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.

Psalm 63 – I Will

You are my God. I worship you.
    In my heart, I long for you,
    as I would long for a stream
    in a scorching desert.

I have seen your power
and your glory
    in the place of worship.
Your love means more
than life to me,
    and I praise you.
As long as I live,
    I will pray to you.
I will sing joyful praises
and be filled with excitement
    like a guest at a banquet.

I think about you
    before I go to sleep,
    and my thoughts turn to you
    during the night.
You have helped me,
    and I sing happy songs
    in the shadow of your wings.
I stay close to you,
    and your powerful arm
    supports me.

All who want to kill me
    will end up in the ground.
Swords will run them through,
    and wild dogs will eat them.

Because of you, our God,
    the king will celebrate
with your faithful followers,
    but liars will be silent. (Contemporary English Version)

Regulars to this blog know that I believe the Old Testament Psalms to be a vast untapped resource of devotion and prayer for many Christians. The biblical psalms provide believers with words for prayer, song, and thought so that we might remain close and connected to the Lord.

I Will Worship

Worship involves gratitude to God for God’s inherent love; and praise to God for divine works done in the world.

God’s people, gathered together for worship, affords a wonderful opportunity to express gratitude and praise, as well as listen to the stories of others who have experienced the gracious works of God in their lives.

Therefore, both personal and corporate worship is needed. Personal worship, even if engaged daily, will inevitably lead to a truncated understanding of God and God’s Law without corporate worship – because we need the encouragement and the accountability of others for mature spiritual growth. In addition, to only participate in corporate worship, without attending to daily personal worship, leads to a bifurcation between Sunday and our Monday-Friday workaday existence.

Worship isn’t so much an event, as it is a life. So, it makes sense to have healthy rhythms of personal and corporate worship which enable us to glorify God in our neighborhoods, families, workplaces, and faith communities.

I Will Pray

In those dark times when we don’t know what to pray, how to lament, or what to say to God; in the joyful times when we want to proclaim praise, give thanks, or express our blessings and longings; in every season of our lives the psalms help give voice to our relationship with the God of all creation.

Today’s psalm was originally uttered to God when David was roaming in the wilderness avoiding King Saul’s malevolent intent. David prayerfully expressed his yearning, desire, and hope to connect with God and be guided by the Lord, step by step. David praised God in an awkward and adverse circumstance, longing to be satisfied with spiritual food and drink.

I Will Sing

Just as we are to pray the psalms, we are to also speak the psalms out loud with singing. The Psalter Hymnal of old, as well as many contemporary praise and worship songs, are words from the psalms, meant to help, encourage, and give voice to our own current experiences.  

Inspired by the psalms, take a few minutes today to sing and/or listen to songs such as, “God You Are My God” by Michael W. Smith, or check out a compilation of music from the psalms, like, “The Psalms Project,” which aims to put all 150 psalms to music. Maybe even craft your own tune to today’s psalm and sing it to the Lord.

I Will Think

Specifically, the psalmist mentions thinking about the Lord before retiring for sleep, as well as turning to God when awake during the night.

In today’s modern (and postmodern) society, anxiety and racing thoughts are ubiquitous – the result of overthinking and fixating on particular troubling thoughts. Contemplating God through reflecting on the psalms can be a way of taming the out-of-control thinking, while positively engrafting sound theology into the inner workings of our brains.

There’s a reason why the daily lectionary has a reading from the psalms every day. It is one of the best sources for practical spirituality and heartfelt worship, as well as transforming the way we think.

I Will Stay Close

Whatever we do, whatever we say, and wherever we go, let the psalms help form and shape within you a profound spirituality which helps foster a deeper connection with the God we long to know more and more. 

May our celebrations be raucous and robust because the God of the psalms has showed up and given grace and mercy to our troubling circumstances.

Soli Deo Gloria

1 Kings 8:22-30 – Solomon’s Prayer of Dedication

Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands to heaven. He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive. (New Revised Standard Version)

I grew up in rural Iowa, a place with lots of gravel roads. In the seasons of Spring and Fall, the thawing and re-freezing lead to some impressive ruts in those roads. It’s difficult to avoid them since they nearly dominate the driving space. 

