Prayer is a mystery. God knows everything and is sovereign over the universe. What difference does it make that I should pray? I don’t know much and certainly cannot control anything, yet He tells me to pray and He will not only hear but will answer.
I’m certain that in this study on prayer, the mystery will prevail. But I do know that prayer is a matter of faith; even though I do not understand how or why, God asks me to pray and I must trust Him and do what He says, whether I understand it or not.
That said, there are some examples of prayer that are larger than my imagination and challenge my faith. One of them happened when Solomon finished the temple. God heard this king’s prayer then told him, “I have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:12–20) In other words, “If you fall into sin and experience my judgment, pray and turn from your sin and I will hear and forgive you, and my judgment will cease.”
On another occasion, Hezekiah was king and realized that God’s anger toward them required a cleansing of the temple. He commanded those in charge and, “They gathered their brothers and consecrated themselves and went in as the king had commanded, by the words of the Lord, to cleanse the house of the Lord. The priests went into the inner part of the house of the Lord to cleanse it, and they brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the Lord into the court of the house of the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 29:10–18)
Prayer is not mentioned here, but this is an example of His people turning from sin and calling on God. If my life is filled with uncleanness, cleansing is vital to my relationship with God, but also how will He listen to my prayer for other things if I neglect to keep myself, the temple of the Holy Spirit, cleansed from sin? And the only way to do this is to confess my sin to Him.
Prayer is powerful. Elisha had prayed for a Shunammite woman to bear a son. She did, but the son died. She went to Elisha who prayed to the Lord, and the boy’s life was restored. (2 Kings 4:26–37)
When I read accounts of answered prayer like that one, I relate to the cry of Isaiah. I too would like God to come down, to answer my prayers in a mighty way . . .
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. (Isaiah 64:1–3)
In the early church, the Lord answered prayer in great power. Since those days, periods of mighty change where God’s power is seen, have been called “revivals.” God breathes renewed life into His people and we become instruments of great changes in the lives around us.
My devotional reading asks about the last time I prayed for revival. It was not long ago, but I’m very aware of the prerequisites for this kind of prayer. This incident from the early church illustrates . . .
Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. (Acts 19:18–20)
These were not pagans who were involved in practices that dishonored God, but “believers” who also had spent a great deal of money in their folly. For the Word of the Lord to prevail and increase in a powerful way, these Christians had to deal with their sin, even in a public way.
Revival hinges on effective prayer, and effective prayer hinges on confession of sin, not the sin of those without faith, but the sin of God’s people, my own sin included.