I am sitting in a dark room in the hospital waiting for a PET scan, after being injected with radioactive dye. This scan will literally “light up” all the areas of my body that are infected by cancer. It will give a definitive view of where I am at after 3 years of living with this disease. Sometimes it is hard to know what to pray for at times like this. There is the human tendency to want to negotiate with God—”Lord, could you give me 5 more years . . . how about 3 . . . maybe 2?” Is it wrong to do this? I guess it all depends on if, in the end, we are willing to accept God’s answer.
Abraham is an example of someone who negotiated with God in prayer. In Genesis 19, we see the angel of Lord telling Abraham that he is about ready to destroy the city of Sodom because of its great wickedness. Abe is alarmed because his nephew Lot and family are living there. So he begins to negotiate with God about the baseline number of righteous people there would need to be living in Sodom before the Lord would stay his hand of judgment. Abraham starts high with 50 people- just 50 righteous people, Lord, is that too much to ask for you to stay your hand of judgment.” God “relents” and is willing to reconsider all the way down to 10—sounds like an Amish auction! It seems like God just can’t make up his mind and Abe is setting the agenda for prayer. Certain theologians and others who struggle with God’s sovereignty love this, because it seems to show that while God has a plan, it is set in wet cement allowing for input and adjustments.
Observation: Then the negotiations just end. And the angel of the Lord departs and it’s all over for Sodom. Why? What is going on here—why didn’t Abraham keep going down to 4 (Lot and his wife and their 2 daughters)? There were at least 4 righteous ones, right? Wait a minute, only 4? Ahhh . . . then the light bulb moment. Abraham comes around to realize what God is doing. Abe thinks: Wow, Sodom really is wicked— only 4 righteous ones and they don’t even belong there because they are my family? That city does deserve judgment and God is perfectly just in doing destroying it!
Thus, what initially looked like God relenting or changing his mind turned out to be a way of bringing Abe around to his way of thinking. We see a similar strategy (for an opposite reason) that God used with Jonah after Nineveh was spared judgment, and Jonah is beside himself with anger because God showed mercy. God grew up a plant to offer shade from the burning sun while the sulking prophet just sat there waiting for God to come around to his way of thinking. Then God used a little worm to destroy the plant which made Jonah angry, but showed him that he was more concerned for his own comfort than he was for the thousands in Nineveh who had just repented.
Someone once said that Jonah waited beneath the comfort of his shade-plant for God to come around to his way of thinking, while God destroyed Jonah’s comfort and waited for him to come around to his (God’s) way of loving.
Application: We tend to look at prayer as a way of getting things from God —and we are enjoined to ask, seek, knock. However, when prayer is just asking we often grow frustrated when the answers are not immediately forthcoming or not according to our expectations. The experience of Abraham (and to a certain extent, Jonah) shows us that God often uses the process of prayer (be asking, be seeking, be knocking) to bring us around to his way of thinking; to understand his mind and perspective on things. In prayer then, God often changes us to see what he sees and then ask for what he wants.
And so, Lord, you have heard my prayer (as well as the prayers of many others) concerning the outcome of these scans. I’ve asked you for the things that I want, but you have convinced my heart that this whole situation is not about me and my longevity. It is about you and what you want for my life and the faith of those around me. It is about you being glorified in my body whether by life or by death. I’m not sure I even understand what that means, but you have brought me to the place where that is what I want. I am in your hands; I bless you, I trust you, and I worship you my Father. Amen.