"As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you." — Jeremiah 7:16, ESV
I read this verse the other morning and it stopped me in my tracks. For all of my life I have been told to pray. Whenever something comes up, just pray. Of course, I have had to dig myself out of the pit that so many Christians fall into where we try everything possible when something comes up, and then when nothing else works we decide to pray. But here in this verse, God says don't pray for the people of Israel. Why? Because they were in rebellion. They were running away from God by chasing after idols and worshipping false gods. They were in complete rebellion against God. So, God's words to Jeremiah were this: DON'T pray for them. But how could he say this? I thought that God loved us? I thought that God's faithfulness was unending? Here is God telling Jeremiah to not pray for them because he would not heal them.
God's desire is that his people be all about him. Why? First, because he is the greatest and the only true God. Secondly, however, is because he knows that he is greatest good. For his people to chase after other things without him stepping in to bring them back to himself is an unloving thing to do because he is not directing them to the greatest good.
So as I write that, I imagine some of you thinking, "But by telling Jeremiah to not pray for the people of Israel, isn't God doing nothing?" And this is where I do not believe so. Remember Paul's difficult words in his first letter to the church in Corinth?
"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgement on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord." — 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, ESV
I do not like applying this verse. The couple of times that I have had to apply this have been so difficult. By why would this be a necessary step in bringing someone back to Jesus? Because there are times when a person needs to be stripped of everything so that he/she will see that they truly need Christ. Satan's job is steal, kill, and destroy. He is not a friend. He is not faithful or tolerant. He is the father of lies who is filled with hate, rage, and murder. But God will use whatever means necessary to bring someone back to himself because he absolutely loves them.
So, don't stop praying. Pray continually. But also, ask Jesus how you should pray. There will be times he says to keep on praying. However, there will also be times when he tells us to not pray because he has to completely break the person before he can heal them. There will be times when he says to continue to meet with an encourage a person through a tough situation, but there will be times when he says leave them completely alone to themselves and the sinful desires so that are completely broken. It will be difficult to watch this process when the person you are seeing go through it is someone that you care about deeply. However, remember that this is the most loving thing that God can do to bring this person back to himself — the Greatest Good.