Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Why God Does Not Always Hear Prayer

Written by Rev C Pronk
September 11 will be remembered for years to come as another day of infamy by Americans and their allies throughout the world. Militant Muslims will probably celebrate this date as a day of victory over the great Satan USA. Such is the depravity and folly of those who allow themselves to be brainwashed by a religion that in its extreme form preaches hate and calls its adherents to an all-out jihad or holy war.

Americans, Canadians and people all over the world were profoundly shaken by the terrorist attack on New YorkÕs World Trade Centre last month and many flocked to churches, mosques and synagogues for comfort and reassurance from God, as well as each other. Many prayers were sent up with or without reference to Jesus Christ. Were these prayers heard by God? Only if they were offered in the name of the only Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (I Tim.2: 5). As our Saviour Himself has stated: ÒI am the way, ... no man cometh to the Father but by meÓ (Jn.14: 6).

But were even those properly addressed and authorized prayers heard by God? For many people this is not even a question. Of course, God will hear the prayers of Christians, they will say! Of course, God will bless America! He will help us in the coming struggle and we will triumph over our enemies! This may be so, but it is not a forgone conclusion. The Bible tells us that there can be times when God will not hear the prayers of His people, even prayers and intercessions presented by His faithful servants.

One such instance is recorded in Jeremiah 14 and 15. There we read that the urgent and humble prayer of the prophet on behalf of Judah is refused. ÒPray not for this people for their good,Ó the Lord says, Òthough Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people; cast them out of my sight, and let them go forthÓ (14:11; 15:1).

Why did God react so negatively to His faithful servantÕs prayer? Because of JudahÕs long-continued sins and the absence of true repentance. True, Judah had confessed her sin. When the Lord sent a terrible drought and when enemies from the east had invaded the land, killing many inhabitants, the people became concerned and turned to the Lord. ÒJudah mourneth and the gates thereof languish; they are black unto the ground and the cry of Jerusalem is gone upÓ (14:2). A day of fasting and humiliation was proclaimed. Burnt offerings and sin-offerings were brought to the temple as required. The people cried to God begging Him to send relief. Yet the Lord did not accept their sacrifices or their prayers. Even when Jeremiah joined them, adding his fervent and heartfelt prayer to theirs, the Lord refused to grant his petition.

Why did God turn down this request while He had answered His peopleÕs prayers on many previous occasions? Had He not heard the prayer of Moses in the wilderness when Israel had sinned so grievously that God threatened to destroy them all? Had He not granted SamuelÕs petition to deliver Israel from Philistine oppression? Why not now? Why does the Lord turn a deaf ear to the prayer of His servant on behalf of his sinful nation? Was Israel under Moses and later under Samuel better than the people of JeremiahÕs day? Why did the Lord spare those earlier generations but not the present one?

The answer to these questions is not so simple. We cannot always explain why God hears prayer at one time and not at another. GodÕs way is in the sanctuary and His thoughts are higher than ours. Yet Scripture does give us certain clues which point to an answer. In the first place, we should realize that there is a certain progression in the way God deals with His people. I mean this: the situation in Judah was different from that in MosesÕ and SamuelÕs time. When Moses was their leader, Israel was a child, spiritually speaking. The people were ignorant and therefore when they sinned, the Lord took their spiritual immaturity into consideration. The same is true of Israel under Samuel.

But by JeremiahÕs time they cannot be called children anymore. Judah has a long history behind her. She has witnessed GodÕs gracious dealings with His people in the past. She has been instructed in the ways of the Lord. But--and this is her sin--though she knows the way, she refuses to walk in it. In Jeremiah 6 the Lord commands the nation, ÒStand ye in the way, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your soulsÓ (vs.16). But they refused to heed this advice and said Òwe will not walk in them.Ó Judah deliberately went her own way. She hardened herself in sin and evil.

Now we begin to see why the Lord is not ready to forgive JudahÕs sin and why He even refuses to listen to Jeremiah. What obstructs the way to GodÕs heart is not sin as such but the clinging to sin. Judah readily confesses her sin, but she is not eager to forsake her sin. From GodÕs refusal to hear JudahÕs prayers and even JeremiahÕs pleading on her behalf, we must conclude that JudahÕs sin has reached a point where the Lord says: this is it; you have gone too far; I will pour my judgments upon you.

