There are two recorded prayers of Jacob in the Scriptures. The first is in Genesis 28:20-22, and is essentially a Prayer Bargain. Having just been given the dream revelation of a ladder to heaven with God giving him great promises, Jacob, ever the “trickster” at this point prays a bargain with God: If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey…and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely…then the Lord will be my God, and this stone which I have set up as a pillar will be God’s House, and of all that You give me I will give You a tenth. Notice all that Jacob expects from God — Presence, protection, provision — in return for Jacob’s worship, augmented by the offering of a simple stone and a simple tithe. This kind of “bargain prayer” cost Jacob little, and yet ultimately was honored by God. But it certainly isn’t a model prayer, one in which we ask God to do good for us and then, and only then, offer to worship Him in a small way. In the materialistic culture in which we swim, this often becomes our bargain basement practice of prayer. May we rather emulate Jacob’s second recorded prayer in Genesis 32:9-12 (more on that next week).
Jesus was, and still is, amazing! But Jesus was, and still is, seldom amazed, except on two occasions in the Scriptures. In one, He is amazed at the lack of faith of the people in His hometown of Nazareth,. In another, He is amazed at the depth of faith of a Roman centurion. This foreigner approaches Jesus, asking Him for help with one of his servants suffering with paralysis. This alone is notable, in that a man of cultural distinction and military power should care enough about a lowly servant to approach this strange Rabbi with a request for help. But when Jesus offers to visit the home to heal, the centurion offers this prayer:
Lord, I do not deserve to have You come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed (Matthew 8:8). Though the centurion reasons his position on the basis of how a man of authority, such as he, and such as He sees in Jesus, can just say a word in order to make things happen, Jesus commends not his reason but his faith, saying I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith (Matthew 8:10).
Do we, the People of Jesus, recognize His Supreme Authority, and do we call upon Him in that Faith? If we pray in accord with The Word of God, and in concert with what we believe are the present-day words of Jesus interceding at The Father’s Side, then it should be our privilege and responsibility to pray with such confidence. In fact, in the Roman Catholic Eucharistic liturgy, this centurion’s prayer is altered to read:Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed. May we pray similarly for others, and for ourselves.
As I was with a group of believing men tonight, and we were asked what we thought Jesus’ attitude was to whatever joy or happiness we feel, I was reminded of His Joy in the 72 missionaries who returned to Him. As recorded in Luke 10:17, the seventy-two returned with joy, and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your Name”. They had been sent by Jesus to prepare the way for Him in every town and place where He was about to go (vs. 1). He encouraged them to settle in with the people of peace in those places, to heal the sick and to proclaim the Kingdom (vss. 8-9). And He told them that whoever would listen to them would listen to Him (vs. 16). Apparently, all this, and more, occurred, and on their return, Jesus shared in their joy, saying I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven (vs. 18). Though He would eventually add a deeper dimension to that joy, I believe He and they joyfully heard the stories about all that they, and therefore He and His Father, had done. Their joy was certainly full, but not complete without what eventually followed: He said, do not rejoice [so much] that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven (vs. 20). Rather than a rebuke of their joy, which He shared in, this was an encouragement to a deeper joy, one that is not dependent upon success, or happiness, or anything but The Love of God. So, in whatever ways you rejoice in a healthy way, know that Jesus rejoices with you, but also that the Joy of the Lord is full in knowing that you will rejoice with him now, and forever.
God sometimes issues the most surprising summons in prayer. Among them are the “come over here” prayers. As recorded in Acts 16, St. Paul intended to revisit churches in Asia to strengthen them. But The Holy Spirit prevented him from doing so, in several ways, until he received a nighttime vision/dream of a man of Macedonia begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” As such, he decided to “come over” to territory which had not yet heard the gospel, among them the city of Philippi. The same kind of thing happened to St. Patrick after his escape from slavery in Ireland. Back home in Wales, he “heard” the voice of the Irish saying, “we beg you, holy shepherd, come and walk among us again.” And so began the most remarkable return to Ireland, eventually as a bishop, and a more remarkable conversion of an entire pagan people.
I believe that, today, these “come over” prayers are being issued by God once again. All over the U.S. we are hearing stories of nonbelievers having remarkable encounters with God and with the believers whom He sends over to guide them, much as He did with Philip who went to a eunuch on a desert road, having been summoned there in prayer by God. While we in the church are understandably concerned about rebuilding God’s church and flock within, perhaps we need to look and listen for ways He wishes to do so without, with those sheep that are not of our fold that He must bring in. Will we be attentive to His “come over” prayers for these most unlikely people all around us? Will we be stunned like the prophet Jonah who saw the multitudes in Nineveh, who didn’t know their right hand from their left, but who were more ready than the prophet realized to repent and turn to the Lord? Or will just hide in our safe places, or perhaps just run away from God altogether?
Certainly we have plenty of examples of individuals and groups wrestling in prayer, repeatedly beseeching God for what they believe He desires them to ask for. Jesus even points to the example of the “importunate”, persistent widow who wears an unjust judge down with her persistent requests for vindication, until he finally grants her request. But then Jesus says, will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly. (Luke 18:8) And He also asks this probing question, even of faithful believers who pray day and night: when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?
