Posts Tagged 'answered prayer'

Panic Podcast: A Handful of Psalms, Part 2

Continue reading ‘Panic Podcast: A Handful of Psalms, Part 2’

HOW TO PRAY POWERFUL PRAYERS

It's not a good idea to bargain with God. You never know what's behind door number three. Only Monty Hall does!

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:13, 14)

When we read verses like those, it sounds like prayer is a blank check drawn on God’s bank account; all we have to do is fill it in. It sounds almost too good to be true. In fact, the way some Christians interpret those verses it is too good to be true. Prayer is not a blank check and those who think it is end up having very unsatisfying prayer lives.

Our Lord never meant for us to pray meaningless prayers and prayers void of power. What He said in John’s Gospel was meant to encourage us to pray and to show us how powerful proper prayers can be. What we must do is discover what “proper prayers” sound like so that we may unleash the potential of John 14:14.

1. Prayer: A powerful weapon

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:11)

The greatest war ever is being fought all day, every day, all around us and most Christians are blissfully unaware of it. And because so many of us are either ignorant of spiritual warfare or choose to ignore the reality of it, we open ourselves up to its effects. We may not believe in spiritual warfare, but it is real and it does affect us. There is a chilling account in Daniel 10 where the angel Gabriel comes to a praying Daniel with this report:

Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.” (Daniel 10:12—14)

This is a classic example of spiritual warfare. Daniel had been praying and fasting for 21 days and, according to Gabriel’s own testimony, the angel had been dispatched to answer that prayer on day one! But because of his struggle in the unseen spirit world against “the prince of Persia,” the answer to Daniel’s prayer had been delayed. The purpose of this study is not to debate who the “prince of Persia” was, but to show how spiritual warfare touches the lives of all believers. Daniel’s motives were pure and his heart was right, yet he was dealing with the effects of a struggle beyond this world.

That struggle continues to this very day and committed Christians are in the crosshairs whether they realize it or not.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:12, KJV)

But we don’t have to fall victims to this struggle. Paul admonished his Ephesian friends to do something in response to the very real dangers of spiritual warfare: put on the full armor of God. Each piece of that spiritual armor is for defense except for two weapons of offense: the sword of the Spirit, otherwise known as the Word of God; and:

pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:18a)

Praying in the Spirit is a weapon of offense! But notice, it’s not just any kind of prayer, it’s prayer prayed in the Spirit. This idea is offered by Jude, as well:

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. (Jude, verse 20)

The context of Jude’s advice is that his readers needed to “keep the faith” in the face of the dangers of false teaching and apostasy. Praying in the Spirit, then, is something that enables believers to live right in a world that is trying to get us to live wrong.

2. Prayer: A weapon of power

We now know that there is a spiritual battle going on all around us. Ephesians 6 teaches that we are participants in that battle and that we have two weapons to help us prevail: the Word of God and prayers prayed in the Spirit. Furthermore, Jude teaches that prayers offered in the Spirit will keep us living right.

The thing is, though, not one believer has the ability to “live right” and “fight the good fight” on his own. We are just too weak and too ignorant. There isn’t a believer who can measure up to God’s standard. That’s why Jesus made a plan:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you… (Acts 1:8)

God does not expect us to engage in spiritual warfare alone; we have been given the glorious Holy Spirit to help us. He is the great Helper who lives in every Christian, Whose job it is to enable us to live the kind of life that God wants us to live.

Similarly, the power of our prayers is in direct proportion to how much freedom we give the Holy Spirit in our lives. The most powerful, effective prayers are ones that are prayed in the Spirit. But what exactly does that mean?

The apostle Paul sheds some light on the issue:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (Romans 8:26)

Sometimes we just aren’t “in tune” enough with the world around us and with God’s will to pray effectively. This is why so many Christians get so frustrated with their prayers. They don’t know about needs people have so they can’t pray with knowledge and they don’t know what God’s will is. When we pray prayers in ignorance, they yield no results. When we open ourselves up to the moving of the Holy Spirit, though, He helps us to pray. When we don’t know what God’s will is and what we should be praying for, so we need the help of the Holy Spirit. Praying glib prayers, ordering God around like we know what He wants all the time may sound good, but those kinds of prayers are generally useless.

