Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.
1 Samuel 12:23 | ESV | Other Versions | Context
Have you ever considered that not praying for somebody is possibly a sin? There is no clear list of sins in the Bible, and often what is generally accepted as sins are what the Bible says not to do. Yet it is that the Bible tells us to do things more than it tells us not to do things. If all the ‘do not’s are perceived to be acts of sin, then according to this line of logic, would the vice versa be true? I.e. the ‘do’s are the opposite of sins; and if we do not do the ‘do’s, we’re going against the opposite of sins, and hence, we’re going along with sin, and hence, we’re sinning. Sounds confusing? Basically, this is the concept of the Sin of Omission, which are sins that we garner by not doing what we should do (versus the sin of Commission, which are sins that we do/commit). Because if we really think about it, and if we really tried to measure ourselves against the Bible’s list of Sins of Omission, most of us will fail terribly, hence we dislike thinking about the sins of omission. After all, it’s easier to go under the radar by not doing anything as opposed to sinning by doing something. We’re not going to discuss Sins of Omission at length today – I don’t like to think about it either – but let’s just zoom in on one of the sins of omissions that Samuel mentioned in this verse, in his final speech in 1 Samuel 12 – the sin of not praying for others who are weaker.
Moreover, as for me – 1 Samuel 12 is Samuel’s farewell speech to the Israelites after having anointed a king over them, and in this speech, he first made them testify that he is righteous[1 Sam 12:5], and hence qualified to point out their misdeeds[1 Sam 12:7], and then he went on to point out their sins. Samuel then called on the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain [1 Sam 12:18]. The people were terrified, and pleaded for Samuel to pray for them [1 Sam 12:19]. Samuel allays their fears and tells them to turn back to God [1 Sam 12:20-22]. Moreover, as for him – him who has done nothing against the people and hence is righteous in their eyes, him who is about to step down as their leader – he, Samuel, will do as they asked, and pray for them unceasingly.
far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you – Samuel didn’t say explicitly that it is a sin to not pray for others – he said it for himself, that should he not pray for the people, it would be sinful of him. That is his expectation of himself as a leader of the Israelites. That is his expectation of himself considering his intimate relationship with God. It’s not the only instance in the Bible where a leader prayed for his people or his brothers-and-sisters in Christ. Moses prayed and pleaded for his people. Several kings and prophets were recorded to have prayed for their people in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, there is evidence of Paul praying for his brothers-and-sisters in Christ in just about every letter of his, and it is much in the same vibe as Samuel when Paul notes the way he prays for others – I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers [Eph 1:16] – they pray for others unceasingly [Col 1:9, 1 Thes 3:10, 2 Tim 1:3].
ceasing – ceasing would mean ‘stopping’, no? Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by stopping to pray for you – it is perhaps important to note how the term ‘ceasing’ was used here. Samuel didn’t start praying for his people only because they pleaded for them to. No, for he has always been praying for them unceasingly. It’s what great leaders do, no? You just live your days with half-open eyes and one day when you’re suddenly enlightened to how much trouble you’re in, you turn to your leader desperate and ask for help, and your leader says, I’ve always been covering your back. What a great assurance.
Unceasingly is a great commitment, isn’t it? It’s a lifelong commitment. I would assume that the average person would be eager to avoid great commitments. It’s easy to partake in a ‘Summer Breakfast Ministry’, because you know it will end when the summer ends. It’s harder to partake in a ‘Breakfast Ministry’, because there’s no clear end to it. It’s easier to go for a 2 weeks mission trip than it is to go to a 2 year mission trip. Way, way easier. It’s easy to make the decision to get married if you already have divorce in mind. It’s a hard decision to make if you do not see divorce as an option. It’s easy to babysit your brother’s toddler for a day. It’s hard to take care of your brother’s toddler for the year while he goes overseas. If I ask you to go to a website and click a button for me, you can do it immediately. But if I ask you to do it everyday, it becomes a chore, it becomes difficult. Long commitments are difficult, no matter how simple the task. They are difficult because they could possibly mess up the future plans that we already have for ourselves; and even if we do not have future plans, they tie us down from a greater variety of possibilities in the future.
But hey, praying is probably easier than going to a website everyday to click on a button. You can talk to God, wherever you are, whenever it is. We aren’t expected to pray for hours everyday for others – if you do, great, but prayer isn’t about the length. Even Samuel wouldn’t have been able to pray 24 hours a day for his people – that’s not how we define ‘unceasingly’. Unceasingly probably doesn’t even mean that we’re asked to pray for others everyday. Paul’s unceasingly meant, perhaps, night and day [1 Thes 3:10, 2 Tim 1:3] – but we aren’t charged to do so, even if it’s obviously good for us if we do. Prayer isn’t about the length or the quantity – it’s a way to express our love and concern for others when nobody is watching. It is a manifestation of our belief in the communion of saints – of the Church. Don’t stop praying for others, on whatever your praying schedule is like. Maybe you’re able to pray for others everyday. Good for you. Maybe you only pray for others once a week. Maybe only once a month. So be it.
That’s unceasingly, too.