Driving home the other day I saw a truck with the bumper sticker "God Listens." It's advertisement for a local Christian radio station about which I know next to nothing, since most of the programming fires well wide of my tastes.
My first thought was, "Isn't that the quintessence of 'getting-it-wrong'?"
Doubtless, it's meant to be a great warm and loving invitation, and maybe it strikes a lot of people-who-aren't-me exactly right. But what does it actually say? Doesn't it tacitly confirm our fundamental Adamic belief, that what really needs to happen is that God needs to listen to us?
Remember the story. Remember the source of absolutely every bit of misery and sadness and brokenness in our universe. What happened? A perfectly adequate summary would be:
And now here is an outreach that says, not "God has spoken, and we'd better listen," but "God listens." God is made passive, we are made the actors. God is a harmless, benevolent Grandpa just waiting for us to climb up in His lap and vent, or a submissive servant waiting for us to work the machinery to extract our Best Life Now©, as The Gospel Coalition's Golden Boy's Golden Boy is fond of saying. It's up to us. We control the relationship.
Of course, you'll search in vain for this note in any of the apostles preaching in the NT. The closest I can think of in the prophets is of a very different spirit. First is Hosea 14:2, which indeed says, "Take with you words and ...to the LORD; say to him..." Okay, that sounds close. Until we quote it in full:
Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. 2 Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, "Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. 3 Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, 'Our God,' to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy" (14:1-3)Then there is the more famous word in Isaiah 1:18, "Come now, let us reason together." That sounds like an invitation to a conversation. Until, once again, the context is brought in:
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause. 18 "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken" (1:16-20)Once again, it is a call to repent in view of the already-known word of God (vv. 2-4, 10).
In both cases, then, you could apply the prophets' words to the bumper sticker in the sense, "When we respond to God's Word with repentance, God listens."
However, if the thought is meant to be, "Just as you are, unrepentant and unbelieving, all you have to do is pray, and God cares and loves and accepts you and will help you fix what you think needs fixing," then it simply is not true. It may be a "precious promise," but it's a false one.
To take some passages opened and developed at length here, Prov. 28:9 says, "If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination." If "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD" (Prov. 15:8), his prayer won't be more acceptable, because "The LORD is far from the wicked" (Prov. 15:29).
Proverbs 15:3 — The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.
Ecclesiastes 12:14 — For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
Matthew 12:36 — "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak."