“If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.“
One of the common misconceptions of prayer is that one must become sinless in their flesh in order for God to hear their prayer (let alone answer it). Often it is proposed that if one is not “living right”, then one of the evidences is that God will not answer your prayers.
In the College Sunday school class that I teach, we did a quick mini-series on prayer and learned that “living right” is not the collateral God demands in order to feel comfortable answering prayers or sending a blessing your way. The fact is, regardless of how perfect we think we can make our flesh, there is no collateral, outside of HIS righteousness, that would ever back HIS blessings.
But, some look to Psalm 66:18 (as quoted above) as the evidence that God will not hear your prayers should you be in sin. If this is true, then 1John 1:9 is impossible. Perhaps in another post, we’ll deal with 1John 1:9 more fully, but suffice it to say, 1John 1:9 seems to be from a national perspective, where Israel must meet the requirement laid out for them in Leviticus 26. However, if one were to argue that 1John 1:9 is individual in scope, I can accept that but only if 1John 1:9 is true for the believer who initially turns to Christ. Once a believer is in Christ, there is no new unrighteousness that they must be cleansed of – they were cleansed, fully, and given the very righteousness of God. However, to claim that this verse teaches that there is NEW forgiveness for NEW sin doesn’t jive with scripture’s record of what is true about the believer and what is true about what Christ accomplished at Calvary. But, perhaps we can deal with that at another time.
But, again, if Psalm 66:18 means what it says, then I would have to conclude that 1John 1:9 is impossible, anyway you slice 1John 1:9. Psalm 66:18 certainly DOES mean what it says, but what it says is a matter of context. Shall we?
The 66th Psalm opens up with the Psalmist declaring why God is praise-worthy.
Psalm 66:1 Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands: 66:3 Sing forth the honour of his name: make his praise glorious. 66:3 Say unto God, How terrible art thou in thy works! through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee.
In verse 3, when the Psalmist claims that God’s works are terrible, understand that this is a reference to the reverence-deserving nature of His works. No other has done works like God has. Not only are His works far above any others’, likewise the greatness of His power is such that even His enemies will submit themselves unto Him. God doesn’t force His enemies to bow to Him, as a bully would his prey, but when His enemies stand in the very presence of His power, there is no other course of action fathomable, but to simply submit to Him. One might suggest that “peace through strength” started with God.
Psalm 66:4 All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name. Selah 66:5 Come and see the works of God: he is terrible in his doing toward the children of men. 66:6 He turned the sea into dry land: they went through the flood on foot: there did we rejoice in him.
The Psalmist recalls when God parted the sea and Israel walked to the other side, and as the scripture records, they walked across on dry land.
Psalm 66:7 He ruleth by his power for ever; his eyes behold the nations: let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah. 66:8 O bless our God, ye people, and make the voice of his praise to be heard: 66:9 Which holdeth our soul in life, and suffereth not our feed to be moved.
By the very same immeasurable power, God holds their souls in life. This would mean that the power of God conquers death itself (which, of course, we see through the resurrection of God).
Romans 1:4 (speaking of Jesus) And declared to be the Son of God WITH POWER, according to the spirit of holiness, BY THE RESURRECTION from the dead.
By this, the people are to vocalize His praise so that it may be heard. The people were to shout the praises of God because of His worthiness of them and thereby would signal to the rest of the nations they too can enjoy the steadfastness of His life, held by His insurmountable power.
Psalm 66:10 For thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. 66:11 Thou broughtest us into the net; thou laidst affliction upon our loins. 66:12 Thou has caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place.
The Psalmist recalls the various tribulations that Israel has gone through but rightly states that through all of that, it was God who brought them into a wealthy place. Interesting choice of words – a wealthy place. In Deuteronomy 6:23, we see that God brought Israel out of Egypt in order to take them into Canaan – a land overflowing with abundance. This is a perfect picture of Christ, whereby God takes the believer out of Adam and takes the believer into Christ – a person overflowing with the abundance of life and grace. Jesus said that He was so that we might have LIFE and have it MORE ABUNDANTLY. Despite the tribulations of Adam, God brought us into Christ and we are indeed in a wealthy place. According to Paul in 2Corinthians 8, we have become RICH in Him.
The Psalmist is now going to describe what actions he’ll take in light of this grand reality of God’s ultimate deliverance. He will do all according to the law regarding the best sacrifices, for God is worthy thereof.
Psalm 66:13 I will go into thy house with burnt offerings: I will pay thee my vows, 66:14 Which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble: 66:15 I will offer unto thee burnt sacrifices of fatlings, with the incense of rams; I will offer bullocks with goats. Selah
Now, we’ll see the testimony of the Psalmist. It isn’t just that God’s power is declared by His great works, but is declared by what it did personally, to the Psalmist.
Psalm 66:16 Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul. 66:17 I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue.
Note that the Psalmist describes that his crying unto God was a matter of praise (extolling). Scripture records that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh. The Psalmist was simply beside himself in awe and reverence for God and despite his circumstances, he could only find reason to praise God — because of the praise of God was the substance of his heart. Not only does the world need to hear this praise, but it pleases God like no other. Is it because God is an ego-maniac? I don’t think it has anything to do with that at all. God is thrilled beyond measure when folks realize the supremacy of His power and His life and decide to simply yield to Him for their sustenance and praise Him in the same – because His praise then falls upon the ears of those who have yet to yield to Him.
Psalm 66:18 If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:
Recall when we were going through our mini-series on prayer, that we noted that prayer is not just a ritualistic time when we give our list of wants to God and then cross-fingers to see what gets answered. Prayer is an umbrella term for the various ways that we commune with God. In 1Samuel 2, we see that Hannah prayed to God over the birth of Samuel and that prayer was bathed in PRAISE and thanksgiving.
Up to this point in Psalm 66, has the context been about whether or not God answers prayers? No. Has the context been about God withholding His goodness because of sin in your life? No. The context thus far has been revolving around the PRAISE-worthiness of God.
So, there are two options – if the abundance of one’s heart expresses itself through the vocalization of the mouth, then if I regard praise in my heart, not only will the world hear me, but God will hear me. However, if I regard iniquity in my heart, unfortunately, the world will still hear me, but God absolutely refuses to hear it. He has no ear for praise birthed from iniquity (i.e. the Pharisee who said, “I thank God I’m not like other men are…”)
This has nothing to do with God being triggered to respond to your requests, but everything to do with how He responds to the origin of your praise to Him.
Let’s finish the chapter:
Psalm 66:19 But verily God hath heard me, he hath attended to the voice of my prayer.66:20 Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.
The voice of the Psalmist’s prayer was the voice of praise, from a heart who was overjoyed about God. God indeed heard his praise and did not turn a deaf-ear, as it were, to him.