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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Our Salvation in the Time of Trouble

1 Ah, you destroyer,
    who yourself have not been destroyed,
you traitor,
    whom none has betrayed!
When you have ceased to destroy,
    you will be destroyed;
and when you have finished betraying,
    they will betray you.

O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you.
    Be our arm every morning,
    our salvation in the time of trouble.
At the tumultuous noise peoples flee;
    when you lift yourself up, nations are scattered,
and your spoil is gathered as the caterpillar gathers;
    as locusts leap, it is leapt upon.

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
    he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness,
and he will be the stability of your times,
    abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
    the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure. – Isaiah 33:1-6 ESV

This entire chapter, while obviously dealing with the very real and immediate threat of the Assyrian invasion, is actually highly eschatological in nature. It provides a sweeping panorama of God’s decisive victories over all of His enemies, all the way to the end of time. But the chapter opens up with a very specific woe against the nation of Assyria.

What sorrow awaits you Assyrians, who have destroyed others
    but have never been destroyed yourselves.
You betray others,
    but you have never been betrayed.
When you are done destroying,
    you will be destroyed.
When you are done betraying,
    you will be betrayed. – Isaiah 33:1 NLT

They were the most eminent threat facing Judah. But while they were powerful and had proven themselves quite capable of destroying any who stood opposed to them, God let them know that their days were numbered. What they had been doing to others would soon be done to them. God Almighty would turn the tables on them and give them a taste of their own medicine. While it may not appear to be so, God is always looking down on His creation and dispensing justice. He sees the inequities and injustices happening in the world and, in His time, He metes out His form of justice. It may not happen according to our timing or liking, but we can rest assured that nothing escapes God’s notice no injustice will go unpunished.

God reminds us of His unceasing vigilance and unwavering commitment to right all wrongs.

“The Lord says, ‘Am I not storing up these things,
    sealing them away in my treasury?
I will take revenge; I will pay them back.
    In due time their feet will slip.
Their day of disaster will arrive,
    and their destiny will overtake them.’” – Deuteronomy 32:34-35 NLT

The apostle Paul quoted this very passage when writing to the believers in Rome. But he added a twist, including another Old Testament quite found in the Psalms.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;
    I will pay them back,”
    says the Lord.

Instead,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
    If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
    burning coals of shame on their heads.”

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. – Romans 12:19-21 NLT

And Isaiah uses a similar pattern, addressing God’s coming vengeance against the Assyrians, but following it up with a prayer that God would have mercy on His sinful and rebellious people.

But Lord, be merciful to us,
    for we have waited for you.
Be our strong arm each day
    and our salvation in times of trouble. – Isaiah 33:2 NLT

In a real sense, the people of Judah had become the enemies of God, because they had refused to remain obedient to God. They had treated their position as His chosen possession with disdain and aligned themselves against Him. In doing so, they had become His enemies. Paul speaks of mankind’s hostile relationship with God in several of his letters.

You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. – Colossians 1:21 NLT

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. – Romans 5:10 ESV

As His enemies, the people of Judah deserved God’s wrath, but Isaiah prays for mercy. He begs for God to give them what they don’t deserve: His compassion, forgiveness, and salvation. While Isaiah’s prayer could not have represented the hearts of all the people of Judah, he prayed it on their behalf. He interceded for those who could not or would not call out to God. And Isaiah was not alone in this ministry of intercession. The prophet Jeremiah pleaded with God as well, voicing his desire that God not reject His people. Jeremiah knew that their sins were deserving of God’s judgment, but He asked God to look past their sin and graciously keep the covenant He had made with them.

Lord, have you completely rejected Judah?
    Do you really hate Jerusalem?
Why have you wounded us past all hope of healing?
    We hoped for peace, but no peace came.
    We hoped for a time of healing, but found only terror.
Lord, we confess our wickedness
    and that of our ancestors, too.
    We all have sinned against you.
For the sake of your reputation, Lord, do not abandon us.
    Do not disgrace your own glorious throne.
Please remember us,
    and do not break your covenant with us. – Jeremiah 14:19-21 NLT

Both of these men cared deeply for the people of God. They longed to see the hearts of their people restored to a right relationship with God. So, they prayed and the pleaded. They interceded. And what makes their prayers particularly significant is that both of these men had suffered at the hands of the people to whom God had called them to minister. Neither Jeremiah or Isaiah were well-liked. Their messages were unpopular and their treatment by their fellow Jews, unpleasant. But rather than respond in anger, they prayed. Because they knew the only hope the nation had was to found in God.

Their prayers were intended to bridge the gulf that existed between God and His rebellious people. Their sins had separated them from God. Their rebellion had alienated them from God. And, it didn’t help that God was transcendent, physically separated from His people, and living in perfect holiness in heaven. But Isaiah knew that God is not limited by space or time. He is fully capable of stepping into the immediate context of His people and performing great wonders on their behalf.

Though the Lord is very great and lives in heaven,
he will make Jerusalem his home of justice and righteousness. – Isaiah 33:5 NLT

Isaiah is counting on the fact that God will intervene on behalf of His people. He will step into their world and pour out His mercy and grace. Isaiah may not have known the when or the how, but he was confident nonetheless. And he speaks prophetically of a coming day when God will restore the fortunes of His people.

In that day he will be your sure foundation,
    providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.
The fear of the Lord will be your treasure. – Isaiah 33:6 NLT

While God did provide an immediate answer to Isaiah’s prayer, providing rescue from the threat of the Assyrian invasion. There is a sense in which his prayer remains as yet unfulfilled. But every prayer that has ever been prayed, asking God to intervene and rescue, will ultimately be answered. He will rescue. He will restore. And one of the greatest proofs of God’s willingness to answer mankind’s plea for rescue is found in the life of Jesus Christ.

God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:28-31 NLT

Jesus became the rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge Isaiah spoke of. He became the ultimate solution to mankind’s sin problem, including the sins of Israel and Judah. And Isaiah, while not fully comprehending the exact nature of God’s redemptive plan, and unaware of the details concerning Jesus’ incarnation, fully believed God would restore and redeem. He wasn’t exactly sure how or when, but he believed. And it is amazing to realize that God had placed within Isaiah an awareness of what was to come that allowed him to pen these words concerning the future Messiah of Israel.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:4-6 NLT

Judah’s Savior was going to come. And He would pay the price for their rebellion against God Almighty. He would take on their sin debt so that they might one day be restored to a right relationship with God the Father. Isaiah’s prayer for mercy was answered. And it happened centuries later in the little town of Bethlehem, when Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh. God entered into the world of man by taking the form of a man. He became incarnate. He became Immanuel, God with us.

“Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” – Luke 2:10-11 NLT

And in doing so, God was gracious to us, and became our salvation in the time of trouble.

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

Refusal to Change.

Then the Lord said to me, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go! And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord:

“‘Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence,
    and those who are for the sword, to the sword;
those who are for famine, to famine,
    and those who are for captivity, to captivity.’

I will appoint over them four kinds of destroyers, declares the Lord: the sword to kill, the dogs to tear, and the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. And I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem.

“Who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem,
    or who will grieve for you?
Who will turn aside
    to ask about your welfare?
You have rejected me, declares the Lord;
    you keep going backward,
so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you—
    I am weary of relenting.
I have winnowed them with a winnowing fork
    in the gates of the land;
I have bereaved them; I have destroyed my people;
    they did not turn from their ways.
I have made their widows more in number
    than the sand of the seas;
I have brought against the mothers of young men
    a destroyer at noonday;
I have made anguish and terror
    fall upon them suddenly.
She who bore seven has grown feeble;
    she has fainted away;
her sun went down while it was yet day;
    she has been shamed and disgraced.
And the rest of them I will give to the sword
    before their enemies,
declares the Lord.”  – Jeremiah 15:1-9 ESV

God was angry with the people of Judah and there was nothing Jeremiah could do to try and make Him change His mind. In fact, God said that even if two of the greatest intercessors in history were there, He would not listen to them. Moses, who had led the people of Israel out of Egypt, had learned what it was like to try and lead the people of Israel. He hadn’t made it far out of the land of Egypt when the people began to have second thoughts about this new god, Yahweh. Moses was up on the mountain receiving God’s commandments. And while he was out of sight and out of mind, the people decided to make their own god. They took the gold they had received from the Egyptians when they had left Egypt and created a golden calf, an idol and began worshiping before it. God saw their actions and informed Moses about what they had done and His plan to annihilate them for their actions. But Moses appealed to God, asking Him to spare His people.

Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.”

But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God. “O Lord!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people! Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You bound yourself with an oath to them, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.’”

So the Lord changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people. – Exodus 32:9-14 NLT

What about Samuel? He had interceded on behalf of the people of Israel when they had demanded that God give them a king just like all the other nations. In doing so, they were rejecting God as their King. And God was angry.

