Day 3 – Prayer in Difficult Times
And so such a stretch of history would undoubtedly bring forth a huge development of the prayer life of the people of God. As you see the rescue from Egypt, the conquest, the settlement of the land of Canaan in the first period ? The Pentateuch ? now into the time of Joshua, the judges, the kings, exile, all of that, the people of God were going to be stretched and tested in so many ways, and so these books tell a tremendous story.
And they are packed with many, many prayers, both the leaders and the ordinary people crying out to God to help, to guide, to save, deliver them, but we must learn how we pray in the similar circumstances of our lives, and we can see that, first of all, by looking at the prayer life of the great men of that era ? Samuel, for a start. What a mighty man of prayer he was.
In fact, in Jeremiah chapter 15:1, it is suggested that Moses and Samuel are the two main intercessors of Jewish history, and in 1 Samuel 7:5-12 (let?s look at that together) we see how Samuel intercedes, and we have now a time of low national morale. The Ark of the Covenant had been captured, and they were now struggling with restoring this, and we have the time when the Philistines are raising their profile once more and it says in 1 Samuel 7, verse 5 and onwards,
In Jeremiah chapter 15:1, it is suggested that Moses and Samuel are the two main intercessors of Jewish history.
Samuel said, ?Gather all Israel to Mizpah and I will pray to the Lord for you.? So they gathered together at Mizpah, drew water, and poured it out before the Lord, and they fasted that day and said, ?We have sinned against the Lord,? and Samuel judged the children of Israel at Mizpah.
Now when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel had gathered together at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel, and when the children of Israel heard of it, they were afraid of the Philistines, so the children of Israel said to Samuel, ?Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines.?
And Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. Then Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel and the Lord answered him. Now as Samuel was offering up a burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel, but the Lord thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day and so confused them that they were overcome before Israel, and the men of Israel went up out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and drove them back as far as below Beth Car.
Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer, saying, ?Thus far the Lord has helped us.?
So here we have Samuel interceding for the whole nation, and again, in other parts, in 1 Samuel 8 and 1 Samuel 12, he intercedes for the people of God concerning their request for a king. First Samuel 12:23, ?Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you, but I will teach you the good and the right way.?
So even though Samuel was offended at their attitude in rejecting his leadership and the leadership of his sons and demanding a king instead, nevertheless, he continued to pray. So here is his continuous expression of his prophetic calling. And even after Saul?s rejection, when Saul was rejected by God, Samuel prayed all night.
?God said, ?I greatly regret,?? 1 Samuel 15:11, ??I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following me and does not perform my commandments.? And it grieved Samuel and he cried out to the Lord all night.? We need these kind of prophetic leaders, who not only hear the voice of the Lord and teach that to the people, but at times of great need intercede and cry out to the Lord.
We need these kind of prophetic leaders, who not only hear the voice of the Lord and teach that to the people, but at times of great need intercede and cry out to the Lord.
David, during this period, also stands out as a great intercessor. The whole story of David has many, many references to him inquiring of the Lord ? such as in 2 Samuel 2:1, ?Now it happened after this that David inquired of the Lord, saying, ?Shall I go up to any of the cities of Judah?? And the Lord said to him, ?Go up,? and he said, ?Where shall I go?? and He said, ?To Hebron.??
In 2 Samuel 5:19, ?So David inquired of the Lord, saying, ?Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you deliver them into my hand?? And the Lord said to David, ?Go up, for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into your hand.??
And so this characteristic of David inquiring of the Lord was the secret of his success. That?s why he became the prototype for Messiah, the one who was to come, because he was a godly ruler. He submitted to the voice of the Lord. Everything he wanted to do, he put it on one side and said, ?Lord, is this what you would have me to do?? He inquired of the Lord in his battles; he inquired of the Lord in his leadership and his direction; and we, as those who are seeking to be church leaders and to be people whom the Lord would use in helping the lives of others, we must remember that this is the most important lesson ever to learn: to inquire of the Lord. It demonstrates the depth of David?s relationship and his dependence upon Him for guidance.
This characteristic of David inquiring of the Lord was the secret of his success.
