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The Bible (both the Old and New Testaments), is a rich source of wisdom, inspiration and teaching about every topic related to following Jesus as a whole-hearted disciple. In the 66 books of the Bible we learn who God is, what God’s intentions were and are toward humanity, exactly what our relationship with God can look like, and the fulfillment of all God’s promises in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Much of what we learn about mankind’s relationship with God can be drawn from the examples of individuals who prayed and God’s response to them.
The many prayers found in Scripture were prayed by regular people, by leaders, by prophets, by mothers and fathers, by individuals facing difficult circumstances, by individuals God had called by name and by people who had only heard that there is a God who answered prayers. Jesus prayed, Mary prayed, King David prayed, Moses prayed, Hannah prayed, Paul prayed, and all these prayers are recorded and available to us for study, for inspiration and for guidance in our own prayer lives. In addition, we have Jesus’ teaching about prayer and the ways the early church followed his example and passed on his teaching.
Scripture provides examples of prayers of confession, lament, praise, petition, repentance, declaration, adoration, desperation, blessing and more. Today I will highlight two prayers, one of intercession and the other of blessing. As you will see, they provide a glimpse into the variety, the simplicity and the relational nature of prayer, which requires both a healthy understanding of our relationship with God and a stance of love and hope toward the people we’re praying for.
To find specific power or relevance from a passage in Scripture that speaks into your prayer focus, read through the prayer, keeping your own prayer focus in mind. Pay attention to those words, concepts or phrases that draw your attention, then shape a prayer using those in a way that connects with your own prayer focus. For instance, if you are praying for someone whose current work or living situation is not secure, you might look at the teaching of Jesus on prayer in Luke 11:1-13, which shows you can pray with confidence for this person. You might pray, “God I know you are a kind and loving Father who desires to give good gifts to his children, and one who cares about the details of our lives. I pray now for this friend who needs guidance and provision. Our eyes are on you, trusting you hear us and will answer this prayer. I am seeking your answer on this friend’s behalf and I believe you have an answer for this current problem.”
As a small sample of the variety of prayer found in Scripture, from the Old Testament we will look at one example of Moses in his role as priest, interceding for the people of Israel; and from the Epistles, we’ll look at one of many instances of Paul’s prayers of intercession for the early church.
In Exodus, Chapter 32, Moses, drawn on by his own knowledge of God’s love for His people, intercedes for the people of Israel, asking God to relent of His plans to destroy them because of their idolatry. Moses appeals to God’s own history in saving Israel, to God’s reputation with the surrounding nations, and to God’s own promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Knowing that they were worthy of destruction because of their idolatry, Moses nonetheless intercedes for them, crying, “Why will You let the Egyptians rejoice and say you brought the people out of Egypt to kill them?” “Why will You destroy the very people You love?” “Don’t you remember your promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, promises that included many generations yet to come?” And in response to the intercession of Moses, God does relent and punishes, but does not destroy the people of Israel.
The example of Moses in this chapter and elsewhere, is a powerful encouragement to me when I’m interceding for people who have sinned, or when I’m petitioning God on my own behalf, knowing I too have broken God’s law, because in this story, God relents! Surely, if God could forgive them, He can also forgive me, and those around me. The bold prayer of Moses and God’s response to him, emboldens me to pray prayers that exceed my own capacity to achieve or sometimes even imagine! And this courage increases knowing that the sacrifice and the blood of Jesus is the answer to every human sin.
In the New Testament, we have abundant examples of prayers offered and the responses given. We see Jesus praying, crowds pressing in to petition Jesus with their individual prayer requests, and prayers of the new church. Paul’s intercessions are most often forward-looking, prayers which are also mini-sermons and prophetic declarations. Paul prays zealously for believers in the local churches of the 1st century and his prayers echo down to our own congregations today. Paul intercedes, in Ephesians 3 for example, that those called to follow Jesus will understand the great wealth, the great advantage, the surpassing glory of that call, exhorting believers, exhorting us, to take hold of those things God wants to give us! And in Colossians 1:9-14, we see Paul’s highest hopes for the new church, as well as his understanding of exactly what is available to those who desire to follow Jesus.
I encourage you to make this rich resource of prayer material your own by studying prayers in Scripture. You’ll find a link listing most of them [I notice Hagar’s prayer in Genesis 21 is omitted, for example], as well as Scripture passages about prayer, in the first reference below. And if you want to read one book on prayer, written by someone who grew up with the example of parents who prayed and who has prayed for our city for nearly 40 years, I encourage you to take a look at Just Asking by Stuart McAlpine, a dear friend of The District Church and mentor to many DC pastors.
Just Asking by Stuart McAlpine