So Samuel called to the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day. And all the people were terrified of the Lord and of Samuel. “Pray to the Lord your God for us, or we will die!” they all said to Samuel. “For now we have added to our sins by asking for a king.”

“Don’t be afraid,” Samuel reassured them. “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the Lord with all your heart, and don’t turn your back on him. Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you—they are totally useless! The Lord will not abandon his people, because that would dishonor his great name. For it has pleased the Lord to make you his very own people.

“As for me, I will certainly not sin against the Lord by ending my prayers for you. And I will continue to teach you what is good and right. But be sure to fear the Lord and faithfully serve him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you. But if you continue to sin, you and your king will be swept away.” – 1 Samuel 12:18-25 NLT

These two men, Samuel and Moses, had prayed on behalf of the people of God and had apparently changed His mind. Or had they? In both cases, the outcome of their prayers to God seems to be less about God changing His mind than about the people changing their ways. God’s anger and threat to punish the people for their sins brought about repentance. Out of fear of God’s judgment, they had pledged to change their ways. And God did judge the people. He did not let them get away with their sin. In the case of Moses, more than 3,000 of those who took part in the worship of the golden calf were put to death by the Levites. And, “Then the Lord sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped the calf Aaron had made” (Exodus 32:35 NLT). And while Samuel pleaded on behalf of the people, God still punished them by giving them exactly what they demanded: a king like all the other nations. He gave them Saul, and he would prove to be a terrible king, who conscripted their sons into his army and their daughters as his servants. He would tax them and take the best of their fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants (1 Samuel 8:14). 

And while both Moses and Samuel appear to have had success in getting God to change His mind, the people still suffered for their sins. And God demanded that they change their ways. But in the case of Jeremiah and the people of Judah, God said that even if these great leaders of Israel had tried to change His mind, they would have failed, because the people of Judah had no intention of repenting. And God makes it clear just why He is going to bring His judgment upon the people of Israel. It was because of the sins of Manasseh. “Because of the wicked things Manasseh son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem, I will make my people an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth” (Jeremiah 15:4 NLT). And the book of 1 Kings gives us insight into just what Manasseh had done.

Then the Lord said through his servants the prophets: “King Manasseh of Judah has done many detestable things. He is even more wicked than the Amorites, who lived in this land before Israel. He has caused the people of Judah to sin with his idols. So this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I will bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of those who hear about it will tingle with horror. I will judge Jerusalem by the same standard I used for Samaria and the same measure I used for the family of Ahab. I will wipe away the people of Jerusalem as one wipes a dish and turns it upside down. Then I will reject even the remnant of my own people who are left, and I will hand them over as plunder for their enemies. For they have done great evil in my sight and have angered me ever since their ancestors came out of Egypt.” – 2 Kings 21:10-14 NLT

Manasseh, the son of King Hezekiah, had proven to be the exact opposite of his good and godly father. He was not a chip off the old block. He was the epitome of the wicked kings of Israel and Judah, leading the way in sin and rebellion against God. And the people had willingly followed his lead. God makes it painfully clear why He is about to do what He has threatened to do.

I will destroy my own people,
    because they refuse to change their evil ways.” – Jeremiah 15:7 NLT

The people were unrepentant. They had no intention of changing their ways. And God, because He is all-knowing, was well aware of the true state of their hearts. So, no matter of intercession by Samuel, Moses or Jeremiah was going to get God to relent, because He knew the people were never going to repent. And their sins would be judged. Their fate was sealed. They were going to get exactly what they deserved.

“You have abandoned me
    and turned your back on me,”
    says the Lord.
“Therefore, I will raise my fist to destroy you.
    I am tired of always giving you another chance.” – Jeremiah 15:6 NLT

God takes sin seriously. And while He had given the people of Judah plenty of time to repent, they had spurned His warnings and ignored His pleas to return to Him. So, His judgment was going to be unavoidable.
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

Case Closed.

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? – Romans 8:33-35 ESV

Not guilty! That is the verdict. Let the magnitude of that statement sink in. In these verses, Paul provides us with a stunning reminder of the staggering reality of our status as completely innocent and totally righteous sons and daughters of God. As he stated when he began this chapter, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV). In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul gave them unbelievably good news. “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV). At one time, we were all guilty before God, condemned and deserving of His just judgment: Death. But how we stand before His presence not only forgiven, but sinless in His eyes. We have been justified. So not only have we had our sins forgiven and removed, we have been given the righteousness of Christ. And as a result, no one can condemn us. No one can bring a charge against us. Our debt has been paid. Our death sentence has been commuted. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). We have received the righteousness of Christ. He took on our sin and we took on His righteousness.

