In our Proverbs reading for today it says, “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (v.9). Often, we only think about the act of praying without considering that prayer involves two intertwined aspects. Prayer is not just us communicating with God but equally considering what he has communicated to us. How can we expect God to listen to us if we’re not listening to him? Which is why reading the Bible and meditating on God’s message to us needs to be as important a part of our daily life as prayer. So, why does failing to listen to God change our prayers into an abomination?
We know how important words are. Words can heal a broken heart or destroy a friendship. Words have been used to change the world, either for great good through men like Martin Luther King or great evil through men like Hitler. The words of people of influence have been recorded and we study and quote those speeches and apply them to modern events. And of course, God’s words have so much more power than any that man’s words will ever have. It was His words which created the Universe. All of which brings us to our readings in the ultimate book of words, the book of Deuteronomy.
In the Hebrew Bible the first five books are named after the very first word of the book. Genesis is called Bereishit – Beginning, because it is the book of beginnings. Exodus is Shemot – Names, the book where God makes a name for himself by bringing his people out of Egypt. Leviticus is called Vayikra – which means Called, because it’s about the calling of the priests and Levites. Numbers’ title is Bamidbar – Wilderness because it recounts the reason and details of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness. And the book of Deuteronomy is Devarim – Words. What the children of Israel needed more than anything on the borders of the Promised Land was to listen to the words of the living God.
In the first chapter of Deuteronomy Moses reminds the people of the failure of the previous generation to listen to the words of God. He had given them encouragement, after coming out of Egypt, to go up and take the land as their possession. But ten of the spies came back with news that the “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven.” (v.28). Notice the back and forth between God and the people. In verse 21 he says through Moses, “Go up, take possession, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has told you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” But in response verse says, “Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the LORD your God.” Then, after being admonished, the people changed their minds and said, “We have sinned against the LORD. We ourselves will go up and fight, just as the LORD our God commanded us.” (v.41). But God now tells them because of their disobedience, “Do not go up or fight, for I am not in your midst, lest you be defeated before your enemies” (v.42). The people failed to listen again, and the next verse says, “and you would not listen… and presumptuously went up into the hill country” only for them to be beaten, as God had told them would happen, by their enemies.
God told them to go up, they didn’t go up. Then when God said don’t go up, they went up! Each time God told them what would happen if they obeyed or disobeyed. If they obeyed the first time, he would fight for them against their enemies. They didn’t believe him. Then if they disobeyed, he would not fight for them, they didn’t believe him again and were defeated. God was clear and true to his word each time. They just needed to listen and obey. But instead of listening to God, and trusting His plan, they wanted to tell God what they wanted Him to do. Is this what our prayers are like?
Why are we so stubborn when it comes to listening to God? God doesn’t tell us things just to lord it over us. He knows what is best for us far better than we do just like he did with the children of Israel. Yet often we choose not to listen because we don’t actually like the things God is telling us to do through the words and principles in the Bible. We want to make our own decisions, do what makes us feel good in the moment and like to be in control of our own lives. So instead of listening and obeying God’s principles, we would prefer to pray to God and tell him what we would like him to do for us. One can see why this sort of prayer would be considered an abomination by God. The book of Deuteronomy is an exhortation to listen to God, to choose his plan and his law over our natural desires. To choose life over death. It should be a no-brainer, but we find it so easy to do the exact opposite to what God tells us and then presumptuously pray for what we want.
At the end of the chapter the people feel sorry about the situation and “returned and wept before the LORD, but the LORD did not listen to your voice or give ear to you.” (v.45). How can we expect God to listen to us if we’re not listening to him? Truly, if one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.
As we face the giants of our lives, the fear and anxiety of our present situation, the worry that we’re not ready for the Kingdom of God, the trials and temptations of life in general, we often go in prayer to God to guide us and protect us. God has given us the answers to our problems in the words he has caused to be written. If we’re listening to him, trusting that what he says is right for the situations we find ourselves in, then we can have confidence to go up and fight against our giants. When we try to align our human thinking to God’s divine thinking by reading and studying his word, it’s then that our prayers will be heard, and God will fight for us.
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