2 Chronicles 20:1-22 – Praying in Desperate Times

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The armies of Moab and Ammon, together with the Meunites, went to war against Jehoshaphat. Messengers told Jehoshaphat, “A large army from Edom east of the Dead Sea has invaded our country. They have already reached En-Gedi.”

Jehoshaphat was afraid, so he asked the Lord what to do. He then told the people of Judah to go without eating to show their sorrow. They immediately left for Jerusalem to ask for the Lord’s help.

After everyone from Judah and Jerusalem had come together at the Lord’s temple, Jehoshaphat stood in front of the new courtyard and prayed:

You, Lord, are the God our ancestors worshiped, and from heaven you rule every nation in the world. You are so powerful that no one can defeat you. Our God, you forced out the nations who lived in this land before your people Israel came here, and you gave it to the descendants of your friend Abraham forever. Our ancestors lived in this land and built a temple to honor you. They believed that whenever this land is struck by war or disease or famine, your people can pray to you at the temple, and you will hear their prayer and save them.

You can see that the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Edom are attacking us! Those are the nations you would not let our ancestors invade on their way from Egypt, so these nations were not destroyed. Now they are coming to take back the land you gave us. Aren’t you going to punish them? We won’t stand a chance when this army attacks. We don’t know what to do—we are begging for your help.

While every man, woman, and child of Judah was standing there at the temple, the Lord’s Spirit suddenly spoke to Jahaziel, a Levite from the Asaph clan. Then Jahaziel said:

Your Majesty and everyone from Judah and Jerusalem, the Lord says that you don’t need to be afraid or let this powerful army discourage you. God will fight on your side! So, here’s what you must do. Tomorrow the enemy armies will march through the desert around the town of Jeruel. March down and meet them at the town of Ziz as they come up the valley. You won’t even have to fight. Just take your positions and watch the Lord rescue you from your enemy. Don’t be afraid. Just do as you’re told. And as you march out tomorrow, the Lord will be there with you.

Jehoshaphat bowed low to the ground, and everyone worshiped the Lord. Then some Levites from the Kohath and Korah clans stood up and shouted praises to the Lord God of Israel.

Early the next morning, as everyone got ready to leave for the desert near Tekoa, Jehoshaphat stood up and said, “Listen my friends, if we trust the Lord God and believe what these prophets have told us, the Lord will help us, and we will be successful.” Then he explained his plan and appointed men to march in front of the army and praise the Lord for his holy power by singing:

“Praise the Lord!
    His love never ends.”

As soon as they began singing, the Lord confused the enemy camp. (Contemporary English Version)

King Jehoshaphat and Judah were about to be attacked. War was imminent. Anxiety was high. The people were on edge. What were they going to do in the face of a combined army that seemed as if they’d steamroll over the nation of Judah? 

Here’s what Jehoshaphat did: He admitted his fear, sought the Lord for help, and proclaimed a national fast for everyone in Judah. Then, the king prayed, and God responded.

A most unconventional method of defeating the enemy was put into motion. The king and the people of Judah put together a praise team and a worship gathering to go before the army; they believed God was good for divine promises and would deliver them.

The king’s prayer was a deeply felt and sincere belief that God could and would answer, according to ancient promises to the people. The meat of the prayer affirmed both the powerlessness of their situation and the power of God to transcend even the most difficult of circumstances. They didn’t know how deliverance was going to come; they simply believed it was going to happen. 

This is, indeed, the kind of prayer God delights to answer! It was a prayer born of great need and desperation – a prayer upholding the name of God and discerning that unless the Lord showed up, all would be lost.

The foundational basis of all prayer to God is the recognition that we do not know what to do, other than look to the Lord. 

We pray because we desperately need God to show up and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. 

We cry out to God in our affliction and believe that the gracious ears of the Lord will hear and save us from our terrible plight. 

And once we pray, we are to stand firm, hold our position, and see the salvation from God on our behalf. 

If we need some inspiration for prayer and find ourselves in need of faith to believe what God can do, then take the time to read carefully and prayerfully over today’s Old Testament lesson several times. 

Then, let the prayers arise to the God of deliverance so that our stressful and worrisome pressure is transformed into praise for the Lord’s steadfast love.

Almighty God, you rule over all the nations of the earth. In your hand are power and might, so that none are able to withstand you. My eyes are fixed on looking for you to act on my behalf so that I might declare that your steadfast love endures forever, through Jesus Christ, my Savior. Amen.

Romans 4:1-12 – Saved by Grace Through Faith

“Abraham Journeying to the Land of Canaan” by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609-1664); The Fitzwilliam Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/abraham-journeying-to-the-land-of-canaan-5550

So how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into this new way of looking at things? If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.”

If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.

David confirms this way of looking at it, saying that the one who trusts God to do the putting-everything-right without insisting on having a say in it is one fortunate man:

Fortunate those whose crimes are whisked away,
    whose sins are wiped clean from the slate.
Fortunate the person against
    whom the Lord does not keep score.

Do you think for a minute that this blessing is only pronounced over those of us who keep our religious ways and are circumcised? Or do you think it possible that the blessing could be given to those who never even heard of our ways, who were never brought up in the disciplines of God? We all agree, don’t we, that it was by embracing what God did for him that Abraham was declared fit before God?

Now think: Was that declaration made before or after he was marked by the covenant rite of circumcision? That’s right, before he was marked. That means that he underwent circumcision as evidence and confirmation of what God had done long before to bring him into this acceptable standing with himself, an act of God he had embraced with his whole life.

And it means further that Abraham is father of all people who embrace what God does for them while they are still on the “outs” with God, as yet unidentified as God’s, in an “uncircumcised” condition. It is precisely these people in this condition who are called “set right by God and with God”! Abraham is also, of course, father of those who have undergone the religious rite of circumcision not just because of the ritual but because they were willing to live in the risky faith-embrace of God’s action for them, the way Abraham lived long before he was marked by circumcision. (The Message)

“Abraham Journeys Forth into the Unknown” by Yoram Raanan

We all need help. Yes, we like our independence and would rather give help than receive it. Yet, there are some things which we can do nothing about without some divine intervention. This is where faith comes into the picture.

“Faith” is a big word in Holy Scripture and in the Christian life. Faith encompasses the totality of how we come to Jesus Christ, and then how we live for him. In talking about faith, it is important to distinguish between the faith which saves us from guilt, shame, sin, death, and hell, and the faith which sanctifies and makes us holy. 

“Salvation” and “sanctification” are also big words in Scripture and in life. If we are fuzzy on our understanding and application of these two spiritual realities of salvation and sanctification, we are going to end up sleepwalking through life as spiritual zombies.

Christianity’s answer to the vital help we need for deliverance is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This deliverance, or salvation, only occurs by faith. A person is “saved” by knowing about Jesus and his finished work on the cross and trusting that this work has taken care of my need for salvation, once for all. 

Christ sacrificed himself for us. He took our place. The punishment that belonged to us, he bore. When we acknowledge our lost and wayward lives, and believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, then we are delivered and experience salvation from the awful emptiness of life. 

A person cannot earn this deliverance; they cannot buy it or work for it. No, salvation is a gift that comes only by faith in the person and work of Jesus. That is the essence of saving faith in Christianity. It is a one-time event of trust.

“Sanctification,” on the other hand, is what begins when becoming a believer in Jesus. The word simply means “to become holy,” or, “to be set apart for God.” Sanctification is not a singular event, but a process Christians engage in for the rest of their earthly lives. 

Whereas saving faith is a gift given to us without effort, sanctification requires a great deal of effort. We work and struggle and expend lots of energy to live the Christian life. 

“Grace [God’s gift to us in granting forgiveness] is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.” 

Dallas Willard

When a student gets a college scholarship at a university, the giving of the scholarship is a one-time event. It is granted to the student. They now possesses it and are able to attend school without trying to earn the money to pay for it. 

But that scholarship has been given for a reason – so that the student can now focus entirely on their studies and/or sport. The work has just begun. More blood, sweat, and tears will take place living into that scholarship than the student could ever imagine. It won’t be easy, and it will consume the student’s waking hours for the next four years.

