Introduction: We All Pray
A blog I stumbled across online posed the question “Have Christians Accepted that God Does Not Answer Intercessory Prayer?” The article when through various academic studies around prayer and how little impact it seemed to have on the lives of individuals. “Prayer” is a word that even the most pagan person knows because we have all been in situations where prayer has felt like our only option. At some point, we have all prayed, even if we do not know who we are praying to!
The 1993 film Shadowlands tells the story of CS Lewis’s life, particularly focusing on his relationship with his wife, Joy Gresham. She is diagnosed with cancer shortly after their wedding day and passes soon after. At one point in the film, a friend had mocked the prayers of Lewis, to which another said: “Christopher can scoff, Jack, but I know how hard you’ve been praying, and now God is answering your prayers.” Yet, Lewis responds more beautifully as he reflects: “That’s not why I pray …. I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. “It doesn’t change God. It changes me.”1
How many of us can relate to that sense of helplessness and having nowhere else to turn. We all pray because we all face need, and sometimes we do not know where to turn: so, we look beyond ourselves. In that blog, the author sought to paint a picture of a world where faith was decreasing as more and more people realised there was no God and no need to pray!
Yet, in my few years of Ministry I don’t think I have ever meet someone who would not want to receive prayer or said they have never prayed. A recent survey collated during the pandemic found that 1 in 20 people started praying! 26% said they prayed at least once a month, and around 45% said they prayed because they believed in God. It seems like people still pray, more interesting is that young adults (18-34) where the largest group identified in terms of praying.2
Prayer is beautiful because as we do it in expectation, we realise that God is all-powerful and at work in the world. As this truth bears fruit in our lives through the Holy Spirit at work in us (in response to what Christ has done), we are changed because we begin to see all things through the lens of the majesty, power, and glory of God. Then as the truth of who God is and what is he doing incarnates in the depths of our lives, we pray not out of hopelessness but expectation.
As Children of God, we are those who have received through the expectant prayer of faith from the greatest act of God – Christs work on the Cross. Thus, we trust that God is active in the world and doing what he needs to do now to establish his Kingdom (even when it does not make sense). Today as we live for Jesus and await his coming again, we pray we expectant that God will work. Why? because we know the work of the Cross that assures us he is at work today and will complete that which he has cause to do in his own time.
We pray with the expectation we are trusting in the goodness of God. Hence, our expectation is not that God will do what we want him to but that He will do what he needs to do. Our Passage from 2 Kings 6 teaches this threefold truth:
- Why we pray: Because we always have need.
- Who We Pray to: An all good an powerful God.
- Because We Pray: Stuff happens
Why We Pray (15-16)
When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. 16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
It is just another run of the mill day for another unnamed servant, who is rising early to get a good start on whatever the day might bring. Then just as the dawn has broken outside the city walls, he thinks to himself: “Oh, we might have a bit of a problem here.” He turns to Elisha after seeing an enemy army encamped around the city of Gods people. Such is the severity of the situation that there seems to be no obvious option. Thus, we are presented with two types of people: first, one who sees the situation before they see God; second, the one who sees the situation through their lens and knowledge of who God is, and in both, we see the reason we pray.
Life throws us so many different situations of adversity, and we will all react to them differently. When faced with a perilous situation, the servant does not know what to do, whereas Elisha seems as calm as ever. If we are being honest with ourselves, we are more likely to be the servant at this moment than Elisha! Worried about what we are facing and worrying about what we are going to do about it. Yet, in the madness, we are reminded about why and when we pray!? Because we know who God is and trust him. When Do We Pray? All the time!
What Elisha reminds us about in his calmness is that the reason we pray is not situational, but personal – that we know God Trusting that he is already at work and sovereign in every situation. “Why” we pray is not a responsive reality but a ‘truth’ reality, because in Christ we are those who are confident in God and expectant in his working. Then like Elisha can say in the face of every situation, enemy or threat: “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” The why behind our prayers and the reason we are expectant in prayer is because of who we pray to! Thus, let us consider to who we pray.
Who We Pray To (17-18)
17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 18 As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the LORD, “Strike this army with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked.
Our knowledge of something affects how we relate to it and trust it. Imagine you bought a brand new sports car with one of the most powerful engines made. If you had never driven it before, you would be hesitant to start the engine, never mind taking it out on the road. However, imagine someone in your family is a professional race driver, and they are round at your house; they spy your new car and offer to take you out in it! After a few miles on the road flying through corners, you find yourself jealous of how confident they are behind the wheel. You wonder why the car does not handle the same way when driving and why they are so much more confident driving? Yet, you know: Because they have better knowledge of the car and experience driving. Experience that gives them trust in the ability of the car. It is not that you cannot drive a sports car; they have more experience, which gives them more confidence behind the wheel. Our knowledge of something affects how we relate to it and trust it.
