My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
2 turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding—
3 indeed, if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
4 and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
6 For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
7 He holds success in store for the upright,
he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
8 for he guards the course of the just
and protects the way of his faithful ones.
9 Then you will understand what is right and just
and fair—every good path.
10 For wisdom will enter your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
11 Discretion will protect you,
and understanding will guard you.
12 Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,
from men whose words are perverse,
13 who have left the straight paths
to walk in dark ways,
14 who delight in doing wrong
and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,
15 whose paths are crooked
and who are devious in their ways. - Proverbs 2:1-15
God has given us Scripture to be the foundation of our truth and faith. He's given His Holy Spirit to correct, guide, and shape us in all truth. And He's given us other Spirit-filled Christians to also correct, challenge, encourage, and more.
But as so often happens, we can be deceived by lies or partial truths shared by others when a statement isn't held up to Scriptural truth and guidance by the Holy Spirit, combined.
When a concept or idea comes along that tickles the mind or heart; its seemingly cute, lofty, or new/different nature shouldn't make it an automatic "must-share" with others. We would do well to test the spirits, examine the Word, and ask the Holy Spirit to show us what's true before we spout whatever the latest phrase, teaching, or buzz-word is being given the spotlight inside or outside of Christian circles.
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. - 1 John 4:1-3
The concept of "God is going to do what He's going to do (and there's nothing I can do by prayer or anything else to change it)," is simply not true. Yes, it's true that God is sovereign (able to do what He pleases, whenever He pleases, in His holy perfection). But let's not forget that God has innumerable attributes- each one perfect in itself and in perfect harmony with all the others!
The statement we're considering places God's sovereignty under a microscope and makes it appear to be the only attribute that matters. This kind of thing (overemphasizing a truth or attribute) has happened often throughout history; and when it has, false teachers and teachings have followed that have led/misled millions away from Christ by weakening their faith in Him or by outright leading them into an ungodly cult or occult practices.
This statement may sound harsh or extreme, but spiritual half-truths (masked as truth, or sometimes as the popular thing to believe or do) are not to be handled lightly- and especially so apart from close comparison to Scripture and what the Spirit accurately says about the matter/statement!
A Correct Way to Think
In Ezekiel 22, God reveals to Ezekiel what He plans to do regarding Jerusalem's sins. Jerusalem had become sinful and wicked in the eyes of God (but not to themselves). It's worth reading, praying, and taking to heart what God says in this passage - see Ezekiel 22:1-29.
But then God says, "“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.” - Ezekiel 22:30-31
God's will for Jerusalem was for her to repent from her sins and return to Him. He didn't want to destroy them. But He is holy, righteous, and just. There was no one praying. There was no one to stand in the gap. There was no one confessing their sins, or those of Jerusalem before God; no one repenting from their sins. They were "letting God be God" and were not considering their ways by His Word. They reveled in their sins and neglected personal relationship with God. The result was rampant sin that God, in His holiness, righteousness, and total perfection, had to deal with directly, justly, and righteously. His will (Jerusalem's repentance) was not accomplished- and all because there was nobody to pray or stand in the gap by prayer.
God continues to look for people to pray- to seek His face, to intercede and intervene on behalf of men before Him, and on His behalf to men. But if we neglect prayer and check out of both our relationship and responsibility with Him, why should we expect mercy from God in our sin-filled culture or nation?
Standing in the Gap
In Exodus 32, we read where Moses interceded on behalf of the Israelites. God tells Moses that his people were worshiping a golden idol that they had fashioned into the shape of a calf. God's anger was aroused because of their sin and idolatry, and He told Moses that He would destroy the people and make a new and great nation out of Moses and his descendants.
But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. He asked God to remember why He brought them out of Egypt- to reveal to them and others His great power, might and Name; also that He would make Abraham's descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky. God relents, but there still are consequences to sin that are meted out. The whole nation wasn't destroyed, but some were due to their idolatry, wickedness, and unrepentant hearts.
Later, in verse 30, Moses confronts the Israelites about their sins, then goes before God on their behalf seeking forgiveness of their sins. Read Exodus 32
So he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach (gap) before him
to keep his wrath from destroying them. - Psalm 106:23
We see here that God was not going to stop unless someone prayed. This time, someone did (Moses).
Prayer is the way God has chosen to accomplish His will on earth. If we choose not to pray, we won't see His will be done.
Too often, we ask little, expect little, and then are surprised when we receive little from God.
It's a strong reminder that God is a Perfect Gentleman. He won't prevent us from sinning if we choose to do so. He yields the right of way to us (He's given us free will because He's great enough to correct us and renew us- if we let Him) and will let us do what we choose to do- whether it matches up with His perfect will or not.
He won't make us pray. He's a Perfect Gentleman. While He wants to partner with us to see His perfect will accomplished in, through, and around us, He won't force us to do so. It's our choice. We'll "have it our way," as a fast food company's slogan once said.
He's waiting on us to seek Him in His Word, by His Spirit, and in prayer with other Spirit-filled Christians. He's a Perfect Gentleman. He's patient, but He won't wait forever.
Let's consider our ways (in light of Scripture and ask the Holy Spirit to search, know, and correct us where we're out of line). Let's do what we must to realign our hearts with God's and His truth, then continue in prayer- seeking God for what He wants to accomplish through our prayers; listening to His promptings on how to pray, then faithfully pray as He leads.
His will won't be accomplished without you. You matter more to God, and His plan for the world, than you realize!
Father, I confess that too often I check out from prayer and Your presence. I look at natural conditions and assume that things are going the way You design- even when there's sin, pain, death, and destruction. But Father, I'm failing to pray. I'm failing to seek You in prayer to ask what You want accomplished in that moment, life, or circumstance. I've too often relied on my natural eyes and thinking, and have neglected to ask You to show me what You see, how You'd like me to pray, and if there's anything else You'd have me do in that moment. Renew my mind by Your Word, and correct and refine me by your Holy Spirit. Teach me Your ways, and help me to live in them; practically working them out in my day-to-day life. I want Your perfect will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven, but I also want to pray as specifically as You'll allow me; not just in generalities. Teach me to pray, to seek Your face; and have Your way in and through me. You are my Help, Strength, Joy, and so much more. I worship and praise You as You shepherd me forward. In Jesus' name, Amen.
* Portions of this were written from notes taken at a prayer conference talk by Dave Butts, Chairman of the National Day of Prayer Committee.