April 1, 2016

Petitioning Providence

Recently a series of Bible studies on notable prayers in the Word of God was given by Ed Habre, who is on the ministerial staff at the Apostolic Faith Church in Portland. Following are brief excerpts from those sessions.

Prayer is a subject that is woven throughout the Bible, and as Christians, it is something we practice on a daily basis. But why do we pray?

Our prayers are not just words that we utter routinely because we think they will endear us to God. We do not engage in regular prayer because praying is the religious thing to do. Rather, we pray because we believe the One we petition actually hears our words and will act upon them according to His will.

We know prayer is effective from a purely observational standpoint. We have seen answers in our own lives and in the lives of others. As the Lord responds, often in miraculous ways, we see how He answers our petitions, and we gain confidence to continue praying.

Beyond what we have personally experienced, the Word of God explicitly teaches that prayer has merit. A well-known verse of Scripture concerning prayer is found in James 5:16, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” So our belief that prayer brings results is based on Holy Scripture.

Finally, we pray because the Bible admonishes us to do so. Jesus said in Luke 18:1 that we are always to pray and not to faint—we are not to be discouraged or grow weary and give up praying. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.” By this we learn that we should remain in an attitude of ongoing communion with the Lord.

In this series of studies, we will look at ways of formulating our prayers so they will be effective and beneficial not only to us, but also to those for whom we pray. We will look at examples in the Bible of those who had success through their appeals to God, and examine the structure of their petitions.

The Lord’s Prayer

In any assessment of notable prayers in the Scriptures, certainly the crowning jewel is the one that we call “The Lord’s Prayer,” found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In Luke 11:1 we read that after observing Jesus in prayer, His disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” They asked Him regarding the how of praying and received far more than they expected. In response, Jesus not only taught them how to pray but also why they should pray.

“Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed by thy name” is the way Christ’s prayer begins. We should start our prayers, as He did, with reverence and praise. “Hallowed be thy name” means “I offer You praise. I give You glory.” It is only fitting that we begin by recognizing who God is and how wonderful He is.

“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” Orbiting above us is the International Space Station. From that lofty height, an astronaut sees our planet from a different perspective than we do. Thinking about the world from that vantage point, and considering all the events happening at any given moment with the billions of people on this earth, we are reminded that God’s influence is vast. He holds everything in His control! So we approach Him with awe, understanding that He has dominion over all.

Then Jesus went on, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The words “daily bread” do not refer only to physical nourishment, but to God’s provision for all our needs. We could make a long list of what “daily bread” includes, but the important point is to acknowledge the Source: God is the One who provides.

There will be times when we have struggles, but we can go to God and ask Him to partner with us so we can have victory over the enemy of our soul.

After we begin our prayers by honoring God, accepting His dominion, and acknowledging that He meets our needs, Jesus taught us to say: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” It is important to confess our spiritual needs as well—to recognize that we all have spiritual needs. Jesus went on, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” In this manner, we admit the weakness of our human condition. There will be times when we have struggles, but we can go to God and ask Him to partner with us so we can have victory over the enemy of our soul. In 1 Corinthians 10:12 we read, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” Yes, we can be strong in the Lord, but we do not want to think we are infallible. The one who comes against us is wily and we need God’s deliverance. If we acknowledge this by saying, “deliver us from evil” and look to God, we will be victorious.

Jesus concluded His prayer with, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” We acknowledge God’s never-ending, universal greatness and the fact that He has power to accomplish anything. His is the kingdom, His is the power, His is the glory forever. Nothing we accomplish as Christians is for our own acclaim, but always with the desire and intention that God’s glory would be made manifest.

We are thankful for this practical example that our Lord gave to His disciples, so that we also may properly petition our Heavenly Father in prayer.

Hezekiah’s Prayer for Deliverance

A significant part of world history is an ongoing record of wars and combats. Secular historians mark the rise and fall of civilizations; God’s Word details battles between peoples and nations; and we are experiencing hostilities in the era we live in as well. The Middle East is currently a hotbed of conflict. We hear graphic accounts of displaced peoples, terror attacks, and horrific violence. It disturbs us, but it is evidence that we are still living in tumultuous times.

We can draw strength and courage from the fact that God not only understands what His people are facing, but that He will come to their aid when they call for His intervention.

