Over the course of the past couple of weeks in this mini-series on prayer, we have taken a look at the Lord’s Prayer and then the great prayer than Daniel prayed when in exile in Babylon. The Lord’s prayer reminds us that the purpose and focus of our prayer is to be in fellowship with a holy and awesome God. Our prayers should never be a shopping list, but a way in which we deepen our relationship with God and our faith. Our prayers should be in accordance with what we know in Scripture and the character of God – if we have reverential respect and love for God, we would never ask for anything that is not in line with his character. For example, I might like an Aston Martin DBS, but I would never pray for one. Someone might like to win the lottery, but it diminishes prayer to pray to win.
In prayer we can praise God, intercede for his work in the world, ask for provision of our individual daily needs (recognising our needs are different to our wants), and request help in daily struggles. It is a pattern of praise, intercession, and request that helps us understand the nature and purpose of prayer. Prayer is all about:
- Relationship – being in relationship with God, as we draw close to his heart, with a focus on God
- Worship and praise – acknowledging God’s holiness as we approach him in reverence
- Intercession – we intercede with God for people or circumstances that are on our heart
- Chatting with God from our heart – as you would with anyone you were close to
- Declaring the truth
- Expressing our faith, hope and love
- A recognition of the need for God in our lives, so an act of humility
- A request for God to act from an open hand of need and hope
So then we turn to our reading today which is one of the three greatest illustrations of petitionary prayer in the Old Testament (Exodus 32:11–14; Amos 7:1–6). Through this humble prayer, Abraham was successful in persuading God to agree to spare the city of Sodom if six successively smaller totals of righteous people could be found within the city.
Let’s be clear – the outcry coming from the victims of wrongdoing in Sodom was immense, and the cities’ sin was extremely serious. According to Ezekiel 16:49–50, the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah included self-centred pride, neglect of the poor and needy, and doing unnamed detestable things. Any person in their right mind would be clamouring for justice. Imagine the outcry today if a serial killer was let off scot-free? There are consequences of our actions.
So how does Abraham approach God in his prayer? But before answering that question, it’s helpful to think why it might have been that God chose to reveal his plan to Abraham? Firstly, if all nations on earth were indeed to be blessed through Abraham, God was compelled to tell him the full extent of the lengths he was prepared to go to in order to bring that about. Lot and his family were therefore removed from the city before all possibilities and opportunities to be blessed through Abraham had been exhausted. Secondly, for Abraham to be able to teach his descendants righteousness and justice (18:19) so that they too might enjoy God’s blessings, he had to know first-hand how the righteousness of God works in judgment – to be able to keep the way of the Lord. The key theme here is righteousness, specifically the righteousness of God and the extent to which sin – all sin – is an anathema to God. I think there’s a third reason too. I believe God actually delights being in fellowship with us and in sharing his plan with Abraham he was inviting Abraham to respond, to be in fellowship.
So Abraham approaches God with humility and reverence. We see Abraham’s respect for God (exemplified by him standing before the LORD, v. 22; cp. v. 27), his confidence in God’s power and justice (vv. 23, 25), and the patriarch’s compassionate concern for Lot and the other inhabitants of Sodom. At the same time the Lord’s extravagant mercy is seen in his willingness to spare the entire city on account of ten righteous people who lived there. In some respects, the discourse between Abraham and God in our reading today reminds me in many ways of a return to Eden, that place where there was such intimacy and closeness between Adam and Eve, and God. That place where Adam and Eve walked through the garden with God. That place of relationship, and fellowship. It is a place we are invited into through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. So may you have the boldness, the confidence and the wisdom to approach God, to fellowship with him, knowing that God believes in you and delights when you come before him. He delights when you show him how much you know him and his ways, how much you know the Bible – his love letter to humankind. A praying Church is a healthy Church…let us pray….