Session 3: What Do the Historical Books Say About Prayer and Fasting? - Radical

Secret Church 19: Prayer, Fasting, and the Pursuit of God

Session 3: What Do the Historical Books Say About Prayer and Fasting?

In this session of Secret Church 19, Pastor David Platt focuses on the historical books of the Old Testament. God continues to fulfill his redemptive purposes for his people—purposes that were originally laid out in the covenants made with Abraham and then, through Moses, with Israel.

In the Historical Books, we see the people of God, particularly Israel’s leaders, pleading with God to fulfill his promises. Leaders like Joshua and David relied on God for his grace, protection, and provision. Sadly, though, Israel and its leaders often failed to look to God for wisdom, and they failed to love him supremely. Although God’s people entered the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership, God eventually expelled them from the land due to their sin. They needed to repent and seek God’s face through prayer and fasting.

What do the historical books teach us about prayer?

17. Joshua 1: Practicing the Presence of God

Joshua 1 speaks of practicing the presence of God. This is a long quote from Richard Lovelace, but I think it helps to explain how we should view the Spirit of God when it comes to practicing the presence of God all day long. 

We should make a deliberate effort at the outset of every day to recognize the person of the Holy Spirit, to move into the light concerning His presence in our consciousness and to open our minds, and to share all our thoughts and plans as we gaze by faith into the face of God. We should continue to walk throughout the day in a relationship of communication and communion with the Spirit mediated through our knowledge of the Word, relying upon every office of the Holy Spirit’s role as counselor mentioned in Scripture. We should acknowledge Him as the illuminator of truth and of the glory of Christ. We should look to Him as teacher, guide, sanctifier, giver of assurance concerning our sonship and standing before God, helper in prayer, and as One who directs and empowers our witness. We should particularly recognize that growth in holiness is not simply a matter of the lonely individual making claims of faith on the basis of Romans 6:1–14. It involves moving about in all areas of our life in dependent fellowship with a person: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” When this practice of the presence of God is maintained over a period of time, our experience of the Holy Spirit becomes less subjective and more clearly identifiable, as gradually we learn to distinguish the strivings of the Spirit from the motions of our flesh.

This is a New Testament perspective on Old Testament promises that God gave to His people. Think about Joshua now in Joshua 1:1-9. This is what God says to him in verse nine, “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” 

Strength and courage are dependent upon the presence of God in all our lives (Numbers 13:25-33, 14:1-10). At this point, from the perspective of the world, Joshua should be scared to death. The last time he tried to lead the people of God into the Promised Land, he was almost stoned for it. He knew the inhabitants of the Promised Land were formidable, but with the presence of God, Joshua could be sure of victory. 

Joshua learned from the very beginning that success and prosperity are dependent upon communion with God (Joshua 24:29-31)and God gave it as Joshua communed with Him. 

God, we pray that You would help us live, walk and do everything we do cognizant of Your presence with us and dependent on trusting in Your presence with us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

18. Joshua 7: Uncovering the Presence of Sin

In Joshua 7 we learn about the vital importance of uncovering the presence of sin through prayer. Through Achan’s sin, which we read about in Joshua 7—his holding on to goods and hiding them in his tent—we learn that prayer before God leads to the revelation of sin (Joshua 7:10-15). God points out sin in the camp as Joshua prays.

We learn that prayer before God is necessary for repentance from sin (Joshua 7:26). Repentance happens through prayer. We cry out for God’s forgiveness and for God’s grace. And prayer before God leads to restoration beyond sin (Joshua 8:1-2. So repentant prayer is the pathway to restoration and reconciliation with God.

God, help us be honest with You about sin in our lives, our families, and in our churches. Please keep us from trying to hide sin from You. Make us an honest, repentant people who walk in close relationship with You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

19. Joshua 9-10: Our Voice and God’s Voice in Prayer

In Joshua 9 and 10 we learn about the need for God’s voice (9:14-15). Failing to seek God’s counsel in prayer leads to foolish decisions in our lives. That’s evident in Joshua 9. This decision to not seek out God’s counsel in prayer proves detrimental. We learn about our need for God’s voice and we learn about the power of our voice. Just like we saw in Moses, we must never underestimate the effect of praying to the God Who will fight for us. Listen to Joshua 10:12-14: 

At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.

Joshua’s voice in prayer caused the sun to stand still. Do we realize Whom we’re praying to and what our God has the power to do? All of creation is under His sovereign reign and we’ve been invited to pray to Him. 

God, please help us not to neglect Your voice and not to ignore Your voice, but always to seek Your Word and counsel. Then help us realize the power of what happens when we lift our voices to You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

20. Judges: Hearing Our Cries for Help

In Judges, we see a picture of God Who hears our cries for help. The book of Judges is summarized in one verse—Judges 21:25: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” This led to all kinds of idolatry and immorality. Judges teaches us that because of our sin, we experience God’s righteous judgment (Judges 2:10-22). Yet at the same time, because of His mercy, God hears and answers our cries for help (Judges 3:15). Praise be to God for hearing and answering our cries for help.

21. Judges 6: Should We Ask God for Signs?

In Judges 6 we read the story of Gideon putting out a fleece as a sign to see if God was actually going to use him to save Israel. This is where we need to remember that not everyone in the Bible, nor everything they do, is intended to be an example for our lives (Judges 6:36-40). The reality is Gideon wants a sign from God because he doesn’t trust the Word of God that God had already made clear to him (Judges 6:11-24). Gideon’s lack of faith in God eventually leads Gideon and God’s people to turn away from the worship of God (Judges 8:22-28). 

So the takeaway from this story is that we must pray with trust in God’s Word alone, not looking for some extra sign that God will be faithful to His Word. That’s the exact opposite of how Jesus is going to teach us to pray when we get to John 15:7. We also must pray with zeal for God’s glory alone, just like Jesus will teach us to pray in Matthew 6:9-10. 

