You’ve heard of the prayer of faith. I believe there is a mirror image of this prayer, a prayer that is based on flesh. I call it the prayer of unbelief.
I want to pose a question to you. Have you ever heard the Lord tell you, “Quit praying—get up off your knees”? Has his Spirit ever commanded you, “Stop crying, and wipe your eyes. Why are you on your face before me?”
The Lord spoke these very words to Moses: “The Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me?” (Exodus 14:15). The literal Hebrew meaning of the verse is, “Why are you shrieking at me? Why all the loud pleading in my ears?”
Why would God say this to Moses? Here was a godly, praying man, in the crisis of his life. The Israelites were being chased by Pharaoh, with no escape. Most Christians would probably react as Moses did. He set out for an isolated hillside and got alone with the Lord. Then he poured out his heart in prayer.
When God heard Moses shrieking, he told him, “Enough.” Scripture is not explicit about what follows. But at that point God might have said, “You have no right to agonize before me, Moses. Your cries are an affront to my faithfulness. I’ve already given you my solemn promise of deliverance. And I’ve instructed you specifically on what to do. Now, stop crying.”
As we face our own crises, we may convince ourselves, “Prayer is the most important thing I can do right now.” But a time comes when God calls us to act, to obey his Word in faith. At such a time, he won’t allow us to retreat to a wilderness to pray. That would be disobedience and any prayers would be offered in unbelief.
The prayer of unbelief takes into account only God’s goodness. It ignores the severity of his holy judgments. Paul writes, “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God” (Romans 11:22). The apostle purposely mentions God’s goodness and severity in the same breath here. He’s saying one can’t be separated from the other.
In the Old Testament, Isaiah stated it this way: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood” (Isaiah 59:1–3).
Beloved, God didn’t change between the Old Testament and the New. He’s a God of love and mercy, as Isaiah points out. But he still hates sin because he’s holy and just. That’s why he told Israel, “I can’t hear you because of your sin.”
Consider the words of the psalmist David: “I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me: but verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, which hath not turned away [ignored] my prayer” (Psalm 66:17–20).
The psalmist is saying, “I saw there was iniquity in my heart and I refused to live with it. So I went to the Lord to get cleansed. Then he heard my prayer. But if I had held on to my sin, God wouldn’t have listened to my cry.”