“They sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind…” Hosea 8:7
Hosea was a prophet who foretold the destruction (and eventual restoration) of his people. God was pouring out his judgment against an unfaithful nation, and he used the tragic family life of Hosea as a living example of his dealings with Israel. Hosea married a prostitute; an unfaithful and unloving spouse who chased after men with ready money and cheap gifts. But when her activities resulted in slavery, shame, and despair, Hosea redeemed her and restored her as his wife. In the same way, God had made a promise to the people of Israel, but they had broken their covenant and followed their own rules, chasing after the surrounding cultures, with their foreign gods and their hedonistic rituals, including human sacrifice, temple prostitutes, and divination. There are many metaphors used throughout this book, but one that often stands out is the short phrase found in chapter eight. In it, God is talking about the unfaithful priests and leaders of Israel, who have not only betrayed God in their rebellion and idolatry, but have led others astray. God says of them that they have sown the wind, and are reaping/will reap the whirlwind.
How does this relate to us today in our pursuit of prayer?
I believe that many of us are sowing the wind– we do it in our careless words, gossip, rumor-mongering, complaining, babbling, prattling, and yes, in our half-hearted obedience, and our tepid prayers. We often come to God, not eager to commune with him, or to hear his voice, not in humble adoration and open confession, but to complain, wheedle, and boast. We pay lip service to his Holiness, while refusing to give up that bad habit that “isn’t really all that bad.” We thank him for his Grace, but harbor resentment against a neighbor or family member who slighted us. We ask for him to bring us success in our plans and ventures without really making sure if they line up with his will. We excuse our lack of attendance at church, and our failure to spend time in God’s word. We make rash promises to do “better” if God just gets us through this week. We ask for his blessing, and thank him for the riches he has bestowed on us, but we turn our noses at those in our backyard who are in need. We are bold about posting “Christian” sayings on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram–almost as bold as posting about our favorite new Brew Pub or Spa trip or “almost inappropriate” joke, or latest political rant. Except that our “Christian” posts are less entertaining and more critical of others. (They’re usually really pretty, though– pictures of flowers or mountain streams or desert sunsets–it’s really easy to “like” and “share” a sunset!.) We cheapen the Gospel, we cheapen the Christian walk, we cheapen prayer, when we pursue it as a hobby or a social habit. It is not something we do only because (or only when) it makes us feel “good” or “better”– it is something we pursue because it brings us life and peace for eternity, and it brings glory and joy to the King of Kings.
“They sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind…” There is a price for this shallow, careless pursuit of something that looks and feels vaguely like Godliness. It is the whirlwind…being tossed about by “every wind of doctrine” as Paul warns against in Ephesians 4. It is being caught up in doubts and half-truths, compromises, hypocrisy, division, scandal, and shame. It is having to face the onslaught of detractors and persecution that come as a result of so many of us abusing and misrepresenting the very Gospel of the one whose name we carry. “Oh, what peace we often forfeit; Oh, what needless pain we bear; All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” The words of that old hymn are no less true today– when we trifle with prayer, carrying only our selfish needs, our petty complaints, and our flimsy agendas to God in prayer, we pay a huge price.
There is another metaphor, this one in the Gospel of John, that I think helps us combat this tendency to “sow the wind”– Jesus says of himself in John 15 that he is the vine, and we are the branches. If we are faithful, we remain in him– we draw our life and strength from him– and we are fruitful. Remaining in him, we are grounded– he provides the roots that keep us from blowing every which way. And he provides the nourishment, and strength to grow and produce more fruit.
I say “we” because I too am guilty of having sown the wind. The great news, in Hosea and in the Gospel of John, is that God is eager to restore us– to graft us in–to welcome us home after our storm-tossed wanderings. Let’s get serious about abiding in God, instead of scattering the latest “feel-good” religious spam. God, forgive me for the times I have cheapened your precious gift of prayer. Help me to abide in you, and refrain from careless words to you, about you, and about others.