Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
In Isaiah 55, God shows His compassion by inviting “everyone that thirsteth” (v. 1) to enter into His promised blessings. This thirst of deep spiritual longing drives us to Him for mercy; verses 6 and 7 emphasize the urgency of responding to Him. The verb seek suggests actively using God’s means of prayer. The One we seek is the LORD: the unchangeable, gracious, covenant-keeping Jehovah. We should not foolishly delay embracing God’s offer; we must seek Him “while he may be found”—now—before the day of our death. The prophet emphasizes personal prayer with the words “call ye,” reminding us that God’s offered salvation is available now, while “He is near” us with His Word and blessings. We must not reject this offer. If we do not heed the call, the time will come when He will not be found and we will be separated from Him forever. God requires us wholeheartedly to repent of our sinful thoughts, words, and actions, receiving by faith His abundant, pardoning mercy and grace, which far exceed the mountains of our great sin and guilt.
Some people argue that because they cannot pray rightly, it is better for them not to pray at all. They draw support from Scripture verses that describe the prayers and worship of sinners as a stench in God’s nostrils and an abomination in His sight. They say that God will not hear sinners and that whatever is not of faith is sin.
The first part of this argument—that we cannot pray rightly—is true, but the conclusion that it is then better not to pray at all is false. If such reasoning were valid, then we could draw similar conclusions about all sorts of spiritual activities. Can I read the Bible in the right way? If not, I had better not read it. Can I sing psalms and hymns in the right way? If not, I had better not sing them. Can I attend church in the right way? If not, I had better not go. This reasoning, if it were true, would actually keep believers from praying more than unbelievers, since believers feel their sinful infirmities more. Are the converted or the unconverted more acquainted with their unworthiness? Who truly recognizes what an abomination and offense he is to God? Who fully acknowledges that he is a sinner who lacks faith? Who understands that God has every right not to hear his prayer—the converted or unconverted? This type of argument, which sounds pious, is really an irreligious excuse and a perversion of the gospel message. It is dangerous to believe, teach, or imply that we may not pray until we are whole or that we may approach God only when we are spiritually upright. Psalm 130:3–4 encourages the guilty who cannot stand before God to come to Him: “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.”
The gospel calls poor, lame, and blind sinners, those who are full of sin and putrefying spiritual sores, to come to Christ for healing—to Him who delights in showing mercy and love to miserable creatures. Luther once said, “Being saved is getting lost at Jesus’ feet.” Satan’s ultimate goal is to keep sinners from Jesus Christ. If he cannot accomplish this as a roaring lion, he will attempt to do so as an angel of light. If you are deeply concerned to know whether the genuine work of the Holy Spirit or the deceptive work of Satan is in your heart, test it by this scriptural key: the former draws you toward Christ while the latter strives to keep you from Christ.
We sin when we sing psalms, attend church, read Scripture, or pray and our heart is not right with God. But we sin doubly when our heart is not only sinful but we also neglect using God’s gift of prayer. We cannot deny man’s sinfulness, as revealed by God’s law; we are sinful, polluted, and an abomination in God’s sight. But we also must not deny God’s gospel; He delights to save sinners and encourages them to come to Him (John 6:37). Both these truths should not keep us from Jesus Christ, but direct us to Him, the only remedy for sin. The gospel should lead us to pray, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner. Please take away all the unrighteousness of self that fills me and fill me with all that I am missing—the righteousness of Jesus Christ.”
God spoke to the entire house of Israel, “I will yet for this be enquired of” (Ezek. 36:37). “Seek ye the LORD.” You are too sinful not to pray; sinners are the very people who need prayer. Therefore, pray.
Developing a Healthy Prayer Life
By James W. Beeke and Joel R. Beeke