And nothing can change our forgiven, guiltless, uncondemned, fully righteous status. We are completely covered by the unfailing love of Christ. Even at this moment, He intercedes on our behalf. His very presence at the side of God the Father is a constant reminder of the payment that was made and the complete satisfaction of God’s justice that was supplied by His death in our place. And Paul would have us consider the fact that nothing can separate us from that love. He rhetorically asks, “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?” (Romans 8:35 NLT). And the answer is: Nothing. Absolutely, positively nothing. Even when things appear to be less-than-perfect in our lives or it feels as if God is not there, Paul asks us to consider: “Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?” And again, the answer is, “No!” Christ died for us, as a payment for our sin. He was resurrected by the Spirit as a confirmation that His sacrifice was acceptable to God. And He ascended to the right hand of God, where He intercedes on our behalf. “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25 ESV). We must always remember that our salvation will not be complete until we experience glorification – our finalized adoption as sons and daughters and the redemption of our bodies. Until that day, we must not let the troubles and trials of this life tempt us to doubt God’s love, Christ’s work, or our status as God’s children.

Our case has been completely settled. Our sentence of innocence has been pronounced. Our debt has been settled and our future is secure. Nothing can change that. No one can do anything to reverse God’s declaration of our guiltlessness. Not even us. There is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Let that sink in. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t treat it lightly or flippantly. As the old hymn says, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”

Struggling In Prayer.

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. – Colossians 4:12 ESV

We all struggle with prayer at times. It comes with the territory. Prayer can be hard. But the kind of struggle we’re going to talk about in this blog is something a bit different than finding prayer hard to do. The word Paul uses in the Greek is agōnizomai and you can see that it is where we get our English words agony and agonize. In Paul’s day it was a word typically used when referring to someone entered into gymnastic games. It had to do with competition, contending, fighting, or laboring against an opponent of difficulty. It also carried the meaning “to endeavour with strenuous zeal.” So when Paul said Epaphras was “always struggling” in his prayers on behalf of the believers in Colosse, he wasn’t inferring that Epaphras had a hard time praying. He meant that this young man’s prayer life was marked by agonizing effort and energetic zeal. Paul had evidently seen and heard him pray. He had been an eye-witness to the determination and dedication behind the prayers of Epaphras. I have a feeling his prayers were much more than just “Lord, would you bless the people in Colosse.” He didn’t just ask God to be with them and watch over them. Paul says that the overriding theme of his prayers was that they would “stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”

Epaphras was a Greek who had become a follower of Jesus Christ and had played a significant role in helping to establish the church in Colosse. “Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant” (Colossians 1:5-7 ESV). Epaphras had a vested interest in the health of the church in Colosse. He wanted it to thrive. So he prayed for “God to make you strong and perfect, fully confident that you are following the whole will of God” (NLT). His was not just a short, sweet prayer offered on a one-time basis, but an ongoing, persevering petition that was accompanied by an intense desire to see God answer. Epaphras wanted to see them mature in their faith and grow in their knowledge of God’s will for them. It is essentially the same prayer Paul prayed for them at the very beginning of his letter. “So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9 NLT). And Paul gave the end result that would accompany God’s answer to his prayer: “Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better” (Colossians 1:10 NLT).

Paul and Epaphras both knew what the believers in Colosse needed. They needed more of God. They needed God to mature them by revealing His will to them. They desperately needed to know what God wanted them to know and do. With that knowledge and the Holy Spirit’s help, they would have what they needed to live lives that honored and pleased God.

Do we agonize and labor prayerfully for that to happen among the believers with whom we worship and serve? Do we go to the mat with God, pleading that He will reveal His will to our loved ones and friends, asking that He make them strong and perfect? Are we concerned enough for the spiritual maturity that we pray fervently and repeatedly that they know and follow the whole will of God? For Epaphras, praying for his friends in Colosse was a labor of love. He did it gladly. He did it tirelessly. Because he was not going to be content until he saw God’s answer in the form of lives that pleased and honored Him. We could stand to struggle a bit more in our prayer lives. Not with prayer itself, but in the content and focus of our prayers. We should so desire what God desires, that we are not content until we see His will done in the lives of those we love. God’s desire for each of His children is their growth in Christ-likeness. He wants to see them mature. He wants to see them living within His will. We should want the same thing. And we should not stop praying for it until we see God’s answer appear in transformed lives that bring glory and honor to Him.

