How not to Pray
Judges 16:1-31
Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in to her.…

We have heard these words until we are heartsick of them. It seems as if such words could not be done without in the history of human experience. Samson would gather himself up for a grand final effort; he said in effect, "O Lord, the Philistines have taken away mine eyes, I am no longer what I was, I am no longer a prophet and servant of Thine, I am a poor fool; I gave up my secret; Lord, this once, only this once; I pray Thee let the old strength come back, and I will be avenged for my two eyes." It was very natural, it was most human, it was just what we would have done under similar circumstances, and therefore do not let us laugh at the dismantled giant. Let us accommodate the passage, so that it may become a lamp which we can hold over various points of life. "'Only this once': forgive me, I will never ask it again, this is the very last time; I have no excuse, I did the evil deed, I spoke the false word, but I am getting old, and I shall not trouble my family much longer; give me the final pardon; I seem as if I could not do without it; it seems as if I had it I would die easily and triumphantly; I do not deserve it, but add one more to your forbearances; I will never ask again, but pardon me this one time." You know that speech; it is now a stale speech in your ears; you have pardoned seventy times seven, and another pardon is requested with the promise that it shall be the last. This is the very thing we have done in the case of the Divine Creator and Redeemer of the worlds; we have told Him that we would never repeat the sin. It is not of our necessity we go again, but for the very selfsame sin we did last week, and we will do to-morrow. Life is critical. I am sure I thought I would never do it again; I said this shall not occur again; then I told a blacker lie than ever, and put myself more thoroughly into the devil's service. And then we have it again in the daily cry from familiar voices: "Deliver me out of this perplexity only this once, no more; I will never ask for deliverance again, I will take the literal consequences; nay, I will pray to go to hell rather than come back to be delivered." And the fool means it; he thinks he will be brave next time. You know this in your own family, in your own soul, in your own son, daughter, fastest friend. "Only this once, this other ten pounds; this once screen me, and I will never, never return." You know the cry. Which of us has not in his desk a hundred promises that this shall be the last solicitation of love? We say again and again, "Lord, let Thy providence help me in this case, only this once; this is really the final perplexity of my life; I am very ill, and I am afraid of the other world; I have suffered much on account of it in a dream but yesternight; I heard the groanings of the lost, I heard the cry for water, and the water had fled away. I do not want to die just now; if Thou wilt give the doctor great success and turn the herbal medicines of the field into sacramental wine, I will never grieve Thee more; only this once! and I promised God many things; I said I would love His Church, I would support His altar, I would vindicate the Cross; I would take up a new line and become a new man." He did, and the devil has never had a sturdier soldier. Oh, the pity of it! the utter, utter sadness of it! Now let us note three things about this prayer.

1. First of all, the prayer was to the true God. It was not offered to an idol. Know, then, that we may be praying to the right God; that is no guarantee that we shall get the answer which we desire. You may read the right book and get nothing out of it. Not every man who reads the Bible receives a revelation, or has the slightest idea that there is a revelation of a spiritual and effective kind in the whole range of Holy Scripture. The right God does not make the right prayer; the prayer is in the spirit, in the will; it is in the temper or disposition of the heart; it is in the self-crucifixion of the soul: not a cry, but a sacrifice.

2. What ailed this poor prayer? what was its mortal disease? The mortal disease of this prayer uttered by Samson was that it was offered in the wrong spirit. It is the spirit that determines the quality. "That I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes." It was a prayer for vengeance. That prayer comes easily to the natural spirit. We love to magnify the individual, and to think that individualism is personality. What grave mistakes we make in our verbal definitions! A man will say that he stands up for personality, when he knows nothing about it. He is standing up for individuality, his own little miserable self. Here is a man who comes forward to avenge his personal or individual or physical loss; in that spirit a man cannot pray. What he says may have the form of prayer, so to say the likeness of prayer, and yet the man may not be praying; he may be in reality simply and deeply cursing. A curse is not a prayer; an imprecation is not part of the great liturgy in which all redeemed souls ought to take part. Prayer is self-renunciation; prayer says, "Lord, Thy will be done, not mine." Thus the Divine will is done by consent, human and Divine, and is the law, in its own degree, of the universe; the soul then falls into the rhythmic movement of the creation, and the man is translated out of individuality into personality in its broadest definitions, and he is part and parcel of the great unity which swings like a censer round the altar Divine.

3. In the third place this prayer was answered, but answered in judgment. Samson had his way, but his way killed him. God has many ways of answering prayer. One sad case is recorded which will at once occur to your memory: "He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul." They had their way, and lost it; they got what they wanted, and it poisoned them. How marvellous it is in all this process that Samson still had within him what I may call a spark of vital faith. He knew he had lost his opportunities, and forfeited his privileges, and betrayed his trust; yet he knew something higher than all this, namely, that God lives, and that God is a God of judgment, and that the way of God shall yet prevail upon the earth, be human circumstances and conditions what they may. He made the most of that vital spark. But Samson might have said, "Do not upbraid me; I have played the fool before God; I yielded up my secret, I parted with my strength, I ceased at once to be a judge in Israel and to be a child of God; but there is one last lingering flash of faith, and I want to turn that last lingering flash into works, into actions, into palpable and crushing results." Samson was then at the very height of his will; he then touched the sublimest personality of his own consciousness, and he was dealing not only with his enemies, but with the enemies of the Lord. This we may say; for the eternal comfort of the race it is written according to the blessing pronounced by father Jacob, "Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last." So we come upon the familiar thought of intermediate and final victories. Gad, my poor, poor son, a troop shall overcome him, but he, my son Gad, shall overcome at the last. When they think he is dead he will spring to his feet; when they report it in pagan, uncircumcised cities that Gad is dead, Gad will rise and whet his sword and challenge the enemy to a deadlier combat. Do not pronounce upon intermediate failures; there may be many of them, and yet there may be conquest at the last. So it shall be with our poor hearts. Yes, we were caught in all the sins, the devil was triumphing over us, but we overcame at the last. "All these sins are ours, and we repent them," who can tell whether God will be gracious unto us, and give us a nail in His tabernacle, and one small place in His great providential plan? As a nation we have sinned; I do not see that our cup of iniquity could hold one drop more; it is not for us to fall back upon a history we have dishonoured, it is for us to go forward to a throne that is still a throne of mercy.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.

WEB: Samson went to Gaza, and saw there a prostitute, and went in to her.

God Redeeming the Error of His Servant
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