Now, of course, most of David?s prayers are recorded in the Psalms, and there are many, many times in which David demonstrates his total desperation and his dependence upon God as he cries out to him.
Look at this in 2 Samuel 12:16. Here we have after the sin of adultery with Bathsheba and then the child that was born is sick and is going to die, and it says in 2 Samuel 12:16, ?David therefore pleaded with God for the child and fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground.? When we come to study fasting, we will see that fasting is no way to twist God against His will. God?s judgment had been spoken and that child was going to die. David?s prayers were not answered, but nevertheless it shows his attitude of heart in wanting to cry out to God.
Psalm 51, one of the only five psalms to be entitled ?A Prayer,? was written by David exactly at that time, ?Have mercy on me, O God, according to your lovingkindness, according to the multitude of your tender mercies. Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.?
So we have this example of King David, in all his intimacy before God, broken because of his sin, contrite in His presence, asking God for cleansing and for forgiveness. We can learn a great deal about intimacy and the importance of keeping short accounts with God, and being very, very close to Him in fellowship and prayer.
Now we move to another very important character, a fiery one: Elijah. During this period of time, the period of the Kingdom, we find the prayers recorded in these Kingdom books are sometimes great prayers of confrontation. Both Elijah and his successor, Elisha, were great intercessors.
Now some of Elijah?s prayers are without precedent in any other part of the Bible ? especially the Old Testament ? 1 Kings 17:20, ?Then I cried out to the Lord and said, ?O Lord my God, have you also brought tragedy on this widow with whom I lodge by killing her son???
Now here?s a man who knows God, and he?s bold in the presence of God, and that was the introductory prayer which led to the first recorded resurrection from the dead. Elijah?s boldness at a time of need and desperation in the presence of God, his fiery personality even, perhaps, anointed by God, in His presence says, ?Lord, this has never happened before and I have no record of anybody else being raised from the dead, but I?m going to believe you for something that has not happened before.? We need prayers like that.
Elijah says: ?Lord, this has never happened before and I have no record of anybody else being raised from the dead, but I?m going to believe you for something that has not happened before.? We need prayers like that.
In 1 Kings 18:36-37 we see another very bold prayer, the one that he is most famous for,
And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice that Elijah the prophet came near and said, ?Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, that I have done all these things at your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that these people may know that you are the Lord God and that you have turned their hearts back to you again.?
And you know what happened next: the fire fell. The fire fell. The great test on Mount Carmel was who answers by fire, who answers prayer, and it?s Elijah?s confidence in God as he comes before the Lord to cry out to Him that gives him that answer to prayer at a very dramatic moment in the nation?s history, and you, of course, read that the people of God fell on the ground and cried out to the Lord saying, ?The Lord, He is God. The Lord, He is God.? We need men and women of prayer like that today who know how to challenge the nation and to challenge evil in that kind of way.
Also in this period we study Ezra. Ezra is a great man of prayer. A great man of prayer. In Ezra 8:21-23, here we have Ezra wanting to come back and restore the people of God during the time of restoration, and it says he proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava,
…that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him the right way for us and for our little ones and all our possessions, for I was ashamed to request an escort of the soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road because we had spoken to the king, saying, ?The hand of our God is upon all those who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.? So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer.
Can you see the bold spirit of restoration? He says, ?Lord, we?ve got to recover our confidence in you. The nation has sinned, been in exile all these years, and now you?re calling them back and I want to go there to do something, to rebuild Jerusalem, and to see the glory of God come back.? And so Ezra went to supervise the rebuilding of the temple, and how wonderful it was, and this great prayer that we read is a prayer of re-establishing confidence in God during a time of national and personal disaster.
In Ezra chapter 9 we have one of the greatest of all of the Bible prayers. Here Ezra confesses the sins which he has not personally committed himself, but the sins of the nation, and he identifies with these people and he identifies with their sin. It?s a scriptural idea which we call ?representative confession.?
We notice that when Ezra confessed, he didn?t repent for the sins of the nation. There is no such thing as representative repentance or surrogate repentance. You can?t stand in and repent for anyone else?s sin. You must repent for your own sin. Everyone must repent for their own sin, but we can confess the sins of others. We can confess the sins of our family, of our nation; confess the sins of our church, because we are part of that family, that nation, that church, and in many ways, perhaps, those sins are our own sins as well, in which case we both confess and repent.