God, help us trust in Your Word and live with zeal for Your glory. 

22. 1 Samuel 1-2: Prayer Amidst Barrenness and Praise for Blessing

First Samuel 1 and 2 is a prayer amidst barrenness and praise for blessing. This is not an uncommon picture in the Old Testament in particular. Women who were unable to have children are praying to have children. These are passages that have been particularly meaningful for Heather and me. It just so happened that we were in 1 Samuel 1 in our Bible Reading plan as a church today, so we read this passage today. It’s talking about Hannah, who was deeply distressed, so she prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly because she longed to have children.

This reminded Heather and me of about five years of being deeply distressed. Many days we were weeping bitterly, praying, and wondering, “Why, God, why? We know You have power to give children. You’ve given us the desire for kids. Either take away the desire or show Your power. We don’t understand why we have this desire and You’re not showing Your power, month after month after month.” Many of you have heard our story, but I won’t assume everybody has. God used that journey to lead us to adopt our first son, Caleb, from Kazakhstan. We would have said at the beginning, “Since we can’t have kids naturally, we’ll have kids through adoption,” kind of like it was second best. We learned very quickly that adoption was just as best.

We got back from Kazakhstan, brought Caleb into our home, then two weeks later I got home late one night from a meeting. Heather was still awake and I could tell something was going on. She said, “You need to sit down. You’re not going to believe this—I’m pregnant.” Whoa. What happened in Kazakhstan apparently doesn’t stay in Kazakhstan. We had been told at every point of the adoption process, “Don’t get your hopes up, because you never know when it’s going to fall through.” So for whatever reason, we hadn’t been able to have kids biologically up to this point and we agreed that night, “We don’t know if this will go full term, so let’s not get our hopes up.” So for the next month we didn’t get our hopes up. Nine months later, our hopes were still not up, but Heather was still pregnant. 

We were living in Birmingham, Alabama, at the time and again I got home late one night from meetings. Heather wasn’t feeling good. We went to sleep, then she woke me up in the middle of the night Saying, “Hey, I’m sure it’s a false alarm, but I think we need to go to the hospital.” Okay. So we went to the hospital on this cold December night, which is an important part of the story. We got to the hospital and they told us they didn’t have enough room for us. Okay. “Do you have a stable outside, or perhaps a manger we could use?” 

They put us in this closet and hooked Heather up to a bunch of machines. We sat there groggily for hours. Then finally this nurse came in and said, “We need to get you in a room. You’re going to have a baby today.” Heather’s and my eyes locked on each other and we decided it was time to get our hopes up. Then they moved us into this room. 

Now for a little bit about me—I don’t do well in hospitals which is not good for me being a pastor. Right now I’m getting nauseous just at the thought of a hospital. Heather knew this, so she told me a couple weeks before that she was praying for me and how I would go through the whole process. It was a bit of a shot to my pride. She wasn’t praying for her health or our child’s health—but my health in this process. We were sitting there as they were getting things set up, and the nurse started talking to Heather. She told her that the doctor who was going to deliver the baby actually lets the dad help deliver the baby if he wants. Heather starts laughing. “Ah, David would never do that.” Again, shot number two at my pride. I decide, “This is my moment.” It’s one of those times words come out of your mouth before you can stop them. “Well, I’ll help deliver the baby.” Heather said, “You will?” “Of course. Who-o-o wouldn’t want to d-deliver a baby?”

I thought, “What have I done? I can hardly stand to be in this room and now I’m about to deliver a child.” I decided I needed to come up with a game plan. True story. What went through my mind was that I would look at this like it was a mission trip. Follow with me. When you go on a mission trip to another country, you do things you don’t normally do. You eat things you don’t normally eat; drink things you don’t normally drink. When you’re in Rome, you do what the Romans do. When you’re in the hospital, you do what doctors do. They deliver babies in this country, so that’s what I’m going to do. Besides, I have a doctorate. Granted, it’s in theology, but what does it really matter? In the end, it’s all the same. Actually, mine is more important, right? I know the God Who’s making all this happen. 

Anyway, I was thinking, “I’m in another country.” The doctor came in, strapped a gown and mask and gloves on me, got in my face for about 60 seconds, used a bunch of medical jargon I didn’t understand, and said, “Do you understand this?” “Yes, sir.” He said, “All right, be ready. Stand behind me and when it’s time….All right, reach down, put your right hand on top of your left hand.” It was like Tom Brady; I had two nurses flanking me. “You right here? You right here? Let’s do this.” 

All of a sudden out comes this little head and time stands still as this child we’ve wept and prayed for arrives. I pull him up and place him on my wife’s lap, while our child that we didn’t even know how to weep and pray for was in the room with us. So, two boys. At that moment,  we knew we wanted to adopt again, so we started the adoption process soon thereafter. We ended up adopting our daughter from China. Then three months later, you’ll never guess what Heather told me. She was pregnant. Her doctor said, “If you adopt four, you’ll have eight.”

We’ve actually started the process of adoption again. I don’t know where this story is going to end, but the key is today we just so happened to read this verse and today just so happens to be our first son’s 13th birthday. I praise God for answering prayers in ways far beyond what we can imagine. 

Prayer involves petition according to the needs in our lives. We lift the specific needs in our lives before God. 

Prayer involves expression of the longings of our heart. We come to God with our desires, our longings, our hurts. 

Prayer involves conviction that God hears and responds to our cries, pleading in all these ways with confidence.

Prayer involves devotion of God’s gifts for God’s glory. God provides Hannah with a child, and Hannah offers him for service in the temple. It’s a powerful picture. “For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:27-28; also see chapter two).