Our life is a matter of faith, not of sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7, GNT

The biblical character of Abraham is Exhibit A of faith. He was delivered from an empty way of life in a pagan country and given a gift of grace to move to the country God would show him. Abraham did nothing to earn this favor. Before Abraham chose God, God chose him. 

Abraham sojourned as a pilgrim throughout the land God gave him, which mirrored his spiritual sojourning and learning to be a follower of God. Abraham likely faced the greatest test of faith a person could ever experience; he was asked to sacrifice his son. He responded to God with complete obedience.

Abraham’s faith was made complete by what he did; and it occurred well before his circumcision of being physically marked as belonging to God. 

We are made right not on our own but through the sheer grace of God in Christ by faith. Then, we continue to exercise faith by living into the righteousness given to us by the mercy of God.

God’s mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ. It is by God’s grace that you have been saved. In our union with Christ Jesus he raised us up with him to rule with him in the heavenly world. He did this to demonstrate for all time to come the extraordinary greatness of his grace in the love he showed us in Christ Jesus. For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it.

Ephesians 2:4-9, GNT

God grants his faith scholarships to whomever he wants: rich and poor, men and women, from every race, ethnicity, and background imaginable across the entire earth. 

From the standpoint of faith, Abraham did nothing to receive God’s gracious scholarship of faith. He did not work for it. It was granted to him solely because of God’s grace. Then, his faith was confirmed and proven as genuine by his life of faith and obedience.

Therefore, our own deliverance and ability to live rightly is firmly rooted in faith – and not by holding a prominent position, having a particular pedigree, or expending personal power. All of humanity needs the saving help of Jesus Christ. Salvation is in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.

Lord Jesus Christ, I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life. Please forgive me. I now turn from everything that I know is wrong. Thank you that you died on the cross for me, so that I could be forgiven and set free. Thank you that you offer me forgiveness and the gift of your Spirit. I receive that gift with a grateful heart. Amen.

Psalm 17 – Prayer in Anxious Times

Listen to what’s right, Lord;
    pay attention to my cry!
Listen closely to my prayer;
    it’s spoken by lips that don’t lie!
My justice comes from you;
    let your eyes see what is right!
You have examined my heart,
    testing me at night.
You’ve looked me over closely,
    but haven’t found anything wrong.
    My mouth doesn’t sin.
But these other people’s deeds?
    I have avoided such violent ways
    by the command from your lips.
My steps are set firmly on your paths;
    my feet haven’t slipped.

I cry out to you because you answer me.
    So tilt your ears toward me now—
    listen to what I’m saying!
Manifest your faithful love in amazing ways
    because you are the one
    who saves those who take refuge in you,
    saving them from their attackers
    by your strong hand.
Watch me with the very pupil of your eye!
    Hide me in the protection of your wings,
        away from the wicked
            who are out to get me,
        away from my deadly enemies
            who are all around me!
They have no pity;
    their mouths speak arrogantly.
They track me down—
    suddenly, they surround me!
    They make their plans to put me in the dirt.
They are like a lion eager to rip its prey;
    they are like a strong young lion lying in wait.

Get up, Lord!
    Confront them!
    Bring them down!
Rescue my life from the wicked—
    use your sword!
Rescue me from these people—
    use your own hands, Lord!
Rescue me from these people
    whose only possession is their fleeting life.
But fill the stomachs of your cherished ones;
    let their children be filled full
    so that they have leftovers enough for their babies.

But me? I will see your face in righteousness;
    when I awake, I will be filled full by seeing your image. (Common English Bible)

This is one of David’s personal psalms of lament. It’s a prayer forged smack in the middle of adversity with unjust adversaries seeking to take his life. 

The psalm is a visceral plea for God to vindicate David and subdue those who wanted to harm him. Today’s psalm is also a heartfelt lament that wickedness exists and often gets its way; it is an expression of grief about the constant threats swirling around David.

There was so much mean and arrogant violence that David prayed God would keep him as the apple of his eye and hide him in the shadow of his wings. 

Indeed, perhaps no better prayer could be said in times when there are people who make untrue accusations and only wish harm to be done to you, that the Lord will keep a continual watchful, focused, and vigilant gaze upon us.

