A week from today, May 5, is designated as the US National Day of Prayer. I suspect there will be any number of events on the local level throughout the country. Prayer breakfasts, perhaps, with the mayor and the city council. Or gatherings of businessmen, led by a prominent pastor.
It sounds so good, like the Senate chaplain opening in prayer or the prayer in schools we wish we could enjoy.
Except … I wonder. Does God hear the prayers of those who don’t believe in Him? When President after President, for example, ends a speech, “God bless America,” does He hear and answer, even when the President invoking His name doesn’t know Him?
These thoughts came to mind when I was reading Hosea. During a relatively peaceful time in Judah’s history, Hosea, prompted by God’s Spirit, prophesied of God’s coming judgment against them and against Israel.
He said their sin had affected their relationship with God.
When I would heal Israel,
The iniquity of Ephraim is uncovered…
And they do not consider in their hearts
That I remember all their wickedness.
Woe to them, for they have strayed from Me! Destruction is theirs, for they have rebelled against Me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against Me. (Hosea 7:1-2, 13)
The key verse is the next one, I think. Apparently when trouble would come, then the people turned to God, but it wasn’t Him they wanted. It was the stuff He could provide.
And they do not cry to Me from their heart
When they wail on their beds;
For the sake of grain and new wine they assemble themselves,
They turn away from Me. (Hosea 7:14)
“Fake praying.” Saying the words, sounding religious, maybe even spiritual. But that’s not talking to God. There’s more:
Though I wrote for him ten thousand precepts of My law,
They are regarded as a strange thing.
As for My sacrificial gifts,
They sacrifice the flesh and eat it,
But the LORD has taken no delight in them.
Now He will remember their iniquity,
And punish them for their sins (Hosea 8:12-13a)
Their religious exercise didn’t bring God delight or them forgiveness. They were going through the motions, and God turned His back on them.
Indeed, I came to hate them there!
Because of the wickedness of their deeds
I will drive them out of My house!
I will love them no more;
All their princes are rebels. (Hosea 9:15b)
I’m stunned by that verse. God, who loved Israel for Abraham’s sake, said He had come to hate the northern kingdom because of their sin.
So, was He listening to their prayers?
As the enemy swoops upon them like an eagle, this was what Hosea said:
They cry out to Me,
“My God, we of Israel know You!”
Israel has rejected the good;
The enemy will pursue him. (Hosea 8:2-3)
In short, God doesn’t listen to the selfish prayer or the insincere prayer, not even from the religious. Here’s the prayer He wants:
Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take words with you and return to the LORD.
Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity
And receive us graciously,
That we may present the fruit of our lips.” (Hosea 14:1-2)
God’s listening, yes, but He doesn’t always hear. He won’t be manipulated or used, but He gladly responds to our repentance.
I will heal their apostasy,
I will love them freely,
For My anger has turned away from them. (Hosea 14:4)
This post, minus the opening edit, appeared here in May 2012.