The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore, the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies.” ~ Joshua 7:10-12
After the unusual victory that God granted Israel in their battle against Jericho, Joshua led them to battle against Ai, which had a much smaller population and should have been easy to defeat. Yet, the army fled from the men of Ai because God was not with them in the fight.
In the face of this defeat, Joshua went before the ark of the covenant and cried out to God. God’s response was to tell Joshua to stop praying and go deal with the sin in the camp. You see, a man named Achan had disobeyed the command of God and taken items from Jericho for his own tent which God had told the people to destroy. Achan’s greed brought sin into the camp, and this sin in turn caused God to turn against the army in battle.
The solution was to deal with the sin and purify the camp.
This story also reminds us that sometimes prayer is not the answer. Yes, as God’s people through faith in Jesus, we are to be regularly devoted to prayer. Talking with God should be a daily part of our relationship with God. Yet, there are things in our lives that can hinder this relationship. Consider the following:
In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus taught that if you’re about to enter into an act of worship, such as offering a gift at the altar, but in the process remember that someone has been offended by you, then you are to leave your gift, go and seek reconciliation, and then come back and offer the gift. Paul warned in Ephesians 4:30, in a list of sins to avoid and of righteous behaviors to embrace, that we’re to be careful not to grieve the Holy Spirit within us. Our sins, after we come to Jesus, may not again separate us from God but they can strain our relationship with God. Thus, we should be quick to confess and repent (1 John 1:9).
Then, in 1 Peter 3:7, Peter warned husbands to honor their wives and see them as fellow heirs of the grace of life “so that your prayers may not be hindered.” God cares deeply for his daughters and he has entrusted them to us who are their husbands. If I mistreat my wife, God’s precious daughter, then I shouldn’t expect that God would want to hear my prayers.
The answer in each of these situations isn’t to pray more, nor is the answer to ignore the situation. The answer is to deal with the sin present in our lives that hinders our relationship with God and others. Then, with renewed fellowship through the continued grace of God, we find restoration in our prayer life and in the tasks that God has called us to.
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