Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Praying God's promises

Our Sunday School class has been going through an inductive Bible Study by John Stott on the Book of Acts. When looking at the prayers of the disciples on those days between Christ's ascension and Pentecost, Stott comments,

[Jesus] had promised to send them the Spirit soon (Acts 1:4-5, 8). He had commanded them to wait for him to come and then to begin their witness. We learn, therefore, that God’s promises do not remove our need for prayer. On the contrary, it is only his promises which give us the warrant to pray and the confidence that he will hear and answer. (Acts: Seeing the Spirit at Work, p. 12)

Another great example of this promise-prayer relationship is found in the Babylonian exile. For centuries, Israel had rebelled against God with her idolatry and immorality. God was slow to anger, but eventually disciplined His chosen people. Yet even this discipline was for a season. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promised His judgment would only last for seventy years:

You have not listened to Me, …Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Because you have not obeyed My words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north…This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation… (Jer. 25:7-8, 11-12)

For thus says the LORD, When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:10-11)

A whole generation later, after Israel’s captivity and Babylon’s destruction, the prophet Daniel discovered God’s promise and prayed for God to fulfill His word:

In the first year of [Darius’] reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. (Dan. 9:2-3)

Notice that Daniel did not take God’s promise of deliverance for granted, but humbled Himself before God in prayer. And according to Ezra, God graciously answered Daniel’s prayer and finally fulfilled the prophecy given through Jeremiah so long ago…

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom,...” (Ezra 1:1)

There is a lesson here for each of us today. Just as the early disciples prayed for the promised Spirit, and just as Daniel prayed for God’s promised deliverance, so we too should pray often for the fulfillment of God’s promises. For example, we should:

  • Pray that Christ will continue to build His church (Matt. 16:18)
  • Pray that people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation will hear and receive the gospel (Matt. 28:19-20; Rev. 5:9)
  • Pray that God will deliver us from temptation (1 Cor. 10:13; Matt. 6:13)
  • Pray that Christ will return soon (Jn. 14:3; Rev. 22:20)

May God’s promises increasingly instruct and occupy our prayer life. Only then can we know with certainty that we are praying according to His will, and that He will answer our prayers (Jn. 14:13, 15:7; 1 Jn. 5:14).

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