I set my empty coffee cup in the sink, then settled back into my recliner. It was Wednesday morning, time for my daily devotions, and I was awake enough now to really pay attention to what I read. With a prayer for the guidance of the Spirit, I pulled up the passage I had left off the previous day and began reading. Working my way through the book of Isaiah, I had finally come to the portion of the book describing the Assyrian invasion of Judah—a riveting story by the way.
I read like I had done for the past couple of days, trying to stay focused upon the words just like any other time. But that day, a particular phrase leapt out at me (an no, it wasn’t that the Braille was somehow more prominent over that area). The phrase was the opening statement of Isaiah’s word to a struggling king Hezekiah. It reads:
“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Because you have prayed to Me about Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word that the Lord has spoken against him…”Isaiah 37:21, 22
The passage goes on to describe the judgement the Lord pronounced against Sennacherib , and the chapter ends with the account of how that king was murdered by two of his sons. Although these two verses may not seem all that impressive on their own, yet when you realize that Sennacherib had just blasphemed the Lord in unashamed arrogance to the whole nation of Judah, it makes the Lord’s answer all that much more incredible. God had every right to act on behalf of His name and destroy this heathen king, but that wasn’t the reason He said He would act.
The reason, the Lord said, was because His servant prayed. That is what the text says, black and white, no doubt about it. Yet even so, I have to admit that I struggled with that. I could not move past it, the phrase ringing in my ears over and over again.
The problem was that I have had a lot of prayers that were not answered, things I was sure God would do if I just prayed. I know that unconfessed and unrepented sin can hinder our prayers, and praying for selfish motives prevents those prayers from being answered. However, this didn’t seem to explain all of the instances when my prayers were not answered.
I began wrestling with this concept throughout the day, and it has continued to come up over and over this past week. As I sought the Lord, prayed some more, and continued to read the Word, God began to show me some things I had been missing. No, I don’t mean like missing elements to a formula that guarantees a direct answer to every request, but He did show me that I had some wrong ideas about prayer. Ideas that weren’t fully true at the very least.
The Lord began by showing me the context of the verses I cited above. When Hezekiah had received the blasphemous letter of Sennacherib, which contained threats of a coming destruction of Jerusalem, he took the letter into the temple and poured out his heart to God in prayer. In that prayer, Hezekiah was asking God to exult Himself and show to the nations that He truly was the Lord. He says, “Deliver us from his [Sennacherib’s] hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, Lord, are God” (Isaiah 37:20). He could have just prayed, “Deliver us, O Lord,” but his prayer went much farther. He was praying that God’s glory would go forth and be evident.
That reminds me of Hezekiah’s forefather David. When that young man went to face Goliath, he said that he would slay him and all the Philistines so “that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (1 Samuel 17:46). God’s glory should be of the utmost importance to us.
Moving on, I was reminded of Hezekiah’s pure life. In the surrounding chapters, we see Hezekiah’s reliance upon the Lord alone. He did not turn to Egypt for help, nor did he turn to mediums. In fact, even his enemies knew that he had taken away the idolatrous practices out of the land (Isaiah 36:7). He prayed to the Lord about the Assyrians, and he was in a right relationship with God, and the Lord honored him for that.
And that is when I realized something I had never seen before. We should not pray simply because God tells us to. We should not live right just because we ought to. We definitely shouldn’t do those things for what we could get out of God. Instead, we live certain way and should talk with Him in a particular way because that is what He has made us for.
Before sin was in the world, the Lord used to walk in the Garden with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8). Sin broke that fellowship, but God is restoring that through Jesus. In the New Testament, Paul writes that our faithful God has “called [us] into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9). Not just that He saved us from the penalty that we deserve, or that we are now free in Christ. No, He saved us to restore that broken relationship with us.
Everything else is a part of this. God cannot look on sin, so we must strive to overcome (Habakkuk 1:13). He is the Lord, not us, so we should not be so prideful as to constantly be thinking about what we can get out of life (Isaiah 42:8). It all comes down to fellowship with God.
And that is why our prayers shouldn’t be Santa wish lists (I am guilty of this just as much as anyone). Why can’t we just take the time to talk with God? Not ask Him for anything, not lobby for anything, simply talk with Him. I mean, I want to spend time with people I care for and care about. It is not about what I can get them to do for me, but simply because I want to be with them. The same thing should be true with God.
Of course, there will be times when we ask Him for things. We cannot live this life on our own, and we certainly shouldn’t try to. We do need Him desperately, and there is nothing wrong with admitting that and asking Him to work in us and through us. There is also nothing wrong with asking Him to meet other request that we present before Him. My point is that we sometimes need an attitude shift with prayer. God made us for relationship with Himself, and we need to embrace that.