Sunday, August 17, 2014

Is it Sin to NOT Pray?

1 Sam 12:23:  “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.”

            This is what Samuel tells the people (who have rejected God by asking for a king) when they admitted their mistake and asked Samuel to pray for God’s mercy on them.  And Samuel basically says that it would be a sin against the Lord for him to not pray for the people.
            Have you ever thought about prayer in that light?  That it may be sin to not pray in certain circumstances, especially if it’s something God put on your heart or involves intercessory prayer for others?
            Here is a sampling of prayer verses from the New Testament.  Things we are instructed to pray about. 

            Matt 5:44:  “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. . .”

            Matt 9:37-38:  “The he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
            In the Lord’s Prayer of Matt 6, we are told to pray that God’s Will gets done on earth and to pray for forgiveness as we forgive others. 
            In 2 Thess 1:11-12, Paul prays for the Thessalonian believers.  He prays that God uses His power to fulfill the good purposes of the people and every act prompted by their faith.  It would be like us praying that God grants success for those who set out to do something for Him in faith, maybe adopting a child or going on a mission trip or opening a hospital in a needy part of the world or starting a Bible Study with neighbors. 
            I love the idea that believers should be looking out for each other and praying for them and their godly endeavors.  It’s fellowship at its best.  (This is especially touching to me because I really wanted support from fellow believers when it came to the book I wrote about my life – other blog – and this blog that I have poured my heart into.  But in the four years or so since I wrote that book, no one has supported or encouraged me in these or even noticed them as my contributions to God’s Work.  Oh, well.  I’m learning to be content that God sees what I do.  But it still hurts.) 
            James 5:16:  “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
            In Ephesians 1:18-19, Paul prays that the “eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”  [The “hope” is the knowledge that we already have victory in Him, no matter what life may throw at us.  Our salvation is secure and God will make all things right in the end.  This is the hope that keeps us going through anything we face.  And Paul encourages praying for this assurance for other believers, along with praying that they realize the power that God has and uses on our behalf.]
            And in Ephesians 3:16-17, Paul prays “that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”  And he goes in to pray that the believers really grasp the magnitude of God’s love so that they may “be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
            Do we pray for others as we should – for those who persecute us, for workers to go out into the harvest, for God’s Will to get done and for our forgiveness as we forgive others, for God’s blessing on the godly endeavors of other believers, for the sins and struggles of each other, for other believer’s eyes being opened to true hope and God’s great love and that they are strengthened through the Spirit?  Is it sin not to?
            If you’ve read my “Understanding God’s Will” series, you know that I am a firm believer that God works in cooperation with mankind.  His Will gets done through man’s prayers and obedience.  Prayer really does matter.  So I think there is a responsibility that lies with man to pray when God instructs Him to pray and to pray as God tells us to pray in the Bible.  Prayer is not just a formality or a show of dependence.  It’s how God has chosen to work in the world.  It’s how His Will gets done.  (To an extent.  But above all, He is sovereign and all things that happen have to go through His “okay” first.  But He leaves a lot of what happens up to man’s prayers and obedience and cooperation.  It’s just the way He ordered the earth to work.)
            I am learning to take prayer as seriously as God does.  I am learning that when God places a prayer on our heart or brings a need to mind, we need to pray it.  Not just write it off as “our own thought.”  And if it’s in line with His Will, He will do what we prayed.  But He waits for our prayers before He does it.  (Check out Job 42:8.  God intended to forgive Job’s friends, but He required that Job prayed for their forgiveness first.)
            When I was living in an apartment with some other girls in college, a drunk man who lived in the basement pulled a gun on my roommate when I was standing there in the basement with him.  (He didn’t intend to shoot her.  He was mad at the guy upstairs and thought it might have been him when she opened the basement door.)
            Anyway, later that day, my mom (who had no idea any of this was going on) told me that around the same time this was happening, she got really disturbed in her spirit.  And she didn’t know what was wrong, she just knew she needed to start praying.  And so she did.  Who knows how that prayer was used at that moment?  But I’m thankful she prayed because no one was hurt. 
            I’ve read other people stories about times God placed an urgent prayer on their hearts, and they knew they had to pray.  And they found out later that someone really needed that prayer at that time. 
            When God places a prayer on our heart, does He really expect us to pray it?  Would it be wrong not to?  Is He waiting for that prayer to call Him into action, to accomplish His Will?  I think absolutely, yes, and, generally yes.
            So, as I said, I am learning to take these nudges seriously.  I am learning to recognize them as nudges from the Lord.  When I hear about struggles other people are going through, I try to pray not only for physical and practical help for them but also for the spiritual battle that might also be going on, too.  To pray for strength and joy and peace and wisdom for them.  To pray that God surrounds them with His heavenly angels to keep evil from interfering and making things worse. 
            I pray for the unbelievers I know, that God puts His Truth and love in their paths and that the eyes of their hearts are opened to it, that God keeps evil from interfering with their ability to see Him.  Do I really believe that these prayers matter?  Yes, I do!
            Years ago, I had an unbelieving friend that I was praying for.  I was praying that God would put His message of salvation directly in her path so that she couldn’t ignore it.  Later that day, she told me that while she was in the stall of a public bathroom, she looked down at her feet.  And there on the ground was a “Roman’s Road” Christian pamphlet, explaining the way to salvation.  She became a believer not much later.  These prayers matter. 
            And recently, I think I learned a lesson the hard way about failing to pray.  A few days before we went on vacation, my husband fell asleep on the couch for a nap.  And when he woke up, he said, “I had the weirdest dream.  I dreamed that we were in Iowa, and I looked at your grandma sitting at the kitchen table.  And her face turned purple and then blue, and her eyes were all bloodshot.  I knew something was wrong, but no one was helping her.” 
            “Oh, that’s weird,” I said.  “I hope it doesn’t mean anything.”
            We said a quick, half-hearted prayer for grandma’s protection.  And our vacation kinda took on an ominous “waiting for something bad to happen” feeling. 
            A couple days into the trip, we got a call that my grandpa had died (he was 100 years old) and that grandma had fallen and hit her face, which became extremely black-and-blue and made her eyes all bloodshot.
            Jason and I both just raised our eyebrows at each other, like, “See, we knew something would happen.”  But for the next couple days, I thought about that premonition.  What were we supposed to do with that?  Why would God give someone a premonition like that?  Was it just to prepare us for it happening?
            I realized that Jason had this dream a couple days before it even happened.  And we could have taken it seriously.  We could have really surrounded grandma in prayer.  But at that time, I thought it was “just a dream.”  Or just to give us a “heads up” about what was coming.  But I now think it was God’s way of saying, “You need to pray for protection for your grandma.”  As I said, we offered a little prayer for her, but we didn’t really take it seriously or fight for her in prayer as we should have. 
            Of course, if we had prayed seriously and she hadn’t fallen, we would never have really known what kind of effect our prayers had.  Because you can’t know for sure the way it would have been if you hadn’t prayed.  But the point is to pray when you are led to pray.  To take it seriously.  And to trust that it matters. 
            And so, the other night, as I was falling asleep, an image popped in my head out of nowhere.  It was one of my cousins, and she was writhing on a bed in pain and clutching her stomach.  I could’ve written it off as “my own mind,” but I decided to pray as if it might have been a nudging from God.  And so I prayed for her health, spiritual protection, any other need she might have, etc. 
            I don’t know if she was really in any trouble or not.  But it’s not my job to know.  It’s my job to pray.  And if there was no real need there (if it really was just a random thought) then it wouldn’t matter if I prayed or not.  But if there was a real need and that image was God’s way of telling me I need to pray for her, then that prayer may make all the difference in the world at that moment.  And I’d rather ere on the side of praying too much than not praying enough.