They prayed and even fasted. They enjoyed worship and the practice of spiritual disciplines. God, however, was not pleased. He disregarded their prayers and ignored their fasts. Why? Their attitudes and their actions were not consistent with their words.
God responded to these avid practitioners of prayer and fasting, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the lord shall be your rear guard” (Isaiah 58:6-8).
Prayer, even when accompanied by self-denial in fasting, is not enough. Our actions must also demonstrate our faith. Prayer must be accompanied by seeking justice and by helping others. God continues to speak through Isaiah in chapter 58,
“Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday” (Isaiah 58:9-10).
Our walks through spiritual deserts sometimes are preceded by decisions to turn away from the will of God in regards to ethics and compassion for the vulnerable. We treat others harshly, forgetting how we would feel if we heard such words and attitudes directed toward us. Prayer is only part of our conversation with God. Living his will deepens our relationship with God, too. Malachi chapter 2 describes worshipers who flood God’s altar with their tears and their cries, yet are unfaithful in their covenant with him and with their spouse, who plead for help, but hold back from giving when they can help others.
This does not mean that we should not pray until we are sinless. We should, however, take a hard look at ourselves and strive to live lives that are worthy of the God we profess to serve.
(Thanks for reading. Please click the link to the Call for Fire Seminar Facebook page/ If you’re in the Midwestern United States, consider coming to the Call for Fire Seminar at Leavenworth Church of Christ August 25-27. You can find out more details on the Facebook page.)
God, help me to remember what I have seen when I turn away from my reflection in the mirror of your Word to interact with others. Your grace and your love, incarnated so vividly in Jesus, provide a model for me and show me how I should walk and talk. Help me to live for you, and not to trust only in having talked with you. Hear my cries when I grieve. Turn my heart and my feet toward you. In Jesus’ name, Amen