We learn something of praying in accordance to God’s will when we look at how our Lord prayed. Not long before He was crucified, Jesus was alone praying and He said this:

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Jesus was praying in the Spirit that night and we see in this one sentence the primary purpose of prayer. It is NOT to get God to do something we want Him to do, but to get us to do something God wants us to do. There is virtually unlimited power in prayer when we pray according to God’s will.

The Holy Spirit helps us to pray like that. We don’t know how we should pray, but the Spirit does because He sees things from heaven’s perspective. Unfortunately, most of the time we don’t see things that way. Powerful prayers need to be prayed from God’s perspective.

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 John 5:14)

It can’t be any clearer than that! The condition for having prayers heard and answered is praying according to the will of God. Now that’s a weapon of power!

3. Prayer: It changes us for our good

By now we know prayer is not a blank check. The only prayers that are heard and get answered are ones prayed according to God’s will. As finite human beings, we can’t possibly know God’s will 100% of the time any more than we have the ability to live right 100% of the time. Just as the Holy Spirit enables us to live right, He also enables us to pray according to God’s will. The purpose of prayer is not to pray for any old thing we may want and expect God to give us the answer we want.

The apostle Paul found that out the hard way. Poor Paul; he had what he referred to as “a thorn” in his flesh. Ideas abound as to what the thorn was; from bad eye sight to some other physical ailment to a miserable wife. We don’t know what it was, but we do know Paul wanted it removed. In fact, Paul seemed quite desperate that it be removed:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. (2 Corinthians 12:8)

He “pleaded” with God three times! Paul didn’t just ask, he “pleaded.” We may well imagine how desperate Paul was. And yet, the thorn remained:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

It was God’s will for Paul to have his thorn. And Paul needed to be brought into line with God’s will for him. From God’s perspective, Paul needed that thorn, and finally Paul understood this:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

Paul discovered a secret about prayer a lot of us miss. Prayer is not given to us to get God in line with our will, but to bring us in line with God’s will. Now, the fact that we don’t have God’s perspective on things makes this particularly difficult for us. When we don’t have His perspective and when we don’t pray in the Spirit, our prayers tend to be selfish and self-seeking, even if we think we being selfless. James deals with this problem of motivation:

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:3)

Motives are tricky things and human beings are complicated; rarely do we have pure motives for anything we do, and this is why we NEED to pray in the Spirit so that our motives will be pure. What is the right motivation for prayer?: that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Imagine how bad it would be if God answered all our prayers the way we think He should—as if we know what’s best for us. The Bible actually gives us a number of examples of where God went out of His way to answer a prayer the way the person wanted it answered. The results were disastrous.

Bad example number one: the children of Israel. During their wilderness wanderings, Israel on more than one occasion complained to God about their living conditions. But one time in particular must have been “the straw that broke the camel’s back” as far as God was concerned.

If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4—6)

Moses went to the Lord in prayer and told God about their complaint and God in His patient wisdom, determined to teach them a lesson, answered Moses’ prayer and gave the children of Israel meat to eat. But something else happened:

So he gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease upon them. (Psalm 106:15, NIV’84)

And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul. (Psalm 106:15, KJV)

Yes, God knows what’s best for us because He sees things perfectly. We imagine the children of Israel regretted they treated God the way they did!

Bad example number two: Hezekiah.  Another example of God giving somebody what they wanted is the sad case of King Hezekiah. He was a tremendous king, and a real man of God who became terminally ill. No less a personage than the prophet Isaiah came to Hezekiah with a word directly from God:

This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.” (2 Kings 20:1)

It was God’s will that Hezekiah die, so he sent Isaiah to tell him to get ready because his days were numbered. Instead of accepting God’s will for him, what did Hezekiah do?