O God, we praise You for Your good gifts and we lend them all back to You. Our children, our friends, our jobs, our money, our homes, our talents, our gifts, everything we have, we lay it all before You and pray, “Use them for Your glory.” Every good gift in our lives comes from Your hand. So we pray, “Use them all for Your glory, for Your purposes.” We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

23. 1 Samuel 3, 7, 8, 12, 15: The Ministry of Prayer

Altogether, these chapters give us a collective picture of Samuel’s life and the ministry of prayer. 

In 1 Samuel 7, we learn that the ministry of prayer requires humbly hearing God’s Word. (see verses 8-11). 

In 1 Samuel 8:6-22, the ministry of prayer requires continually pleading for God’s help.

In 1 Samuel 12:19-25, we find the ministry of prayer requires faithfully interceding for God’s people, particularly when they sin or walk through struggles. 

Finally, in 1 Samuel 15 we learn the ministry of prayer requires passionately sharing God’s perspective. 

I love 1 Samuel 15:10-11. After the people had sought a king in Saul, Saul turned away from God. “The word of the Lord came to Samuel: ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.’ And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night.” When was the last time you cried to the Lord all night? Have you ever cried to the Lord all night? And not just because of something terrible that may have happened to you, but to others or to God’s name. 

God, we have so much to learn about prayer and praying with Your heart and Your perspective. We pray that You would break our hearts over what breaks Yours. Make us people who cry out to You all night for the needs around us, for the glory of Your name. Please teach us to pray like that, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

24. 1 Samuel 23, 28, 30: Inquiring of the Lord

First Samuel 23, 28, and 30 all teach us about inquiring of the Lord. David does the opposite of what we saw earlier. 

In 1 Samuel 23:6-14, when facing a decision, God provides direction through prayer. David comes to God, “Shall we go to battle here?” God says, “Yes.” “Shall we do it this way?” God says, “Do it this way.” This is the same God you and I inquire of in prayer. 

Then when facing potential defeat, God provides deliverance through prayer (30:7-8). David looks to God in prayer as Saul is seeking his life, then God delivers and rescues him. 

But then with Saul in 1 Samuel 28:3-6, we learn that when walking in disobedience, God may disregard our prayers. 

So we pray, God, help us walk with You in obedience to Your Word. As we face decisions in our lives, please help us look to You first, not to anyone or anything else. Where do we go first when we have decisions to make? God, help us look to You in prayer. Help us trust You in prayer, particularly when we’re afraid. When we face trials, temptations, or even threats around us, deliver us, we pray. Bring us through it, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

25. 2 Samuel 7: Prayer and the Promises of God

In 2 Samuel 7, we learn that prayer to God hinges on promises from God (7:18-29). I love this passage. In a sense, it’s one of the most significant prayers in the story of the Old Testament, because so much of it revealed here shapes our understanding, not just of the Old Testament, but of all the Bible and all of history. That’s why I put a lot of biblical texts in this part of your study guide. In 2 Samuel 7, we find David’s prayer after God promised that He would build David’s house and kingdom. So beginning in verse 27, we read:

For you, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, “I will build you a house.” Therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. Now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever. 

Do you see that? David takes God’s promise and says, “I’m praying with courage and boldness that You will be faithful to it, and I’m trusting You will.” Prayer before God hinges on promises from God. In the words of one of my favorite preachers in the world, Robert Smith—who for years has taught preaching at Beason Divinity School in Birmingham—“Tell God what He has said.” God delights in being held accountable to His Word in prayer.

This was the promise from God to David in 2 Samuel 7: A continual seed from your line will endure (7:12-13, 16), an honored son from your line will reign on the throne forever (7:14; 1 Chronicles 22:6-10, 29:22-23), your family will enjoy God’s rest (Deuteronomy 11:24, 12:10; 2 Samuel 7:1, 7:10), and your family will exalt God’s glory (2 Samuel 7:13, 22-26). These are so many Old Testament passages that show how potent God’s promise was to David. 

The prayer from David to God was a prayer of humble gratitude in 2 Samuel 7:18: “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?” It’s a prayer of extravagant worship, verse 22: “You are great, O Lod God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you.” It’s a prayer of confident trust in God’s promise, verse 25: “Now, O Lord God, confirm forever the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, and do as you have spoken.” Which then leads to a prayer of courageous petition for God’s blessing in verses 27-29. 

The point is that prayer to God hinges on promises from God. Now, obviously we’re not just like David in the sense that we haven’t received the same exact promises that he was receiving here. But we do have promises God has given us. We even have promises concerning a Kingdom, an inheritance, blessing from God, and rest from God for the glory of God. So when we pray, the Bible encourages us to bring before God the promises of God. 

We can say, “God, You said You will always be with me; I need You in what I’m walking through. You promised to strengthen and sustain me; I need Your strength right now; I need Your sustenance. You promised to work all things together for good; I need You to work this horrible situation for good and I’m boldly and courageously asking You to turn this for good. You promised to bring joy in suffering; I need joy right now. Please, O God, I’m asking You to be faithful to Your promise to bring joy in suffering. You promised in James 1 that if we need wisdom, You’ll give it to us; So I’m asking for wisdom, believing You will give me all the wisdom I need.” We can pray like this boldly before God in light of His promises. This means we need to know His promises in order to experience all God has designed us to experience in prayer. 

God, help us know Your promises. Help us lean on them. Help us pray courageously and boldly based on them. God, we praise You for Your promises to us and we praise You for Your faithfulness to every single one of them. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

In prayer, we “tell God what He has said.”

26. 1 Kings 3: A Prayer for Wisdom

Praying for wisdom leads right into 1 Kings 3. God tells Solomon to ask for anything, then Solomon says in 1 Kings 3:6-12:

“You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind.”

There it is again: “I now do according to your word.” See what we learn here. 