There is no such thing as representative repentance or surrogate repentance. Everyone must repent for their own sin, but we can confess the sins of others.
But here we have Ezra interceding for the nation, and it says, Ezra 9:5,
At the evening sacrifice I arose from my fasting, and having torn my garment and my robe, I fell on my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God and I said, ?O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads and our guilt has grown up to the heavens. Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been guilty, and for our iniquities our kings and our priests have been delivered into the hands of the kings of the land, to the sword, to captivity, to plunder and humiliation, as it is to this day.
And now for a little while grace has been shown through the Lord our God to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and give us a measure of revival in our bondage.?
And so he goes on in this prayer. What a powerful prayer it is, and we need people today who will stand in the gap of representative confession and will cry out to the Lord on behalf of the sins of the people and confess the sins of the nation and confess the sins of the people of God and acknowledge that we have gone far away. And as we pray and intercede, something happens.
As we?ve done this in our own network of churches here in London in our recent times together in prayer meetings and large convocations, we?ve cried out to God, we?ve confessed the sins of the nation, we?ve confessed the sins of the church, we?ve confessed our sins in the presence of God, and God has opened heaven to us and revival power has come down, and now people, on a daily basis, are finding Christ. Tears are streaming out of their eyes as they confess their need of Jesus Christ.
We need more and more intercessors like this. Oh, don?t dismiss this Old Testament praying and say, ?Well, we know now how to pray better than they did.? No, we need to get back to some of these biblical principles.
And we look at Nehemiah. Here again, constant prayer was typical of Nehemiah. Time and time again, he prays in a way which is similar to Ezra?s. He takes the sins of Israel on himself and confesses them as a whole. We find it in?time and time again, and the references are there for you to look at.
Now when we study prayer during the Kingdom Period, we find that there are certain books which suggest, and certain references which suggest that there were special places for prayer in Old Testament times. For example, the Ark of the Covenant denoted the local presence of God, and time and time again, when prayer was made, it was made there, before the Lord in His temple. That is why King David, when he wanted to seek the face of God in 2 Samuel ? and we come to it, I think it?s around verse 14, the specific reference ? in 2 Samuel, there we have David coming in and sitting before the Lord. Why is that? Because he is coming into the presence of God. That presence of God was manifested and localized there, and so David comes in, verse 18 it is of 2 Samuel 7, ?Then David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said, ?Who am I, O Lord, and what is my house that you brought me this far??? So David felt it very keenly that he was to be in the presence of God.
Special places for prayer. So what are we to make of that? In New Testament times, everywhere is a holy place; every place is a sacred place. It?s where God manifests His presence. It wasn?t the furniture of the Ark in the tabernacle that attracted David; it was the presence of God. God chose to manifest himself in the tabernacle, above the Ark of the Covenant and in the presence of the Lord. There, Moses would go and Aaron would go, as we know from The Pentateuch, and others would draw as close as they could to the presence of God.
It wasn?t the furniture of the Ark in the tabernacle that attracted David; it was the presence of God.
But now in the New Testament times the presence of God is everywhere, and we carry that presence within us, so there is no such thing as a holy place, but it does tell us that we need to remember His presence wherever we are, and that is where we pray. We enter into the presence of God consciously and make it an appointment to meet with Him there, in our secret place, and then He manifests His presence to us.
Now during this period of history we find that the practice of fasting is developed?going without food and praying. It is usually in the context of mourning or weeping or asking God for help or demonstrating that you are serious with Him.
Now when we study fasting (there is a special session we will give entirely to fasting), we will see the principles that lie behind that, but we mention it now as we see throughout the period of God?s dealing with His people that the time comes when there is a need to call upon Him with prayer and with fasting to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation we find ourselves in.
Now we?re going to move to another category of books: prayer in the Psalms. The Psalms. Again, these psalms cover a very extensive period of history. Some are before the exile; some are after the exile; many of them are the psalms of David, which is the very beginning, as it were, of the Kingdom Period, and some of the psalms deal with the situation, the desperation of the people of God in bondage in Babylon, and then the joy of restoration, so it covers a very wide range of needs and situations.
