When Prayer Is out of Order

Robert Wurtz II

Then Joshua tore his clothes, and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, Lord GOD, why have You brought this people over the Jordan at all—to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? (Joshua 7:6–7 NKJV)

So the LORD said to Joshua: “Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff. (Joshua 7:10–11 NKJV)

Joshua was reeling from defeat when he tore his clothes and cried out to the LORD in prayer. He speaks to the Lord from a position of ignorance. I mean that respectfully. There was information that directly impacted the situation he was praying about that he had no knowledge of whatsoever. He prayed to God almost as if God was at fault. After allowing him to say what he had to say — God told him plainly,  “Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Israel has sinned (…).” 

Understand that there are rare occasions when prayer is out-of-order. It’s not the time to pray. It’s time to deal with the sin in the camp. In fact, there are times when we could pray and fast until doomsday and our situation is not going to change. Why? The root of the problem has to be dealt with. This means making sure that the people who are involved in the prayer are in compliance with God’s word. It is the epitome of hypocrisy to go to prayer to get God to “do something” knowing that there is a sin that needs to be dealt with that is impeding the prayers.     

There are situations in life when praying to God is almost an insult to God and man. Take for example praying when action is in order. James writes, “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15–16 NKJV) When a person is in need and we have the means to help that need it is not the time to pray — it is time to help. Or take the man who would pray to ask God if it was His will to divorce his wife and kids. Those are foolish prayers. When God has clearly spoken in a matter it is not the time to pray — it is time to obey God. Prayer is never a substitute for obedience. 

When the Enemy Prevails

Prayer is an activity that can give the appearance of great piety. However, the greatest prayers are those that we will never know were prayed (at least this side of Heaven). A man or woman goes into their closet and prays in secret — not allowing their right hand to know what their left hand is doing — and God answers those prayers. Prevailing prayer is not pretentious prayer. It’s not a spectacle. Joshua instinctively cried out to God in prayer. That is a good thing! However, there was a problem that no amount of prayer could fix. Achan had taken things of the spoils of the battle that God commanded the people not to take. Because of that, Israel could not stand against their enemies. Achan’s disobedience was a serious problem before the Lord and had a direct effect on Israel’s victory. That problem required the whole of Israel to deal with it.

So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver under it. And they took them from the midst of the tent, brought them to Joshua and to all the children of Israel, and laid them out before the LORD. Then Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the garment, the wedge of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent, and all that he had, and they brought them to the Valley of Achor. And Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? The LORD will trouble you this day.” So all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones. Then they raised over him a great heap of stones, still there to this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of His anger. Therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Achor to this day. (Joshua 7:22–26 NKJV) 

Joshua was a great leader. This is evidenced by the fact that he took swift action once he knew what the problem was. Notice how the men didn’t walk — they ran to the tent. Joshua didn’t drag his feet and neither did his assistants. He didn’t act with timidity. He wasn’t afraid of what would happen if he dealt with Achan. He was more concerned with what would happen if he didn’t deal with Achan. this is the attitude that leaders need today. Be more concerned with what God is going to do than how man is going to react when you obey God. 

When we have the opportunity to deal with people in their sinfulness — we need to do it. If a person’s actions are such that they are causing widespread havoc in the churches — it’s not the time to pray — it’s time to deal with the situation. Obviously, these dealings must be done prayerfully, but prayer is not a substitute for dealing with “Achan” type situations any more than “be ye warmed and filled” can provide food and clothing to the hungry and naked. What did God tell Joshua, “Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face?”

Sometimes we want God to deal with problems that He is telling us to deal with. Prayer becomes a cop out. What are you doing? I’m praying about it! Really? You already have the answer in God’s word. Why are you praying? Do you think God is going to change His mind? If God’s word gives clear direction there is no more need to pray. It is time then for action. There is no need to come together and pray if perchance God will give a prophetic word — God has already spoken. In situations like these prophetic words have a high probability of being false. Why? Because they contradict the written word. In these type situations, prophets may give direction that undermines God’s clear directives. Don’t fall for it! Remember, the Holy Spirit and the written Word of God always agree.

Joshua didn’t know what the problem was so we have no cause in faulting him in prayer. He did the right thing. However, when he became aware of the trouble-maker he dealt with him. What did he say, “Why have you troubled us? The LORD will trouble you this day.” This is not to say that we stone people because we clearly do not. However, it is essential that God’s people speak with one voice when dealing with trouble-makers. Achan found sympathy with no one. Everybody knew what was at stake and they acted accordingly. However you want to say it, Joshua put an end to the trouble by dealing with the trouble-maker. He realized that it was no longer the time to pray. It was time to deal with things before it was too late.   


2 thoughts on “When Prayer Is out of Order

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  1. I really got a great deal out of this post and what you had to share from this story about Joshua and Israel. “Understand that there are rare occasions when prayer is out-of-order.” That’s really important to remember. Particularly in light of the passage from James that you shared. Thanks!

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