Prayer in Proverbs
John Mitchell, Cardiff
Whilst there is considerable reference to prayer in the Psalms, with their emphasis on the inner spiritual life, the references in the book of Proverbs, with its practical outlook, are few. In fact, attention is drawn to the subject in Proverbs on only three occasions. These are 15. 8; 15. 29 and 28. 9. As each of these verses is considered, some elementary yet essential features concerning prayer are emphasized.
The Lord's Disgust and Delight. "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is his delight", 15. 8. No matter the extent to which the devotion of the ungodly may go, this is not only unacceptable to the Lord but it is an abomination to Him. Verse 9 continues, "The way of the wicked is an abomination unto the Lord", and later we read, "The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination: how much more, when he bringeth it with a wicked mind?", 21. 27.
Character rates higher with the Lord than contribution, and He is not dependent at all on men who have no real fear for Him. In fact, this sham allegiance is hateful in His sight, Acts 8. 20; 2 John 7. On the other hand He delights to hear and answer the prayer of those who truly fear Him. The difference in the response of the Lord is clearly seen in contrasting the words "abomination" and "delight". We thank God for the One who delighted to do God's will and as a result of such suitable character was heard by God. Heb. 5. 7. May we be given grace to follow His example both in our living and praying.
The Lord is Aloof or at Hand. "The Lord is far from the wicked: but He heareth the prayer of the righteous", Prov. 15. 29. The Lord is far from the wicked because the wicked are far from Him in heart and life, Isa. 59. 8-9. However, the righteous man has an immediate audience in heaven, Neh. 2. 4-5, and is assured that his prayer is heard, Psa. 145. 18. Through faith in Christ the believer has been justified in the sight of God. Rom. 5. 1, and therefore has a ready access to Him, Rom. 5. 2; Heb. 4. 16. At the same time, when approaching Him it is necessary to understand that God requires a true heart from those who are already declared righteous in His sight through Christ's death, Heb. 10. 22.
The Prayer of Insult. "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination", Prov. 28. 9. The upright are welcome before Him because those who love the Lord will endeavour to keep His commandments, John 14.15; 1 John 5. 3. How different for those who deliberately reject the instruction of the Lord and thereby evidence that they actually have no love for Him. This attitude is completely unacceptable to the Lord. It is possible even for professing believers to show less respect for the Lord than they have for men, Mai. 1. 8, and we need to ask ourselves when considering the subject of prayer, "Do I intend to honour God's revealed will?". Samuel's pointed words are as applicable in our day as ever they were, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice", 1 Sam. 15. 22. One's attitude to the Lord is gauged by one's regard or otherwise for the Scriptures. The implication from the text is that there are some who pray and yet have no audience with the Lord because at heart there is no intention of complying with God's Word. Such is the hypocrisy of religious exercise which is a sop to the conscience.
In this most practical book of Proverbs we have, then, only these three references to the vast subject of prayer but in these passages there is a brief and pointed summary of what is basic to our being heard by the Lord. May we make it our aim to delight the Lord by being prepared to carry out His instructions. In approaching Him we will then learn the difference between saying prayers and praying, James 5. 17.