Prayer Changes Us, Not God

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, and said, “Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city.

“This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that he has promised: Behold, I will make the shadow cast by the declining sun on the dial of Ahaz turn back ten steps.” So the sun turned back on the dial the ten steps by which it had declined. – Isaiah 38:1-8 ESV

A key to understanding chapters 38-39 and their place in the chronology of the book of Isaiah is the first three words of verse one of chapter 38: “In those days…” This is a clear reference to the events surrounding the siege of Jerusalem as described in chapters 36-37. Isaiah is providing additional information that will help shed light on all that took place in those dark days, but he is also prefacing the remaining chapters of his book.

During the height of the Assyrian invasion of Judah, King Hezekiah became deathly ill. We are not told the extent of his condition, but the prophet Isaiah delivered a divine prognosis that was anything but good news.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness.’” – Isaiah 38:1 NLT

So, along with the pending invasion of the Assyrian forces and the likely fall of Jerusalem, Hezekiah had to deal with the threat of a terminal illness. All of this had to have weighed heavily on Hezekiah’s heart. He must have been confused by this unrelenting wave of bad news. After all, he had been one of the few kings of Judah who had tried to do the right thing, instituting a series of drastic religious reforms in an effort to restore the peoples’ worship of Yahweh.

Hezekiah had ascended to the throne of Judah after the death of King Ahaz, who was the poster-boy for unfaithfulness and apostasy. The book of 2 Chronicles gives a summary of some of his exploits.

The king took the various articles from the Temple of God and broke them into pieces. He shut the doors of the Lord’s Temple so that no one could worship there, and he set up altars to pagan gods in every corner of Jerusalem. He made pagan shrines in all the towns of Judah for offering sacrifices to other gods. In this way, he aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of his ancestors. – 2 Chronicles 28:24-25 NLT

But when Hezekiah took the throne at the age of 25, “He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done” (2 Chronicles 29:2 NLT). One of the first things he did was to reopen the temple and recommission the Levites so that the sacrifices to Yahweh could begin again. He also revived the celebration of Passover and called the people to worship Yahweh alone. As a result, “they smashed all the sacred pillars, cut down the Asherah poles, and removed the pagan shrines and altars” (2 Chronicles 31:1 NLT). 

Yet, in spite of all his reforms and his efforts to restore the worship of Yahweh in Judah, God sent the Assyrians.

After Hezekiah had faithfully carried out this work, King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified towns, giving orders for his army to break through their walls. – 2 Chronicles 32:1 NLT

And to make matters even worse, Hezekiah was told he was going to die. If anyone had the right to ask God, “Why?” it was Hezekiah. But rather than questioning God’s actions or doubting His love, Hezekiah simply asked that his acts of faithfulness be remembered.

“Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” – Isaiah 38:3 NLT

Hezekiah was not bragging or boasting, but merely expressing his confusion over this latest bit of bad news. Isaiah describes the king as weeping bitterly. He was devastated by all that was happening to him and around him. The nation of Judah was under siege. It was just a matter of time before the Assyrians arrived outside the walls of Jerusalem. And now, he was facing imminent death. It was all more than he could handle. So, he took his hurt, confusion, and despair to God. And his prayer was heard. God gave Isaiah a second message for Hezekiah.

“This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. Yes, I will defend this city.” – Isaiah 38:5-6 NLT

This raises the often-debated question: “Can the prayers of men change the mind of God?” Was God’s prescribed will somehow altered by the prayer of Hezekiah? The text is clear that, as a result of Hezekiah’s prayer, God extended his life by 15 years. So, it would appear that Hezekiah’s death date was postponed because he prayed. But at the heart of the question lies the sovereignty of God. There is also the issue of God’s omniscience. He knows all. There is nothing that escapes His notice or that lies outside His awareness. While there are many occasions recorded in Scripture where it appears that God “changed His mind” because of the prayers of men like Moses, Abraham, David, and others, it is essential that we understand that God’s will is never altered by anyone. In fact, the book of Numbers tells us that God never changes His mind.

