Sunday 28 July 2019
Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:6-19; Luke 11:1-13
By Angela Watts
A Licensed Lay Minister in the Ely Diocese
Context: Morning service for a small but faithful congregation
Aim: To refresh our approach to praying for our friends and family
TV programmes like Flog It or Antiques Roadshow occasionally feature people who have found something at a car-boot sale and have bargained with the vendor to obtain it cheaply. They had perhaps hoped it was going to be valuable and so feel vindicated when this is confirmed by the expert.
How one views a bargain depends on one’s place in the transaction. The observer notes that the vendor did not get their asking price and is perhaps left with a suspicion of meanness shown by the purchaser. Thus, popular examples of bargaining can colour our approach to other things, not least this passage from Genesis 18. Do we see this as Abraham bargaining with God – and calling this prayer?
Our difficulty may stem from the fact that we do not know the tone of the dialogue, of Abraham’s communication and God’s response.
If we start with a petulant McEnroe-like Abraham, ‘You cannot be serious, God. How can you kill 50 righteous people?’ then we can easily be led to God’s capitulation, ‘You’ve got a point there, Abe. I’ll concede that. Fifty it is then’” So the bargaining goes 45, 40, 30, 20, 10 until Abraham thinks he cannot push God any further.
It would be easy to adopt such a view, portray Abraham as the good guy who shows God some home truths. However, that would be to focus too much on the words and not enough on the character of the protagonists.
God Himself had spoken clearly and plainly to Abraham that He knew of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, places whose names endure to this day as symbols of depravity. It is that sense of God’s righteousness and holiness, coupled with his awareness of God’s mercy, which prompted Abraham to pray as he did.
Do we have such a relationship with God that we hear Him, that we are in dialogue with Him? Do we know His purposes? What prompts us to pray? To pray like Abraham prayed, persistently coming before God and pleading for people.
This first intercessory prayer in the Bible shows us that prayer is not a reciting of names, not the presenting of a list of requests based on our own perspective, but earnest dialogue with God based on our relationship with Him. In Gen 18:19 God had affirmed that He had chosen Abraham, the first to be known as ‘friend of God’ (James 2:23). In Christ, we too are friends of God (John 15:14f). How do we come before Him? Do we pray like Abraham prayed?
In asking God for people to be spared, Abraham revealed his knowledge of God’s nature and will and also his love for his relatives, Lot and his family. Lot was not unblemished, and he was definitely unwise, but Abraham interceded for him. Genesis 19:29 tells us that, though Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, Abraham’s entreaties were heard by God.
Illustration: Students at a nursing school had a test. Those students who had worked hard and revised sailed through until the last question. ‘What is the given name of the caretaker?’ ‘How should I know his name?’ remarked one student as she handed in her paper. She, like many others, had not answered the question and asked if it would count towards the final grade. The teacher replied that the question scored double and absolutely it counted. ‘In your careers you meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention, even if you only smile and say hello.’ That student got to know David, the caretaker, and never forgot him or that lesson.
As Christians we believe that everyone matters, that every life is significant, that everyone, (every One), is loved by God. Do our prayers show this?
In 2015, in England, the Church of England conducted research which can be viewed on the website TalkingJesus.org. It showed that 67% of non-Christians know a practising Christian (someone who attends church, prays and reads the Bible at least once per month). Most of these Christians are family and friends, that is, a relationship has already been established. 39% of all English non-Christians who know a Christian had had a conversation with them about God. 20% said that they were open to an experience/encounter with Christ.
Abraham prayed for 10 people in what is thought to be a population of 10,000. The Talking Jesus survey calls us to pray for FIVE people, whom we already know, and believe at least one will be reached for Christ.
What do we think God can do? Are our prayers stale and formulaic or are they driven by our knowledge of God’s character and purposes coupled with our love for people and longing for them to know His mercy too? Abraham’s prayer was driven by people he loved. It made him bold in God’s presence. His friendship with God and knowledge of His character gave him confidence in God’s ability and readiness to hear. Like the friend in Luke 11, Abraham was persistent in prayer.
We are among friends, let’s pray.
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