One of the first memories as a young child, of crying out to God, involved the death of my cat “Wiskers.” He had been attacked in the middle of the night by a couple of large dogs, I vividly recall crying and asking God to save my precious black and white friend. God did not save Wiskers that night, he died. In my mind, I remember how it seemed odd to me to call on God, because I didn’t really know God, I was emotional and in need. It was a hail-mary prayer, I had nothing to lose and no other options or lifeline.
When we get our backs against the wall, we often call upon the God who we are otherwise ignoring.
Calling on God in prayer is good. It’s what we do with Him the rest of the time that is simply wrong.
This is illustrated for us in 1 Samuel 4. Israel is not really “following the Lord” they are still living like is described of the times of the Judges; “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”- Judges 21:25
Thus the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out to meet the Philistines in battle and camped beside Ebenezer while the Philistines camped in Aphek. The Philistines drew up in battle array to meet Israel. When the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines who killed about four thousand men on the battlefield. When the people came into the camp, the elders of Israel said, ” Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us take to ourselves from Shiloh the ark of the covenant of the Lord, that it may come among us and deliver us from the power of our enemies.” – 1 Sam 4:1-3 (NASB)
The nation had their back against the wall, their enemies, the Philistines, were prevailing against them in battle.
The elders, who were not really seeking the Lord or leading the nation properly, decide that someone needed to “go get the ark”, they surmised that this action would ensure victory for the nation. Not only did this strategy not work, but God actually allowed the ark to be taken from them, and the Philistines symbolically “stole God” from the nation. The people of God were living in unbelief, they were in a dark period where God was relegated to being their personal lucky charm or rabbit’s foot.
All too often I see this play out with the “christian” community. Folks who name the name of Christ, live like hell and on par with their worldly counterparts, and then cry out to God only when some tragedy befalls them. Now, don’t get me wrong, calling out to God is always the right thing to do,… always! However, some times the tragedies that befall us have come about through our own choices, and lack of allowing God to be the central focus in our lives and decision making. In that case, the prescription is not simply prayer, but it should be first a prayer of repentance, not simply a plea for help from the ignored God, but an acknowledgement of our own sin. God is not a lucky charm, he is not our genie in a bottle. He is the God who desires a relationship with his people. There is no substitute for a consistent walk with God, he is not an occasional Lord.