Prayer fundamentally depends on the generosity of God. Prayer starts with believing that God is generous. He wants to give good gifts to us. We do not come to a reluctant God; we come to a generous God. 

Second, prayer humbly focuses on what is pleasing to God. God is pleased that Solomon asked, not for what was most pleasing according to the standards of the world, but what is most pleasing according to the Word of God: wisdom. 

This leads to the third truth we learn here. Prayer necessarily trusts in wisdom from God. In the words of James 1, when we ask God for wisdom, He gives it generously. Prayer trusts in wisdom from God. This is so significant for prayer. Prayer trusts more in the wisdom that comes from God than the wisdom that comes from man. God’s wisdom is far greater than our wisdom. So even as we pray, asking God to do according to His Word, we do so with trust in His wisdom. Such that, if in His wisdom, God does not answer in the way we would like, we can trust that He is infinitely wiser than we are. Prayer necessarily trusts in wisdom from God.

Fourth, prayer inevitably leads to blessing from God.

Finally, prayer ultimately results in worship of God.

God, we praise You for Your generosity. We pray You would teach us to ask for what it pleasing to You, that You would help us trust in Your wisdom above our own and that our prayer lives would lead to blessing for us and worship for You. In Jesus’ name. Amen

27. 1 Kings 8: A Prayer of Worship

In 1 Kings 8, we find a prayer of worship in the dedication of the temple where the glory of God would dwell among His people in Jerusalem. 

The basis of this prayer is God’s faithfulness to His promises (1 Kings 8:23-24). 

As we’ve seen in other places, the source of prayer is God’s Word to His people (1 Kings 8:25-26). 

The place of this prayer is God’s dwelling in heaven displayed on earth (1 Kings 8:27-30). 

And the requirement for prayer is continual repentance before God (1 Kings 8:46-53). Solomon offers this prayer, knowing that repentance for sins is necessary for communion with God. It’s one of the more famous prayers in Scripture, typically for its phrase in 2 Chronicles 7:13-14. 

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.

The requirement of prayer is repentance, then the heart of prayer is a love relationship with God. I love the end of this prayer. Just look at 1 Kings 8:54-61: 

Now as Solomon finished offering all this prayer and plea to the Lord, he arose from before the altar of the Lord, where he had knelt with hands outstretched toward heaven. And he stood and blessed all the assembly of Israel with a loud voice, saying, “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant. The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers. Let these words of mine, with which I have pleaded before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, and may he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires, that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other. Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the Lord our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day.”

O God, we pray these things for us. Please cause our hearts to be wholly true to You. Incline our hearts to You, we pray, that we might pray and plead before You with hearts that are in love with You. God, please keep us from mundane, monotonous praying, where we’re just saying words here and there because it’s the thing to do, when we’re about to eat or whatever it is. Please, O God, we pray for a love relationship with You to grow and deepen and flourish through prayer. I pray this for my life and I pray this for every single person in the sound of my voice. Help us love You more and enjoy You more through prayer. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

28. 1 Kings 17-19: The Power of Prayer

First Kings 17-19 portrays the power of prayer in staggering fashion. The lesson of Elijah’s life is summed up in James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Do you believe that? Do you believe James 5? Hear what A.B. Simpson said: “Our God has boundless resources. The only limit is in us. Our asking, our thinking, our praying are too small. Our expectations are too limited.”

As we look at Elijah’s life, in the very beginning we learn prayer finds strength in the solitude of God’s presence (1 Kings 17:1-7). God takes Elijah off by himself, by the Brook Cherith, where He sustained and strengthened Elijah. Prayer finds strength in the solitude of God’s presence. 

Then later in 1 Kings 17, we learn that prayer carries the potential to see the dead come to life (1 Kings 17:17-24). A widow’s son dies. Elijah goes up to his room and prays for him, and the boy comes back to life. We see the same thing with Elisha in 2 Kings 4:32-37. Prayer has the potential to bring the dead to life.

Third, prayer exalts the glory of the true God above the false gods of the world (1 Kings 18:20-24). In this story, Elijah sets up a battle royal between God and Baal, the supposed rain god whom God’s people were worshiping. In 1 Kings 18:21-24, Elijah said, 

“How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.”

So game on. The prophets of Baal set up an altar and they start to pray. We learn very quickly that the power of prayer is, in and of itself, useless (1 Kings 18:25-29). That means just because we pray doesn’t mean anything. All kind of people in the world pray. Muslims pray. Hindus pray. Congress prays. Big deal. Look at these prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:26-29: 

And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself. [That’s Old Testament trash talk. Maybe your god is in the bathroom] or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.

Mark it down. When you pray to a god who is not there, you will not get an answer. The question is not whether you pray. The question is whom you pray to. Because the power of prayer in and of itself is useless, but the power of people who communicate with Almighty God is unstoppable. First Kings 18:30-39:

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down. Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed. And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time. And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water. 

And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”

What are my fears from this night? It’s that you would walk away from this simply committed to praying more. And if that’s the case, you’ll miss the point. The point is that we’ve been created to pursue God, but if we’re not careful, we’ll go through all kinds of prayer routines in our lives—in the morning, before meals, at night before we go to bed, whatever it is—and prayer will be this monotonous spiritual motion that misses out on the fact that we have the privilege of speaking to the one true God.

When we realize Who He is and what He has invited us to join Him in through prayer, it changes everything. I’m praying that you will walk away tonight committed to pursuing God, connecting with God through prayer in a way that is truly unstoppable in your life and in the world around you. In the words of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, “What an instrument is this, which God has put into your hands! Prayer moves Him that moves the universe.” 

Elijah shows us that prayer perseveres until God provides according to His promise (1 Kings 17:41-46). I love this picture. There’s been drought in the land, then in 1 Kings 18:42-45, Elijah went up on top of Mount Carmel.