God is not a man, so he does not lie.
    He is not human, so he does not change his mind.
Has he ever spoken and failed to act?
    Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

So, what is going on here? Why did God determine to extend Hezekiah’s life? One of the things we need to always bear in mind is God’s complete and unwavering knowledge of all things. God knew Hezekiah’s heart. He was fully aware of how Hezekiah would respond to the news of his pending death. Hezekiah’s prayer didn’t change the heart of God, it changed the heart of Hezekiah. The king, faced with the news of his terminal illness, unknowingly prayed within the will of God, revealing his desire that his life be extended because he cared for the glory of God and the good of the people of Judah. God, because He is all-knowing, knew exactly how Hezekiah was going to respond and His “decision” to extend the king’s life had been part of His will all along.

God used the announcement of Hezekiah’s death to bring the king to the point of total dependence upon Him. The terminal prognosis was meant to get Hezekiah’s attention, not God’s. It was intended to bring the king to a place of total reliance upon the will of God and to remind the king of his own faithfulness. So much of this is about perspective. We see things from our limited vantage point as human beings. From our earth-bound, time-controlled view, we are incapable of seeing into the future. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. But God does. He knew all along that Hezekiah was going to live an additional 15 years because He knew how Hezekiah was going to respond to the news of his illness. Hezekiah didn’t change the mind of God, but Hezekiah’s mindfulness of God was dramatically altered. God wanted Hezekiah to know and not forget that faithfulness was the key to God’s graciousness. In a time when it could have been easy for Hezekiah to turn away from God and restore the former alters to the false gods, he remained faithful to Yahweh. He did not follow in the footsteps of his predecessor.

Even during this time of trouble, King Ahaz continued to reject the Lord. He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus who had defeated him, for he said, “Since these gods helped the kings of Aram, they will help me, too, if I sacrifice to them.” – 2 Chronicles 28:22-23 NLT

In a sense, the news of Hezekiah’s terminal illness had been a test. Not of God, but of Hezekiah. And God knew that Hezekiah would pass the test with flying colors. Hezekiah’s death date did not really change. But his view of God did. And in the remaining verses of this chapter, Hezekiah will reveal the profound impact this situation had on his life and his heart. He was drawn closer to God. His reliance upon and love for God deepened. And this enhanced understanding of God’s love and faithfulness was going to be needed in the days ahead.

One of the more interesting aspects of this story is the proof that God gave Hezekiah to assure that all He had said was true.

“‘And this is the sign from the Lord to prove that he will do as he promised: I will cause the sun’s shadow to move ten steps backward on the sundial of Ahaz!’” So the shadow on the sundial moved backward ten steps. – Isaiah 38:7-8 NLT

We know from the parallel story found in 2 Kings, that Hezekiah had asked God for a sign.

“What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me?” – 2 Kings 20:8 ESV

This was not necessarily an expression of doubt on Hezekiah’s part, but a request for some form of reassurance on God’s part. The news was almost too good to be true. So, Hezekiah asked God to provide him with a tangible sign that what He had promised would indeed take place. And God graciously and miraculously obliged.

What’s truly interesting is that God used something built by and named after wicked King Ahaz to provide faithful King Hezekiah with proof of His word. God caused the shadow of the sun to reverse itself. In a sense, time reversed itself. We are not told whether the sun itself moved backward in the sky or whether the shadow moved contrary to the position of the sun. In either case, God provided a miracle, a supernatural sign that provided Hezekiah with all the proof he required. And again, the impact of all of this on Hezekiah was profound, resulting in his penning of a poem of praise to God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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Galatians 6

The Law of Christ.