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, “Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. (2 Kings 20:2, 3)

In other words, Hezekiah went to the Lord in prayer to try and change the Lord’s mind. The result is interesting. God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and answered it. He gave the king another 15 years to live and even intervened to save Judah from Assyria. 2 Kings 20 relates God’s answer to the king through the prophet Isaiah in a matter-of-fact fashion, not making any observation or commentary. A misunderstanding of this incident has led many a believer to use it as a pattern for how God gives us what we want.

Hezekiah could have gone down in Hebrew history as the greatest king ever, except for three terrible things that happened during those extra 15 years. First, shortly after he was healed, an envoy from Babylon came to pay their respects and, inexplicably, Hezekiah did a foolish thing: he showed them all of Judah’s treasures of silver and gold. This caused a lot of problems later on. Second, he fathered a son, Manasseh, during those extra 15 years, who became the most wicked and vile of any of Judah’s kings (2 Kings 21:1). And fiinally, in his later years Hezekiah became puffed up with pride.

Clearly, nothing good happened to Hezekiah or Judah during these extra 15 years. It would have been better for everybody if Hezekiah had died at his appointed time. So, why did God answer the king’s selfish prayer? As the Bible often does, it doesn’t give us the answer. Instead, it lets us discover the answer by simply presenting the facts. It’s the unintended consequences of Hezekiah’s prayer are what we should take note of, not the prayer itself.

If we are discouraged with God’s lack of participation in our prayers, or if our prayer life has been leaving us unsatisfied or even dissatisfied, maybe we need to see how we are praying. Are we praying our wills or God’s? Are we more concerned about getting something out of God or giving more of ourselves to Him? Are we praying in the Spirit?

Prayer is supposed to the greatest weapon in the Christian’s arsenal. Yet it is often the weakest link in the chain of our Christian life.

(c)  2012 WitzEnd

ISAIAH, Part 9

 

How to NOT get your prayers answered

Isaiah 58:1—9

Isaiah 58 begins the final section of Isaiah’s book. In chapters 49-57, the prophet presented us with the spiritual agent of our salvation; now he will show us the spiritual conditions of our salvation.

The prophets were not only predictors of the future, they were preachers of righteousness. They were not only “seers,” they were “doers of the Word.” That’s not always an easy thing to do, and faithful servants of God are hard to find for that reason. Isaiah was faithful because he wasn’t timid; he wasn’t afraid to “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.” Isaiah was being asked by God to preach a stern message of rebuke and reproof to his people. His message was meant to correct the people’s false way of thinking in how to receive the favor and even salvation of the Lord.

Isaiah’s message was not meant to be deep, theological treatise, but rather an intensely practical one:

Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. (verse 1)

1. Their sinful condition, verses 2—5

For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. (verse 2)

Back in chapter 1, Isaiah dealt with the empty ritualism of the people and here he picks up that theme again. What must have made Isaiah’s task particularly difficult was that he was not preaching to completely godless people. In fact, this message was addressed to people who looked faithful; they appeared to be faithful to the teachings of their Scriptures. They were utterly meticulous in following the forms of worship. They may have actually enjoyed attending worship services. Yet their lives did not reflect the spirit of God’s Law in any way.

The people to whom this message was addressed had drifted into a formal observance of faith, but at heart it was a practical ungodliness. Reading these verses puts us in mind of what Samuel said to King Saul:

Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22)

People like King Saul and Isaiah’s listeners were the kind of people who, like many Christians, think they can “live like the Devil” all week long, assuming their weekly attendance at church and their periodic religious feasts were enough to atone for their gluttony and insincerity.

Verse 3 drips with arrogance and reveals the people’s true motives in their rigid adherence to the Law:

Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ (verse 3a)

Although Isaiah focuses on fasting, this petulant attitude probably extended to all their observances. What makes the fasting issue particularly interesting is that the people seemed to have made regular days of fasting part of their religious observances, but God never gave the people of Israel “fast days.” In fact, God gave His people “feast days.” It is true that from time to time the people were to fast in connection with their sins, and in particular with the Day of Atonement, but the people had made fasting a form of worship which ministered more to themselves than it did to God. So of course, their fasting did nothing to move God.

