"Keys to Intercessory Prayer"
Genesis 18:16-33...............May 16, 1999
Perhaps you've had a surprise visitor at your home on occasion. It may have been an friend, a salesman, a neighbor or a family member. It may have been at dinner, in the middle of the night, or while you were working in the yard. I remember one night opening our front door to see a friend of mine that I hadn't seen in many years. He had been to a Civil War reenactment in Fort Madison and thought he'd stop by. He ended up staying the night.
Sometimes these visitors are a "sight for sore eyes" at other times they come at times that aren't too convienient. This morning we look at some visitors to the home of Abraham. We don't know whether he was thrilled or caught off guard. What we do know is that these were no ordinary visitors.
The text tells us that "The LORD appeared to Abraham". In the heat of the day three men appeared. There is nothing in the text that implies that Abraham saw these men coming. He was sitting at the entrance of his tent and suddenly they were standing "nearby" (NIV) Perhaps they seemed to "appear out of no where.
Notice something in this passage. Over and over we read that "the LORD said,". In verse 22 we read that "the men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham approached him . . . " We are told in chapter 19 that two of these men were "angels" (19:1). Who is the other one? I believe this is a pre-incarnate (before the birth of Christ in Bethlehem) appearance of the Lord. Abraham is talking to the Lord Himself.
Abraham is a good host. He shows Mideast Hospitality. He refreshes them with water to clean up, a place to rest, and a very hearty meal. From most figures I have discovered this was quite a feast. Abraham gives his best to the LORD.
We read last week that it was during this dinner that the LORD announced that in the next year Sarah will have a child. We looked at these words and the laughter of Sarah last week. My focus this morning is verses16-33. Here (contrary to the NBC farce "Noah and the Ark") Abraham (not Noah) intercedes for Sodom. This is the first time we see a prayer of intercession in the Bible, and what we learn is very instructive. If we really want to pray effectively for others we must pay attention to these lessons.
ABRAHAM MADE TIME
Even though it would have been socially unacceptable, Abraham could have ignored the visitors. Abraham could have brought out a hurried meal and fulfilled his obligation and gotten rid of the men quickly. You know, he could have gone and gotten some crackers with Cheez Whiz, some of those little wieners and a bologna and been done with it. But he doesn't. He goes all out. He takes time to give himself to these visitors.
Notice also that Abraham didn't just wave good-bye to the visitors. He walked with them awhile. It was during this time that Abraham learned about Sodom. If he hadn't gone with them . . . if he hadn't taken the time, he would have never had the opportunity to intercede for Sodom.
This is a simple principle. . . If we do not make time to spend with the Lord we cannot intercede for others. If we allow the Lord to pass by . . . or , better, if WE simply pass by those opportunities for prayer we will never have a part in the lives of others. Intercessory prayer does not happen "on the fly". If we are going to pray for others, we need to make time to do so.
When we make time to be with the Lord . . . as we spend time with Him, His will and His plans are revealed to us. Effective intercession requires a relationship with God. Relationships demand time.
The Lord lays out the charge against Sodom, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know." Sodom is so corrupt that others are crying out against it. We don't know who. Was it the armies of Heaven calling for God to execute justice against such vile people? Was it those who had been victimized by the barbarity of the people? Perhaps it was those who had be raped, abused, or killed as a result of the self-indulgent lifestyle of these citizens. We just don't know. What we do know is that God was listening.
God tells Abraham that he is about to destroy two cities! Abraham perhaps knew that Sodom and Gomorrah deserved the judgment they were about to receive. But at the same time, Abraham knew that those towns were filled with real people. John White writes,
To us Sodom means nothing- a city lost in remote history. But to Abraham it meant living people and warm of flesh and quick of movement. It meant slaves and their masters, tradesmen, craftsmen, parents, children, merchants, animals, provisions, houses, gardens. It was in Sodom that his relative Lot lived. He knew Sodom. He had met its king. He had personally rescued many of its citizens when disaster in war had overtaken them (Gen. 14). God had enabled him to deliver the city from the ravages of defeat, yet now he was proposing to obliterate the city and all its inhabitants. [Daring to Draw Near p. 18]
Abraham felt the horror of what was going to happen. In this day of television when so much heartache is paraded across our screen day after day, it is easy to be unmoved and indifferent to the suffering of others. We must work to resist this!
If we are only wrapped up in ourselves we will never be great intercessors. We must see that every lost person faces an eternity in Hell. We must remember that every sinner is in the same state we were in before we knew grace. We must see that every hurting person is somebody's family member, somebody's friend. We must see beyond ourselves.
And do you know what builds compassion in us? It is difficult times. When we have suffered we feel more fully the sufferings of others. When we have lost someone we love, we feel more acutely with those who grieve. When we have been rejected we understand the pain of those who are alone. This is what Paul argues in 2 Corinthians 1:3,4
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
If you want to intercede, feel the pain of those you pray for. Take time to think about what they are going through. Enter into the struggle of another. Draw parallels from your own experience. If you have no experience to draw from imagine what it would be like if you were the person you are praying for. What if you were a refuge? What if you were told you had cancer and had young children at home? What if your marriage was disintegrating? If you empathize you will pray more fervently and more effectively.