Pray in the Spirit.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should. – Ephesians 6:18-20 NLT

The English Standard Version translates verse 18 as “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” The word, “prayer” would seem to indicate our conversation with God, while “supplication” addresses any specific requests that we make to Him. But whatever Paul means, he is encouraging us to pray “in the Spirit.” The context for this well-known passage is that of spiritual warfare. Paul has been talking about the whole armor of God and the need for the believer to equip and arm himself with the weapons of our warfare. Why? So that we “may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11 ESV). His point is that the battle in which we find ourselves is spiritual, not physical in nature. He writes, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). So this supernatural enemy requires that we use supernatural resources with which to combat it. Any hope we have of standing up against this enemy is based on the weapons we utilize in our struggle. Paul mentions the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes that represent the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. These elements all represent God’s armor, not our own. They are spiritual in nature. They are divinely provided and empowered. Our survival is tied to their use and our dependence upon them for protection. They offer both defensive and offensive capabilities, providing us with all we need to withstand anything the enemy can throw our way.

But there is one more thing Paul mentions. It is the prayers we offer up in the Spirit. But what does that mean? Is Paul referring to a special spiritual state or some kind of divine altered reality? As always, he seems to be encouraging us to remember our complete dependence upon God for all we need to live the Christian life. Our prayers are powerless without the Spirit’s help. In fact, it is the Spirit who steps in and gives words to our seemingly impotent prayers. Paul told the Romans, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27 ESV). The Spirit of God knows the will of God. He knows what it is that God desires and what God intends. He steps in and converts our sometimes selfish, me-centered prayers into words that coincide with the heart of God. He gives expression to our pleas so that they come to the ears of God in perfect harmony with His will.

We are in the midst of a spiritual battle. We are incapable of surviving on our own. We don’t have the strength, the resources, the wisdom or the courage to stand up against all that the enemy can bring against us. But it is our recognition of our weakness and our need for God’s help that allows us to take advantage of His weapons and benefit from His Spirit’s power. We are to pray dependently, persistently, expectantly, boldly, and specifically. Paul asked for specific prayer regarding his need to preach the right words with boldness. Even though living in chains, he asked that prayers be made on his behalf that he would be strong. His request was clear. His desire was easily understood.

And should his readers doubt their ability to pray and receive an answer to their prayers, all they needed to do was remember to offer up their prayers in the power of the Spirit. He would intercede on their behalf. He would bring their weak and powerless prayers before God and make sure that they mirrored the Father’s will and accomplished the Father’s plans for Paul. Praying in the Spirit is not some supernatural endeavor we accomplish, but a reliance upon a supernatural entity provide by God on our behalf. The Holy Spirit is our intercessor, helper, and advocate who lives within us, empowers us, guides and directs us, and speaks to God on behalf of us. When we pray, we must remember that we do so in Jesus’ name and with the Spirit’s help. At all times. And for all people. We can be specific. We can be expectant. We can be bold. We can be thankful. Even before our answer has even arrived.

Why Are You Asking?

Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” – Genesis 18:23-25 ESV

Abraham is living in a tent by the oaks of Mamre. His nephew, Lot is living an urban lifestyle in the city of Sodom. Some time earlier, after Abraham and his family had returned from a time in Egypt, he and Lot made a mutual decision to separate ways because they both had large flocks and could no longer afford to pasture them together. So in a highly generous move, Abraham gave Lot first dibs on choosing a land in which to settle. And the Scriptures tell us, “So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:11-13 ESV). In the very next chapter we learn that Lot not only settled in the land near Sodom, he took up residence in the city itself. “They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way” (Genesis 14:12 ESV). When a regional battle took place between nine cities in the region, the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah were defeated and their cities pillaged. Lot had been taken captive and had to be rescued by Abraham. But even when he was rescued, Lot went right back to the city of Sodom. Then one day God let it be known to Abraham that He had had enough of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness. He was going to destroy them. “Then the Lord said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know’” (Genesis 18:20-21 ESV).