In effect, these people were cheating God. Instead of giving God what HE required of them, they gave God what THEY wanted to give Him, because it was easy and convenient. And they had deluded themselves into believing they were “OK.”

What the people failed to realize, and what Isaiah was desperately trying to convince them of, is that true religion is a personal relationship with God. For the Christian it is no different; true faith is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And that intimate relationship we have with Christ is precious, personal, and private. Of course, we witness for Him, we share our faith with others, but just like in a marriage, we don’t brag about our intimate time with our Savior. Yet this is what Isaiah’s people were doing; bragging about what they were doing, fasting, for God.

In fact, they fasted and they observed these fast days and so-called holy days, but they’re hearts were miles away from God, as evidenced by their behavior. They fasted, but turned right around and took advantage of people, they argued, they fought, and they generally treated other people badly. What more proof is needed to show that these people, in spite of outward appearances, were nowhere near God.

God’s response to their so-called demonstrations of worship is stern:

You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. (verse 4b)

Proper fasting, done for the right reasons, can produce all kinds of good things in a persons life or in the life of a congregation. But when fasting is done as a duty, for the wrong reasons, it produces bad things, like irritability and anger and jealousy. Prayers offered against that kind of backdrop would never reach God’s ears.

God must be approached HIS way, never OURS. The Bible proves this time and time and time again, yet even to this day, Christians think they make up their own rules; they can invent “new and improved” ways to approach God, but it doesn’t work like that. When we make up ways to worship God so as to make it convenient for us or easy for us, and if those ways are contrary to Scripture, God cannot and will not be moved no matter how many tears we may shed or songs we may sing.

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. (Proverbs 14:12, KJV)

The only way to approach God is His way, and there is no mystery about it; you find the right way in the Bible.

2. God’s cure

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? (verse 5a)

God’s cure is to, using Isaiah’s example of fasting, do the right thing for the right reason(s). The true and only reason to fast is not so you can appear humble, but to accomplish a definite purpose: to pray, to meditate, and to repent of sin. One scholar made the very interesting observation that true fasting is not necessarily an enjoyable experience:

A person who enjoys confessing his sins is not coming before God with an honest confession, but rather is giving a performance before men, or perhaps merely before himself, that intended to demonstrate righteousness.

Part of God’s cure for the spiritual malaise of His people included:

  1. “To loose the chains of injustice,” verse 6. This is not a call to some kind of general social action. The “injustice” the prophet is referring to here is the injustice they themselves were causing during the “fast.” What Isaiah was telling the people was simply this: If you are going to fast, don’t walk around looking humble and pious, stop your sinning! Stop taking advantage of other people. Stop gossiping. God’s cry to His people was, and remains, a very simple and direct one. If you call yourself a Christian, live like one; demonstrate your faith in Him by your conduct. When we do that, we will not only treat others exceedingly well, but our own chains of spiritual bondage will be broken.

  2. “Untie the cords of the yoke,” verse 6. Many believers are carrying around burdens that are far too heavy for them. A true believer will help carry another’s burdens. A Christian that spends time in God’s presence will be sensitive to the needs of others; in the practical world, that means he will cut them some slack; exercise patience. In the spiritual realm, it means they will pray for the one in need, exercising spiritual discernment so as to ease their burdens, whatever they may be.

  3. “Break every yoke,” verse 6. This is all part of “setting the oppressed” free. How does a Christian do that for another? One who is “oppressed” is one who set upon by outside pressures. This oppression can take many forms. Some people are oppressed by their work, or their family situation, or by their health. A true believer is one who will do what they can for one who finds themselves “oppressed.” A true believer sees one who is oppressed but can’t merely walk on by them. This is what happens when one spends time in God’s presence: their eyes are open to the needs around them.

