“If I had harboured sin in my heart, the sovereign Master would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18)
Do you harbour sin?
It’s a powerful verb. When a big ship comes into harbour, it is not making a fleeting visit. It comes in to rest, to be replenished, refuelled. It is harboured.
Spurgeon said that you can‘t stop the birds of temptation from flying about your head, but you can stop them nesting in your hair.
We are all prone to moments of weakness, flashes of irritation, failures in love and respect, unguarded words. But what is it to let those things find harbour?
It means to welcome them; to attend to gossip and turn it over in your mind and pass it on. It means to develop resentment and grudges towards those you imagine have wronged you, and lust towards those you find attractive. It means to replenish and refuel your darkest desires.
So how can you do all that and still hope to maintain a warm, talking relationship with your “Sovereign Master”? It’s not that he is punishing you for your naughtiness; it’s that your new conversation with the world has drowned out the possibility of a conversation with him. You can no longer hear him speaking.
And “If I had harboured sin in my heart, the sovereign Master would not have listened.”
It seems to me, Father, that you are instructing me as to why my prayers sometimes don’t get answered.
Hmm. Not sure I want to consider that too deeply, but maybe we should…
In one very short, but powerful, word, the Psalmist has unpacked the cause of unconfessed sin. It’s in that word “harbour” or “regard.” The word means: “to be near, to think of, or to perceive.” It means allowing an idea mental space. This is no accidental stumbling into a situation. It’s a voluntary arrangement. It means a wilful acceptance of something that’s wrong.
It’s what’s happening when you consider a course of action, and you plan around it, and “cooperate” with it. It’s as if you have allowed a dangerous stranger to take up residence in your attic bedroom. You can never be safe again.
Paul gave this advice in I Thessalonians 5:22: “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” Anything less is an acceptance of sin.
And this means an agreement with a prevailing condition. It’s only a short step from approval of the sin itself. Do you see the trajectory? Allow… accept… approve.
That which we tolerate will eventually dominate.
I’m sure you know the story of the Camel’s nose.
“One cold night, as an Arab sat in his tent, a camel gently thrust his nose under the flap and looked in. “Master,” he said, “let me put my nose in your tent. It’s cold and stormy out here.” “By all means,” said the Arab, “and welcome” as he turned over and went to sleep.
A little later the Arab awoke to find that the camel had not only put his nose in the tent but his head and neck also. The camel, who had been turning his head from side to side, said, “I will take but little more room if I place my forelegs within the tent. It is difficult standing out here.” “Yes, you may put your forelegs within,” said the Arab, moving a little to make room, for the tent was small.
Finally, the camel said, “May I not stand wholly inside? I keep the tent open by standing as I do.” “Yes, yes,” said the Arab. “Come wholly inside. Perhaps it will be better for both of us.” So the camel crowded in. The Arab with difficulty in the crowded quarters again went to sleep. When he woke up the next time, he was outside in the cold and the camel had the tent to himself.”
The camel’s nose is a metaphor for a situation where the permitting of a small, seemingly innocuous act will open the door for larger, clearly undesirable actions. If you allow sin to stay, it is because you’ve accepted it, and you’ve agreed with
it. The tragedy is, the longer it stays, the worse it gets!
And notice that word “my.” If unconfessed sin is present, then the fault, the guilt, and the blame lies nowhere else, but within the owner of the “my.” It comes home, to you and I. And we cannot shift the blame and point the finger elsewhere.
D.L. Moody once said, in his tough, no-nonsense fashion, “Many of our prayer meetings are killed by men trying to pray when their lives are not right. A man may stand high in the community, and may be a member in “good standing;” but the question, how does he stand in the sight of God?”
If there is anything wrong in your life, make it
As Samuel was preparing to anoint the next king of Israel, in I
Samuel 16, he considered Jesse’s son, Eliab, and said, “Surely the
Lord’s anointed is before him.” Yet, God replied by saying, “..Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature, because I have refused him: for the Lord sees not as a man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.“(I Samuel 16:7)
The fact of the matter is, that if there is some unconfessed sin, that you’ve accepted and agreed with, lying dormant, hidden and unseen, the tragedy is that you are already being weakened. If, and when you fall, it will not be because of the circumstances that happened, but because the secret place of your heart has been eroded.
What’s the consequence?
Simply that God is no longer in relationship with you. What a tragedy! Where there is unconfessed sin, there is a God who is unmoved. That’s not the same as saying that God is unjust, unfair, and unconcerned. Far from it. But where there is sin, there is the contempt of God. Where there is sin, there is condemnation of God. Not for the sinner, but for the sin. As a result, God is Unmoved!
And so your prayer is unheard. “The Lord will not hear me.”
Proverbs 15:29 makes much the same point: ” The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.” In Proverbs 28:9: “He that turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination.”
If it feels that your prayer life is stagnant, and stale, then perhaps there is a clutter of rubbish clogging up your closet. What a price to pay, where God is unmoved, and prayer is unheard! It’s like a slow, invisible cancer: the symptoms may not be evident; but the lasting effects are deadly to a Christian’s personal life, public life, and prayer life.
What’s to be done? It’s up to you.
Do you want a powerful, productive, and a purposeful walk with God? Then you must honestly, and openly, clean out the secret closet of your heart.
Psalm 139 is a good place to start: “Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me, and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”