Leaders of Judah: Jeremiah, please pray to God and ask his will for us! We promise we will do whatever it is, whether it’s good or bad. Like, seriously, we will. We promise.
Jeremiah: Okay I’ll ask and tell you what he says.
(ten days later)
Jeremiah: Hey, God says stay here in Judah. If you do, God will show mercy on you and deliver you from the king of Babylon. But, if you go to Egypt you are dead. Anyone who goes there will die by the sword, plague, and famine.
Leaders of Judah: Liar! You are lying! God didn’t say that! We’re going to Egypt.
When I recently read this episode in Jeremiah 42-43, I think I actually laughed out loud. The leaders of Judah were so ridiculous. But after thinking about it more, I realized that I can do the same thing. And really, people today are not all that different from the leaders of Judah back then sometimes.
See, the people of Judah had already decided to flee to Egypt from the oncoming Babylonians, and in fact were in the process of doing that, when they stopped on the way to visit Jeremiah the prophet and ask him to inquire from God. In the same way, we can often decide our course of action, or the answer we want, in spite of praying for God’s guidance. This is not intentional, I’d argue, and I think there’s at least 5 reasons we do it:
1. We pray after we have thought through the issue/choice/desire instead of before, and have already decided what the right/rational/best course of action is.
2. We pray before we have thought things through, but then proceed to decide the best answer ourselves instead of allowing God to speak. Doing this, we assume God will guide us through our decision-making process (and often he will), but often we don’t give him room to actually speak.
3. We don’t really believe God will give us guidance (again, subconsciously), and so take the task upon ourselves.
4. We have forgotten that God is both here and already working in or through whatever it is we’re praying about.
5. The prayer is mere ritual, done in a perfunctory manner before we get down to the “real business” ourselves.
When we do this, we treat God at worst like a vending machine, and at best like a benevolent bureaucrat waiting to rubber stamp all our plans and desires.
What this type of praying tells me is that our spirituality is more religion than it is relationship. Or that it’s one-sided, at least, and we don’t really want to hear what God has to say. But if he is who he says he is and has our best interest always in mind (even if we don’t always recognize it as such); if Jesus is “the best and smartest man ever” as Dallas Willard says, and was God-in-flesh on earth; shouldn’t we listen to him? Shouldn’t we wait in prayer until we’ve heard his voice?
“For God does speak–now one way, now another– though no one perceives it.” Job 33:14
May you and I be people who wait in listening prayer until we perceive his voice.