In our Passage, we have two main characters, and both have a knowledge of God. Yet, how they approach a devastating situation is drastically different: the servant reacts with fear because he can only see what is in front of him (an enemy army). Elisha reacts with confidence because he sees what is beyond them (the army of the Lord). Elisha is confident in God because he knows God. His knowledge of God allows him to trust that God is in control and working in a situation that appears otherwise not possible. Tim Keller wrote: “To pray is to accept that we are, and always will be, wholly dependent on God for everything,” and here fearing a great foe Elisha demonstrates for us a dependency on God and an expectation of God in that dependency.
He is happy to depend on God at the moment, and he expects that God will work in response to the prayers of his people. Firstly Elisha prays expectantly that God will open the eyes of his servant, and the Lord does! As the servant looks to the hills, he no longer sees the enemies of the Lord, now he sees where his help will come from – the armies of the Lord: “and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
Elisha displays two common types of prayer that we often offer up to a good God:
- Prayers concerning an individual.
- Prayers concerning a situation.
In both, Elisha prays with expectation because he believes as true what John piper says succinctly: “God is at work in the worst of times. He is at work doing a thousand things no one can see but him.” Our Passage reminds us why we prayer (because we know God), and now as the servant’s eyes are opened, we remember that the expectancy of our prayers is based on the supreme goodness and power of God. He who is in control of all things and working all things to his purposes, even when it seems otherwise.
It was this confidence that in God allowed Elisha to pray that God would act even as enemies of the Lord hurtled down to them. What did God do? He heart the prayers of his servant and responded to them. For Elisha it was “The presence of hope in the invincible sovereignty of God drives out fear.” 3
Because We Pray (19-20)
19 Elisha told them, “This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you are looking for.” And he led them to Samaria. 20 After they entered the city, Elisha said, “LORD, open the eyes of these men so they can see.” Then the LORD opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria.
As Christian’s we are those who live future-orientated-expectant lives because of what God has done through Jesus Christ. Thus, we trust in God what is doing today and pray expectant about what He will do in the future. We trust that God will complete what he has begun and already achieved through the work of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary, where our greatest prayer was answered. We live today in the power of the Holy Spirit in response to that moment, and because of that moment when we pray in the Holy Spirit with the certainty of our Advent hope. Knowing God is working in the world in ways seen and unseen.
There is much that could be said about pray! We could spend weeks thinking about why God answers some prayers and not others. Yet, today we acknowledge that God hears and responds to all prayer because he is good; we trust him even when we do not understand like Elisha.
The servant of Elisha wondered what they might do. As that threat marched towards them: Elisha turned the situation over to God in prayer, asking that he act and then he watched and reaped the benefits from God responding to Elisha prayer. In these final few verses, we see what God does because we pray; and, we see what we must do – we must trust and live in response to the working of God. Elisha prayed, and because he prayed, God acted, and because God acted, Elisha responded in obedience and trust to the work of God in his life.
Tonight, we remember why we pray (because we seek God in all things), we know to whom we Pray (The Lord Wo is sovereign and good), and we have glimpsed at what happens because we pray (God acts in the world). So with expectation let us pray!
Let Us Pray (Conclusion)
Some moments are marked by certain characteristics when they begin, and for the disciples of Jesus, in those moments after they watched him ascend to heaven, they turned to the Lord in expectant prayer. Then when the Holy Spirit descended upon them, they turned to the Lord in expectant prayer; and then when the Lord started together, more of them and the Church began to take shape. What did they do? They prayed expectantly that God would continue to do things through them and around them. As the forces of darkness worked against the Kingdom of God at Peters arrest, what did the Church do? They prayed expectantly that God would “consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. (and) Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 4
Every movement of God from the Ascencion Christ has been marked by a gathered church who turn to him in expectant prayer. Not expecting that our prayers will be answered the way we want them but expectant that God will work in the world and our prayers will join us in his work as through the Holy Spirit we are moved to answer the prayers we asked. Prayer is the heartbeat of the Church and the Christian life! it is why Paul wrote “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. “5 and commanded the church to keep on praying in Ephesians for the world, each other and him: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” 6 So today let us pray expectantly and trust that God is at work.
I think this Passage offers us two types of prayer that we might bring before God this week in expectation. First, based on the servant, might we pray expectantly that the Lord might open the eyes of someone we are praying for that they might see how Glorious, good and powerful God is. Then like Elisha, let us bring before the Lord whatever we are facing or going through in prayer, trusting him with it and expectant that he will work all things to his end. Then perhaps even like Elisha, we might join the Lord in his response to our prayers seeking his guidance as we live out our obedience to him, thankful for his answer to our greatest prayer, that through the saving work of Christ on the Cross he hears our prayer of faith and calls us his own.
The Disciples responded to the Ascension of Jesus by waiting in prayer, so today, as we think of his Advent and await his second coming, let us join with the Church throughout the ages in expectant prayer. This Advent, let us pray expectantly.
- As Quoted form the Movie Shadowlands:
- A survey published by Tearfund See https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2020/1-may/news/uk/more-people-praying-during-lockdown-survey-suggests ↩
- John Piper ↩
- Acts 4:,29-30 NIV ↩
- 1 Thes. 5:17-18 ↩
- Ephesians 6:18-19 NIV – ↩