Merit Prayers and Making Deals With God
In this lesson, we will examine the idea of praying from the perspective of merit, making deals with God, and begging God. This lesson is the fifth in the “Insights From the Psalms” series. We will focus on Psalms 15 and 17, so take some time and read them before going through this lesson.
Another important topic we will cover is righteousness. Sometimes we pray to God and present our righteousness to make a case to receive what we ask for. Righteousness is presented from the perspective of doing good deeds, though we will discuss the righteousness provided through Jesus Christ.
Characteristics of the Righteous
Read Psalm 15.
Psalm 15:1 (NRSV) — O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?
We could interpret this passage as, “Who may remain or commune with the Lord?” Who is qualified to abide with God? This reminds me of a passage in the Gospel of John (read John 9:1-34).
John 9:30–33 (NRSV) — The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
The takeaway is that God does not commune with sinners, i.e., the unrighteous or the wicked. That brings up a problem because the Bible declares that we all have sinned (See Romans 3:23). What chance then do we have to commune with God? Consider the characteristics of those who abide with the Lord (See also Isaiah 33:15).
Psalm 15:2-5 presents characteristics of the righteous, i.e., those who can abide in God’s presence.
- Walk righteously and do what is right
- Speak the truth from their heart
- Do not slander
- Do no evil to their friends
- Do not take up a reproach against their neighbors-does not shame or disgrace his friends
- Despise wickedness
- Honor those who fear the Lord
- Stand by their oath even to their hurt
- Do not lend money at interest (See Leviticus 25:37)
- Do not take bribes against the innocent
Only the righteous can commune with God. So, do we have to develop and practice the characteristics above before we are worthy to enter the company of God? Let’s talk about righteousness.
Righteousness means to be in right standing with God, to do what is right, just. In the context of the Old Testament, righteousness was something that one did to abide by a particular moral or ethical norm. A person was righteous if they did righteous things.
However, even the Old Testament informs us that our righteousness is meaningless (See Isaiah 64:6). So how can we be righteous concerning God? The answer is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ provided a way for us to be declared righteous, i.e., justified, by faith, not by our own efforts. We put our faith in Christ for reconciliation to God (salvation), and then we are declared righteous and can rightly commune with God.
Therefore, those declared righteous (justified) by God through Christ do righteous things because they are righteous. Religion, however, demands that we do righteous things to become righteous. That is an essential distinction between the righteousness received through Christ and the righteousness gained or pursued the religious way.
You might be interested in my study on Justification.
Question: What is the difference between righteousness today in Christianity from the time of the Psalms?
Psalm 17:1–3 (NRSV) — Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit. From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right. If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.
Psalm 17 is a prayer for deliverance from persecutors—a prayer of David.
Notice how the psalmist prays to God to hear him based on merit.
- Lips free of deceit
- You will find no wickedness in me
- My mouth does not transgress
- My steps have held fast to your paths
Consider another Psalm that seems to incorporate merit in the prayer.
Psalm 20:1–3 (NKJV) — May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble; May the name of the God of Jacob defend you; May He send you help from the sanctuary, And strengthen you out of Zion; May He remember all your offerings, And accept your burnt sacrifice. Selah
Psalm 20 is a prayer for victory before battle, apparently for King David. The past offerings of the king are brought to remembrance as if it would help to secure favor from the Lord. It’s like if I prayed like the following.
“Lord. Come to my aid and help me in my dire situation. Remember the way I blessed people and helped them according to your word. Remember the kindness that I showed others who were in need.”
The prayer points out my past good deeds and how that should factor into God answering my prayer. The problem comes when you haven’t done enough good deeds to bring it up in prayer as a case for merit.
Question: Should we pray to God and expect Him to hear us because we were good?
Dangers of Self Righteousness
We may disqualify ourselves from receiving from God when we pray from the standpoint of merit. We might consider our actions and realize how inadequate we were, i.e., we think we didn’t do enough to earn God’s favor in answering our prayer.
We qualify or disqualify ourselves in prayer when we rely on ourselves to earn God’s favor or blessings. Therefore, we will always find fault in ourselves and should not approach God based on merit but instead on a dependency on His love and grace. Consider the following passage.
Romans 5:8 (NRSV) — But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
We cannot earn salvation, and we indeed did nothing to deserve it. However, God still provided it to us through mere faith in Jesus Christ even when disconnected from Him.
Does this mean that I can do and act any way I want and expect God’s blessing? No. First, a person who is genuinely born again after putting their faith in Jesus Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit is not looking for loopholes to do what they please. A genuine desire will rise within them to obey God and abide by His kingdom. It’s a matter of the heart, not mere actions.
However, suppose we use our liberty in Christ to do whatever we want. In that case, i.e., practice unrighteousness, our conscience will condemn us and make us feel as though we are unworthy of anything from God and, therefore, will not receive what we ask for in prayer.
