1 O Israel, return to the LORD your God,
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity;
2 Take words with you,
And return to the LORD.
Say to Him,
“Take away all iniquity;
Receive us graciously,
For we will offer the sacrifices of our lips.
3 “Assyria shall not save us, We will not ride on horses,
Nor will we say anymore to the work of our hands,
‘You are our gods.’
For in You the fatherless finds mercy.”
There are times when we do not know what to pray. We know we need the Lord, know that our strength is not sufficient, know that whatever is to be accomplished shall not happen by our might nor even by our will. At such times, yes, the Holy Spirit will intercede for us “with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Romans 8:26) We will find ourselves praying in the Spirit, and the words which we utter will make no sense to us, but they will make sense to God.
At other times, even the Spirit will be far from our hearts. We will still be so focused on the world or ourselves that we cannot make that connection, cannot invite the Spirit to speak for us. Our heart is simply in the wrong place, and we cannot close off the cacophony of our flesh to focus on our spirit. That is when the words of prayer can help guide us back to a proper attitude. Sometimes, we just need to speak or hear the simple words of confession and supplication, the glowing phrases of adoration and thanksgiving, in order to break the bonds of worldliness and return our hearts to God.
In our Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), Jesus gave us a simple formula whereby to pray. He told the disciples:
6 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
6 “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
7 “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
8 “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”
You see, it is about the attitude of our heart more than the words that we speak, and sometimes we just need a few words to get us started in the right direction. “In this manner, therefore, pray,” our Savior said to us then. In other words, “Pray like this: with simplicity and directness, with confession from your heart and thanksgiving for the Lord, with praise and glory for Him who alone can save you, with a desire for the holiness of the Lord your God.”
Hosea called upon Israel to repent and be restored to the Lord. The northern kingdom was prosperous but ungodly, indulging in idolatry and wantonness. Their judgment was soon to come, and the Lord’s wrath would be visited upon them as never before. Hosea was then sent to them to speak of God’s displeasure, to announce God’s coming judgment, and to declare that God was willing to save them. “Salvation belongs to the LORD,” said David (Psalms 3:8a), and Hosea echoed that again and again. God desired to save Israel from herself, but salvation required repentance and faith–just as it does today.
So Hosea told the Israelites, “Take words with you, And return to the LORD.” (v.2) Yes, just as Jesus said, Hosea was telling them, “In this manner, therefore, pray…” And the words Hosea gave them spoke of their sin and their repentance, of their need for the Father and their abandonment of worthless idols, and of their desire for the grace and mercy of the Lord. It was a simple prayer for the healing of a nation, the supplication of a people too weighed down by guilt and sinfulness to do anything other than throw themselves on the mercy of the God who had sworn to never leave them nor forsake them. (Joshua 1:5)
Today, our nation is in need of a similar prayer. We have set up idols and rulers in our lives in the vain hope that they can save us from our dreary lives and perhaps lead us to peace. We have abandoned the morals and standards of the Lord of hosts and instead given free rein to our flesh. We have forgotten how to pray, and our hearts are so focused on the world that we cannot easily focus on our God. We have made so many sacrifices to the god of our pride that we find it difficult to sacrifice our pride to seek the one true and living God.
But do not fret! We have indeed stumbled because of our iniquity, but we still have an opportunity to return to the Lord. If you can think of no other prayer to speak for the healing of your country, then follow Hosea’s example: seek God’s grace, confess your sins, repent of your idolatry and faithlessness, and cry out for the mercy of your Father in heaven. And then…
4 “I will heal their backsliding,
I will love them freely,
For My anger has turned away from him.
5 “I will be like the dew to Israel;
He shall grow like the lily,
And lengthen his roots like Lebanon.
6 “His branches shall spread;
His beauty shall be like an olive tree,
And his fragrance like Lebanon.
7 “Those who dwell under his shadow shall return;
They shall be revived like grain,
And grow like a vine.
Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
8 “Ephraim shall say,
‘What have I to do anymore with idols?’
I have heard and observed him.
I am like a green cypress tree;
Your fruit is found in Me.”
Holy Father God, let our fruit be found in You. Blot out our iniquities and heal this land. Make her rivers run clear with righteousness and mercy, make her roadways to be pathways of grace and holiness, make her homes to be temples of Your glory, make her fields to be the source of humility and contrition and prosperity in Your name’s sake. Lord God in heaven, love us freely so that we may once again love You, too, and seek only Your way, Your truth, and Your life, as found in Your precious Son, Jesus Christ. It is in His humble name we now pray. Amen.