And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words (Matthew 6:7)…
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words (Matthew 6:7). Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few (Ecclesiastes 5:2). Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" (Job 38:1-2)”
Though this article is about prayer, its goal is to take the eyes of the one who prays away from himself, from the objects of his prayer, or even the technicalities, the how-to's of the prayer itself, and focus them on the Person to whom he prays.
There seems to be a consensus that a good thing came about, someone was healed, found a job, disaster averted, because there was someone who prayed. In our house there is a wood carving which says “Prayer Changes Things.” Many books are written with annecdotes of miraculous things that happened because of prayers. These stories became the mountain peak of experience that seemed to endure much longer than the folks whose lives gave rise to such stories.
Another assumption that seems to be prevalent in the mind of believers of almost any religions is their deity seems to be passive, or aloof, until invoked by the prayers of the faithful. Oftentimes the believers had to pray long and hard to move the hands of their divine being.
Testimonies on the power of prayer
We often hear stories of parents praying for their children for decades until one day came the good news, the prodigals came home and all praises be to God. And recounts of groups of believers gathered together to pray for someone who had fallen down with some potentially terminal illness. And many more stories told and written through the ages.
There is no doubt God heals and intervenes in the affairs of men, and He treasures the prayers of His saints, He felt every aching heart crying out for redemption, but does He have to wait until someone prays? God loves a sinner more than anyone who might know to pray for him, especially a sinner who has no one to pray for him.
Abraham, Lot, and Sodom
Genesis 18 and 19 recorded an event in which fire was sent from heaven to destroy the two great cities of biblical time: Sodom and Gomorrah. Special attention is paid to Sodom as it is the place of residence of the nephew of Lot. In this passage we find Abraham praying for Sodom in the way different than anything we often hear in praying circles. We aren’t here to study the form, but to study the unfolding of events leading to Abraham’s act of praying, as well as the content of his prayer.
The story starts out with the Lord’s monologue: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” It was God who chose to reveal to Abraham his plan. Abraham was probably going about his daily routines with fleeting thoughts of when he and his beloved would have a child to continue his lineage. Though a child was born unto him through the maid servant Hagar, he and his wife were very likely wondering if God’s promise concerning a child of their own was still something to come though it had been a long time since they first heard it.
Up to this point, Abraham wasn’t praying about Sodom, and neither was he praying about his nephew Lot, at least not until the Lord revealed his plan to him. And even when he began to pray, his prayer is unlike anything you and I are familiar with.
Abraham didn’t pray about Lot. But upon hearing the Lord share his plan to destroy Sodom, he asked:
“Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24“Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? 25“Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”
The Lord answered:
If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.
Then Abraham proceeded to see how far he can go in numbers of righteous before the Lord would destroy the city. Forty five righteous? Forty? Thirty? Twenty? And finally ten? To each the Lord answered that He wouldn’t destroy the city for their sake.
The most important thing
Why didn’t Abraham pray specifically for his nephew Lot? Of course there were many important things in Abraham’s life, and Lot was among them (Genesis 13:8-9), but there was something infinitely more important: God’s character. As each question was asked with a decreased number of righteous, Abraham felt he knew the Lord a little more. To him, everything else, from Lot, to the city of Sodom, and even to the nagging question in his heart about a promised offspring, and the rest of worldly concerns, pales by comparison to the knowledge of God.
Abraham had an expectation of what the God of the universe should be: “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked.” Abraham didn’t need to go any further. For now he knew even with one righteous in the city, the Lord would spare it for the sake of one. That is the God that Abraham wanted to know, and to trust. He can trust Him with the fate of Lot and Sodom. From this point on, whatever happens he knew all is well. His world is safe.
Seek first the kingdom of God
31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:31-34).
Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness. This was what we observed from Abraham’s conversation with God.
Surely Abraham is a man like us with many needs to be prayed for. We know he and his wife Sarah are still waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled in their lives concerning a child. We also know he must be anxious about his nephew Lot and his family in Sodom. And then perhaps in their old age they might have some physical needs to be attended to. And other common worries of people of this world.
But we didn’t hear any reference to these things in Abraham’s prayer to God. Instead we heard him probing the depth of God’s love for those who belong to him. If Abraham could trust God on this matter, he could trust Him on everything else.
Abraham must have heard of Sodom’s reputation as a very sinful city. Yet he didn’t ask God to send fire down to destroy it. He chose instead to focus on the righteous, if any, who might dwell in the city. But his prayer is not just about saving the righteous, it’s about the character of God. How God answered Abraham’s series of questions will shape in his mind the image of God which in turn will affect his view of the world.
Abraham is truly a man who seeks first God’s kingdom and His righteousness.
Abraham’s prayer also helps us understand 2 Peter 3:18 which says:
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Let Abraham’s prayer guide us in how we learn about God.
His eye is on the sparrow
29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.[a] 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31).
If God cares for each sparrow, or even something that seems as insignificant as a strand of hair on your head, wouldn’t he also care about important things in your life such as your health, your daily bread, or other concerns that may weigh heavily on your minds? How about things that appear to be spiritual such as ministries, evangelistic endeavors?
God is not aloof, and neither does He slumber nor sleep. As in the case of Abraham concerning Sodom and his nephew Lot, it was God who brought the news to him. Abraham’s prayer was a response to God’s gracious wish to share with him what that he could not conceive in his limited understanding: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I’m about to do?”
It was also God who brought to Moses his plan to deliver His people from Egypt while the thoughts of Egypt and the people he once knew had long faded from his memory. Moses was now eighty years old and had been accustomed to a quiet life in the desert. No, he wasn’t praying for his still enslaved people, neither was there anyone around who shares his vision of delivering his people from Egypt.
What about Jonah, was it him who loved the people of Nineveh, or was it God? Was it Jonah who had a great vision of evangelizing these people or was it God who revealed to him His heart: “For God so loved the world”?
It was the same way with the apostle Paul. He was busy persecuting Christians when God revealed to him that he was to become instrumental in guiding them in the right path in their new found faith in Christ. As a matter of fact, Paul was already set apart by God in his mother’s womb for the work He already planned for him to do (Galatians 1:15), and this was long before Paul knew how to pray.
None of these men took any initiative in these great undertakings. They simply carried on their lives the way they knew best, completely oblivious to the great events that were to take place later after they were brought into the service of the King of heaven.
There are of course times we need to pray, and pray earnestly, for matters of great urgency. Though we know God already knew everything about us, our being able to share our burdens with God is a great blessing, especially when there is a promise that the Holy Spirit will help us express thoughts that otherwise might elude us in our times of need.
But need we pray all the time? Imagine a child talking to his parents incessantly. Prayer is not just about talking to God, but it’s about listening as well. Consider listening to God as a an infinitely better form of prayer. And more often than not God speaks to us through Scriptures. Lastly, it’s better to be still and acknowledge that He is God.
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words (Matthew 6:7).
Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few (Ecclesiastes 5:2).
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:1-2).
- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.
Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen
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