“If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Prov. 28:9).
“If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Ps. 66:18).
Many people are under the mistaken impression that all prayers are equal in the eyes of God. Whether it’s a boy “wishing upon a star” or a Muslim praying in a mosque or a President asking for the prayers of the American people or a Christian praying in the name of Jesus, the judgment of our age is the same. Although these approaches differ in form, they are the same in substance. Nothing could be further from the truth! Our God does not hear all prayers equally.
One preacher said, “The man who starts praying, stops sinning, and the man who stops sinning, starts praying.” There is a connection between our sin and the impact of our prayers. It should go without saying that all people are sinners (Rom. 3:23). So prayer does not require sinless perfection. If that were the case, nobody other than Jesus would be able to pray.
But prayer does require a holy posture before the Lord. We must pray with the right spiritual attitude. Proverbs 28:9 teaches that we must be willing to listen to God’s law. If we do not listen to God, why should God listen to us? If we cherish what God hates (sin), why should God give us what he loves (righteousness)? God will not allow prayer to be a one-way conversation. We ought to pray under the authority of the Word. If we are not attentive to God’s Word, God will clip the wings from our prayers.
Psalm 66:18 elaborates on the relationship between sin and prayer. If we want to be heard, we must be willing to forsake all known sin. We cannot cherish iniquity in our hearts and expect God to regard our prayer with favor. Cherishing iniquity in the heart is not merely being a sinner. It is loving sin and the unwillingness to part with it. This speaks of unrepentant sin.
Unrepentant sin undermines effective prayer. The man who prays to God with unrepentant sin is like the adulterous man who enters marriage counseling without any intentions of ending his affair. What is the point? Praying to God with unrepentant sin in our hearts is like going to a conversation with a hidden dagger. We are not coming to God with a good will.
Thus the prayers of the godly are always marked by attention to God’s Word and confession of sin. If we expect God to listen to us, we must be on praying ground. We must open our Bibles and listen to his truth. We must confess our sin and turn away from it by God's grace. We must come to God on his terms, not our own. Where do you stand? Are you on praying ground with the Lord? Or have you turned away from his law and cherish sin in your heart?