It is difficult to convince yourself of unrighteousness when your heart knows the truth. Contradicting your heart can lead to self-condemnation and disqualification from receiving God’s grace. It is not God who withholds his blessings or provisions from you, even though you have sinned. It is you who will disqualify yourself and hinder receiving from Him.
Therefore, it is best not to pray from the standpoint of merit but of grace.
Making Deals With God
Another way of praying from the standpoint of merit is to make a deal with God. We pray that if God would do this or that, then we will do something in return. Unfortunately, making a deal with God is problematic at best.
- We do not have anything to offer God in return for his help or blessings
- Making a deal with God is an attempt to manipulate God
- Making a deal with God usually happens when you are in a desperate situation and want assurance that God will come through for you.
- Making a deal with God cheapens His grace.
It is illogical and unreasonable to make a deal with the Lord. The Bible gives a clear example of the dangers making a deal with God might bring. The story of Jephthah’s vow to the Lord when he was going to war against the Amorites. Read Judges 11 for the whole story.
We attempt to make a deal with God when we are desperate and want to believe that we can manipulate Him. Of course, we cannot control God. How can we impress God or leverage anything we think we have for a favorable outcome? We can’t.
We make deals with God when we do not trust His unconditional love for us. We don’t believe in His unmerited favor, i.e., grace, so we attempt to use merit through promises to get what we want.
Instead, we should trust in God’s mercy. He loves us and wants to help us. He always has our well-being in mind.
Lamentations 3:22–24 (NKJV) — Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!”
Don’t make a deal with God to get something. Trust Him and his love for you. He will help you because He loves you. Looking back at Judges 11 and the story of Jephthah, you’ll notice that God was already with him to defeat the Amorites. However, he felt the need to bargain with God for victory when he didn’t need to.
The Deception of Religion
I have to point out that religion capitalizes on our need for merit and control. Religion tells us to do this and earn God’s love, answers to prayers, or favor in a situation. However, God tells us to trust Him apart from deserving or earning anything. Besides, we cannot earn, and we do not deserve anything from God. Not only that, we have nothing to leverage against God to manipulate Him to give us what we want.
See my article, Christianity Versus Religion, for more information on this point.
While I’m on the subject of praying from the standpoint of merit, I thought I would mention another prayer technique, which is to beg God. Sometimes we are in a terrible situation and become desperate. We cry out to God but feel that our cries are inadequate to get a response. Therefore, we feel the need to beg God for what we want. We grovel until we feel satisfied that God will have mercy because of our much begging.
The Bible nowhere instructs us to beg God for what we want. Jesus did not teach his disciples to beg when he taught them how to pray (Luke 11:1-4, Matthew 6:9-13). Therefore, do not beg God when you pray, regardless of how desperate the situation is. God knows where you are and what you need. He is always with you.
Begging Versus Persistence
Jesus did not teach us to beg, but he did teach us to be persistent in prayer. Consider the following passage of Scripture.
Luke 11:5–10 (NKJV) — And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs. “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
I remember many years ago when ministers were teaching that we should only pray about an issue once. Anything more than that is a sign of unbelief. However, Jesus taught the very opposite. When you pray to God and the resolution does not come, then continue to pray. Be persistent, but don’t beg.
If you need healing in your body, pray every day to God for healing. If you go to bed at night and the issue is still present, wake up the next day believing that today is your day. Don’t give up.
Matthew 7:7–11 (NKJV) — “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
Your situation may be dire, and it may persist for a long time—or so you think. However, be persistent in prayer as well. Don’t beg God, but continue approaching Him about your problem, knowing that He is with you and will help you.
A persistent problem does not indicate that God is absent. You are not aware of what is happening spiritually or even situationally. Things may be in motion, and all you need to do to receive is to remain receptive, i.e., persistent.
- Only the righteous can commune or abide in the presence of the Lord
- Our righteousness is through Christ
- Our righteousness is not established by what we do
- Praying from the standpoint of merit is counterproductive and problematic at best.
- We will always find fault with ourselves when we try to earn God’s favor
- Making deals with God is a sign that we do not trust Him
- We should learn to trust God instead of trying to manipulate Him
- God loves you and already wants to help you and bless you
- Religion hinders us from receiving from God because it promotes merit prayers and deals with God.
We struggle to trust God in all situations we face in life. Sometimes we want to convince God that we deserve a blessing or help. Sometimes we may even try to make a deal with God to secure a favorable outcome.
We may pray and remind God of all the good things we have done in an attempt to demonstrate our righteousness to show we deserve his favor. Doing that negates what Jesus Christ did for us. Jesus died so that we could have right relations with the Father. It is by grace, through faith that we are saved, not by works and good deeds.
Do not pray from the standpoint of merit or “let’s make a deal.” Pray from the perspective of God’s love and care for you. Pray, knowing that God loves you and wants to help you. Trust in His mercy always.
It may seem uncomfortable sometimes because our world operates on the system of merit. However, force yourself to remember God’s love for you and pray that way. You don’t need to earn or deserve anything from God. You surely do not need to make a deal with Him either.