The Mystery of Prayer

by Lois Tverberg & Bruce Okkema

Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die. Genesis 20:7

The story above occurs while Abraham was living in Gerar, the land of King Abimelech. When the king’s eyes fell upon Sarah, he desired her and took her to be one of his wives. But before they had become intimate, God spoke to Abimelech in a dream and said that he was in great danger of Gods’ judgment because he had taken another man’s wife. Abimelech protested, claiming his innocence in that he had not known that she was a married woman. God told him because this was true, he was warning the king so he wouldn’t suffer for his offense.

Praying handsOne fascinating aspect of the story is that God told Abimelech that when Abraham would pray for the king, he would live. The implication is that God would wait to spare Abimelech until after Abraham had interceded. It seems like very odd logic that God himself would not release the king until Abraham prayed! We have a similar story at the end of book of Job. God was angry with Job’s counselors and said to them,

I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has… My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. (Job 42:7-8)

Does it strike you as strange that God would bind himself to waiting on a person’s prayers? He even tells us to pray for someone else so that he can take action. The sins in these situations have been committed against both God and man, yet could it be that God desires forgiveness between his people so much, that he asks for evidence of their forgiveness before he shows his own?

It is a mystery to us that God in some way constrains himself to working in response to prayer. Why the creator would wait for mankind to ask, when he knows the outcome and certainly does not need our advice, is beyond our understanding. Yet, he wants us to pray, and we can conclude that he is waiting for us to pray in order to accomplish his purposes.

Let us continue to pray faithfully, and let us never cease to wonder at his mystery.

Photocred: jill, jellidonut… whatever

Growing Faith

by Lois Tverberg

O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?
– Genesis 15:2

AbrahamAbraham is known most for one quality – his faith in God, and his faithfulness to God. But if we look at the words that come out of his mouth through his life, we can see that his faith grows over time, as he sees that God is utterly reliable in keeping his promises.

At the beginning, when God has delayed long on his promise to give him a son, Abram said,

O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? – Gen. 15:2

We can see his doubts after long years of waiting. He also expresses his doubts to God that he will possess the land:

O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it? – Gen. 15:8

But still, he is faithful to God when God his promises seem far off, and finally God rewards him with a son. This greatly increases Abraham’s faith, so that he can say to Isaac on their way to Mt. Moriah,

God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son. – Gen. 22:8.

Finally, the last words that are recorded from Abraham show that over the years he has become utterly convinced of God’s ability to provide. When a wife needs to be found for Isaac, he said to his servant:

The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, `To your descendants I will give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. Gen. 23:7

Abraham began with a little faith in a God that he barely knew, and over his life, grew in faith as he saw God’s answers to his every need. So too, we will grow in confidence as we see how God’s love unfolds in our lives.

Photo: Web Gallery of Art

Abraham Believed

by Lois Tverberg

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. – Genesis 15:6

One of the most quoted verses about Abraham is Genesis 15:6; “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” This is a key verse in the discussion about being saved by faith apart from works, the central point of the Reformation. It was Abram’s “believing” that gave him righteousness in God’s sight. We have emphasized the importance of believing God’s promises, instead of working to earn salvation.

But it is important to understand that the key word, emunah, that we translate “believe” has a different emphasis in Hebrew than we tend to hear. In English and Greek, (as pistis), its primary meaning is to assent to a factual statement, to agree with the truth of certain ideas.

The word emunah does mean to have faith, but it has a broader meaning that has implications for what God calls us to as people of faith. It contains the idea of steadfastness or persistence. In Exodus 17 Moses raised his hands all day long until the Israelites won a key battle. It says that his hands remained steady (emunah) until sunset. In this sense it means
steadfast. God is also described using the world emunah in Deut. 7:9:

Abraham and 3 angelsKnow therefore that the LORD your God is God; He is the faithful (emunah) God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.

If we look back at the verse about Abraham’s emunah, it should tell us that Abraham believed God’s promises and had a persistent commitment to God which showed in his faithful life, waiting 25 years for a son, and offering him back to God when he was asked.

This has implications about what it means to be a Christian. I used to wonder why God saved certain people just because they decided to adopt one particular set of beliefs over another. But as James pointed out, Satan himself believes that Jesus died for the sins of the world and that He is God in the flesh, and just knowing that doesn’t redeem him! But while Satan may have the right beliefs, he cannot say that he has emunah – a committed faithfulness to the Lord. What God asks for goes beyond an academic decision to believe that a certain set of facts are true. He wants faith in His promises that results in a steadfast faithfulness to Him.

Protection in Spite of Ourselves

Abraham and Sarah

by Bruce Okkema

There was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are.” If the Egyptians see you, and think, `She is his wife,’ they will kill me and let you live. Please say that you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may remain alive thanks to you.
– Genesis 12:10-13

There are some passages in the Bible that we find hard to deal with, and this would certainly qualify. What good can we learn from a story in which a man asks his wife to sacrifice herself to save himself? Perhaps you are tempted to skip over such stories and jump to the next one, as I was in this case. But when we think about why certain things might be included in the biblical narrative, we have to conclude they are there for a purpose and we should study them too.

Let’s take a look at some of the details of this story to see what conclusions we might draw from it. The reality is that Abraham, like all of us, failed sometimes; he was not always “faithful.” Neither do we read that he prayed about the problem of the famine or his decision to go to Egypt for food. Also, we see the foretelling of another story in which much trouble results when God’s people go to Egypt for food without consulting Him first.

Abraham and SarahAbraham definitely knew of the danger of going there with his beautiful wife because of the licentious culture. In the pagan lands around Canaan, men let their lusts drive their actions and tried to take anything that looked desireable to them. His fears were soon realized when Pharaoh took Sarah into his house as his wife. There are other similar stories in the book of Genesis; one involves Abraham and Sarah again (Genesis 20:1-7), another, their son Isaac and his wife Rebekah (Genesis 26:1-11), and also the theme is repeated in the story from Sodom with Lot (Genesis 19:4-8).

In all of these stories we can see the wonderful hand of God’s blessing in spite of ourselves. Abraham is given much wealth, the potential innocent victims are spared, and God afflicts the guilty parties – Pharaoh, Abimelech, the people of Sodom, with serious plagues.

God is so faithful, even when we are not, Bless His Holy Name!