This year I got a new Bible and because it was brand new with no marks in it, I was encouraged to start reading from the beginning of the book. In the midst of this journey, the Lord began to show me exactly how important prayer is to our life in this world. I don’t mean to sound like I thought it was unimportant. I am a firm believer in our cliché that “prayer changes things”…only I think that we would rather spout that off these days than actually pull away from the busyness of life and go before the throne.
As the evil in this world waxes worse and worse, we are seeing a desperate return to prayer. I watched an interview the other day with an Ebola doctor in Africa whose answer to what they were doing to rein in the crisis was “we are all on our knees”. It was an acknowledgement that the situation was out of the hands of man. And although it is horribly sad that we would exhaust human resources before we beseeched the Almighty for help, this kind of thing has happened since the beginning of time. Man has always had the tendency to believe that he could solve his own problems or that he should solve his own problems without involving the Creator of the Universe.
Only he can’t. You can’t. I can’t. Without Him, we can do nothing. Action taken without Him is wasteful and impertinent. It is embarrassing to me when I consider all the times that I relied on my own human energies to try to solve problems that He could have overcome in an instant. The times that I heard the call of the Holy Spirit to ask and receive, but couldn’t bring my pride low enough to admit that I needed help. The times that I pretty much looked up at the Lord and said “I’ve got this.” Laughable. I wonder if He ever chuckled and replied “Let Me know when you give up.” Big fat messes is what I always made. Messes that required so much mercy to clean up that I have been sure at many points that I have exhausted His resources. Fortunately, they never run dry.
They didn’t run dry for Ninevah. I was just reading about that revival last night. A nation of Assyrians who were Godless people. They did some of the vilest things imaginable and yet the Lord sent a prophet to them… a half-hearted one at that. The minute that the Ninevites heard the message of Jonah, they turned from their wickedness and their entire culture was revolutionized. Mercy. He is so FULL of it. In a heartbeat, He forgives and restores those that choose to humble themselves in prayer.
There are so many GREAT prayers in the Bible and I began to come across them as I studied the Word from the beginning. I began to see a pattern in these prayers that it seemed God immediately heard and answered. This pattern resonated within me, because I think even those of us who are praying feel pretty clueless about how it should be done. Not that God is particular, but He is a God of order and He has already set out principles in His Word to be followed. We find His power is most effective when we live and breathe by His principles. Those of us who like to pick and choose the principles are going to wonder why we are not seeing His power at work in our lives, in our prayers, in our communities, and in our nations. If we can’t love His principle, we will find ourselves having a whole lot of difficulty developing a prayer life.
I wish I could share all the amazing prayers that I have come across with you because they are just chalked full of encouragement, hope, holiness, and God acting on behalf of His people, but for the sake of those who will not have time to read them all, I will simply list a few that you can look up for yourself (this isn’t an exhaustive list and I would love to hear about a prayer in the Bible that has helped you pray). When you read these prayers, remember to read the context…search out what was happening when they were prayed…and then stick around to see how God answered. I think you will see what I am talking about.
- David (II Samuel 7)
- Solomon (I Kings 8)
- Hezekiah (II Kings 19)
- Jehoshaphat (II Chron 20)
- Ezra (Ezra 8)
- Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1)
- Daniel (Daniel 9)
Then of course, there is the most famous prayer in the Bible…the one that Jesus left for us when His disciples asked Him how to pray.
“Our Father in heaven, Your Name be honored as holy. Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
What a summation of exactly what prayer should be! As you read through some of the prayers I have listed, you will notice how they conform to the Lord’s prayer in many ways. And here’s what I have noticed about prayers that move God into action.
