Unanswered Prayer: Hypocritical Prayer
Everyone is a hypocrite. That is what hypocrites say to make themselves feel better. After all, God doesn’t hear the prayers of hypocrites. On the other hand, James says, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much,” (5:16). The goal is effective prayer. The means is a righteous man. Neither one is outside the law of possibility. Elijah is the example James gives of a righteous man whose fervent prayers for rain were answered by God. Maybe everyone is not a hypocrite, and we need to find the Elijah prayer manual.
Everything that made Elijah’s prayer effective is not directly given in scripture. However, it is safe to conclude that Elijah was no hypocrite. Reading his life story in the book of 1 Kings reveals he was no respecter of persons (i.e. 1 Kings 18). Elijah was unabashed to tell the truth cut and dry, life or death. He didn’t live a double life, one of secret sin and the other of outward show. Elijah was the same man when he went to offer sacrifice as he was when he went to hike through the wilderness. And though Elijah certainly sinned, the Holy Spirit labeled him as a righteous man in James 5:17, necessarily implying that his sin was always followed by humble repentance, prayer, sacrifice, and utterly dependent faith in God. This can be believed confidently based on the Holy Spirit’s presentation of all men in biblical history who, though they sinned intermittently, were labeled righteous (see the examples of Hebrews 11). Yes, Elijah was a righteous man, and God heard his prayer.
When anyone thinks of the prayer of a hypocrite, the tax collector and publican of Luke 18:9-14. The Pharisee in the Lukan parable utters what Jesus calls a hypocritical prayer in Matthew 6:5-7. He participated in an act of worship (prayer) all the while exalting himself. How pretentious! God did not hear that poor fool’s prayer, and it’s very safe to say God will turn a deaf ear to the play act of prayer we offer while correspondingly living a life immorality and self-exaltation. How many people pray, “Hallowed be thy name,” and then unflinchingly desecrate His name with their lives?
Luke and Matthew need not be in the Bible to know this truth about hypocritical prayer. David offered a groveling prayer in Psalm 51, very possibly following his fornication with Bathsheba. In this prayer, David did not jut out his chest. He didn’t exalt himself in any way. And David certainly did not continue in the sin that brought him to his knees in the first place. Why? Because David realized God does not hear the prayer of hypocrites. “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering,” (Psalm 51:16). David is not affirming God’s distaste in sacrifice altogether. Rather, God does not take pleasure in worship offered by those continuing in sin. “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, you, God, will not despise,” (v. 17, NIV). David realized that only when he humbled himself from sin would God, “Be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering,” (v. 19).
Pray with fervency like Elijah. Live the righteous life of Daniel. Throw your crown at Jesus’ feet like David. Get back up like Samson. Sacrifice your body like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. And by the grace of God you will have glory like Solomon. Don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t let your prayers go unanswered.