What’s interesting to note is that Abraham seemed to already know what God was going to discover. Even he knew that Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked. Which led him to ask God, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” The question was not whether the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked, but whether God would spare any of the righteous that were living in the cities. Abraham seemed to have no problem with God exacting His justice on these two cities, because he knew them to be very wicked places. But he struggled with the idea of God destroying the righteous along with the wicked. He knew that his nephew, Lot, and his family lived in Sodom. He viewed him as a God follower. He had come all the way from Ur of the Chaldees when God had first called Abraham. So it seems that Abraham’s intent was not to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah as much as it was to secure deliverance for any righteous individuals who might be living in those cities. Abraham himself had rescued Lot when he had been taken captive. He sought the same action from God.

Some see what takes place next as an indication that Abraham bargained with God. He asked God, “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?” (Genesis 18:24 ESV). For Abraham, it is a matter of trying to understand the balance between God’s justice and mercy, so he asks God a hypothetical question. He wants to know if God would spare the city if 50 righteous people could be found living amongst the wicked. And when God agrees to his initial number, Abraham begins to lower the number, first to 45. “Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” (Genesis 18:25 ESV). Again, God agrees. Then Abraham begins to systematically lower the number until he gets it down to ten. Even then, God agrees. “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it” (Genesis 18:32 ESV). God told Abraham that if there were ten righteous people living in Sodom, He would spare the entire city. So what is going on here? Is Abraham successfully pressuring God to lower His standards or alter His plan? Is this a model of prayer for us? Why was Abraham seemingly successful in getting God to agree to spare the city if there were ten righteous people living in it? I think it is because Abraham’s greatest concern was for the reputation of God. Abraham had begun his dialogue with God with the statement: “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” Yes, Abraham was concerned about Lot and his family. But he was more concerned about God’s reputation among the nations. What would people think if God destroyed the righteous alongside the wicked? So now it became a matter of the extent of God’s mercy. How many righteous would it require for God to spare the cities? So Abraham started with 50 and then worked his way down to ten. And each step along the way, God agreed to spare the city for the sake of the righteous.

The real issue at hand is the motive behind Abraham’s actions. Why did he do what he did? Why did he ask what he asked of God? What was his motive? Abraham was still learning a lot about God. He was growing in his relationship with Yahweh. When faced with the news that God might destroy two whole cities, one of which contained his nephew and his family, Abraham had questions. He knew God to be just. But he also knew God to be merciful. So he appealed to both. But at the end of the day, Abraham seems to have been concerned with the name and reputation of God. He was attempting to understand how God’s reputation could be spared if He destroyed the righteous along with the wicked. But the focus of Abraham’s request seems to have been the reputation of God and his own understanding of God’s nature. Yes, he was concerned for Lot. But he was more concerned about God knowing how his God was going to balance His justice with His mercy. What about us? What is the motive behind our requests? What do we really want? Are we trying to get to know God better and understand His ways? Or are we simply bargaining with Him to get what WE want? Why we ask from God is far more important than what we ask of Him.

I’d Rather Die.

Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written. – Exodus 32:31-32 ESV

The people had sinned. While Moses had been up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people had grown restless and had decided to make their own god. They had turned to Aaron, Moses’ right-hand man, and demanded, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exodus 32:1 ESV). And Aaron had given in to their demand, created a golden calf and allowed the people to worship it, attributing to it the glory due to God alone. “And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” (Exodus 32:4 ESV). When God had seen what they had done, He was less than pleased and had told Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you” (Exodus 32:9-10 ESV). God was going to destroy them. They had rebelled against Him, turning their back on Him and making for themselves false gods to replace the one true God. But the Scriptures tell us that “Moses implored the Lord his God” (Exodus 32:11 ESV). When he heard what God was going to do, Moses was grieved. The word “implored” does not adequately convey what was going on with Moses. The Hebrew word communicates with much more intensity. Moses was grieved to the point of sickness. The thought of God destroying the people of Israel literally made him sick to his stomach. He couldn’t bear the thought.

Now it’s important to remember that Moses and the people of Israel had had their fair share of issues since the time they had left Egypt. They had questioned his leadership over and over again. They had doubted his word, grumbled and complained, threatened to go back to Egypt and generally made his life miserable. But when he heard that God was going to destroy them, he was sickened at the thought. So he took his concern to God. “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever’” (Exodus 32:11-14 ESV). Moses gave God four great reasons to show mercy. He appealed to the very nature and character of God. First, He reminded God that these were His people. Secondly, it was He who delivered them from Egypt with great power, redeeming them from captivity and promising them their own land in Canaan. Third, if God was to destroy them now, the Egyptians would have every reason in the world to mock God and question His integrity. Finally, Moses reminded God of the covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses knew God to be a covenant-keeping God.

