There are many misconceptions about prayer. If you listen to some folks, you get the impression that God only hears prayers offered in 16th Century King James English—“Dear Heavenly Father, we comest to Thee and bowest in Thine presence as abject worm-eaten sinners.” Others act as if they must find the right key to open heaven’s doors or perhaps need to hack God’s operating system and find the password to get in the back door. Still others believe God is so busy running the universe that we must take a number and wait in line until he has time for us. In addition, some folks pray as if God is required to do their bidding and so they make demands that he bless every plan.
You get a different perspective when you read about Abraham’s conversation with God in Genesis 18:16-33. You discover that prayer is a conversation where God reveals his plans to us and where we respond and ask how we can help him accomplish his plans. This fits with what we have discovered thus far in our series, that prayer is a conversation with a God who knows our needs, cares about our needs, and moves to meet our needs. We focus on God and his concerns first before we bring our requests to him.
Genesis 18:16-17 shows the depth of God’s relationship with Abraham. A servant is not privy to his master’s plans, but a friend will share his thoughts with his friends. As the friend of God, Abraham is included in what God has in store for the world. Abraham was to be a channel of blessing to the world (18:18), so he needed to know why God was removing one of those nations before he had a chance to bless it. Abraham was to teach justice to his children and grandchildren (18:19), but he needed to see it demonstrated so he could do more than teach the theory. God is going to model justice for Abraham in how he deals with the sin of Sodom (18:20-21).
Throughout this passage, God models his character for Abraham. God is omniscient and knows everything. He hears the cries of the oppressed and the downtrodden. But he is also a just judge who will base his judgment on firsthand information. He sends his angels to Sodom to investigate if things are as bad as he has heard (18:15, 21).
As Scripture reveals, Sodom had seen and experienced God’s grace on numerous occasions. When the inhabitants of Sodom were captured in the battle of the kings (Genesis 14:1-16), God allowed them to be rescued by Abraham. They heard the witness of Melchizedek, the priest of God Most High (14:17-20). They witnessed Abraham’s response to the king of Sodom that he would only serve the Most High God and would not take any of the spoils of war (14:21-24). Despite the repeated evidence of God’s grace, the people of Sodom were incredibly wicked. (This is not New England “wicked”—“wicked cold,” “wicked awesome.” This is evil wicked. On a scale of 0-10, these folks were a minus 15.) They were guilty and fully deserving of God’s righteous judgment.
And yet, the just judge is also a merciful God. He will spare the wicked for the sake of the righteous.
Abraham’s conversation with God is not a beat down of God. Abraham is not arm wrestling God in order to get his way. Abraham’s prayer is modest. He never challenges God’s evaluation of Sodom or pries into the details. His prayer is humble. He recognizes God is the Lord and he is but “dust and ashes” (18:27). Despite his modesty and humility, Abraham is persistent in his prayer. Six times he asks God for something specific, and becomes bolder with each request (50, 45, 40, 30, 20, 10 righteous people) (18:24-32). Abraham’s prayer is also persuasive as he appeals to God in light of God’s character. “Will not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” (18:25, 32).
As Christ followers, we need to understand God’s plan and our role in helping carry it out. God’s plan is to reach the world with the message of grace. Our role is to share the gospel and make disciples. Since God is going to bring judgment on the world, we must intercede for those who need mercy. Rather than just focus on ourselves, we should pray for the oppressed and downtrodden in our city, state, nation, and world.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 18, 2016. It is part of a series on Prayer: Moving Heaven for Earth. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.