Galatians 6

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2 NLT

Our freedom from the law does not give us license to live according to our own standard. It is not freedom to live and do as we wish. Paul uses this last section of his letter to let his readers know that their behavior to change. They were to live differently than they had before. But it was not simply behavior modification brought about by mere human effort. It was to be the result of the Spirit’s presence and work in them. Rather than living selfishly and self-absorbed, they were to love sacrificially and selflessly. They were to care about the sins of one another, not in order to point fingers and make themselves feel better about their own righteousness, but in order to restore that brother or sister. Paul told them they were to “share each other’s burdens.” When they did, they would be obeying a different law altogether, the law of Christ. His is a law of love, of selfless sacrifice, that requires us to put others ahead of ourselves, rather than compete with them in order to get ahead. John Piper describes the law of Christ this way: “But when Christ summons us to obey his law of love, he offers us himself to slay the dragon of our pride, change our hearts, empower us by his Spirit, and fulfill his law.” The old law could not change our heart, it could merely alter our behavior, but never perfectly or completely. The law of Christ is driven by love and is focused on changing our heart and modifying our behavior from the inside out.

Paul tells us, “If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important” (Galatians 6:5 NLT). This had been a theme of Jesus when He walked this earth during the three and a half years of His ministry. He was constantly teaching His disciples that life in His Kingdom was about placing the needs of others ahead of your own. It was about service, not being served. It was putting others first and ourselves last. It was about life within a community, not self-centered individuality. “Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone – especially to those in the family of faith” (Galatians 6:10 NLT). Doing good to others. Loving others. That is the nature of life within the body of Christ. It is about caring and community. It is about the fruit of the Spirit being produced in our lives for the benefit of others, not ourselves. We are being transformed by Christ in order that we might be agents of transformation in the lives of one another. We are to love others as He has loved us – selflessly and sacrificially. We are to be instruments of change in the Redeemer’s hands. As He works in us, He will use us to love the lost and lift up our brothers and sisters in Christ. But the antithesis of the law of Christ is the lure of pride. We are constantly battling our own selfish desire to make it all about ourselves. But Jesus gave us the greatest commandment when He said, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NLT). Love God. Love others. And God has given us His Spirit to make it possible. So we have no reason to brag or be boastful. It is His love in us flowing through us and influencing those around us.

Father, I want to fulfill the law of Christ. I want to love as He loved. I want my life to be marked by selflessness, not selfishness. I want to lift the burdens of others, but sometimes I can become too consumed with my own cares and concerns. Help me to learn to take the focus off of me and place it where it belongs on others. Help me to understand that your fruit, produced by Your Spirit in my life, is not for me but for others. Give me a growing desire to give my life away. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Proverbs 13c

Criticism Is Critical.

“If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept correction, you will be honored.” – Proverbs 13:18 NLT

Counsel, criticism, and correction. The Proverbs talk about all three and remind us that those who are wise willingly and gladly accept all three equally. But the reality for most of us is that we, at best, tolerate one of them and despise the other two. We will listen to counsel if we think it will benefit us or if it doesn’t vary too much from our preconceived plans. But criticism and correction are two separate matters. Nobody likes to be criticized. And few of us truly enjoy correction. But again, the wise are those who have learned the value of all three. Even a child can come to the place where they understand that their parents’ discipline is beneficial. “A wise child accepts a parent’s discipline, a mocker refuses to listen to correction” (Proverbs 13:1 NLT). Over in the book of Colossians, Paul tells us that, as believers, we have a responsibility to admonish or warn one another as part of our corporate experience as believers. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16 NIV). We all have blind spots, those areas of our lives that we’re unable to see, and it takes a loving brother or sister in Christ to point them out so we can confess them and be cleansed from them. Those who are wise take counsel and correction equally. They see the benefit of both. “People who despise advice are asking for trouble” (Proverbs 13:13 NLT). “If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace” (Proverbs 13:18 NLT). Pretty serious stuff. Yet think about how often we reject the counsel, correction and criticism of others. We may accept it with a smile, but inside we can be angry and resentful. We may even avoid that person in the future, refusing to allow them to speak into our lives. When we do, we are the losers. We miss out on the benefits God has intended. Even when someone criticizes us unfairly or wrongly, we should learn to accept it patiently and lovingly, understanding that God knows our heart.