HE WAS HONEST
Abraham asks God an honest question: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing - to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the judge of all the earth do right?" (18:22-25)
Before even finishing the question, Abraham has answered it. He knows that God will do what is right. However, I appreciate the honesty of the question. If we are not honest in our praying our prayers are superficial and meaningless. . . and it is foolish to think that God is going to respond to such praying. If we don't ask our honest questions we will never grow in our faith.
But, in the questions be ready to listen for an answer. Repeat the promises of Scripture to yourself. Stand on His Word. We don't ask out of arrogance . . . we ask out of honesty. At times we don't understand why things happen the way they do. We must be honest about our attitude.
There are times I have to honestly say, "Lord, I don't know how to pray." At other times I will confess, "Lord, it is hard for me to see beyond the seeming injustice of this situation . . . help me." God welcomes our honesty.
ABRAHAM ASKED SPECIFICALLY
Abraham does not speak in generalities . . .he is specific. He wants to know, "if there are 50 righteous people found in the city, will you spare the city?
Listen to God's powerful answer,
If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake. (26)
But Abraham does not stop here . . . he continues to push the issue. Maybe even Abraham isn't too sure that there are 50 righteous people in Sodom. He asks what if there are 45? 40? 30? 20? 10? Each time God says, if there are that many righteous people the city will be spared. Abraham is not asking arrogantly (demanding God do things) but hs is asking specifically. There is a difference.
"Abraham asks specific questions. Do you know why we sometimes feel that we don't see answers to our prayers? Because we don't know what to look for. We have not asked for anything specific. I encourage you to be specific in your prayers. Don't command God to do things but make clear what you are asking. If you are asking for a physical healing . . . say so. If you want someone to be brought to faith, make that specific request. If you need a certain amount of money . . .name it. We will not see dramatic answers to prayer unless we can recognize answers when they come.
Sure God can say "No". And certainly there will be times when God will answer differently than we anticipate . . . but many of the times God will answer our request as we have prayed it. But we will never see this until we are specific.
Don't miss something else here. God would spare the city if there were ten righteous people in it. I sometimes wonder why God has put up with America? I think it is because of the believers in the land. As long as the faithful are faithful we are providing a measure of protection for our land. But, if Christians begin losing their righteousness our land is in trouble. If interpretations of a secret rapture of believers is correct . . . when the church is raptured, the nations of the world are in trouble . . . big trouble!
Why did Abraham stop at 10? Why not go all the way to 1? Here are some possibilities,
ABRAHAM'S PRAYER WAS EFFECTIVE
How can I state that the prayer was effective when only Lot and his two daughters escaped the destruction? It's because Lot and his two daughters escaped the destruction! God protected the righteous. God defended his people. God made provision for Lot and his family to be saved. In fact, there is some question whether Lot's wife and daughters were righteous at all. If not, then God saved Lot and was willing to save those who were in his family, simply out of love for Lot.
But there are two things you need to see here,
First, God does not always answer as we expect. Abraham expected that the only way the righteous could be saved was for the city to be saved. God chose to answer Abraham by removing his nephew from the city. God was faithful even though it was in an unexpected way. Just because things don't happen as you expect doesn't mean that God did not grant your request. You may have asked God to provide food for your family. You may have expected a check in the mail. But if someone brings a bag of groceries to your door God has still granted your request. You may pray for healing for a person and yet they die. But they may have been healed in other ways: God may have taken away their fear and replaced it with peace. He may have healed relationships. He may have delivered a saint who was eager to come home and given them the ultimate healing!
Second, We don't always see the answer to our prayers Nowhere do we see that Abraham learned of Lot's safety. Nowhere do we read of Abraham and Lot ever seeing each other again. As far as Abraham may have been concerned, Lot may have perished with Sodom. When Abraham looked out on the destroyed city, he may have felt a great depression sweep over him. He may have mourned that he didn't ask specifically for the protection of Lot. As far as Abraham was concerned, he may have felt his intercession was fruitless.
You and I pray for people all the time (I hope). At times it feels like our prayers are accomplishing nothing. But things are not always what they appear. There will be times when you pray for God to work in a life and you will think that nothing has happened. But . . . God hears the prayers of His saints. God listens to every word. God has accorded us the great privilege of having an impact in the lives of others. I don't know how it works. We certainly don't change God's will. What I do know is that when we pray . . . lives are changed.
It may not always seem like it . . . but your prayers make a difference. Friends, we will not know what effect our prayers have really had until we get to Heaven and God shows us. And at that time I am confident of two things,
The only way we can avoid regret in the future . . . is to pray now.
Rev. Bruce Goettsche