Our topic today has to do with a conflict between Assyrian armies, led by Sennacherib, and King Hezekiah of Judah. Hezekiah made an impassioned plea to God for national deliverance, and when we consider this account, we can draw strength and courage from the fact that God not only understands what His people are facing, but that He will come to their aid when they call for His intervention.

As demonstrated by both his public accomplishments and his personal attributes, Hezekiah put himself in a position to get a prayer through. When he became king, he forbade the idolatrous worship which was occurring in the “high places.” He proved his commitment to God by eradicating from the land everything related to pagan worship, which prepared the people to worship the way God had instructed. His godly leadership led to national revival.

Scripture also tells us about Hezekiah’s purpose and character. We read in 2 Kings 18 that he “did that which was right in the sight of the Lord” and that he “trusted in the Lord God of Israel.” He “clave” or fastened onto the God of Israel, and did not depart from following the Lord. When decisions were needed, Hezekiah’s determination was to always follow God. Finally, we read that he kept the Lord’s commandments—that he was obedient.

When Sennacharib set his sights on Jerusalem, Hezekiah sought counsel from Isaiah who was the prophet of God in those times. Then he took the threatening letter which detailed the coming assault on the city, laid it out on the altar in the Temple, and petitioned the God of Heaven. His prayer had the backing of a godly life behind it, and the Lord God responded by giving Judah a tremendous victory.

We want to possess the righteous attributes of Hezekiah, because we want our prayers to be as effective in times of crisis as his were!

Nehemiah’s Prayer for Success

Often the Book of Nehemiah is viewed as a historical account of a great building project that marked the end of Israel’s captivity. However, what Nehemiah accomplished was a project born of earnest prayer. The subject of prayer is addressed in forty-six of the 406 verses of the Book of Nehemiah—approximately eleven percent of the total! Nehemiah prayed before he took action, and this becomes a practical lesson for us.

In the first chapter, Nehemiah stated that it was during Chisleu, the ninth month of the Jewish calendar, when he received a report concerning the broken-down walls and gates of Jerusalem. In the next chapter, he related that he went before the king in the month of Nisan. This is an important detail. In that four-month period between when Nehemiah heard the troubling news and when he made an impassioned appeal to the king regarding the matter, he earnestly sought the Lord.

His prayer is recorded for us in Nehemiah 1:5-11. A number of elements in it provide an example for us. There was reverence toward God—a pattern we must adopt as we approach the Lord. There was remorse for Israel’s lack of fidelity. Then Nehemiah recalled God’s words, and began reminding the Lord of what He had promised to those who would return unto Him. As Nehemiah spent those months in prayer, he concluded that he would need to get personally involved if anything were to be done about the situation. So his prayer led to a request—that God would go before him as he approached the king for permission to go to Jerusalem and begin rebuilding.

Like Nehemiah, we must pray for the will of the Lord and step out in His time, knowing we are doing His will. Then we must persevere until victory is won!

The king’s response was a miraculous answer to Nehemiah’s prayer. In the rest of the book, we learn how the task of rebuilding the gates and walls of Jerusalem was accomplished. There were challenges along the way as Nehemiah and his fellow laborers were opposed by those who did not want to see the work of the Lord completed. There will be opposition for those of us who are on a mission for God as well. However, we cannot let that deter us. Like Nehemiah, we must pray for the will of the Lord and step out in His time, knowing we are doing His will. Then we must persevere until victory is won!

Hannah’s Prayers of Petition and Praise

In the Book of 1 Samuel, two prayers of Hannah are recorded: a prayer of petition, and a prayer of praise. In comparing the two, we notice that Hannah was short on petition and long on praise. We can make our needs known to God, but following Hannah’s example, we want to spend more time thanking Him for what He accomplishes on our behalf than in making our requests.

Hannah was trapped in an endless cycle of humiliation by a contrary member of her household. Despite reassurances from her husband, she felt unfulfilled because she was barren. Her prayer that God would intervene and make it possible for her to have a child was brief, but all her hopes and dreams were bundled up in that petition.

When all other options have proved hopeless, there is still a single, present resource for our needs, and that is the Lord.

Her prayer was direct. She prayed specifically. We should never be afraid to state our case before the Lord. Of course we want His will and not ours, but we can be bold in our approach! Hannah prayed out of desperation. When all other options have proved hopeless, there is still a single, present resource for our needs, and that is the Lord. Psalm 33:18 says, “Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy.” God has not abandoned us. He is aware of our situation, and if we remain totally dependent upon Him, He will always be there for us.