  4. Care for the poor, verse 7. The people of Isaiah’s time had figuratively and literally turned their backs on the poor. They refused to show kindness to their own flesh and blood. Their faith had become a cold, formal exercise. Because the people had no heart for others, they had no heart for God. The Christian who can’t show compassion to the genuinely destitute can’t have God dwelling within him (1 John 3:17).

3. The guaranteed result, verses 8, 9

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. (verse 8)

There was no way for God to manifest His blessing and glory to people who practised their religion in such a lazy fashion. The word “then” is emphatic. If the people would re-dedicate their lives to the Lord and start taking their faith seriously, “then” certain things would start happening. These promises are strung together like a beautiful necklace of precious gems.

  1. Your light will break forth like the dawn. “Break forth” indicates speed and suddenness. If the people would focus on obedience to God and His Word in the exercise of their faith, their health, wealth, and access to God in prayer would be restored in an instant. Obedience to God’s will is like spraying window cleaner on a dirty window; once that window is cleaned, the light can shine in…or shine out…and the world becomes clearer.

  2. Your healing will quickly appear. Good health is always viewed in the Old Testament as a sign of God’s blessing. When His children obey, God is quick to bless and show favor.

  3. Your righteousness will go before you. When Christians live in obedience to God, our faith will be evident to all without uttering a word. Righteousness will go before us, and the glory of the Lord will follow us. Obedience has so many rewards; the obedient are literally surrounded by the presence of God.

  4. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I (verse 9). There’s that emphatic word again: “then.” When the Lord sees our love for Him manifested in our obedience to Him, He will never fail to answer when we call. Truly, the two greatest needs of mankind are met: the need for a response and for recognition. Those needs can only be fully met by God and then only when we demonstrate our obedience to Him. There is nothing more isolating that unwanted silence and aloneness. And only God can remove them.

Our obedience to God and His Word can never be overstated. No obedience, no fellowship. No obedience, no answered prayers. No obedience, no presence of God. When sin is cleared from the heart, then the way is clear for the Lord to show us favor:

If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me… (Psalm 66:18)

The only way for a child of God to receive from God “whatsoever we ask,” it will be:

…because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

ISAIAH, Part 5

The Assyrian army taking a city.

The Power of Prayer

Isaiah 37:14—20

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD… (Isaiah 37:14, 15)

At first blush, that seems like a strange thing to do. Why would King Hezekiah take his mail into the temple of the Lord and spread it open, as if to let the Lord read it. Understanding why leads us to see the amazing power of prayer.

1. Historical facts

a. Summary of history

Chapters 36 to 39 form a “historical interlude.” They break a string of prophecies and give us a glimpse of Isaiah’s world. Why do you suppose there are four full chapters of pure history sandwiched in between Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the government and judgment of God and the grace of God, that is, salvation instead of judgment? Most scholars cite three good reasons.

First, history from God’s perspective is often quite different from that of man’s perspective. God’s view of history is laced with great spiritual truths missing from secular history. One can only see these truths through eyes of faith; it is the Holy Spirit that enables us to see God’s hand and purpose in the affairs of man.

Second, the events that we read about in chapters 36 to 39 are found in three different locations in Scripture: 2 Kings 18—19; 2 Chronicles 29, 30; and here in Isaiah. We have to ask ourselves: Why did the Holy Spirit see fit to have three versions of this piece of Hebrew history in God’s Word? Without a doubt, the Lord has some special truth or truths for us to learn. Among the great lessons God wants us to learn, we see some really remarkable miracles taking place during these years:

  • The death angel slays 185,000 Assyrians (Isa. 37:36—38)

  • The sun moves backwards ten degrees on Ahaz’s sundial (Isa. 38:7, 8)

  • God heals Hezekiah and extends his life 15 years (Isa. 38:1—5)

Third, this section opens with the Kingdom of Assyria and closes with the Kingdom of Babylon, spanning the decline and rise of two world empires key in Hebrew history. In chapter 36, King Hezekiah deals with the invasion of Assyria under Sennacherib. Chapter 37 details Hezekiah’s prayer and the resultant destruction of the Assyrian army. Chapter 38 records Hezekiah’s illness, prayer, and healing. And in chapter 39, we see Hezekiah making a fool of himself.

b. Attack of the Assyrians

To set the scene for Hezekiah’s action of 37:14—20, we look back at chapter 36.

