Summary: There are times when we should not pray. When are those times? Let’s look at them.
WHEN WE SHOULD NOT PRAY
INTRO: The Sunday School teacher asked one of the boys in his class, “Do you say a prayer before you eat at your house?” “No,” the boy responded. “We don’t need to. My mother is a good cook!”
In his somewhat misguided understanding, the youth man nevertheless expressed an often forgotten truth of the Bible: There are times when we do not need to pray. In fact, there are times when we should not pray. When are those times? Let’s look at them now.
I. WHEN WE OUGHT TO ACT.
We should not pray when we ought to act. Notice how this truth is illustrated in Exodus 14. The Pharaoh of Egypt had released the Hebrew captives. However, soon after they left, Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his chariots to bring them back. As the Egyptians drew near to God’s chosen people, the Hebrews were frightened. Moses and the people fell on their knees in prayer. Then comes the startling suggestion in verse 15. QUIT PRAYING, God told Moses. IT IS TIME TO ACT!
A danger to avoid is the tendency to allow prayer to become a substitute for work. This tendency grows out of a confused understanding of prayer. The ultimate end of the Christian life is not prayer. Rather, it is to bear fruit with our lives and thus glorify God. Pray is simply a means to that end.
Every Christian should practice prayer as a daily discipline in life. But if your prayer room has become an ivory tower which isolates you from the responsibilities of daily living, then God’s voice is saying to you as he did to Moses, quit praying, and get moving.
II. WHEN WE OUGHT TO REPENT.
We should not pray when we ought to repent. This truth is illustrated in Joshua 7:10. After the chosen people moved through the Jordan River into the Promised Land, the first formidable foe was Jericho. The walls of the city fell before the forces of Israel, and the city became their possession. God commanded that all of the spoils of victory be given as a sacrifice to him. Achan, however, disobeyed God and kept some of the bounty for himself.
Israel moved out to meet their next foe, the people of Ai. Instead of a victory, God’s people suffered defeat. This defeat sent Joshua to his knees in prayer. While he was praying God gave the answer to their defeat (Joshua 7:10, 13).
God was saying to Joshua; “It is not time to pray. It is time to repent. Until you put out of your life that sin against me, there will be no possibility of communion, no promise of victory.” When it is time to repent, we should not pray.
III. WHEN WE OUGHT TO FORGIVE.
We should not pray when we ought to forgive. Jesus himself presented this truth in Matthew 5:23. Here, Jesus declared that our relationships with others have an effect on our prayers. Anger toward others, harboring a grudge against others, being bitter toward others—these problems in our relationships with others will affect our relationship with God. Before we open our hearts toward God in prayer, we need to open our hearts toward others in forgiveness. When you have anger and bitterness in your heart toward someone else, you do not need to pray—you need to forgive.
IV. WHEN THE ANSWER HAS ALREADY BEEN GIVEN.
Another truth, declared in an experience of Moses in Deuteronomy 3, is that we should not pray when the answer to our prayer has already been given. The people of Israel stood again on the threshold of the Promised Land. Moses reviewed their past history and gave a charge to Joshua, the new leader. In his discussion, Moses mentioned a personal experience he had with the Lord. Moses told the people that he had earnestly prayed to the Lord to reconsider his decision not to let Moses enter into the Promised Land. Then in verse 26, Moses said, “But the Lord was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me; and the Lord said to me, ‘Enough! Speak to me no more of this matter.’” (NASB)
Why did God tell Moses not to pray about that matter? Because the answer had already been given. God’s direction had already been made. Moses did not need to pray about it any more. He needed to accept it and learn to live with it.
Prayer is the opportunity to have communion with God, to lay before him our petitions. But once the answer has been given, once the guidance has been provided, we don’t need to pray about it anymore. We need to accept it and learn to live with it.
V. WHEN THE ANSWER CANNOT BE GIVEN.