Forethought in Prayer || Ben

Each of us care especially about what our professors have to say. We want them to be impressed by our ideas, so that we might come away with a strong letter of recommendation or a reference. We’ve spent a lot of time coming up with good questions and comments to talk with them about in office hours—I know I have. The question I want to raise is this: Have you ever put this much thought into what you’ll talk to God about? 

n prayer, we’re not talking to a college professor, a human being with severely limited wisdom and intellectual capacity. No, we’re talking with the One who made Joseph in charge of Egypt (Genesis 45:8), Who made bread rain down from the sky (Exodus 16:4), Who made the earth stop turning for a day (Joshua 10:13-14), Who made Gideon’s 300-man army conquer thousands (Judges 7), Who blinded an entire army at Elisha’s doorstep (2 King’s 6:8-23), Who took on flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), and, quite humbly, Who listens to the minds of men and women. 

This is Almighty God, the King who is worthy of well-thought out ideas and requests farmore than any of our professors are. Frankly, I doubt many of us spend more than five minutes mapping out what we’ll, specifically, talk with God about—and also how we’ll present it to Him. Very often, we simply jump right into prayer without thinking at all about what we want Him to understand. This isn’t a bad thing. Indeed, it shows that we recognize that God loves us so much that it’s okay to come to Him as we are. It displays that we’re intimate with God. This, of course, is good. However, so often our prayers are not worthy of God’s intellect. 

It seems, and this is the point of my musing today, our conversations with God should be appropriate to how deeply personal He wants to be with us, His intellect and His holiness. Prayer, as depicted in Scripture, is sensitive to each of these factors. Let’s consider an example, namely, Exodus 32:9-14. In context, God was deeply upset with the Israelites when they decided to worship a chunk of metal in the shape of a calf. Just as He was about to destroy Israelites,Moses sought His favor. This is what Moses says to God: 

“LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?...”

Pause. Moses is questioning God! Apparently that’s okay to do in a conversation with God (see Philippians 4:6-7). Secondly, Moses is suggesting that God wouldn’t be getting what He wants by killing off the people He just worked miracles to save. While praying, instead of asking God for things, think about whether granting your requests would actually satisfy a want of God’s. This, I think, is an effective way to persuade God—it’s worked for me in the past. 

Okay, press play: 

“Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that He brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth?”

Pause again. Recognize that the Egyptians were fully aware that it was Israel’s God who brought them tremendous suffering. It was plain that if God had destroyed His people so shortly after bringing them out of Egypt, the Egyptians would have not viewed the LORD God with respect. More generally, what Moses doing here is asking God to consider how other people will talk and think of Him, if He follows through with killing off the Israelites. This is a persuasive thing to bring up to God for this reason: God’s reputation is immeasurably important. He knows that His Name should be hallowed (See the Lord’s prayer). Moreover, it should be plain to us that people around us in Berkeley don’t view the LORD’s Name in high esteem. When we’re praying for Spring outreach this week, we can point out to God that if He fails to use our efforts (mightily), people will continue to view His Name with apathy. Press play again: 

“Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.”

Pause. Note here that this is the same God we’re approaching in prayer. He has emotions. He is not some kind of lovy-dovy stuffed animal that we just say thing to in order to make us feel better. Resume: 

“Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the starts in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’”

Moses finishes off his argument by appealing to God’s very own words. In this case, Moses brings up a promise God had made to the nation of Israel’s n-th great grandpas (where n is some large number of the word ‘great’). No doubt, God is convinced by the truth, and what He says is truth. So we need to incorporate God’s own words into our prayers. Maybe we can all mention John 14:12 to God as we pray for Spring outreach this week. Now, this is how God responds to Moses’s thoughtful argument: 

“Then the LORD relented and did not bring on His people the disaster He had threatened” (Exodus 32:14).

It looks like presenting a thoughtful argument before God can be pretty effective. To wrap up this musing, notice that the content of Moses’ prayer was quite intimate with God. Moses and God were trafficking in both their deepest wants and desires. But, at the same time, Moses’ prayer was extremely thoughtful. His argument was nuanced and persuasive. And, also at the same time, Moses’ prayer showed that he was in the business of bringing God more glory (so it was appropriate to God’s holiness). That said, here’s my challenge for all of you: before you enter into God’s presence this week, put some thought into what you to ask God to do for you. Come up with a few arguments/reasons to convince God that granting your request is what He should do. (Hint: use some of the strategies Moses employed in His arguments)