Screwtape and Wormwood would be pleased. This is the sort of list they could find useful when dealing with a praying mortal. By encouraging the following inventory of omissions, the hellish creatures might have some degree of focus in corrupting the kneeling correspondent:
- Disregard justice
- Be heedless of the oppressed
- Ignore the fatherless
- Neglect widows
God has firm opinions regarding prayer. He has criteria by which He ignores certain prayers. He, the all-seeing, all-knowing One says He becomes blind and deaf to prayer under some conditions.
“When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen.” (Isaiah 1:15)
What? God not listen to some prayers? He goes on to prescribe: “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
This directive was written nearly three millennia ago. Does it have relevance for us today? Let’s read the list again. Is there still injustice in this world? Are there still oppressed peoples? Any fatherless? Any widows? If we answer yes to any of these, we must take note. There are still needs in this world to which we must apply ourselves if we hope to have a hearing for our prayers.
Jesus teaches the same truth. He demonstrates and teaches servanthood, then proceeds to pray. James, leader of the early church in Jerusalem, observes the double-minded “should not think he will receive anything from the Lord” then prescribes we “look after orphans and widows in their distress.”
God delights in the prayers of His people, but He will not be manipulated. Our love for Him must be demonstrated by our love for others, real loving actions and service toward the hurting and disenfranchised.
C.S. Lewis has the demon Screwtape say, “Whatever their bodies do affects their souls. It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out…” Let’s ensure we do not ignore God’s warning. God is serious when He calls us to pair prayer with service for the hurting of this world.