Daily Proverbial, 29 November 2011

If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable. Proverbs 28, verse 9.

Your prayers, even the sweet ones you might say with your kids, may be detestable. The Scripture says it, not just me; please remember that. The other day, my wife and I were talking about hardening of hearts, specifically how, when a heart gets hardened, things become ‘unforgiveable.’ Mind you, no sin is truly unforgiveable. God, through Christ, forgives ALL sins, period. It doesn’t matter if your junk is really bad or really small: every bit of it has been atoned for and you’re forgiven.

What we were talking about was how people get into a mindset where we refuse to forgive others of the wrongs they do. We withhold forgiveness because our hearts become hardened either through choice or circumstance. Walls are built, grudges held, lists made. Whether or not we want to acknowledge it, this is something we all do. You and I both hold grudges. There are things that have been done to us that REALLY hurt, and I think it’s only natural that we would hold grudges over those things. Divorce, cheating, manipulation, being hurt, being used, lies, deception: those things hurt.

Hear me out on this (again, it’s Scripture, not Dave, saying it): if you willingly hold onto a grudge, you are turning a deaf ear to the law. It’s natural because our nature is sinful, but it has consequences. When we do what’s natural, we harden our hearts just a little at a time. When you do that, your prayers are detestable. If you’re holding onto a grudge against someone in your past, or someone who hurt you, and you kneel beside your precious child’s bed at night to fold your hands and say good-night prayers with him or her, those prayers are detestable to God. They are like garbage, a festering sewer, a vicious lie.

Pretty harsh, isn’t it? But it’s a brutal truth that I know I need to hear now and then. I need to hear it because I let my heart get hard about some things. Relationships gone bad, resentment that I’ve held onto for decades, situations that are out of my control, wrongs deliberately perpetrated against me: I have let my heart get icy cold about some of these things, and I’ve let myself forget that I, too, have done these things to others, even to the people closest to me.

So when I come to God and talk to him while still holding onto those grudges and that hard heart, I imagine how He must feel about what I’m doing. He loves me and pines to hold me close, but His holiness just can’t tolerate my flaunting His perfect love with my imperfect hatred. His laws, His commandments, His reminders were given not to hammer us but, instead, to point out to us when we mess up and how much we need His forgiveness. Whether we realize it or not, the basis of God’s law is love. It is the outer boundary to His holiness, and if you think about it, it’s our outer boundary too. His laws are one place where His love touches our lives.

Knowing that, it makes sense that, when I’m praying honest, heart-felt prayers while holding onto that hurt and anger from the past, it’s like I’m jabbing my finger in God’s eye. It’s just another way of making things about me. We’re made in the image of God, and I know how much it irritates me when my kids tell me one thing and then do another. Or when they come to the dinner table and spend all of the meal texting or trying to talk on the phone. Or when they deliberately pick a fight. Are our ‘adult’ actions much different? Is it really a stretch, then, that when we knowingly flout the laws of love, our self-serving attempts to talk around it are detestable to a God who can see right through them?

Does this mean we should just give up prayer because, let’s face it, we ALL occasionally turn a blind eye to the law? If you’re a person of faith but you’re tempted by your desires or the flesh, are you any less of a person of faith? Not at all. Indeed, if we give up prayer, we’re giving up a personal lifeline that each of us has to the ultimate Creator, Father, and God of all time. This same God created everything you see, touch and know with just His words. This same God who wields the power of supernovas, hurricanes, and the rushing tides also came to us as a tiny baby born in a humble, cold barn. And how much does He love us? Just look at the nail marks and open your heart to see. Yet He wants to talk with you, in private, just the two of you, and hear what’s really on your heart. If we cut that off, it’s building up yet another hard wall.

Which brings us back to that conversation about being hard-hearted. The longer I believe and the more I study God’s Words, the more I know inside that I can’t believe what I do and hold onto the anger, the hurt, the humiliation, and the resentment of things that are far in the past. We live our lives in one-second increments, you know, meaning that whether the hurt took place many years ago or just recently, it really only took place a second ago. It’s in the past regardless. Letting go of that hard heartedness is done in forgiveness, in seeing others as flawed and imperfect children of God just like me. I want my prayers to God to be acceptable, pleasant, and uplifting; I want Him to look at me and smile instead of smiling and shaking his head in disgust. I want to do better. It all starts with forgiveness and that forgiveness opens up closed, cold hearts. When that happens, it’s anything but detestable.

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