And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. 

So many times we pray once and we stop; or twice and we stop. We don’t persevere in prayer. There’s a mystery to why God has designed prayer this way. God obviously could have answered after the first, second, or third time Elijah prayed. But Elijah kept praying until the rain finally came. And I want to encourage you to persevere in prayer until God provides according to His promise. Elijah knew God had told him the rain was coming, so he prayed and he prayed and he prayed until the rain came. 

God, teach us to persevere in prayer.

I want to pause here for a second because this reminds me of Heather’s mom. Ever since I met Heather and we started dating, we were constantly praying for her mother. In so many ways, she was a wonderful mom of my girlfriend and then my mother-in-law when we got married, yet she did not have a heart’s desire for God. She’d say, “I’m going to be fine in eternity,” but there was not a lot of evidence of a real relationship with God. For years and years, we prayed for her heart to be changed. We pleaded and pleaded that her heart would be grabbed by the God Who was pursuing her. 

One day when we were on vacation with Heather’s family, her mom woke up early in the morning and we found her praying and reading the Bible. Heather asked, “What are you doing?” She said, “I’ve been waiting to tell you.” Essentially she had read a book that shared the gospel and it made her realize she needed a relationship with God. She trusted in Jesus and her heart was totally changed. She was in the Word, in prayer, and sharing the gospel. I had the opportunity to baptize her. Then a couple months later she died unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage. Amidst obvious grief and sadness, there was such joy, knowing that after years of us persevering in prayer, she had come to know God and she was then with God. 

I hadn’t planned on telling you that, but I’m guessing there are many people listening now who are praying for someone and I want to encourage you: don’t give up. Don’t stop. You’re thinking, “It’s been more than seven times—I’ve prayed 700,000 times.”  Then pray 800,000 or 900,000. We don’t understand the mystery of why, but just keep persevering in prayer.

Then, prayer expresses honest emotion before God. In 1 Kings 19:1-4, we see Elijah at a low point. He was depressed and wanted to die. What’s so great about this passage is Elijah expresses that to God. Prayer expresses honest emotion before God. At this point, Elijah is running away from Queen Jezebel and he’s afraid for his life. 

That’s what I like about this next truth: prayer depends on the gracious and perpetual pursuit of God (1 Kings 19:5-8). It’s what we’ve already talked about, way back with Adam and Eve. Here Elijah is running, scared for his life. He’s depressed and wants to die. What does God do? God meets Elijah right where he is. I don’t know who here is struggling with depression. I don’t know who right now wonders if you want to go on. I do know this: the God of the universe meets you right where you are. You can be totally honest before Him and He will meet you right where your heart is. I invite you see that He is right there with you. He loves you so much.

Keep going. This story is so good. God reveals Himself in a fresh way to Elijah, but it’s not in some majestic, powerful display of His glory, like fire from heaven. Instead, it’s a still, small voice in 1 Kings 19:11-13. Prayer focuses not just upon the big, unusual and extraordinary, but also upon the small, normal and ordinary.

God, help us. Teach us to find our strength in the solitude of Your presence. We thank You for Your continual pursuit of us. We pray that You would teach us to pray with faith in You to bring fire from heaven and rain from the sky and the dead to life, to show Yourself glorious in these extraordinary ways, as well as in ordinary ways in our day-to-day lives. God, please help us experience on a daily basis the power of true prayer to You, the one true God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

29. 2 Kings 6: Prayer and Spiritual Warfare

In 2 Kings 6:8-19, we read about prayer and spiritual warfare. This is an awesome story in the Old Testament about Elisha, who was a prophet who came after Elijah. He is described in this story as a man of God. Let’s pick up the story in verse eight: 

Once when the king of Syria was warring against Israel, he took counsel  with his servants, saying, “At such and such a place shall be my camp.” But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel, “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Syrians are going down there.” And the king of Israel sent to the place about which the man of God told him. Thus he used to warn him, so that he saved himself there more than once or twice. 

So the king of Syria would make plans in his war with Israel, then God would reveal those plans to Elisha, the prophet, and Elisha would tell the king of Israel. It’s kind of unfair, right? Naturally, that didn’t make the king of Syria very happy. Now verses 11-12:

And the mind of the king of Syria was greatly troubled because of this thing, and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you not show me who of us is for the king of Israel?” And one of his servants said, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.” 

In verses 13-15, the king’s advisors say, “It’s not us; it’s Elisha who’s giving away your plans. So the king said,

Go and see where he is, that I may send and seize him.” It was told him, “Behold, he is in Dothan.”  So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city. When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 

Elisha’s servant is panicking, so he wakes up Elisha. “Master, what are we going to do. Elisha says, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (verse 16). Think about that. There are two guys in the house, Elisha and his servant, and there’s a great army with horses and chariots out there. So if you’re Elisha’s servant, you’re thinking the old guy has lost his mind. “He may be a prophet, but he’s no mathematician. There are two of us and there are a whole lot of them.” But listen to what happens in verse 17:

Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 

In other words, Elisha prays that God would open his servant’s eyes to see the spiritual army surrounding them. In that moment, the servant gets a glimpse of the unseen world and it totally changes his perspective. He realizes that the army of Syria is indeed outnumbered—not physically, but spiritually. In that moment, the invisible becomes visible and everything changes. Listen to what happens next:

And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Please strike this people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha. And Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria.

What happens in the rest of the story is Elisha leads the Syrian army right to the king of Israel, where all of them are immediately captured. It’s really not fair to know this God. So here’s the point. Here’s why I include that story here. This is so key for our understanding of prayer. 

We need to realize we live in the middle of a spiritual war. Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a lot going on around us that we don’t see. There is a spiritual, invisible world around us that is just as real as the visible world, yet far more powerful. 

