There is no question that prayer is a difficult discipline to develop, but perhaps the biggest reason why this is the case is that it feels fake. I don’t mean that we pray without believing that God hears, but that sometimes we just don’t feel like what we pray is what we are thinking or feeling. In other words, we pray without integrity. What is integrity and why is it so necessary to prayer?
The necessity of integrity
In Proverbs 21:27 we read, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination…” We would benefit from the rest of the verse, but just this much tells us something about integrity. This verse refers to a sacrifice offered to God as an atonement or satisfaction for sin. An offering is a step in the path of repentance and therefore when we make an offering without genuine repentance, God calls it an abomination. This verse condemns one who is wicked and yet presumes to make a sacrifice to God because what they say outwardly is different to what is happening in their heart (their thoughts, their desires, and their commitments). It is an abomination to make a religious gesture to God when the heart has an ulterior motive.It is an abomination to make a religious gesture to God when the heart has an ulterior motive Click To Tweet
God looks for integrity
God is one who searches the hearts of men (1 Sam 16:7), and this reality stands in the background to verses like this. The Proverbs were written primarily by Solomon, and are rich with verses related to integrity. David’s public charge to Solomon reverberates through the writings of proverbs, which were likely written in Solomon’s younger years (with Ecclesiastes written at the end of Solomon’s life). As David was preparing to hand his kingdom over to his son, he instructed Solomon, “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts” (1 Chron 28:9). David wanted Solomon to know and live knowing that God would be searching his heart to know if he was interacting with Him in integrity or whether it is out of pretense.
Integrity is more than consistency between heart and actions
The same applies for you and I. God searches our hearts and what he is looking for is consistency between our hearts and our actions. But it isn’t enough that our hearts and actions are aligned. If all we do is act the way our hearts tell us (so many Disney movies tell us to, “listen to your heart”) we will be who we really are, but that isn’t what we want because “there is none who does good… not even one.” (Rom 3:10–12). We would hardly call a thief a person of integrity because they acted according to the inclination of their heart!
Integrity certainly includes the alignment of our hearts with our actions, but more importantly, biblical integrity aligns our hearts and actions with the glory and character of God. What God is looking for is those who delight themselves in Him and His character, and whose hearts and actions align with what He delights in (Heb 9:23–24). Someone who delights in the Lord wants to be near Him and is eager to make themselves right with Him on His terms. Therefore a person of integrity will align their hearts (thoughts, desires, and commitments) with their actions and the word of God.
Today, we don’t sacrifice, but like man always has, we pray, we sing, and we serve. God is looking for integrity in these things. God is searching our hearts to see whether what we do on the outside is consistent with what He sees on the inside.
The fact that God searches our hearts when we pray is either very frightening or very comforting. If we know within ourselves that we don’t believe God, but act like we do, we have reason to fear. God calls insincere devotion to Him an abomination. He also called idols an abomination (Deut 7:25) and called for their destruction, so insincere devotion to the Lord is a good reason for fear.We avoid prayer in part because we know that our prayer, our heart, and our lives are not aligned Click To Tweet
On the other hand, if we are genuine in our devotion, but feel frustrated at our inability to articulate our devotion to the Lord, this is a great comfort, since God searches our hearts and sees the sincere love we have in our hearts for Him. In such cases, God is pleased with wholehearted worship even if we lack the means to express it. This doesn’t mean to say we shouldn’t strive for excellence in worship, in fact, we should strive for excellence in worship to help motivate our hearts. However, the point here is that God searches the hearts of people and is looking for consistency between the heart and the actions moved in affection for the Lord.
My integrity in prayer
We in the west often lack integrity in our prayer life. There are several ways to see where this is the case and we’ll discuss some of these. But here all I want to point out that we avoid prayer in part because we know that our prayer, our heart, and our lives are not aligned. Therefore, if we’re going to improve our prayer life quantitatively, we need first of all to improve our prayer life qualitatively.If we’re going to improve our prayer life quantitatively, we need first of all to improve our prayer life qualitatively Click To Tweet
To improve the quality of our prayer life, we need to begin by acknowledging the obvious: our hearts do not align with the glory and character of God as they should. While we are new in one sense, we are still in the flesh, which means we retain the corruption that was there before our salvation. For this reason, we are called to walk in the Spirit and not gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16). Yet, we don’t always walk with the Spirit. When we sin, and grieve the Spirit (Eph 4:30) and break the unity that the desire of the Spirit puts in us (Gal 5:17). Ultimately, if we want to be people of integrity, we need to deal with the reality of our lack of integrity, which means beginning by confessing our sin (1 John 1:9). Ultimately, if we want to be people of integrity, we need to deal with the reality of our lack of integrity Click To Tweet
A lack of integrity is a doorway for holiness
The wonderful thing is that when we acknowledge our sin, God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). When I meditate on this verse, and the riches of the Lord’s kindness and mercy, I wonder why it is so hard to open up my heart to be a person of integrity. Certainly, the heart is deceptive (Jer 17:9), but sin also likes to stay in the dark (John 3:20), so there is a conflict within us. Our flesh wants sin to remain hidden, but the Spirit in us groans at our sin, is grieved by it and wants it in the light (Rom 8:26, Eph 4:30). We need to be intentional to confront the thoughts, desires, and commitments of our heart and be willing to cut off sin wherever it is so that we can draw near to God with clean hearts. Our flesh wants sin to remain hidden, but the Spirit in us groans at our sin, is grieved by it and wants it in the light Click To Tweet
As we embrace what God says about us and acknowledge the truth of it, we open the door to also embrace our need for the grace of God and the righteousness of Christ to cleanse us, and we become dependent on the goodness and mercy of the Lord. The Lord is glorified by our trust and dependence upon Him, not to mention that confession is the first step to repentance.
Integrity is a greater treasure than wealth (Proverbs 19:1), and by being people of integrity, we will be a blessing to our children (Proverbs 20:7). The road to integrity is one that most people don’t want to travel, but if we want to grow in our walk with the Lord, we must face the idols and coldness of our heart, and we must learn to respond to God rightly. Only when we align our actions and heart with the character of God will our prayer life improve.