We were sitting at the table following dinner and the conversation turned to why we don’t pray about some things, including some of our significant and life-changing decisions. And as we talked, I was struck by how many attachments and collaborations and other agreements I’ve entered into prayerlessly.
I coach a club volleyball team. But when the job was offered to me, I offered no prayers. I didn’t ask, “Lord, is this from you? Is this a relationship I should tie myself to?” I was thinking about getting paid, about growing my reputation as a volleyball coach, about the players I could influence, about missional opportunities with the players’ parents. And liking all of those possibilities, I signed on with the club and have been happy ever since.
But that story and lots of others that came to mind as we were having our post-dinner conversation pointed to a funny little story from the Scriptures. Joshua and the Hebrew people were having great initial success as they entered into the land of promise. Because of that victory in battle, the Israelites were flush with success and the surrounding city-states were quaking in their boots. And the combination of that success and fear led to this:
The people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai and cooked up a ruse. They posed as travelers: their donkeys loaded with patched sacks and mended wineskins, threadbare sandals on their feet, tattered clothes on their bodies, nothing but dry crusts and crumbs for food. They came to Joshua at Gilgal and spoke to the men of Israel, “We’ve come from a far-off country; make a covenant with us.”
The men of Israel said to these Hivites, “How do we know you aren’t local people? How could we then make a covenant with you?”
They said to Joshua, “We’ll be your servants.”
Joshua said, “Who are you now? Where did you come from?”
They said, “From a far-off country, very far away. Your servants came because we’d heard such great things about God, your God—all those things he did in Egypt! And the two Amorite kings across the Jordan, King Sihon of Heshbon and King Og of Bashan, who ruled in Ashtaroth! Our leaders and everybody else in our country told us, ‘Pack up some food for the road and go meet them. Tell them, We’re your servants; make a covenant with us.’
“This bread was warm from the oven when we packed it and left to come and see you. Now look at it—crusts and crumbs. And our cracked and mended wineskins, good as new when we filled them. And our clothes and sandals, in tatters from the long, hard traveling.”
The men of Israel looked them over and accepted the evidence. But they didn’t ask God about it.
So Joshua made peace with them and formalized it with a covenant to guarantee their lives. The leaders of the congregation swore to it.
And then, three days after making this covenant, they learned that they were next-door neighbors who had been living there all along! [Joshua 9:3-16]
The Gibeonites looked like they came from far away. They acted like they came from far away. They said they came from far away. But this couldn’t have been further from the truth. The fact of the matter is that they were located on the other side of the ridge of short mountains that runs like a spine down the middle of the land of Israel.
Situated smack in the middle of the holy land, not far from Saul’s first capitol in Gibeah and David’s capitol in Jerusalem, Gibeon was a thorn in the side of Israel for many years to come. In fact, at the beginning of Saul’s kingship, Gibeon was a staging ground for the Philistine forces. That hurried and unprayed covenant was a big mistake.
Unprayed decisions can have long-lasting consequences. But it doesn’t always seem to be that way, as my volleyball coaching seems to suggest. In fact, if I look back, many of my unprayed decisions have turned out just fine.
That points me to the first reason why I don’t pray about important decisions: I do pretty well by myself. My track record seems to suggest that I don’t need God for these things. In fact, being so successful when not praying has weakened my reliance on God in much of my life.
But it’s not just that I don’t feel the need for divine intervention that keeps me from praying as I make my decisions, it’s also my desire to do what I want to do.
If I ask God for his approval, I may get denied. So, I don’t ask.
The reality is I just want to be my own god. I want to do things on my terms and at my convenience. I don’t want to wait. I don’t want to risk being told not to do what I want to do. I don’t want to bend the knee to the King.
This combination of thinking I do pretty well on my own and of not wanting to submit my decisions for God’s approval are the twin foundations for practical atheism, believing in and following God on my own terms but not when I find it inconvenient.
The real definition of a saint, I believe, is someone who is crazy enough to live as if God really exists. And I’m hoping to be a saint someday. And it all starts with praying my decisions and relationships.