Daily Archives: July 2, 2010

Does Prayer Really Make A Difference?

Two days ago, I sat in the living room of a gracious and godly woman named Laurel whose 47-year-old body is being ravaged by cancer. She reads the Daily Bible Conversation blog when she can and has recommended it to her friends. I mention that because she’s a part of our online community. Blessed with a devoted husband, three daughters and one grandchild, Laurel isn’t ready to go. Please remember Laurel in your prayers.

About once a day, I receive text messages from an inspiring woman named Charity who was in my youth group years ago. Every day I receive updates and requests for prayer because her mother, Marie, is in the midst of an equally challenging fight against cancer. Please remember Marie in your prayers as well.

When our friends and loved ones appear to be dying of cancer, or some other disease, to what extent should we pray for their recovery? Should we pray that they will die peacefully or can we ask God to rend the heavens and heal their bodies?

Please join me in the conversation!

TODAY’S READING

2 Kings 20:1-22:2
Acts 21:18-36
Psalm 150:1-6
Proverbs 18:9-10

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

2 Kings 20:1-22:2. Like David, Hezekiah may have been a godly king, but he still wasn’t perfect. Scholars speculate that that the king of Babylon paid a visit to a recovering Hezekiah in order to form an alliance, which God expressly opposed through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 30:1-5; 31:1-3). Even after being confronted and informed by Isaiah that Judah would one day be exiled to Babylon, Hezekiah responds quite smugly by saying to himself, at least I’ll have peace and security in my lifetime.

Interestingly enough, Hezekiah pleads to God to preserve his life after being given the message that he would die, but he fails to plead for God to preserve Judah after being told that his nation (and heirs!) would be conquered.

After Hezekiah’s eventual death, his son Manasseh become king and reversed all the good that his father had done. In fact, he was so evil that we read, “Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites.”

The shedding of innocent blood that we read about in 21:16 probably means that Manasseh killed the people and prophets who opposed his policies.

Acts 21:18-36. Upon his return to Jerusalem, Paul gave a report to the elders, led by Jesus’ brother James. Remember, at this point, Christianity was still considered a renewal movement within Judaism. Rumors were flying around, though, that Paul was converting people devoid of Jewish customs, like circumcision and eating meat sacrificed to idols. Although it isn’t acknowledged here, the rumors were true. Paul didn’t deem circumcision necessary(Galatians 5:6; 6:16) nor did he view eating meat sacrificed to idols as wrong (1 Corinthians 8).

To calm the fears of his church family as well as the Jews in Jerusalem, Paul heeded their advice to take a vow that would make him appear more Jewish. But in his heart, he wasn’t…and his detractors knew it.

Psalm 150:1-6. You’ll notice that today concludes our reading through Psalms. We’ll read through it one more time this year and look at some of the passages we skipped the first time through.

Proverbs 18:10. To say “The name of the Lord” is another way of saying “the Lord.” According to the UBS Handbook on Proverbs, the strong tower “refers to an essential part of a city’s defenses, a place of protection against enemy attacks.” When we’re in trouble, God is our ONLY security.

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

He was only 39 years old and laying on his deathbed…but he wasn’t ready to go. King Hezekiah, Judah’s godliest king, was given notice from the prophet Isaiah that he was going to die. The message didn’t come from the prophet, it came from God—“This is what the Lord says,” he told Hezekiah. When someone as significant as the prophet Isaiah speaks on behalf of God and tells you that your days are numbered, well, it’s pretty much a done deal.

But Hezekiah didn’t want to die. Bible scholars have determined that at that moment, Assyria was preparing to invade Judah (which means that chapter 20 occurred at the same time as chapter 19). Hezekiah knew that if he died, the transition in leadership would make Judah even more vulnerable than it already was.

So Hezekiah reminded God of his sincere and faithful devotion throughout the years. Scripture, in fact, tells us that “Hezekiah wept bitterly.”

And what did God do? He told Isaiah to return to Hezekiah and tell him that he would get well and live another 15 years.

God changed his mind!

In theological circles, passages like this cause quite a fervent debate. Can we really change the mind of God? If not, then why pray?

But if so, then prayer really does change things. If so, then all we need to do to change our world or our lives is to get enough people praying fervently.

The implications are HUGE!

From my vantage point, it seems to me:

God doesn’t change. Just because God changes his mind doesn’t mean he changes in his character. Many godly people would disagree with me about God changing his mind. However, this passage as well as others require some tenuous theological gymnastics to overcome.

Prayer does change things. Prayer concerns more than just getting our needs met (it’s also our primary means of knowing him). Yet repeatedly in Scripture, we’re told to ask God in prayer to answer our requests (Philippians 4:6-7). In Luke 11:9-10, Jesus told us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
God isn’t limited by the formulas we place on him. Just because God answered Hezekiah’s prayer, and invites us to bring all of our requests to him, it doesn’t mean he will answer our prayer every time. Thank goodness!

Nevertheless, prayer is a wonderful, powerful gift God has given to us that all too often goes underused.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. How have you experienced God as your strong tower?
  3. Does prayer make a difference? Why? How?
  4. How can we as an online community pray for you?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.

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