In 1 Samuel 2, we find Hannah’s second prayer—her psalm of praise. God had performed an incredible miracle on behalf of this woman and had given her a child. He reversed the circumstances that were impossible to change in the natural, and she acknowledged that by giving Him all the glory.

May God help us to face situations that seem impossible in the way that Hannah did. We too can give Him an opportunity to show His greatness on our behalf by going to Him with our petitions. He will come through in his own time and in His own way; then like Hannah, we must respond with heartfelt praise.

Elijah’s Prayer for God’s Glory to be Revealed

Elijah lived in a nation that had drifted far from God. By daring to speak out against the people’s immoral choices, he put himself in mortal danger. We live in troubling times as well. Our society has perverted the word “acceptance,” to the point where many are maligned or marginalized if they dare to speak out against destructive life choices or attempts to legitimize deviant behavior. Like Elijah, we must stand for righteousness, and call people to turn back to God.

Elijah knew that the people of Israel’s hearts were far from God, and most were worshipping false gods. He asked them, “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). He proposed a contest in which both groups of followers would prepare a sacrifice, and the true God would be determined as the one who answered by fire.

The prophets of Baal agreed, and prepared their sacrifice. Their “prayer” was: “O Baal, hear us.” This was not a request, but a terse demand. Furthermore, the focus of their prayer was on themselves—they wanted an answer for their own benefit. Their egos were on the line! So they called out for hours, but to no avail. As time passed they got very much in earnest and even tried to get their god’s attention by cutting themselves with knives. What a scene that must have been! They wanted to prove to the people that they were legitimate, but all they did was make a spectacle of themselves.

Then it was Elijah’s turn. He carefully repaired and prepared the altar of the Lord. Then he began his prayer, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel . . .” reminding God of His covenant relationship with His people. It is a good thing when we pray to remind the Lord that we are His, that He has redeemed us, and that we have a relationship with Him.

Then Elijah stated the purpose of his prayer: “Let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word” (1 Kings 18:36). Elijah wanted to reestablish God’s rightful role in the lives of the people. In addition, he wanted it clear that what would occur there was not about him, but about God. That is the heart of a true servant of the Lord—one who is not looking for personal acclaim, but simply wants to point people to God.

In response to Elijah’s prayer, fire fell from Heaven. It not only burned up the sacrifice upon the altar, but it dried up the water Elijah had poured over it and even licked up the stones! The fire consumed the altar so completely that there could be no doubt whatsoever that it was sent down from Heaven.

God answered Elijah’s prayer because he dared to trust Him, was willing to be His mouthpiece, and prayed with God’s interests ahead of his own. Let us purpose to follow Elijah’s example, and make God’s glory our supreme goal.

Paul’s Prayers for the Church at Ephesus

Scripture records not only Paul’s travels and words of exhortation, but also many of his prayers. The Book of Acts recounts four prayers by Paul. We also find his prayers in Romans, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, Hebrews, and Philemon.

God wants to hear about our needs, but clearly Paul’s example teaches us that at times we need to shift our focus away from ourselves and be more involved in praying for others.

In the two prayers of Paul recorded in the book of Ephesians, Paul was not praying for himself but for the people at Ephesus. His sole purpose was that they would benefit from his prayers. It is good for us to study this style of prayer because doing so will help us understand how we should pray for others. Yes, we can and we do pray for ourselves. God wants to hear about our needs, but clearly Paul’s example teaches us that at times we need to shift our focus away from ourselves and be more involved in praying for others.

When we pray for others, we should pray in specifics. Rather than simply praying in general terms, saying, “Lord, bless this one” and “help that one,” we should express what needs to be accomplished in that person’s life. That was how Paul prayed, and it is a wonderful example for us to emulate. For example, in Paul’s petition in Ephesians1:15-23, he prayed that the saints would know God personally, would understand the hope of their calling, would grasp the riches of their inheritance, and would comprehend the power, might, and dominion of God.

John 13:35 says, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if you have love one to another.” This indicates that love is the defining characteristic of Christians. Like Paul, one way we can demonstrate our love is by praying earnestly and specifically for one another.

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