For the most part, we think that any prayer is always a good thing, but as I study the Word of God, I see that certain prayers may be destructive to a person and even rouse God’s anger.
“Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?” (Isaiah 45:9 NIV)
The root of the problem is contending with God! Rebelling! Arguing with the Creator! But what could cause such a contentious reaction in some believers?
When the people of Israel first heard the report of the twelve spies who went to scout the land God promised them, everyone was delighted. But when the scouts began to share their personal opinions and draw conclusions, mainly that they would fail to take possession of the cities, the people fell into despair. Their carnal mind, unable to submit to the plan of God, began to run wild in search of an answer that made “more sense”: “What does all of this mean? Who has treated us with such ridicule. Moses? Unlikely, since he is merely a middleman between us and Jehovah.” Like it or not, God will always be the last on this list of accused. Like lava in an active volcano, all bitterness and hate eventually boil to the surface. Joshua and Caleb (prototypes of the Holy Spirit in this scenario) urged the people not to rebel against God (Numbers 14:9). Still, instead of listening, the people took up stones to silence this voice of God forever. In an utterly rebellious manner, people took matters into their own hands as they looked for a way out of the “trap” into which, as it seemed to them, God had led them into.
“And they said to one another, ‘Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.’” (Numbers 14:4 ESV)
Hearing all of their “prayers,” God said to Moses:
“How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the LORD, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you.’” (Numbers 14:27-28 ESV)
In the First Epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul emphasizes that every Jew that came out of Egypt had experienced God’s glory similarly. Still, not many of them were favored by God (1 Corinthians 10). This is because there are people (unfortunately, these are always the majority) who, during difficult times, allow themselves to grumble and voice their
“And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.” (1
Corinthians 10:10 NIV)
The situation is aggravated because, as believers, we understand that nothing happens without God allowing it to happen. This fact is primarily irritating and becomes the basis for grumbling. A non-believer can blame other people for their troubles but not God. However, a believer directs their indignation at God in one way or another.
“The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.’… Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The LORD became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled.” (Numbers 11:4-5, 10 NIV)
To this, the Lord answered Moses, saying:
“And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the LORD, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the LORD will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected (neglected – A.S.) the LORD who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?” (Numbers 11:18-20 ESV)
God takes any anger or resentment we express aloud as a personal rebuke.
“And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.” (Numbers 11:1 ESV)
“…on the day of your fasting, you do as you please… You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.” (Isaiah 58:3-4 NIV)
Any prayer that is not aimed at seeking God and humility before God’s will but instead aiming at subordinating God’s power to fulfill our desires is a destructive prayer.
No matter how much a person exhausts themselves trying to influence God in their favor, they are on the road to disappointment because God cannot be manipulated!
Only pagans “pray” like that. On Carmel, the priests of Baal even stabbed themselves with knives to elicit any reaction from their god. To this, Jesus Christ said, “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”(Matthew 6:8 NKJV).
“…You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask… that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:2-3 NIV)
A true believer aims for the opposite; they aim for what pleases God. Even when asking Him for something personal, a true believer always adds, “… if it is the Lord’s will…” (James 4:15 NIV)
Moses begins and finishes his prayer to God with the same word, “favor.” “…if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight…” (Exodus 33:13 ESV)
In simpler terms, Moses said, “If I am pleasing to You, help me understand You, so that I may please You!” Otherwise, it is “…‘hard for you (all people, but now referring to Saul – A.S.) to kick against the goads.’” (Acts 26:14 ESV). When meeting with Saul at the Damascus Gate, Christ refers to Himself as a goad (a sharpened wooden stake or pole) which Saul was kicking against.
David, on the other hand, represents a different group of people. Due to unfounded suspicions, he was hunted throughout his youth, having to hide from King Saul and his army. David could have taken offense or become resentful towards people and God a hundred times, but his prayers do not contain even a hint of reproach to the Lord!
It’s not there when David, with great difficulty, walks away from Saul to flee to Gath, which happens to be Goliath’s homeland! The same Goliath whom David killed in single combat just several years earlier. It’s not when the people of Achish (king of Gath) begin to recognize the familiar facial features of the young man who defeated their hero. Realizing his predicament, David was forced to pretend to be a madman to stay alive. It’s not there when David, having escaped King Achish, must hide in a cave. He doesn’t make any allegations about God! He never says, “Why, Lord, have You lowered me to the very pit of humiliation in front of my friends and enemies?” Surprisingly, at the very core, David is in a completely different state of mind:
“A psalm of David, regarding the time he pretended to be insane in front of Abimelech (aka Achish – A.S.), who sent him away. I will praise the LORD at all times. I will constantly speak his praises. I will boast only in the LORD… I prayed to the LORD, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears… the angel of the LORD is a guard; he surrounds and defends all who fear him… The righteous person faces many troubles, but the LORD comes to the rescue each time. For the LORD protects the bones of the righteous; not one of them is broken!” (Psalm 34:1-4, 7, 19-20 NLT)
David is able to accept life in its entirety, the good and the bad.
Boris Pasternak wrote:
Another, step by step, will follow
The living imprint of your feet;
But you yourself must not distinguish
Your victory from your defeat
“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139:6-17 ESV)
Any prayer that is not aimed at seeking God and humility before His will but instead aimed at subordinating God’s power to fulfill our desires is a destructive prayer.
This section was taken from the study guide “Lord, Teach Us to Pray” by Aleksandr Shevchenko.