How Prayer Works

A daily devotion for June 16th

Read the Scripture: Genesis 18:16-33
Genesis 18:16-33

16 When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. 17 Then the LORD said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. 19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him."

20 Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know."

22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"

26 The LORD said, "If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake."

27 Then Abraham spoke up again: "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people?"
"If I find forty-five there," he said, "I will not destroy it."

29 Once again he spoke to him, "What if only forty are found there?"
He said, "For the sake of forty, I will not do it."

30 Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?"
He answered, "I will not do it if I find thirty there."

31 Abraham said, "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?"
He said, "For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it."

32 Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?"
He answered, "For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it."

33 When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.

New International Version

When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home. (Genesis 18:33)

This verse does not say, The Lord went his way when Abraham had finished speaking to Him. It says, When He had finished speaking to Abraham. In other words, Abraham did not quit here, God did. The verse suggests that God initiated this whole conversation with Abraham and led him along all through it, and when he had responded in fullness as God desired, God terminated the dialogue and went His way. So Abraham was not asking God to do something for him; it was God who prayed in Abraham and set the limits of the conversation.

This agrees fully with what we read in the New Testament about prayer. In Romans Paul says, We do not know what we ought to pray for (Romans 8:26b). Do you know what to pray for about yourself or anyone else? No, you do not. But, he says, the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit (Romans 8:26c-27).

Admittedly, in talking about prayer, we are treading at the edge of mystery, but through the mists, certain things are clear from this account of Abraham's prayer: Prayer makes possible, first of all, the joy of partnership. Did you ever see a little boy come into the house and say to his mother, I'm going to help Daddy!? He is filled with pride about it, and he goes out and passes up nails and holds the boards and pounds his fingers. Daddy could have done the job better by himself, but he loves to have his son help him. And the son loves it, too. There is a sense of partnership there. This is what prayer does. Through true prayer, God never moves entirely on His own. He loves to gather us in and have us help pound the nails. If we pound our fingers a little bit, He is there to soothe us.

Prayer also enables us to appropriate the character of God. Abraham is never more like God than at the moment he is praying for Sodom. His prayer did not save the city, and it was never intended to do so, but it did make Abraham manifest in his own life the mercy and the compassion of God. This is why God asks us to pray, that we might take upon ourselves something of His own character.

The third consideration: Prayer focuses the power of God on an individual place or person. Although Abraham had never mentioned Lot by name, God remembered Abraham and saved Lot (19:29). I don't know why prayer makes such a difference, but I know it does. You can plan a program, think through all the details, set up all the committees, get all the things you need, instruct everybody, and rehearse it, and at the final presentation it may fall totally flat. But if you involve others in the ministry of prayer concerning the program, though the preparations may be similar, the difference in the presentation is that it comes with power, with impact, and with full strength, and lives are changed.

Father, I see that prayer is not a means by which I dictate to You or summon You to do what my will is, but rather it is the means by which I put my shoulder to the wheel to which Your shoulder is put and am enlisted in a partnership with You in Your great endeavors on earth.

Life Application: Do we think of our prayers as opportunity to summon God to our agenda? Are we learning that true prayer is our response to God's summons to partner with Him?

We hope you were blessed by this daily devotion.

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