As a result of Moses’ prayer, the Scriptures say, “And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (Exodus 32:14 ESV). Now this raises all kinds of questions, not the least of which is whether or not our prayers can change the mind of God. Or to put it another way, can we alter the will of God with our prayers? God seems to have clearly indicated His plan to destroy the people of Israel for their actions. Moses interceded and God appears to have changed His mind. But on closer inspection, we see that God had told Moses, “Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you” (Exodus 32:10 ESV). This was God speaking to Moses. It was as if God said to Moses, “Get out of my way! Let me at them!” In essence, God was testing Moses’ leadership characteristics. He was wanting to see what kind of a shepherd Moses really way. So He threatened to destroy those for whom Moses was responsible. And while Moses could have simply stepped aside and said, “Do what You want!”, he instead stepped up and intervened and interceded on their behalf. In fact, he told God that he would rather die than see the people destroyed. He was willing to give his life rather than see these rebellious, stubborn, stiff-necked people get what they deserved. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word that is often translated that God “repented” could also be translated that God was “comforted”. His anger was eased by the way in which Moses rose to the occasion. He stepped up. He interceded. He put his own life on the line in order to see the people of God spared.

In a way, I think this was far more a test for Moses than anything else. God was not surprised by the actions of the people. He was not caught off guard when He saw what they had done. But Moses was. He hadn’t seen this one coming. And when he saw God’s reaction, he suddenly realized just how serious the sin of the people really was. So he cried out to God on their behalf. He begged God to show mercy. He appealed to God’s covenant-keeping nature. And God spared them. Moses learned a great deal that day. He learned just how sinful the people really were. He learned just how much God hated sin. And he also learned just how merciful God could be even when faced with open rebellion and the blatant rejection of His goodness and grace. But the most important lesson he learned was the value of godly leadership. He was responsible. He had a vital job to do and he did it. He was willing to die for the people God had given him to lead. It makes me wonder just how committed I am to the people under my care. Do I love the people of God enough to give my life for them? Am I willing to die in order to see God’s people blessed by God? Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV). My death can’t save anyone, but my willing sacrifice of self is the greatest expression of my love for them. What would this world be like if we had more man and women with the attitude of Moses?

Corporate Confession.

O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. – Daniel 9:4-5 ESV

Daniel 9:4-19

Daniel was living in exile with his fellow Jews in the former Neo-Babylonian empire. He was one of the thousands of Jews who had been sent into captivity when Nebuchadnezzar and his army had conquered and destroyed Judah. At the point David prays this prayer, he has been in captivity for almost 70 years. As the book that bears his name tells us, Daniel had been a faithful servant of God even from his earliest days as an exile when he was forced into servitude in the king’s palace. Now, as an old man, he was reading the scroll containing the writings of the prophet, Jeremiah, and ran across God’s promise concerning His chosen people. “I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years” (Daniel 9:2 ESV). In essence, Daniel had been having his “quiet time” and while reading the book of Jeremiah, he discovered the following words from God: “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:10-14 ESV). What a rush it must been when Daniel read these words and realized that the 70 year time period had arrived. God was going to visit Israel. He was going to fulfill His promise to bring them back to Judah. He was going to restore their fortunes, return them to the land, and renew His relationship with them.

And what was Daniel’s response? Did he jump for joy? Did he run outside to tell all his friends the good news? No, Daniel prayed. “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession” (Daniel 9:2-4 ESV). Faced with the unbelievable good news of God’s pending deliverance, Daniel prayed a prayer filled with confession, repentance and an appeal for God to show mercy. He knew they didn’t deserve what God was about to do. And God had clearly indicated what they were to do. They were to call on Him and pray to Him. They were to seek him with all their heart. And if they did, He would hear and restore their fortunes. So Daniel did just that. He prayed. He called. He cried out to God and he confessed on behalf of the people of Judah. He directed his prayer to “the great and awesome God.” He appealed to the covenant-keeping, consistently-loving God of Judah. He acknowledged the greatness and goodness of God, fully recognizing and admitting that their predicament had been their own fault. “…we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules” (Daniel 9:5 ESV). Daniel wasn’t taking any chances. While his math convinced him that the 70 years was just about up, he was going to make sure that he did his part and call out and confess just as God had commanded. He may not have been able to coerce or convince the rest of the exiles to do the same, but he was going to everything in his power to see that God’s command was kept.