There are vast numbers of angels, both good and bad, spirits that exist all around us. There are glorious beings that would take our breath away if we saw them, as well as evil beings that would horrify us if we could see them. We are in the middle of a spiritual war that affects all of our lives—our singleness, marriage, families, relationships, church, neighbors, communities, workplaces, cities. There is no part of our lives or this world that the adversary does not want to influence. 

We need to see that there is a conflict between the true God over this world and the false god of this world that is raging every single day in the way we spend our time, how we use our money, what we look at on our phones, how we raise our kids, the tone of voice we use with our spouse, what we do when we think no one else is watching—every aspect of our lives. 

At every moment, there’s a god in this world set up against the God over this world, and the god in this world wants to wreck your marriage, destroy your relationships, steal your purity, compromise your integrity, and at all costs prevent you and me from spreading the good news of eternal life to those who are on a road that leads to eternal death. We are all involved in a spiritual war all the time. 

If you think about the way the Bible talks about our lives, it speaks of it being a struggle against sin (Hebrews 12:4), a war within our souls (1 Peter 2:11), contending for the faith (Jude 3), struggling for the gospel and fighting the fight of faith (1 Timothy 6, Philippians 1 and 2 Timothy 4). We sometimes think spiritual warfare means something out of the ordinary is going on, but the reality is your involvement in spiritual war began the day you were born. You cannot ignore this war. The Bible doesn’t say, “Ignore the devil, and he will flee from you.” It says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). 

If you try to avoid this war—if you sit back in a lazy, lackadaisical, comfortable cultural Christianity, pretending like there’s no struggle to be had or war to be fought—you will not stand. What that means is a spiritual war requires spiritual weapons. Prayer is a weapon God has given us to wield in spiritual war and we are fools to go into war without it. 

God, open our eyes to the spiritual war around us. Help us to wage this war with the weapons You’ve given us, namely Your Word and prayer, communication with our Commander and King. Please, God, teach us to pray like we’re at war. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

30. 2 Kings 19-20: Prayer for Life

Interestingly, 2 Kings 19-20 show us a prayer for long life from Hezekiah. Hezekiah prays for the deliverance of God’s people, so that “all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone” (2 Kings 19:19). 

Hezekiah prays for the fame of God’s name, that God would save His people for His glory (2 Kings 20:1-6). 

Then Hezekiah pleads before God for the prolonging of his life. 

Again, God answers Hezekiah not only for Hezekiah’s good, but for God’s glory. 

This Bible passage is not teaching us that if we just pray for a long life, God will automatically give it to us. That’s not a promise. But it is a picture of a man who’s about to die, but he prayed and God granted him a longer life. 

31. 1 Chronicles 4: Prayer for Physical Blessing

In a similar way, 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 contains a prayer for physical blessing, popularized in a book called The Prayer of Jabez

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked.

Jabez prays for God’s blessing, presence, and protection, and God answers. Again, this does not mean God guarantees that He will enlarge your border and possessions and keep you from all harm. But Jabez boldly asked for these things and God answered. 

32. 1 Chronicles 5: Prayer in the Battle

In 1 Chronicles 5:18-20, we are shown prayer in the battle: 

The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had valiant men who carried shield and sword, and drew the bow, expert in war, 44,760, able to go to war. They waged war against the Hagrites, Jetur, Naphish, and Nodab. And when they prevailed over them, the Hagrites and all who were with them were given into their hands, for they cried out to God in the battle, and he granted their urgent plea because they trusted in him.

Why did God give these enemies into the hands of the Israelites? The people pleaded urgently in battle and they trusted completely in God. 

Let’s keep going and see some different pictures of prayer in Scripture.

33. 1 Chronicles 23: Prayer Every Day

In 1 Chronicles 23:27-32, we see an example of prayer every day. Listen to this description of the Levites, beginning in verse 30:

And they were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the Lord, and likewise at evening, and whenever burnt offerings were offered to the Lord on Sabbaths, new moons and feast days, according to the number required of them, regularly before the Lord. 

The Levites were to thank and praise God every morning, every evening, and in every offering. Prayers of thanksgiving and praise were continually and regularly being lifted to God among His people. 

34. 2 Chronicles 14: Prayer that Prevails

In 2 Chronicles 14:9-13, we see prayer that prevails. Talk about the odds stacked against you!

Zerah the Ethiopian came out against them with an army of a million men and 300 chariots, and came as far as Mareshah. And Asa went out to meet him, and they drew up their lines of battle in the Valley of Zephathah at Mareshah. And Asa cried to the Lord his God, “O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.” So the Lord defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fed. Asa and the people who were with him pursued them as far as Gerar, and the Ethiopians fell until none remained alive, for they were broken before the Lord and his army. The men of Judah carried away very much spoil.

Just observe what we’re learning about prayer here. Prayer is reliance upon God when we are weak and when we are overwhelmed.

Prayer leads to prevailing with God when He defends His people and He shows His power. 

George Mueller was a pastor who cared for thousands of orphans in his lifetime, doing it all through prayer. In the orphan ministry he established, he never once asked for any financial or physical help. Whenever he or the orphans under his care had a need, they would just pray and God would provide. Mueller said, “I have joyfully dedicated my whole life to the object of exemplifying how much may be accomplished by prayer and faith.” Make that the aim of your life. 

God, use our lives to exemplify how much can be accomplished through prayer and faith. Use my life to exemplify, to show, how much can be accomplished through prayer and faith. Use our churches to show how much can happen when we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

35. 2 Chronicles 15: Courage through Prayer

Keep going. In 2 Chronicles 15:1-8, we find courage through prayer. When we are with God, He will be with us. That’s the exact language at the beginning of this chapter.

The Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded, and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” 

The question is not primarily, “Is God with you?” or “Is God on your side?” The primary question is, “Are you with God? Are you on God’s side?” Everything hinges on that question. When we are with God, He will be with us, and when we seek God, we will find God. He will give us courage in our walk and we will experience reward in our work. That’s what we see there in 2 Chronicles 15:15. The pursuit of God leads to courage with God.

36. 2 Chronicles 20: Fasting and Praying in Desperation

Second Chronicles 20 teaches us about fasting and praying in desperation. Follow this story In verses one through four: 

After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle. Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar” (that is, Engedi). Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.

So they set their face to seek the Lord and they proclaimed a fast among the people—they set aside food to seek God in 5-12: 

And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said, “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name.

Historical Books Teach Us about Prayer and Fasting in Desperation

The prayer just keeps going. Then look at the very end, verse 12: “O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” Is that not a great last line? That sums up so much of the heart of prayer. “I don’t know what to do, God, but my eyes are on You. I’m trusting in You.” This is how we’re supposed to live.

So they appealed to God’s might and power.

They recalled God’s faithfulness in the past.

They remembered God’s promises to His people.

Then they confessed their weakness before God.

And they fixed their eyes upon God.

That’s a great outline for prayer and what happens is awesome. 

Prayer removes fear from us. Why does this happen? Prayer removes fear from us, because prayer shifts the fight to God.. It’s what happened in 2 Chronicles 20:18-19. 

Prayer produces expectant faith and prayer leads to extravagant worship. 

Second Chronicles 20:20-23 is an awesome picture of worship, as God brings deliverance and shows His power. 

When we pray, we see God’s hand at work (2 Chronicles 20:25-30) and when we pray, we experience God’s joy in worship. This is the way it works! We pray we see God’s hand at work. We pray, we experience God’s joy in worship.

37. 2 Chronicles 33: Prayer that Moves God

One more in Chronicles—2 Chronicles 33:10-13: 

The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.

This is 2 Chronicles 33 teaching us that God hears our prayers when we plead with humility and as we seek His favor. 

Then God emboldens our faith as we pray because we experience the provision of God and we grow in the knowledge of God. 

God, in all these stories from 1 and 2 Chronicles—the history of Your work among Your people—we pray in our day that You would embolden our faith, that we would trust in You in greater and greater ways for Your provision, and that we would grow in our understanding of Who You are, what You can do and all You desire to do in our lives, our churches and in the world around us. It is a baffling thought that right now we are talking to the One Who did all these things. 

The Historical Books Lead Us to Pray For Help in Prayer and Fasting

You are our God, the one true God over all history. So we pray that You would teach us to pray like we’re seeing in Your Word, for Your power and Your provision, in ways that remove fear from us because they give the fight to You. May you give courage to us in ways that resound in glory to Your name, in ways that cause Your name to be praised, feared, and revered more and more and more, in our lives and in the world around us. We pray for this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

38. Ezra: Fasting First (Part 1)

All right, let’s think about fasting specifically in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. All three of these books emphasize fasting. Ezra proclaimed a fast for safe journey for the exiles in Ezra 8:21-23: 

I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

They fasted for protection and they fasted for provision in their journey. 

39. Nehemiah: Fasting First (Part 2)

Then when we get to Nehemiah and see that fasting is the first thing he does when he hears the people in Jerusalem are in great disgrace. Nehemiah 1:4, “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” What follows through verse 11 is an incredible Old Testament prayer, one of my favorite prayers in the Bible. Nehemiah fasts in confession of sin and fasts for success in mission. He asks God for favor from the king so he can go and help the people in Jerusalem.

40. Esther: Fasting First (Part 3)

Then we get to Esther 4:12-17 and again see fasting. As soon as Esther hears that the Jewish people are in danger, she says in Esther 4:15-16:

Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”

Esther fasts in light of urgent need. The Jewish people in this situation were facing impending annihilation because of a decree from the king, who happened to be her husband. 

Esther fasts in the face of real fear, knowing she could be killed for approaching the king about this matter. 

Esther fasts for the salvation of people, that their lives might be spared. 

And Esther fasts for the glory of God. She’s willing to risk her life so that God might show His saving power, not only among His people but among all the Persian people. 

The Historical Books Say Prayer and Fasting Should Be Our First Response

In all three of these stories, notice how Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther all faced massive, life-threatening challenges, not just in their lives, but challenges to God’s people—and really, challenges to God’s name. When they faced those challenges, the first thing all of them did was not to strategize, come up with a game plan, and see what kind of human support they could marshal. The first thing all of them did was to fast. Urgent need led to fasting. The need for protection and provision led to fasting. Fear led to fasting. Desire for people’s salvation for God’s glory led to fasting—first. That was their first impulse. 

So God, we confess that fasting for most of us is not our first impulse when we face fear, when we face need and when we desire to see Your salvation. God, we pray, teach us to fast. We pray for Ezra, Esther, and Nehemiah-like impulses to fast in our lives and in Your church today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

41. Ezra 9-10: Praying and Fasting for Sin (Part 1)

There’s so much to learn in these books. I love these three books. There are two parts specifically about praying and fasting for sin. We’ve already talked about Ezra 9:1-6, but I want to focus on Ezra 10, in a powerful picture where we see how we fall on our faces before God, trembling before His holiness. We lift up our cries to God, pleading for His mercy. Just listen to this passage from Ezra 10:1-2:

While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly. And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.”

Do you see this? In prayer and fasting, we weep over our sin bitterly. Have you ever been part of a service like this? I fear that scenes like this in the Bible are so uncommon among us. Rarely if ever do they happen among us. Why is that? Are we less sinners than they were? No. Listen to Ezra 10:6, but then read through verse eleven later: 

Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib, where he spent the night, neither eating bread nor drinking water, for he was mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles. 

The Historical Books Say Prayer and Fasting Should be Our Response to Sin

God, help us weep over our sin bitterly. 