In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. (36:1)

Sennacherib, King of Assyria, and his mighty army came down on Judah with an army as large as a swarm of locusts. He had three reasons for this attack on Judah:

  • Hezekiah had refused to pay the tribute to Assyria since the days of King Ahaz;

  • He had opened negotiations with Babylon and Egypt for the sake of an alliance against Assyria;

  • He had helped the Philistines of Ekron to rise against their king, who supported Assyria, and had kept that king in prison at Jerusalem.

Things were bleak in Judah, and the army of Assyria was facing the walls of Jerusalem when the commander of the army relayed a message to King Hezekiah, designed to undermine his confidence in his allies, in his God, in Judah’s military strength, and ultimately in Judah’s divine destiny.

Then the Assyrian turned his attention to the common Jew, speaking loudly to them, shut up behind the great wall, in Hebrew:

This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you! (verse 14)

He tried to win the Jews over with promises of food and drink if they would just surrender to him and go with him to his land, a land as good as theirs. Worst of all, he tried to convince the people that their God was no better than all the other gods of all the other nations around Judah.

c. God’s response

Hezekiah wasn’t a good king, he was a truly great king. In 2 Chronicles 29:1 and 2, we are told that Hezekiah did what was right in the sight of the Lord, just as David had done. He loved Judah so much that that single fact alone was arguably his greatest weakness. At one point, he attempted to stave off the Assyrian invasion by bribing Sennacherib with gold he stripped off the temple (see the story in 2 Kings 18). However, the politically expedient policy of appeasement has never worked in history; you just can’t pay an evil power to be your friend, and so now the Assyrian army was just outside the walls of Jerusalem. Hezekiah turned to the Lord:

When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD. (Isaiah 37:1)

The king did exactly the right thing in turning to the Lord for help. Here is a great lesson for the believer to lay hold of. You must ask for help before you can receive it. In this case, the help from God came in the form of advice from the prophet Isaiah. We don’t know what Hezekiah had in his mind when was in the temple praying, but God sent him Isaiah. This reminds us of what James wrote, “You have not because you ask not” (James 4:2). Isaiah’s message was startling and to the point:

Tell your master, ‘This is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard—those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Listen! When he hears a certain report, I will make him want to return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.’” (Isa. 37:6, 7)

This must have been welcome news indeed for the king to hear! It was literally fulfilled, but not after the Assyrian tried one more time to capture Jerusalem by send Hezekiah one last letter.

2. What Hezekiah did

a. The cause of the king’s trouble

This brings us to the reason why Hezekiah took his mail into the temple that day. He received a final letter from the Assyrian and it caused the king great trouble. We don’t know what was in that letter, but it must have been disheartening. Consider the context. Hezekiah had just been in the temple praying about this dreadful situation. God had seemingly answered Hezekiah’s prayer through Isaiah; Judah was to be spared and the Assyrian army would be destroyed. But now another threatening letter; what did it mean? Had God changed His mind? Was Isaiah wrong in the first place?

A lot of Christians have found themselves in this exact same uncomfortable position. They have had prayers answered, been the recipients of great blessings and even miracles, yet trouble continues to come at them. They do the right thing and live their faith yet they continually hear from the “messenger of Satan.” Like it or not, the enemy of our souls never rests, and he will be active until his bitter end. That can be very disheartening to the child of God. This is why Peter wrote these words:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your fellow believers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Peter 5:7—9)

His advice is worth following. When you get anxious, tell God about it. Keep your wits about you. Be aware that the devil isn’t going anywhere soon and eventually he will set his sights on you. This happens to every Christian, no believer is exempt, not even the greatest saint of the church! So resist the devil; stand firm in the faith. In other words, don’t feel sorry for yourself when you get bad news! It happens to us all; just keep trusting in the Lord and let the Lord deal with it.

