If you come from a town in the South like me, you’ll notice that the majority of people have an opinion about what it means to live a good life. Most of the older generations of folks where I live believe that living a godly life is equivalent to living a life as if you were on the Andy Griffith Show or a life exactly how their parents lived (“back in the day before the world got so bad”). Most of the younger generations retort that living the godly life might be most accurately summarized in the generic “Faith Hope Love” text that they’ve tattooed to their den walls. Don’t worry, I love ole’ Andy and I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with unspecific wall tattoos.
However, I do find fault in any conception of the godly life that is more informed by culture than it is by Scripture. Personally, I can think of so many instances in which I’ve found that Scripture has shown that who God is and what God expects of me are radically different than the conceptions that I have grown up thinking. I've often asked myself why I had believed these things. Part of the answer, I think, is that I had been conditioned to believe these things because of the pop-culture Christianity that has invaded our thinking.
So, our first topic on the pop-culture Christianity critique concerns prayer (Did you like my alliteration?).
Many of us have grown up hearing something like this—“Just pray to Jesus and He’ll answer you. It may not be how you want Him to answer, but He’ll answer. Just pray to the Lord and everything will work out.” Of course, we might explain these statements in such a way that would be true. We might say IF you meet certain criteria, then yes you can be confident that Jesus will answer your request (according to His own timing indeed). IF we are referring to the fact that the Lord will have His way ultimately, even despite that this may mean our own suffering, THEN it is helpful to say that we should pray that everything will work out. God uses everything together to bring about the good of the believer, but the good of the believer is determined by the Lord and may very well not look like we think it should.
BUT, if what we mean by these statements is that IF we pray, Jesus will always and certainly answer, then we are absolutely unfounded. There are many occasions in which Scripture seems to suggest that the Lord is not obligated to answer our prayers. The Lord is not obligated to respond to any of our prayers except under those conditions in which He has promised to do so. There are, however, instances in which He states He will not respond. Here are a few examples (some are implied)—
- If we pray outside of His will: 1 John 5:14, "If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us."
- If we pray in order to sin: "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Psalm 66:18).
- When you pray out of anger/quarreling with your brother or sister in Christ: 1 Timothy 2:8 “Therefore I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.”
- When we have the wrong intentions (intentions that are inconsistent with God’s intentions): James 4:3 "You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures."
- When we are only praying out of ritual and are not in good standing with God: Isaiah 1:15 “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.”
And I suppose I should mention that these are only a few that came to my mind; perhaps there are more. Moreover, this is not to say that God doesn’t “hear” our prayers in these instances but rather that He is not obligated to respond in the way that many people think He does according to pop-culture Christianity. He may or may not.
You may say, “Well, is God ever really obligated to answer my prayers?” Well, this is a topic that would take another post to discuss but, in short, He makes promises in His word. Our God will keep these promises because of who He is--truth-full and promise-keeping. John 15:7 says that Jesus promised to answer our requests if we abide in Him. Will He answer if we abide? Yes. Is He obligated to? Well, maybe that’s not the best word to use, but the point is this—we should stand on the promises of Scripture when we say that the Lord will answer our prayers. He doesn’t have to when we are not abiding in Him but He certainly will if we do. Our concern therefore should not be whether or not He will answer us, but rather whether or not we are abiding in Him when we ask Him something.