We confess our sin honestly (Ezra 10:12) and we consecrate our lives completely. That means we commit our lives into His hands for His commands. Shouldn’t we be concerned that scenes like this—honest, heartfelt confession of sin—are not more common in our gatherings today? We go from Sunday to Sunday to Sunday to Sunday, for years, and never experience this. Something’s not right.

God, help us see our sin for what it is. Cause our gatherings to be more true and authentic encounters with You, not just going through the motions. I don’t even know what this means for this church or any other church, but God, we pray that You would change this. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

42. Nehemiah 9-10: Praying and Fasting for Sin (Part 2)

We see a similar picture in Nehemiah 9 and 10. Prayer includes praising God for Who He is. There a great example in Nehemiah 9:1-6. 

Prayer includes thanking God for what He has done (9:7-15), which leads to confessing to God our need for His grace (9:32-37). And finally, prayer includes expressing to God our devotion to His Word (9:38). 

Nehemiah 9 is a powerful picture of corporate prayer that goes from praise to thanksgiving to confession to commitment. 

43. Nehemiah 2: Praying in the Fast of Fear

Nehemiah doesn’t just teach us about corporate prayer; there are great pictures of personal prayer. In Nehemiah 2:1-5, he was praying in the face of fear. There we see how prayer transforms our perspective of power in this world. I love this passage. Nehemiah is risking his life to go to the king and ask permission to go back to Jerusalem. He could literally be killed for what he’s about to do.

In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?”

This is the moment when Nehemiah is literally about to stick his neck out. What does he do? “So I prayed to the God of heaven.” Like a quick flash prayer. Here goes. “I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.’” 

Then God answered Nehemiah’s prayer.  In the same way, prayer trains us to trust the good hand of God. “And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me” (Nehemiah 2:8b). Think about this throughout the day—flash prayers. “I looked to the God of heaven and I did this. I looked to the God of heaven and I did that.” 

44. Nehemiah 4: Praying in the Midst of Opposition

As Nehemiah and God’s people start to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem, we see a picture of how we plead for God’s defense in our lives (4:1-6), we trust in God’s protection of our lives (4:7-9) and we rejoice in God’s provision for our lives (12:31, 38, 43). Earlier in Nehemiah 4, the opposition had said, “A fox couldn’t even stand on that wall.” Once the wall is built, if you look at Nehemiah 12, they march on top of it, like a massive band playing music on it, rocking out and showing that, “These walls are strong and our God is glorious.”

45. Nehemiah 6: Praying at All Times for all Things

Nehemiah 6:1-9 is a great passage. Nehemiah is again facing opposition and growing weary from it. Look at the prayer in Nehemiah 6:9: “But now, O God, strengthen my hands.” Don’t you love that? There are all kinds of massive things going on and at one point Nehemiah just says, “God, my hands are weak. I’m tired. I just need Your strength.” 

I love this picture because no prayer is too great before God and no prayer is too small. See them both. We can ask God to heal cancer and we can ask God to heal colds. We can ask God to move mountains and we can ask God to work through mustard seeds. Pray at all times for all things.

46. Nehemiah 13: Praying for Remembrance before God

The last prayer in Nehemiah, in chapter 13, is praying for remembrance before God. Look at this prayer that’s repeated four times in this book: “Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people” (5:19). “Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service” (13:14). “Remember this also in my favor, O God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love” (13:22). And finally, “Remember me, O my God, for good” (Nehemiah 13:30-31). 

Nehemiah’s life and leadership teach us so much about prayer. As this book comes to a close, we see the more we pray, the more we realize what matters most in the end. Prayer is a perspective giver. The more we pray, the more we grow in our desire to please God for eternity

God, help us pray at all times for all things, to constantly look to You and have Your perspective on what matters most in our lives and what matters most in the world. We pray that our lives would be pleasing to You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Session 3 Discussion Questions 

Study Guide pp. 47-86

1. What role does prayer play in terms of exposing sin? In what ways has this played out in your own life? (See #18, Joshua 7)

2. When faced with a decision that is important or difficult, many people ask God to show them a “sign”. How can the desire for a sign be an expression of unbelief? What are some helpful steps when it comes to making wise decisions? (See #21, Judges 6)

3. How does praying according to God’s promises give us confidence in prayer? What are some specific promises you might pray in light of decisions, fears, etc. in your own life? Make a list. (See #25, 2 Samual 7)

4. Unfortunately, we often use prayer as a final, desperate attempt to get God’s help. How is Solomon’s prayer for wisdom in 1 Kings 3 a sign of humility? In what areas of your life are you depending on your own wisdom rather than God’s? (See #26, 1 King 3)

5. Why is it important that our prayers be filled with praise and thanksgiving? What’s the danger of only bringing our needs and request to God while failing to ascribe praise to Him? (See #27, 1 Kings 8)

6. Though we talk a lot about God’s power, how is prayer a litmus test for what we really believe about God’s power? (See #28, 1 Kings 17-19)

7. What’s the danger in not recognizing that we are in a spiritual war? What role should prayer play in this conflict? (See #29, 2 Kings 6)

8. Praying and fasting are right responses when we are faced with a situation that is overwhelming or perplexing. What attributes of God can we appeal to in our need? (See #36, 2 Chronicles 20)

9. Esther fasts in light of urgent need, in face of real fear, for the salvation of people, and for the glory of God. For which of these purposes might fasting be an appropriate response right now in your own life? (See #40, Esther, part 3)

10. The world’s opposition to our obedience and our witness to the gospel can be intimidating. How can prayer change our perspective of power in this world? (See #58, Nehemiah 2)

LESS THAN 1% OF ALL MONEY GIVEN TO MISSIONS GOES TO UNREACHED PEOPLE AND PLACES.

That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs on the planet are receiving the least amount of support. Together we can change that!