This is very frightening. Could it be that the Lord has to say the same thing to America and her Western allies? Are we not a people hardened in sin? Who in North America still takes the laws of God seriously? What about the wholesale slaughter of infants that goes on year after year with the blessing of the highest courts of the land? What about the immorality that is taking place everywhere, in government circles as well as among the population at large? We are thankful that a new administration is at the helm in Washington and that a measure of decency has been restored, but this does not mean that the moral and spiritual mood of the nation has undergone a fundamental change.

We were encouraged to hear the U.S. president call his nation to prayer and that he participated in worship services in which GodÕs name was called upon in a respectful manner. Billy Graham even spoke of the need of a spiritual renewal. One could wish that the Canadian Prime Minister had expressed similar sentiments, but sadly in his speeches to the nation the name of God was carefully avoided, presumably in the interest of multiculturalism.

But again we have to ask the question, will God hear the many prayers by government and church leaders, as well as countless ordinary citizens? Even under the assumption that many of these prayers came Òfrom lips sincere,Ó can we simply take for granted that the Lord will Òsend his approval from on highÓ? (Psalter 31:1). IÕm afraid not. It is entirely possible that also for America and Canada, as well as other Western nations, the time has come that God will not even hear the prayers of His own people any more, so that He will say to us what He said to Jeremiah, ÒPray not for this people for their good.Ó

I cannot be sure of this, of course. I am not a prophet in the Old Testament sense so that God gives me private information about His plans. But we may and must learn from GodÕs dealings in the past, and then we see a parallel between the situation in Judah and what we are witnessing today. America is not Israel, but what we have in common with GodÕs ancient covenant people is that we also sin against knowledge and grace. The ÒChristianÓ West cannot plead ignorance. God has blessed us with the light of His Gospel. But we are deliberately extinguishing that light because we love the darkness of sin. We are rejecting the good commandments of God because we insist on indulging in unbridled lust. Therefore, I repeat, it is possible that the Lord is saying to us, ÒThough Moses, Samuel, Jeremiah, Billy Graham or R.C. Sproul stood before me, I would not hear. AmericaÕs and her alliesÕ doom is sealed. I will pour out my judgments upon Western civilization. I will bring upon her the scourge of Islam.Ó

This is GodÕs Word to the nations of which we are a part and for whose sins we also bear responsibility. O that these solemn words from Jeremiah 14 and 15 would bring us in the dust before God! Even if America and Canada and other Western nations cannot escape GodÕs temporal judgments any more, it is still possible that individual sinners from those nations may find forgiveness of their sins and thus escape GodÕs eternal judgement.

Let no one presume upon GodÕs grace and mercy. Do not think that God is so loving that no matter what man does or how long he continues in sin, he can always count on His forgiveness. This is a delusion of the worst kind. There comes a time, not only for nations, but also for individuals, when the Lord no longer hears prayer. It is not for me to say whether that moment has arrived or when it will arrive, but one thing is clear: time is running out. Therefore Òseek ye the Lord while He may be found and call ye upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardonÓ (Isa.55: 6,7).

Moses could not really help his people. Nor could Samuel and Jeremiah, nor can Billy Graham or any other spiritual leader today. Why not? Because they were sinners themselves. All they could do was pray. They were not able to blot out IsraelÕs sins.

But what these eminent saints of the Old Testament could not do, the Lord Jesus Christ has done! ThatÕs why we do not read in Jeremiah 15:1, ÒThough Moses, Samuel, Jeremiah and Jesus Christ stood before Me.Ó JesusÕ name does not belong in that list because He is in a totally different category. His intercession has real value because it is based on a real sacrifice, namely the sacrifice of His blood. He not only prayed for transgressors, but suffered for them as well. Therefore He is able to ward off the blows of GodÕs judgment because these blows have fallen on Him. That does not mean that believers in Him will be exempt from temporal judgments. But it does mean that they will escape the final, everlasting judgement. O that we might be found in Him! Safe under the shadow of His wings!

Those who find refuge there will not only confess their sins; they will also forsake them. As the apostle says: ÒEveryone that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He[Christ] is pure (I Jn.3: 3). They want to live Ònot only according to some but all the commandments of GodÓ (LordÕs Day 44, Heidelberg Catechism).

If that is our desire, we are blessed indeed. Then God will take care of us no matter what the future may bring. Whatever new horrors the terrorists may be planning to bring upon us in the months or years ahead, Christ is King. He rules the nations by His might and has all his enemies on a leash so they can only go so far and no further. Realizing this we can sing with confidence:

For all the kingdom, Lord, is Thine,
All power and majesty divine.
Thou who wilt be our Helper near,
Who in Thy Son our pleas wilt hear,
Who hast unbarred salvationÕs door,
Thine be all praise forever more.
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