Over the years, a certain type of problem has been encountered so often that my memory of each particular one is blurred. This is what happens: someone, a husband or wife, a father or mother, is faced with an ugly situation. The spouse is an unbeliever, often adulterous, or the teenage children are hostile to the Faith, involved in illegal activities which can jeopardize the property, and so on and on. St. Paul says, "But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart" (1 Cor. 7:15). Of lawless youths in the family, the godly parents must be on the side of the law (Dt. 21:18-21).
Do these people listen to God? No. Rather, they pray to God for a conversion and then act as though they must obey their hope but not God's word! They assume that their prayer is especially holy and carries more weight than God's word. They expect God to answer their prayers when they pay no attention to God's word.
Our love for an ungodly spouse or child cannot sanctify our refusal to obey God's word. In too many cases, the spouse whose sin and presence is tolerated in love corrupts the children. Have we done well by our stubborn insistence that our wishes and prayers must outweigh God's word?
Too often such praying people insist on seeing their position as the holy one. They will say that, in spite of their pastor's counsel and the word of friends, they have clung to their prayers for the spouse's or child's conversion. But their persistence is evidence of sin, not grace. If conversion later occurs, well and good (though it rarely does), but they must act in terms of God's law, not their hopes nor their prayers. In one instance, I asked, what would you do, if you were on a jury, and another person's son were on trial for murder? What if you knew that young man's mother and father were praying for his conversion? Would you convict, or vote for acquittal to help the mother? The answer was acquittal.
But this is evil. It is the enthronement of sentimentality over God's law. It is not a sign of grace but of depravity to place our feelings and wishes above the law-word of God.
We are in deep trouble because too many people in the churches are praying against God and his word. They have exalted their feelings and their prayers to a position of ascendancy over God himself, and against his word, and they call their position a holy one.
There are times when God forbids us to pray about certain persons (1 Jn. 5:16).There are certain persons we are not to help (2 Jn. 10-11).God does not say he does nothing in such cases. Rather, he places limits on our freedom to pray.
Too often, praying is a way of saying, "My will be done." One determined mother routinely asked friends to pray with her for her very wayward son, saying, " I am determined that he come to know the Lord." She was in effect saying, "My will be done," and she was determined to nag God into compliance. Her prayers were not answered, and she became more and more a caricature of a Christian.
Prayer is no substitute for obeying God: it cannot replace obedience. More than one man or woman has told me that his spouse's stubborn insistence that his prayer be answered has done damage to the relationship. If you are disregarding God's plain word to pray for a miracle, do not be surprised if his answer is your judgment.