With our prayers, there are seasons of life where we can slip into ruts – times where focused wrestling in prayer is set aside by just going along with the rut of prayer with the same lifeless words and phrases. There are Christians who pray wonderful prayers… over and over again with almost no thought to it, continually saying the same things anytime they pray.

In today’s Old Testament lesson, we have a prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the Lord’s temple. The two aspects of this prayer that jump out to me are: 

  1. Solomon reminded God of divine promises to the covenant people.
  2. Solomon reminded God of who God is. 

Solomon, as the wisest person to ever live, did not believe that somehow God forgot about promises made or had some sort of divine dementia about theology proper. Instead, Solomon prayed with the kind of prayer that God delights to hear. 

“Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.”

Søren Kierkegaard 

God enjoys hearing us pray. The Lord likes it when we pray according to the promises given us. God adores when we pray with a focused understanding of whom we are praying to.

So, then, in our prayers, it is good to emulate the example of King Solomon. Know the promises of God contained in Holy Scripture and pray they will be confirmed in our lives, families, churches, and world. 

Also, pray with the intention of declaring God’s inherent nature, attributes, and character. Acknowledge the basic trait of God’s steadfast love. Believers serve a big God whose hugeness is continually above all things, and whose work is always continuing according to divine decrees and words. 

One way of moving our prayers out of the ruts of familiar language and thoughts is to journal them. Writing our prayers can become for us an act of worship as we slow down enough to craft a response to God that is thoughtful and connects us with him beyond the rote and routine.

In its simplest definition prayer is a conversation between the one who is praying and the one to whom those prayers is directed. So, whenever we craft a written or spoken prayer, it’s good to get out of a rut by:

  • Using language and words that are meaningful to you.
  • Making your intentions clear by stating exactly what you need or want.
  • Taking your time and not rushing.
  • Lighting candles, burning incense, or creating a special sacred space for prayer. 

Thank you Lord God for the opportunity of prayer and worship. Thank you that I can put aside uncertainties of this world and rest and rely upon the certainties of your good promises. Thank you that we can bring to your feet all the hurts and fears that trouble us and leave them there knowing that your strength and assurance are all that we require. May all your people find peace, healing, wholeness, and joy in your presence, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit exist as one God, now and forever. Amen.

Mark 11:12-14, 20-24 – Believing Prayer

The next day, after leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. From far away, he noticed a fig tree in leaf, so he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing except leaves, since it wasn’t the season for figs. So, he said to it, “No one will ever again eat your fruit!” His disciples heard this.

Early in the morning, as Jesus and his disciples were walking along, they saw the fig tree withered from the root up. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look how the fig tree you cursed has dried up.”

Jesus responded to them, “Have faith in God!I assure you that whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea’—and doesn’t waver but believes that what is said will really happen—it will happen. Therefore, I say to you, whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you will receive it, and it will be so for you. (Common English Bible)

A pastor once had a kitten stuck up in a tree, and it would not come down. The tree was not sturdy enough to climb, so the pastor decided that if he tied a rope to his car and drove until the tree bent down, he could then reach up and get the kitten. As he moved just a little too far, the rope broke. The tree snapped upright, and the kitten instantly sailed through the air and out of sight.

He felt just terrible and walked all over the neighborhood asking people if they had seen a little kitten. Nobody had and finally he prayed, “Lord, I commit this kitten to your keeping,” and then went about his business.

A few days later, he was at the grocery store and met one of his parishioners. In her shopping cart he was amazed to see cat food. The pastor knew the parishioner did not like cats, so he asked her why she was buying cat food.

She replied, “For years I have been refusing to buy my little girl a cat even though she has been begging for one. Finally, I told her that if God gives you a cat, I’ll let you keep it.  I watched my child go out into the yard, get on her knees and ask God for a cat. Then, a kitten suddenly came flying out of the blue sky with its paws spread out and landed right in front of her. Of course, I had to let her keep the kitten because it came from God!”

God wants us to pray! Yet, prayer does not happen apart from faith because to pray is to believe God is good and answers prayer. Prayerlessness is a sign of faithlessness. A person of little faith prays only a little. A person full of faith is always praying.

