I was recently told by someone who was in the midst of taking action contrary to God’s word that they had, “prayed about it.” I should clarify that they were not about to undertake something like an adulterous affair (although I have heard “I prayed about it” used in that context as well), but they were certainly disobeying Christ’s clear commands because what Jesus said to do was uncomfortable and difficult whereas what they had decided to do was far more convenient.
This got me thinking about how many times I have heard the phrase “I prayed about it” used to justify and even sanctify actions that are clearly unbiblical. It is a disturbing practice that sets aside the Scripture for personal revelation that almost always satisfies the flesh. I believe, as Christians, we need to stop using prayer as a scapegoat and thereby blaming God for our unbiblical actions.
Before I continue, let me quickly address those who are, for all intents and purposes, biblically illiterate. I do not use that term as some kind of insult, but as an accurate description of someone who does not regularly study the word of God in its entirety. What I would like to point out is that biblical mandates do not come from the biblically illiterate. The idea that someone who is in the world and who does not know Christ can correctly instruct a Christian on what he should be doing or how he should be acting is ridiculous. It would be like me making the preposterous assumption that I could give instruction to an electrician simply because I took a year of electronics in my senior year of High School. So if you are reading this blog and you are not a Christian who regularly studies the Scripture, please be careful not to presume you know what disciples of Christ should be doing. I will not be pointing people to the world which is at odds with its Creator, but pointing people to the Word. I don’t mean to be rude, but this subject requires a measure of bluntness that I normally do not use.
Now that we have gone through that bit of nasty business, let us continue. As Christians, we must get away from the very false idea that every action we take is sanctified by attaching the phrase, “I prayed about it,” or something of similar sentiment. To be sure, we need to pray and receive direction from God, but simply because we pray doesn’t mean we have listened. This becomes especially evident when we refuse to investigate what God has already spoken on the matter in His word or that we believe God has, through prayer, led us in a direction contrary to His word. God doesn’t do that… but our flesh will.
A perfect example of this can be found in Numbers 22. It is the story of a prophet named Balaam. Balaam was given a prophetic voice by God and his words carried power. Therefore, Balak, king of Moab, decided to hire Balaam to speak a curse over Israel. Balak, not knowing God, and not understanding that Balaam could do nothing outside of the Lord’s will, figured he could defeat Israel with the help of some extra power.
So Balak offers Balaam quite a bit of treasure to speak a curse against Israel. Balaam explains that he can do nothing outside of what God tells him to say, but agrees to go pray about it. That night Balaam prays and God flat out tells him that he is not to go with Balak and is not to curse Israel. So the next morning Balaam tells Balak’s men that God said no. At this point, no matter what Balak does next, the matter should be settled for Balaam according to the word of the Lord.
When Balak hears Balaam’s answer he decides to increase his offer. They say every man has a price and this becomes more than Balaam wants to turn away. You can almost see the wheels turning in Balaam’s head as you read the account. “There must be a way to get paid and please God,” might have been the thought process. So instead of saying, “God said no already,” Balaam says, “I’ll go pray about it.”
This time God tells Balaam exactly what he wants to hear. Of course, God did not change His mind. What the Lord did is similar to what many of us have experienced as children from our parents when we constantly ask for permission to do something they already said no to. Sometimes they finally say something like, “Fine! Go do what you want.” We knew they still didn’t want us to do it, but we didn’t care because we received the green light. What we didn’t realize, at our immature age, was that our parents were not giving us permission to participate in the action that was formerly denied, but they were instead giving us clearance to experience the consequences of our deliberate stupidity. Such was the case with Balaam because we read that God became immediately angry with him for going! (Numbers 22:22)
As we see with Balaam, simply praying about something does not automatically cleanse it and make it the right thing to do. In fact, there are times this sentiment is deliberately added because we know we are doing something against God’s will and we want to clear our conscience. It is akin to the nonsensical idea of something not being a sin because one does not feel convicted about it. If God’s word says it’s a sin and you do not feel convicted, it’s because your heart is hardened against the Holy Spirit, not because God has given you a pass.
We must pray and it is imperative that we pray for direction especially on critical matters. But we must come with an attitude to receive direction, not permission. If we are simply looking for permission we will hear what we want to hear. If we are looking for direction we will hear God’s word and do it even if it is not what we want to hear. When we use prayer as an authority creator for everything we have decided to do we cheapen prayer and misrepresent the Holy God to whom we pray. Let none of us be found guilty of such a sin.