ChurchesBishopstonCity CentreWestbury
Emmanuel Bristol is a family of churches working together to make more disciples, who will plant more churches, to show more people that Jesus is Lord.

Performance Related Prayer?

Two phrases from the passage we looked at from 1 Peter (3:1-12) last Sunday (26th February) have perhaps been troubling you ever since. And, I don’t mean, ‘Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands…’ (v.1) or ‘Husbands, in the same ways be considerate as you live with your wives…’ (v.7). Why not?! Well because we’ve been taught those things before, and spent quite a lot of our time last Sunday thinking about them. We’ve even been recommended a book if you’d like to think through those issues further.
No the phrases that really troubled many of us were the words the apostle’s instructions to husbands (in v.7) closed with: ‘…so that nothing will hinder your prayers.’ And Peter’s direct application of Psalm 34 to believers today, that included this idea (v.12): ‘For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’
What’s happened to the Gospel of Grace? Has Peter returned to Old Testament legalism once again (see Galatians 2:11-21)? This sounds like performance related prayer – if husbands aren’t good husbands God will stop being good to them. If his people do wrong things then they can’t expect him to do right to them.
So is that why God hasn’t answered your prayer for a new job? He won’t until you become a better husband? Have your prayers for Auntie Hilda to be healed of her cancer not been answered because of the unkind way you treated that friend last week?
Peter makes a link here that we find deeply troubling. We’re fine with the general idea that life lived in God’s way will generally bring God’s blessing. We pin a lot of hope on that idea – although we’re also aware that the blessings highlighted in Peter’s letter are spiritual rather than physical and that the main expectation he gives us for the present is that we’ll suffer (1 Peter 1:6 onwards). But we’re not fine with this link between how we treat others and how God will treat us. Why? It doesn’t bode well for us – we’re very conscious that we often treat other people very badly indeed (especially those of us who are married).
Well v.7 might allow us to get away with the idea that the way a husband’s prayers might be hindered is more about him being in the wrong place spiritually. The blockage in prayer is at his end, due to a lack of general spiritual healthiness – shown by his lack of care for his wife. But Peter’s use of Psalm 34 a few verses later stops us from taking that easy option. In v.12 the blockage is clearly at God’s end – he’s the one that chooses to listen to the righteous, and be deaf to those who are evil. This is very clearly introducing the idea of performance related prayer that we don’t like at all.
What are we to do in response? Change our performance! That’s the whole point of these warnings, the mild threats in these verses. They are to get husbands to take better care of their wives, to get us all to love each other more and more. Want God to answer your prayers for a new job, for Auntie Hilda? Then start living life his way!
“But what about God’s grace?” you cry. This surely changes the whole dynamic of the relationship I thought I had with my Father God through the death of his Son Jesus Christ?!
No it doesn’t! This is actually part of God’s amazing grace to you. Have a read of Hebrews 12:1-11. Our Father God often disciplines his children to get them to change. He’s like any good parent in this – except that he does it perfectly and, always, successfully. And so sometimes, when we really need to learn a lesson, he won’t answer our prayers to draw our attention to something that is wrong in our life and to get us to change. We’ll often need that discipline if we are ever to be better husbands, if we’re ever to start loving other people as we should.
So if you feel that God isn’t answering your prayers, it is worth asking yourself, and experienced others: “Is God disciplining me? Is he not answering this prayer because of the way that I’m treating somebody else at the moment? What do I need to repent of? What do I need to change?” Ask him to show you if there is anything you need to be doing differently, allow him to use others to help you see what you might need to be saying sorry for. That’s the whole point of God sometimes not answering our prayers.
But how can God ever answer any of my prayers if things are so performance related? Well because he is gracious. And so they’re not really performance related at all. Sometimes that grace shows itself in him not answering prayers to force us to change wrong behaviour, but most of the time that grace is shown in him ignoring our sin and focusing on the righteousness we have in his Son Jesus. So any answer to any prayer we pray, and any non-answer to any prayer we pray, is really grace related after all.
Complicated stuff! Do come and chat to me on a Sunday if you’d like to chat through any of this in person.