“God desires of us nothing more ardently than that we ask many and great things of him, and he is displeased of we do not confidently ask and entreat.”

Martin Luther

For Jesus, simply exhorting the disciples to pray was insufficient; they needed a deep change of heart. 

God calls us to transformation. Deep and lasting change must take place below the surface of our lives. Real change comes from the inside-out. It is the root of a person’s life, the heart, that must change – and not just the outward behavior.

In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus got up early and was on his way to Jerusalem. He was hungry and wanted some breakfast, so he approached a fig tree. Figs were known back in Christ’s day as the poor man’s food. Fig trees were everywhere. Approaching a certain fig tree, Jesus found one that appeared leafy and well, yet had no figs. 

Jesus chose to use this tree as a teachable moment for his disciples. He cursed the tree and immediately the whole tree withered. So, why did Jesus curse the tree? Because it looked good on the outside but was really already dead on the inside. 

The tree had everything a tree needed: branches, leaves, and a trunk. Everything, that is, except fruit. The tree was to serve as an illustration for the disciples of believing prayer. The tree looked fine, and had the promise of fruit, but none was to be found. Jesus is looking for faith in his followers. 

In the prophet Jeremiah’s day, the nation of Judah had enjoyed a long stretch of prosperity and good circumstances. By all outward appearances they were doing fine. Temple attendance was at its peak and everyone was offering their sacrifices. Yet, something wasn’t right.

“I will take away their harvest,
declares the Lord.
    There will be no grapes on the vine.
There will be no figs on the tree,
    and their leaves will wither.
What I have given them
    will be taken from them.” (Jeremiah 8:13, NIV)

God pronounced a curse on Judah because, although conditions seemed fine on the outside, the people were trusting in their own abilities. But God was looking for fruit, not nice leaves. The Lord wants believing prayer, born of a faith that is confident in the goodness of God. 

God is looking for faith in us, as well. A faith not in paychecks, bank accounts, or the market economy, and not religiously in lots of outward forms of success, but a faith in God alone.

Jesus didn’t use the withering tree as an illustration of judgment but of believing prayer. Our words and prayers can have the immediate effect of changing the world. We can even speak to a mountain, and it will have to move, if we tell it to. 

Nobody probably goes around talking to mountains. Yet, all of us go around talking to ourselves about mountain-like problems. The power that levels mountains is prayer and words that speak confidence and boldness.  If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.

“Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.”

Corrie Ten Boom

Doubt typically stands in the way of prayer – not doubt in yourself, because you don’t answer your own prayers. Doubt as an obstacles to faith is the questioning of God’s inherent goodness. We are not to have faith in faith itself, but in the actual person of God. (James 1:5-8) 

Everyone has made a difficult prayer request, mustering-up all the faith they can, and then are disappointed when it doesn’t happen. The unstable person vacillates when this happens, doubting whether God is really good or not. However, the person of faith believes God answers prayer, and if the prayer is not answered, we trust God knows the score and will answer according to gracious timing and good purposes.

Maybe you have even talked to yourself as a Job-like friend saying that you didn’t have enough faith and that is why your prayer was not answered. Yet, Christian faith isn’t a matter of being optimistic or of sending $19.95 to some hack preacher who promises to give you the secret of answered prayer, along with a free gold cross. 

We simply don’t know what God’s will is in every situation. However, we do know what God’s will is for a lot of things. For example, God is not willing that any should perish but all be brought to eternal life. So, we can pray with confidence for someone’s deliverance. And we can be bold about trusting in God’s promises.

We have every right, based in our union with Jesus Christ as redeemed persons, to ask God confidently and boldly for the removal of mountains. We possess authority in Christ to do so. Therefore, we do not need to offer tepid, milquetoast, mumbling prayers with sighs and hunched shoulders. 

Who knows? Maybe a kitten will show up.

Almighty and everlasting God, you made the universe with all its marvelous order, its atoms, worlds, and galaxies, and the infinite complexity of living creatures: Grant that, as we probe the mysteries of your creation, we may come to know you more truly, and more surely fulfill our role in your eternal purpose; in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.