As National Day of Prayer approaches this week, we need to remember that not all prayer is godly.
That sounds obvious right? But it isn't. Even in legitimate churches full of mainly genuine Christ followers, prayer can be off course, not directed to God but our own selves accidentally. Our sinful tendency can make us think we are praying and doing God's will.
What we really need is prayer rooted in a desire to see God's character in real life.
Two illustrations this week reminded me that God looks at the heart. A heart that is right with God must be right with Jesus Christ His Son. This is more than a one time profession of faith when you were eight years old as we so often portray it. Yes, there is a time you come to know Jesus as your own Savior, realizing he forgave your sins, and you personally trust Him (John 10:1-18). But we must fight inside our heart for holy character. These illustrations are of people in two different situations. One is of a person who is not a believer in Jesus, and another of some others who at least claim to be, and maybe are, but miss what prayer means.
1.) A man was praising God this week for finding some expensive lumber by a side road. Only problem is the wood came out of my truck. They saw this. And I was turning around to get it, and he saw this, but then took the lumber and drove off trying to get away. This man was clearly self-identifying with a certain religion from symbols he had on him. But he was stealing from me, something prohibited in his religion. A false religion cannot give someone a reason to do something for the right reason. A person in a false religion may due to a conscience do the right thing. But since our hearts are bent towards sin, all humanity except Jesus, is a slave to sin (Romans 3, Romans 6, Psalm 51). So they will unless the Spirit restrains wickedness in them do what is wrong. This man could be from any false religion and the case would be the same. The main problem with a false religion, it denies the true God His place, and thus lacks power to really change in a person's life.
2.) Another man and his wife called me up to pick up a large item our church was giving away. They kept talking about their love for God and what First Church they went to in the area. They kept saying prayers, and thanking God for this large item they were picking up. They told other people who wanted it they could not have it because they were first in line and proceeded to get the item. You would think, man, if anyone is saved from their talk, it's these people, and surely they will keep their word to get the item and use it. But then given a small bit of unsupervised time, they damaged the item trying to move it beyond repair, trashed the area right around it, and claimed they were all along still innocent. I honestly felt embarrassed for God's kingdom that such people are out there praising Jesus loudly and offering up prayers and then doing what is wrong so flagrantly. What kind of witness is that? Ignore for a moment it was a church giving something away. What if it were a Buddhist who did not know eternal life from Jesus, and these people show up and trash his property and don't deliver on their promise. But hey they were offering up spiritual prayers, claiming to go to First Methodist or First Baptist. This group lied several times about a couple things in the process. They even claimed to give a donation to the church (not asked for at all), and there was no such thing left. Now if you go to a supposedly wonderful, God honoring church, shouldn't you at least think about at least matching the righteousness of a Boy Scout and leaving things as good or better than you found them? Should you at least attempt to keep your word, especially if you offer things no one asked for and then don't deliver. No wonder Jesus was so frustrated with spiritual darkness in religious robes when he pointed out some people honored God with their lips but their hearts are far from God. There are consequences to a sloppy witness. Those people destroyed something someone else could have had through sloppy work and then after making a mess didn't even clean it up.
These are just two minor examples of how our hearts can be far from God. We can either not know God personally or be walking in sin and need to wake up. Prayer is a matter of a changed heart, not a perfect one, but one that is willing to do the right thing even if there was a mistake or sin. So on National Day of Prayer, I imagine millions of prayers will go up in our country alone. Some because it's that day, others just because. But realize that God honors those who seek after His own heart, not just anyone who says they praise and pray to God. "Father, teach us all who know you to both desire and to courageously seek a pure heart to honor your Great Name. Teach those who do not know you who you are, how only Jesus could pay the debt of our sins and make us new people. In Jesus' name, Amen."