The Hebrew word for psalm means ?songs of praises.? Now although only five of the psalms are specifically entitled prayers, many people feel that all the psalms are prayers in one sense. There are psalms of adoration, psalms of petition, psalms of celebration, lamentation, meditation, psalms of penitence, warfare, worship. Even if these are directed towards the Lord in so many ways, they are still prayers. They are still prayers, and there are individual psalms, there are corporate psalms, psalms in which an individual person addresses the Lord or praises or worships Him, or there are psalms, as well, which draw on the corporate body to worship God.
There are psalms of adoration, psalms of petition, psalms of celebration, lamentation, meditation, psalms of penitence, warfare, worship.
There are psalms that recount history, psalms which plead for vengeance, psalms which express almost every human emotion. You can go to the psalms to find an appropriate psalm for every situation you ever find yourself in or for any emotion you will ever find yourself expressing. For example, there are times where people are feeling hatred and want to deal with it, when they need repentance or when there are feelings of holiness and piety and want to draw close to Him; times of patriotism, wonder, trust, love, and devotion.
But there seems to me to be ten different types of prayer in the psalms, and I?m going to give you a few examples as we go through. There are prayers for blessing and protection, such as Psalm 86 and Psalm 102. There are prayers of praise and thanksgiving?Psalm 47, Psalm 68, Psalm 104 and many more.
Let?s have a look at Psalm 47,
O clap your hands, all you peoples. Shout to God with a voice of triumph. For the Lord Most High is awesome. He is a great king over all the earth. He will subdue the peoples under us and the nations under our feet. He will choose our inheritance for us, the excellence of Jacob whom He loves. [Selah]
God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of the trumpet. Sing praises to God. Sing praises. Sing praises to our king. Sing praises. For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with understanding. God reigns over the nations. God sits on His holy throne. The princes of the people have gathered together, the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God. He is greatly exalted.
Marvelous psalm, and you wouldn?t find better words to choose to praise God under any circumstances than those.
You do need to remember that these psalms are written in Old Testament times, and the Old Testament psalms, therefore, do not specifically bring us right into New Testament revelation, and so especially as we take these psalms and see them in the light of our New Testament revelation, our position in Christ, the glorious forgiveness that is ours, the love that He has given to us, the Holy Spirit who lives within us, and as we let the Holy Spirit bring these psalms to life to us in our New Testament understanding, they can be doubly enriched and you will not be able to find better words with which to praise Him and to thank Him and to come before Him in prayer and supplication.
There are prayers for deliverance ? look at Psalm 38 ? and these prayers of deliverance are so powerful and so needy,
O Lord, do not rebuke me in your wrath, nor chasten in your hot displeasure. Your arrows pierce me deeply, and your hand presses me down. There is no soundness in my flesh because of your anger, nor any health in my bones because of my sin, for my iniquities have gone over my head like a mighty bird, and they are too heavy for me. My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness. I am troubled. I am bowed down greatly. I go mourning all day long, for my loins are full of inflammation; there is no soundness in my flesh.
My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness. I am troubled. I am bowed down greatly. [Psalm 38]
I am feeble and severely broken. I groan because of the turmoil of my heart. Lord, all my desire is before you, and my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart pants, my strength fails me. As for the light of my eyes, it is gone from me. My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague, and my relatives stand afar off. Those also seek my life lay snares for me; those who seek my hurt speak of destruction and plan deception all day long, but I, like a deaf man, do not hear, and like a mute who does not open his mouth, thus I am like a man who does not hear and in whose mouth there is no response.
For in you, O Lord, I hope. You will hear me, O Lord my God. For is said, ?Hear me, lest they rejoice over me, lest where my foot slips they exalt themselves against me.? For I am ready to fall and my sorrow is continually before me, for I will declare my iniquity, I will be anguished over my sin, but my enemies are vigorous and they are strong, and those who hate me wrongfully have multiplied. Those who render evil for good, they are my adversaries, because I follow what is good. Do not forsake me, O Lord my God. Do not be far from me. Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation.