Better Prayer: A Lesson from Jeremiah

I used to work at a greasy pizza parlor. We baked the pies directly on a stone above a blazing fire, just the way it should be. That oven would get so hot, I think I still have scar tissue from the burns.

The boss made the schedule in two week increments. One time she released the schedule, and I was supposed to work a Saturday night. But I didn’t want to work. So I intended to ask off. I was so confident that I could get off work, I even made plans with my friends for that night. I was seventeen.

Patrick Fore

I approached my boss to request off, and you know what happens next.


Everyone else had already asked. I was sheepish. Now I had to either blow off my friends (and fun) or else push the issue, and risk losing my income source (by which I was able to have fun).

A conundrum if you will.

How Not to Pray

The disciples famously asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus responded with the Lord’s prayer. They did not ask him, “Teach us how not to pray.” But if they did He would he might have given them this lesson from the book of Jeremiah (in addition to the other things He told them).

Johanan and Jezaniah, two officers in the Judean army, came to Jeremiah. “Please hear our petition and pray to the Lord your God.” They said (Jer. 42:2). They and all of the remnant of Judah wanted to get out of town because they feared getting murdered like their buddy, governor Gedaliah. What was their request?

Pray that the Lord your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do. (42:3)

What they should have said though is, “Tell God we’re going to Egypt.”

Because if you back up a few verses to Chapter 41, you see that when they asked Jeremiah to petition God, they were already on their way to Egypt. They were packed up, loaded, and ready to go.

It’s like buying tickets to Disneyworld, and then asking your wife where she wants to go on vacation.

But man were Johanan and Jezaniah confident they’d get the answer they wanted. So confident in fact, that even though they had already made up their minds to go, they had the audacity to say the following:

Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God. 42:6

That is, they’ll obey if they get the answer they want.

Jeremiah’s answer, though, isn’t so favorable. God says, “Stay.”

They don’t stay. And it doesn’t end well.

Why Dishonest Prayer Is Pointless

Don’t approach God in prayer with your mind already made up.
Don’t ask Him if you should go to Duke or Rutgers, knowing full well you’re going to Duke no matter what He says.
Don’t say, “Lord, I’ll get out of this relationship if you want me to” if you have no intention of doing so.

God can’t be manipulated.

Sadly, the remnant of Judah tried just that in the book of Jeremiah. And we do it too. I came to my boss asking for permission to do something I’d already committed to. What was the point?

(I ended up weaseling my way out of the responsibility, probably by deceit or persistence—I can’t remember which.)

Instead come to God with openness and humility. Remember that we are the clay and He is the potter. Can we tell Him how to form us?

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