It may be that we who pray might think that our persistent praying is what gets the answer or that, as a bumper sticker used to say, “Prayer Changes Things”. Yes, it does seem as if it does, but it isn’t the cause of God’s Justice, or Mercy, or Healing, or Deliverance. Those gifts come from Him alone, in Whom alone we place our faith.
So perhaps we should think of our prayers in a bit more passive mode, recognizing that all the Power and Purpose and Presence belongs to God. As a model for this mode of prayer, I think of the “prayers” of God Himself in Genesis 1, the “let there be” prayers. The requests or commands were spoken simply, even passively, and the circumstance were accomplished. As I imagine Jesus interceding at The Father’s Right Hand, perhaps He prays in the same way: Father, let there be justice, mercy, healing, deliverance for them. Perhaps we can join Him in such a faith-full way of prayer, trusting that, as Jesus speaks it out, and as we pray similarly with Him, it will be done.
When I go to a restaurant, the best servers are those who keep track of me from a distance, not interrupting conversation and the enjoyment of the meal, constantly asking what they can do, and whether everything is OK. Rather, their eyes seem to be constantly on me, silently anticipating my requests and my needs and responding appropriately. I tip such servers very well.
The same is true of The Lord’s Servants in prayer. Psalm 123:2 reads, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master…so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He shows us His Mercy. As we pray, we look to the Lord our God, and particularly to His Hand, and His voice, watching and listening quietly for directions in prayer, and particularly for signs of His Mercy that He is asking from The Father for us., and inviting us to join in prayer. We don’t have to barge into His Presence; we don’t have to make sure that He’s pleased with us. We just do our service of prayer, watching, listening, and responding as He directs.
And then, perhaps, we’ll hear His Words, or sense His approval, as in “well done, good and faithful servants!”
Recently, many churches celebrated Trinity Sunday, the recognition of the Triune God we worship. This holy mystery – Three in One and One in Three – is at the heart of our faith. Unfortunately, many of us, in terms of our prayer life, are functionally Binitarian, we normally pray in the Name of Jesus plus 1, either the Father or The Holy Spirit, but not necessarily in the Name of The Three in One.
May I encourage you to pray in that Threeness and Oneness, summed up at the conclusion of Paul’s Second Letter to the believers in Corinth: May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13:14). May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ permeate our praying, as we receive that Grace in being made able to approach the throne of Grace through the gracious redemption in Christ, and may our praying cover the subjects of our prayer with that same embracing and transforming Grace. May the Love of God [The Father} prompt our praying, as we emulate the God Who loved us first as we love others, even enemies, as we blanket them with loving intercession. And may the Fellowship of The Holy Spirit bring us into communion with The Intercessor, Jesusk on The Throne, and with other intercessors who are joining in prayer worldwide with Him and with all who love The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.
In the Gospels, people were often asking God what they should be doing in response to what He was doing. It’s striking how practical His answers often were, as in what John the Baptist said to those asking God through him: some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:12-14). These “non-religious” directions from John make it clear that God is interested, not only in our religious observances, but also in the way our life in Him plays out in the real, here-and-now world.
But on one occasion, Jesus was asked “What shall we do, so that we may do the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29). Behind everything that we do for God must lie a faithful trust in The One Whose Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension makes it possible for us to know and serve God at all. As St. Paul writes, whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).
I can think of no better way to respond to what God is doing, to believe in The One Whom He has sent, and to do everything in the Name of the Lord Jesus, than to pray. Thank you, praying Christian, for doing the work of God.
There is so much to be praying about in these hard times. From the pandemic to racial injustice to political division to social unrest, not to mention the many tough circumstances we or those we know are in, our prayer lists are long and challenging. It’s critical that our prayers not be hindered. And though there’s certainly demonic opposition to our intercession, prayer hindrances generally lie in the quality of our relationships. Peter specifically mentions the way husbands treat their wives, advocating considerate care “so that your prayers will not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). So today, as you respond in prayer to the needs that The Lord brings before you, please do a relationships check, and make any necessary amends, not only so that your heart may be cleansed, and that any pain experienced by others because of you may be healed, but also so that your prayers may travel freely to and from God’s throne with speed and power, for His sake, and for ours.
Our world is full of seeds, and the Bible has lots to say about them. From creation’s seeds in Genesis, to the seed/offspring of the patriarchs and matriarchs, to the seeds planted by the sower, the word “seed” connotes something very small which, in God’s Plan, becomes something very powerful. Jesus points to the tiny mustard seed which, when fully grown, becomes the greatest of shrubs, large enough that birds can nest in its branches, a metaphor for the seeming smallness of the Kingdom of God which, when fully manifest, will eclipse and reshape the cosmos into a glorious nest for all in Christ.
But as to the greatest seed, Jesus would point to your faith, particularly so as an intercessor. He said, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you (Matthew 17:20). And He validates that seed faith by becoming the Seed which, when it falls to the ground and dies…produces many seeds (John 12:24), including your seed of faith, and mine.
So today, as you approach God with your requests, both small and mountainous, may you remember the small and great seed of faith that you have been given, and may you plant it in The One Seed Whose death, resurrection, and ascension gives it tremendous and life-giving power.