They acknowledge the absolute holiness and matchlessness of Creator God. Hezekiah put it this way “Lord God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, You are God – You alone – of all the kingdoms of the earth.” He began by completely acknowledging that the Lord had all power and authority to do what he was about to ask him to do. I’m getting excited just typing it. God doesn’t need to be “puffed up”. He’s God. He has no insecure part to Him. No, He wants us to acknowledge and to hear ourselves acknowledge how big and great He really is…how completely separate He is from this earthly domain’s rules…how the nations, they are but a speck of dust in His Hands. He can DO ANYTHING!! The fear and awe of God has been hacked out of our churches in favor of a powerless “me and Jesus, we are pals” gospel. Yes, Jesus loves you, but He’s GOD. He brought you into this world and He can take you out. His mercy is everlasting and His Truth endures forever. When everything else fails, HE stands. We have to bring this back into our perspectives. We don’t serve some psychological nice God who is kicking back in heaven with some tunes and watching chaos reign on the earth. We serve a holy, patient, and merciful God with a plan that would probably shock us all if we knew all its details. He is our Judge, we are not His. Yes, yes, yes, He loves us…which is why He left us with His Word…a whole instruction manual for living with a prosperous soul. Friends, we have to start acknowledging His vast holiness and greatness, if not only to remind ourselves of how very small we are. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov 1:7)
They confess sin and include humility. Ezra covered it best, perhaps, at the beginning of his prayer. “My God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face toward You because our iniquities are higher than our heads and our guilt is as high as the heavens.” Maybe you don’t “feel” guilty, but you are. We all are. We all fall short on a daily basis. We all pile up sin often without even being conscious of it. Prayer is an opportunity to confess that we fall short, that we can’t measure up, that Jesus is the ONLY righteousness that we bring before Him. In addition, Ezra confessed for his entire nation. He stood in the gap as if he was speaking for all of Israel, as if he was asking the Lord to include him with all of the wrongdoers and listen to him on their behalf. He was a righteous man before God, yet he humbled himself to the status of mere sinner. Many might say to me “Yes, but we are in right standing with God when we accept Jesus. We are His friends, not His slaves. We can approach boldly with our heads held high.” Yes, I know that God looks at us and sees Jesus, but all the more reason to humble ourselves and acknowledge our sinfulness. If I had given up my only Son for you to be saved and you walked into my presence with your head held high, sat down next to me, popped a piece of gum in your mouth, and basically acted like you had every right to be there now, I might be a little indignant (I’m not speaking for God here, but you see what I mean about our attitudes). Ezra approached the throne with a boldness that knew the same God who had answered the prayers of his forefathers would hear him out. We can approach the throne with a boldness that knows the same God who sacrificed His Son in our place will hear us out. But we are still coming before a holy and matchless God. He hasn’t changed. He hasn’t lightened up. He hasn’t lowered His standards. He simply made a way for us to meet them.
They remind God of His promises. Jehoshaphat prays one of my favorite prayers in all of Scripture that includes this reminder to God, “Are You not our God who drove our the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel and who gave it forever to the descendants of Abraham, Your friend? They have lived in the land and have built You a sanctuary in it for Your name and have said ‘If disaster comes on us – sword or judgment, pestilence or famine – we will stand before this temple and before You for Your name is in this temple. We will cry out to You because of our distress, and You will hear and deliver.'” The Bible promises that if we ask ANYTHING according to His Will, He hears us and we know that if He hears us than we have the requests we have asked. (I John 5:14) If God has promised, He WILL do it. When our prayers include a repeating of His promises, we know we are on the right track, that we are praying according to His Will. Jehoshaphat was in essence saying “Because you promised to deliver us if we did what we are now doing, I fully expect that You will deliver us.” That, my friend, is faith. Not making up the promises, but resting in them. He who promises IS faithful and will also do it.
They ask for help. Nehemiah knew that when He approached a pagan king to ask to travel to his homeland and rebuild the temple of a captured people that he was attempting the impossible so he ended his prayer like this, “Please Lord, let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and to that of Your servants who delight to revere Your name. Give Your servant success today and have compassion on him in the presence of this man.” I don’t feel like I have adequate words here to convey the point, so I ask, Holy Spirit, that You will speak to hearts through what I am about to write. The Church is helpless without prayer. Prayer on an individual level and prayer on a corporate level. Literally, we are wasting our time. Yes, there are many in the Church that are caught in a stronghold of apathy, but there is also so much being done around the world that is just “works of the flesh” because of a guilt trip or for the purpose of “working” our way to heaven. Those works might temporarily feed some people, they might give somebody a home for a while, they might save someone’s earthly life, but tomorrow, the people will still need to eat, their children will need homes, and they might leave this world for eternal damnation. Without Him, it is all dust. IT IS ALL DUST. He has the ONLY eternal power in this earth and anything with eternal value only comes through Him. When He feeds people, they stay fed. When He gives them a home, it is for generations. When He saves a life, the salvation is eternal. Yes, we MUST GO. But we can’t go with an expectation that He is following us. On the contrary, WE follow HIM. Hear me, Church. Let’s not wait for total destruction to ask for help. “Look, the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are considered as a speck of dust on the scales.” (Isaiah 40:15) “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth…” (Psalm 121:1)
Our God is greater, He is stronger, He is higher than any other. He is merciful to the point of instant forgiveness for ANYONE who asks. He is faithful even when we are not. He is THE everlasting God and He is the ONLY One worth living for. He wants all men to come to the saving knowledge of Christ which is why He presses upon our hearts the call to live out loud. And to fulfill this call, we MUST be active in prayer. The more we pray, the more we will realize that He really IS the Answer. In a book that I am currently reading, Malcolm McDow puts it like this “…prayer is the track upon which people move toward the Holy God and their heavenly home…without prayer, there is no power.”
“You do not have because you do not ask God.” James 4:2b
I’d say that’s enough to drive us to our knees.