Daniel prayed. He humbled himself before God, “seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.” This was a serious, sold-out, no-holds-barred kind of prayer session. And it was anything but selfish. His was a corporately focused prayer, lifting up the entire nation of Judah and offered as an intercessory petition to God on their behalf. David could have simply focused on himself, regaling God with the stories of his of faithful service over the years. He could have reminded God of his unwillingness to worship the false gods of Babylon. He could have tried to impress God with his incredible faith illustrated by his encounter in the lions’ den. But instead, Daniel included himself in the sins of the people. He knew that God was interested in a corporate confession because He was offering a corporate restoration. Daniel was painfully aware that the people of God had not been faithful during their time in exile. Many of them had ended up acclimating quite well to their new environment, growing comfortable and complacent. They had compromised their faith and rejected their God for the gods of their captors. Having felt abandoned by God, they had chosen to put their hope and trust elsewhere. But Daniel knew that their only hope rested with the only true God. He alone could restore them. He alone could turn their fortunes around, taking them from captivity to freedom, from their well-deserved exile to their unmerited restoration to the land and His favor.

Daniel was comfortable in his circumstances. He could have been content to live out his days in Babylon, worshiping God and working at his government job. But he wanted what God wanted. He desired to see God’s power revealed in the affairs of his people. So he prayed. And he prayed diligently, fervently, passionately, persistently and expectantly.

God’s Will. Your Walk.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. – Colossians 1:9-10 ESV

Colossians 1:9-14

Sometimes my prayers can lack focus. Not only does my mind wander when I pray, but even in those moments when I successfully manage to give God my undivided attention, the content of my prayers can be all over the map. It can be hard to know what to pray. If I’m not careful, I can find my prayers becoming somewhat robotic and rote, making the same requests for the same individuals day after day. One of the things I like about the prayers of Paul found in his letters, is that they were focused prayers. He wasn’t distracted by external issues, but seemed to go straight to the heart of what was really necessary and needed. His prayers always seemed to be spiritually-focused, not materially-minded. In his own life he had learned the secret of contentment. “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13 ESV). He had learned to be content with Christ. Everything else that had at one time been so important to him – his career, his reputation, his financial status – had taken a backseat to his relationship with Christ. He wrote, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8 NLT).
So when Paul prayed for others., he focused his prayers on their spiritual condition. He prayed that the believers in Colossae would be filled with a knowledge of God’s will. that would be the source of the spiritual wisdom and understanding they would need in their daily lives. And he knew that knowing God’s will was the key to their ability to live spiritually healthy lives. Knowing God’s will was going to be essential if they were going to live lives that were worthy of their calling as God’s children. We all know what we want to do. Our will is no secret to us. But God’s will can sometimes be difficult to discern. So Paul asked God to make His will known to those for whom he prayed. Why? Because Paul wanted them to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.” He knew that their knowledge of God’s will and their willful obedience to it would produce fruitfulness. Jesus called it abiding. He told His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). To abide is to remain, to rest in and depend on, just like a branch does with the vine. It submits its will to the vine and allows the vine to produce fruit through it. Knowing God’s will and submitting to it is what makes us fruitful. It produces a life that is pleasing to God. A branch that refused to abide is useless. It loses its capacity for fruit-bearing. Failure to abide is when I determine to do my will instead of God’s. It’s when my agenda takes the place of His. Paul knew that was a danger for every believer. So he prayed that they would know the will of God and live according to it, so that they could bear fruit in every good work. Jesus said bearing fruit brings glory to God. “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8 ESV). But it requires abiding in Christ and a submissive obedience to the will of God.

And Paul prayed this prayer because he knew that, ultimately, knowledge of and obedience to the will of God produces a growing awareness of who God is. If we know God’s will and obey it, we will develop a deeper intimacy with Him. Not only will we grow in our knowledge of His will, we will grow in our knowledge of Him. “All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better” (Colossians 1:10 NLT). Knowing God is the objective. He wants us to know Him better. He wants to reveal Himself to us. He wants to deepen the relationship between He and us. That is the essence of what it means to have eternal life. Jesus Himself said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:5 ESV). The apostle john wrote, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20 ESV). Jesus Christ has made God known to us. He has made it possible for us to know God, the one true god. But that knowledge is to increase daily. As we learn His will, we get exposed to His heart, His nature, and His incredible love for man. As we live within His will, we discover just how faithful, true, trustworthy, loving, wise, and powerful He really is. And like Paul, we learn to say, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”