At the end of the day, our unwillingness to accept counsel, correction or criticism is all about pride. Admitting our flaws, acknowledging our ignorance, or accepting our need for correction is hard on our egos. But the wise rather increase in wisdom than worry about their pride. They would prefer to become more godly than simply pamper their egos with false flattery and pride-producing praise. Wise people know that it takes a true friend to tell you what everyone else is afraid to tell you. Wise people know that ignorance is NOT bliss and what you don’t know CAN hurt you. Wise people know that criticism may hurt, but not as much as hypocrisy or lies disguised as praise. Wise people don’t just tolerate counsel, they seek it. They depend on it. Counsel, criticism and correction. Three invaluable resources in the toolbox of the wise. You can’t live well without them.

Father, thank You for those You have placed in my life who love me enough to be honest with me. Thank You for giving them the ability to see what I can’t see and the determination to speak into my life revealing my flaws, sharing their wisdom, and lovingly correcting my mistakes. Give me an increasing love for godly counsel, correction and criticism in my life. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Psalm 101 – Day 1

I Will…

“I will be careful to live a blameless life—when will you come to help me? I will lead a life of integrity in my own home.” – Psalm 101:2 NLT

What will you do for God? For most of us, we have a long list of things we would like God to do for us. We have prayer requests we would like Him to answer. We have problems we would like Him to solve. We have people in our lives we would like Him to change. Conflicts we would like Him to resolve, illnesses we would like Him to heal, mysteries we would like Him to reveal, cloudy futures we would like Him to clear up. But what are we willing to do for Him? Over and over again in this short Psalm, David says, “I will…” David is expressing to God his willingness to praise Him, pursue a life of integrity, refuse to look at anything inappropriate, reject relationships with the wicked, not tolerate conceit and pride in his life, search out the faithful as his companions, and hire those whose lives are above reproach as his employees. What David was telling God was that he was serious about living a life that was set apart for God’s use. He understood the concept of holiness. David knew that, as God’s chosen servant, his life was to be distinctive and different. It was to be characterized by a different way of life. David was not doing these things in an attempt to please God or win brownie points with Him, but because they are characteristic of someone who shares God’s heart. Back in Psalm 86, David had prayed, “Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may live according to your truth! Great me purity of heart, that I may honor you” (Psalm 86:11 NLT). In Psalm 101, David is describing what he has learned about God’s way – His path for living life. It is a life characterized by integrity or wholeness. It is “sound” or “healthy” in all areas, not just in parts. There is no compartmentalization or hidden areas where God has no sway or influence. David says, “I will be careful to live a blameless life” He is not promising to live a perfect life, but a whole one. He is saying that he is going to do everything he can to live a life that will bring glory to God in every detail. David goes on to tell God, “I will lead a life of integrity in my own home.” That word translated “integrity” shares the same root word as the one translated “blameless” earlier in the verse. Again, it has to do with wholeness and completeness. David is expressing his desire to live a holy, set-apart life in every area of his life – even at home, where no one else can see him.

There is a sense in which we will have to make difficult decisions if we want to live according to God’s way. Like David, we will have to “refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar” (Psalm 101:3 NLT). Think about that the next time you turn on the TV or head to the movie theater. We will have to “hate all who deal crookedly” and “have nothing to do with them” (Psalm 101:3 NLT). David is not telling us to hate the lost, but to refuse to enjoy the companionship of those whose lives dishonor God. Do you enjoy the company of those who have no heart for the things of God more than you enjoy the company of believers? This is speaking more about having a love affair with their behavior than with the individuals themselves. Are the lifestyles of the godless more appealing to us than the lifestyles of the godly? David said, “I will search for faithful people to be my companions” (Psalm 101:6 NLT). He wanted to hang with the holy, not the heathen.

David wanted his life to be different, so he was willing to make changes to the way he lived. He sought new habits and new friends. He chose to give up old ways of doing things. He chose to surround himself with good influences. What are you willing to do for God? What steps are you willing to take to ensure that your life is marked by integrity or wholeness?

Father, You want all of my life, not just the parts that people see on Sunday morning. You desire that I would be willing to make changes to the way that I live. You have given me a new heart and the power to live differently, but I still have to choose to do so. And it begins with the daily decisions to live my whole life for You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org