The STSA month of prayer continues and each week, we’re focusing on a different aspect of prayer. The first week, we focused on “prayerless praying” – praying with one’s mouth but not with one’s heart. The second week we focused on “powerful praying” – reminding ourselves that the same God who parted the Red Sea and healed so many is the same God to whom we are praying today.
This week our focus is on “PRAYER AND CHARACTER.”
Prayer is based on character. What we are with God gauges our influence with him. It was the inner character, not the outward bearing, of such men as Abraham, Job, David, Moses, and all others, who had such great influence with God in the days of old. And, today, it is not so much our words, as what we really are, which weighs with God.
Bad living means bad praying and, in the end, no praying at all. We pray feebly because we live feebly. The stream of prayer cannot rise higher than the fountain of living. The force of the inner chamber is made up of the energy which flows from the confluent streams of living. And the weakness of living grows out of the shallowness and shoddiness of character. On Prayer, E.M. Bounds
Wow! Powerful stuff! It's something that we don’t often think about it, but it makes perfect sense. And that is this: prayer is only as strong as the character of the one praying it.
What made the prayers of Abraham so powerful was the character of Abraham. Same with Job and David and Moses and all the great saints who have preceded us. That's because prayer cannot be taken in a vacuum apart from the rest of one's life. As Bounds said "what we are with God gauges our influence with Him" and even more succinctly, "BAD LIVING MEANS BAD PRAYING."
Now with that said, let me clarify something. You might read that passage above and say “But doesn’t God listen to sinners and hear their prayers too? Do I need to be as holy as Moses or David for God to listen to my prayers? If that is the case, then I got no shot!”
Realize that when I say that prayer is based on CHARACTER, that doesn’t mean prayer is based on CONDUCT. There’s a big difference.
Conduct is visible to all, but character visible only to God. Having good conduct is what the Pharisees had, but having good character is what the Samaritan woman had. Having good conduct is what hypocrites have - seeking to appear good outwardly in front of men; but having good character is what we hope to obtain - knowing that we're sinners but still striving fervently to live a holy life.
In his epistle, Peter addresses this connection between prayer and character - writing specifically to men:
"Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered." (1 Peter 3:7)
James makes the link even more universal:
"The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." (James 5:16)
And the Lord Jesus said it this way:
“These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me.” (Matthew 15:8-9).
When we pray, God doesn’t just hear the words but He sees the heart/life behind the words. A person that is walking far from God for 23 and 1/2 hours per day will struggle to find true depth in prayer for the 1/2 hour that he chooses to pray. Someone who ignores God and His commandments Monday – Friday will struggle to be able to reach the greatest heights of prayer on Sunday.
Why? Because “bad living means bad praying” and because “prayer is based on character.”
Think of it this way: you have two co-workers and they each ask you for a ride to the airport after work. How do you respond? What goes into your decision making process? Do you respond based on the request alone? Or do you factor in the person making the request?
Assume that one of those co-workers is always helping you out: covering for you in front of the boss, helping you when you’re stuck late with a project, sharing extra quarters that he finds on the floor near the vending machine, etc. You know that this co-worker really cares about you and would sacrifice everything for you.
The other co-worker is the opposite. He doesn’t care about you one bit. He ignores you all day long. He only talks to you when he needs something from you. You ask him for something and he makes it seem like you’re asking for a huge favor. This guy is into himself and no one else.
How do you respond to each? Do you respond based on the request alone? Or does the person’s character come into play?
I think the answer is clear.
Don’t make prayer out to be something mechanical. Sometimes we think of praying as submitting an application form to some machine up in heaven that will analyze your request and respond with a yes or a no after 3-4 business days. That’s not prayer. Prayer is more than just words; prayer is life.
The most effective work done by the Church is preceded by, and accompanied with, holiness of life, separation from the world, severance from sin. Some of the strongest appeals are made with mute lips – by godly fathers and saintly mothers who, around the fireside, feared God, loved his cause, and daily exhibited to their children and others about them, the beauties and excellencies of Christian life. On Prayer, E.M. Bounds
In other words, "bad living means bad praying."