b. What the king did

Verse 14 tells us that Hezekiah spread out this letter before the Lord in the temple. He didn’t read it to everybody, he let the Lord read it personally. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that when we come the God, we must come to Him in faith, believing that He exists. In other words, we must come to God in a personal way, as we would come to any human being, believing Him to be that real, which He is. Hezekiah did just that; he spread open this letter as though God were right there in front of him, ready to read it.

c. How the king prayed

And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD. (verse 15)

Is there anything else a human being can do when faced with a crisis to which his resources are inadequate? Hezekiah’s prayer is jam-packed with Biblical theology from beginning to end. True prayer never denies the facts, rather, it faces them head on but interprets them theologically. That’s how Hezekiah prayed. That’s also how the early church prayed in Acts 4:24—31.

Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.” (Acts 4:24b)

Sennacherib’s challenge was in essence a showdown. But it wasn’t between Nehemiah and the Assyrian commander. It wasn’t between the Jews and the Assyrians. It was between the real and the phony; between the truth and lies. Hezekiah’s prayer indicates that he realized that and he expressed it the words he chose.

  • LORD Almighty, the God of Israel… The first thing the king acknowledged was that even though he was the king, there was One greater than he, and it was really God who was over Israel. Other nations had their gods, other people worshiped their rulers, but not Israel. Israel’s God was Yahweh.

  • you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. Not only is Yahweh sovereign over Israel, He is sovereign over all the kingdoms of the earth. This is a profound statement. It indicates that God is literally overseeing what is going on in every nation, not just Israel. Psalm 102:15–The nations will fear the name of the LORD, all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.

  • You have made heaven and earth. If Yahweh made all that can be seen, it’s reasonable to see Him as ruler over it!

  • ...they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Other nations have come and gone and their so-called gods have perished because unlike Yahweh, they were not real

  • Now, LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, LORD, are the only God. Now all the nations needed to see who really is God alone. He cannot be stopped by the plans of any man. Fire cannot stop Him because Yahweh was not fashioned by the hands of man; He is an eternal spirit who dwells among the angels.

Linked to Judah’s deliverance—their salvation—was a revelation of God to all people, acknowledging that Yahweh was God alone. So, for Hezekiah, the salvation of Israel meant the vindication of God among the heathen, and the possibility that they, like Israel, would come to know Him as God alone.

3. Hezekiah’s success

Then the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! (verse 36)

“The angel of the Lord” is described as “going out.” The Hebrew word is usually used of going forward in battle. Though the “angel of the Lord” is distinct from God, He is identified with Him. It was God who fought for Hezekiah and the Jews. How did He slay all those soldiers?

The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that that night Sennacherib’s camp became infested with rats that destroyed the soldier’s weapons and killed the soldiers. In the ancient east, rats are usually identified with some sort of terrible plague. However God did it, He decimated the Assyrian army and those left alive beat a hasty retreat.

But God wasn’t finished with the Assyrians just yet. There is a span of some twenty years between verses 37 and 38, but Isaiah seems to indicate that all the events were part of God’s judgment on Sennacherib and the Assyrians:

One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons Adrammelek and Sharezer killed him with the sword…

Sennacherib was assassinated while worshiping his false God. The God of the Jews protected them, Sennacherib’s gods did nothing for him. This was more than enough evidence that Yahweh was real.

The power of prayer is evidenced by success.  Sometimes that success is a long time in coming.  Ultimately, Hezekiah’s prayer was completely answered after his death.  That’s a good thing to remember when we pray!  We need to pray in faith believing for an answer.  We need to look for the answer.  But we need to realize that God’s time isn’t necessarily ours.

Is there any sadness or sorrow so great or circumstance so frustrating that the prayer of faith can’t bring deliverance and success? The words of Jesus affirm what King Hezekiah knew:

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. (Matthew 17:20)

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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