In times when angry simpletons spew their worst and misguided miscreants seek us harm, we need to confidently know: God watches over us with affection and cares for us as a mother hen protects her chicks.

Even before we make the request, neither our predicament nor our hearts are strangers to the Lord. Our human ingenuity and stamina is not enough to overcome intense hardship and adversity. The Lord must be there to help us and to guide our hearts toward the good. Even when the way is painful, later it will bear the fruit of righteousness.

You and I are precious to God. We can run to the Lord when there is trouble. There truly is a benevolent God showing firm commitment to those who seek truth, loving actions, and merciful words. 

When going through a difficult season, in which another or others accuse you of wrongdoing and you know you are innocent, the proper prescription is to pray this very psalm repeatedly at night before bed. For we all know that sleep can be elusive and hard to come by in such difficult circumstances. The palpable stress can make it impossible to tone down the racing thoughts.

Trying to fall asleep through sheer willpower is totally ineffective. Instead, try to stay awake by praying. While it may sound counterintuitive, trying to stay awake through prayer lessens the anxiety around trying to fall asleep. Since falling asleep is an involuntary process, taking our minds off of the task at hand gives the brain the break it needs, and the heart the comfort it needs. 

Perhaps, along with David, you will be able to say that your prayers are answered – that you beheld the face of righteousness and had good sleep. And in the morning, when you awake, you will feel satisfied with having seen the likeness of a God who hears and cares.

Gracious and merciful Lord, you are the holy One who has pity for all our weakness. Put away from us worry and every anxious fear so that at the end of a hard day – in which you saw all of our labor and all our adversities – your compassionate eye will watch over us and your loving hand will hold us as we lay down for rest. And when the night has come, may we receive from you your priceless gift of sleep, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 – The Lord Watches Over You

photo by Tom Clark

Live under the protection
    of God Most High
    and stay in the shadow
    of God All-Powerful.
Then you will say to the Lord,
“You are my fortress,
    my place of safety;
    you are my God,
    and I trust you….

The Lord Most High
    is your fortress.
Run to him for safety,
    and no terrible disasters
    will strike you
    or your home.

God will command his angels
to protect you
    wherever you go.
They will carry you
    in their arms,
    and you won’t hurt your feet
    on the stones.
You will overpower
the strongest lions
    and the most deadly snakes.

The Lord says,
“If you love me
    and truly know who I am,
    I will rescue you
    and keep you safe.
When you are in trouble,
    call out to me.
I will answer and be there
    to protect and honor you.
    You will live a long life
    and see my saving power.” (Contemporary English Version)

I had a flashback in reading today’s psalm. My wife’s paternal grandmother was a godly woman. She raised five children in depression-era America, and it was not an easy life. She saw her share of hardship and difficulty. By the time I met Grandma she was elderly and in the twilight of life. Yet, none of those many difficult years she experienced had hardened her – she had an unmistakable sweet spirit. 

In my first meeting with Grandma, I read her this very psalm, since I knew it was her favorite. As I carefully went through the beautiful poetic lines of the psalm – words of God’s protection and watch-care over people –the look on Grandma’s face was as if I was reading it to her for the first time. She drank in its message and savored every word.

This dear woman of God has been gone now for decades, but her legacy lives on. My wife, to put it delicately, was something of a precocious child. Grandma prayed for her, along with her other grandchildren, every day. This was no small feat, considering that she had eighteen grandchildren and then many great grandchildren late in life. Today my wife is a godly woman, just like her grandmother. And it is no surprise to me that her favorite psalm is Psalm 91.  

What kind of spiritual legacy are we leaving for our kids, grandchildren, friends, and others? 

The times of testing, danger, risk, and hardship are the opportunities to put a trust in God into practice. It is in such seasons that we can run to the Lord as our refuge and fortress, our shelter and our shade. In doing so, the impact is not only personal, but points to and brightly illumines the way for others, as well.

Watchful God, you are my protection and my strength. I run to you because you are able to deliver and to secure. I pray for all those who need your special help and protection today. May they know that you are able to save through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.