Remember the days when you were a hopeful kid, and you took every promise made by an adult as unbreakable law? Their promise was your assurance, and every time a promise was broken your hope turned to both disappointment and cries of “But you said! You said!” We were heartbroken, and every promise after was trusted a little less. You know what is a little scary? Jesus himself asks us to trust him like that: “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15). For those of us who have ever been let down by an earthly parent or guardian, this is a hard commandment.
The Promises of God
We heard in the sermon this week that we need to be recounting the deeds of God. We need to worship through the telling of God’s glorious actions in history. But there are other times in scripture when God’s deeds are recounted by his people in petitionary prayer. What I mean by that is that the heroes of the faith in scripture constantly appealed to God by both recounting to him the works that he had accomplished and the promises he had made to his people.
1. The Example of Moses
After the exodus from Egypt, Moses was up on a mountain with God receiving the Ten Commandments. He was up there for an uncomfortable amount of time (as it seemed to the Israelites), and so they made and idol: a golden calf. This angered the Lord greatly, and he told Moses that he was going to wipe out the Israelites. Moses, in an impassioned prayer, pleads with him by reminding him of his works and his promises:
Lord, why does your anger burn against your people you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong hand? . . . Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel — you swore to them by yourself and declared, “I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and will give your offspring all this land that I have promised, and they will inherit it forever.” (Ex. 32:11,13)
The Lord did relent at the request of Moses, but we must be careful here. Did Moses really remind God of what he had done and the promises he had declared? As if God slapped his own forehead and said, “Wow! I completely forgot about that thing I said to Abraham. How long ago was that? You guys were in Egypt how long again?” Not likely. But by waiting for Moses to ask, God brought his works and promises to the mind of Moses; this account was also written for us that we might know that God is wonderfully humble in that he allows our prayers to move his hand.
2. The Example of Daniel
700-1000 years after Moses’ petition, the Israelites found themselves as exiles in Babylon by the will of God for their detestable sins. The Lord had declared how long the exile would be, and Daniel realized from reading the prophecies that the end was soon (Dan. 9:2). Daniel, therefore, began fasting and praying, recounting the words and promises of God, admitting the sin that Israel had committed and begging God to fulfill his word.
All Israel has broken your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. The promised curse written in the law of Moses, the servant of God, has been poured out on us because we have sinned against him. . . . Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a strong hand and made your name renowned as it is this day, we have sinned, we have acted wickedly. Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, may your anger and wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become an object of ridicule to all those around us. (Daniel 9:11,15-16)
3. The Example of the Early Disciples
When Peter and John were brought before the Jewish leaders and were sent away after being told not to speak about Jesus anymore, they went and told the disciples all that had happened. The disciples remembered that this was all the work of the Lord, and so they recounted his works and his promises communally and asked for boldness in the midst of all that was coming:
Master, you are the one who made the heaven, the earth, and the sea, and everything in them. You said through the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David your servant: “Why do the Gentiles rage and the peoples plot futile things? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers assemble together against the Lord and against his Messiah.” For, in fact, in this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your will had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, consider their threats, and grant that your servants may speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand for healing, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:24-31)
This is what it looks like to pray according to God’s will. It is knowing scripture enough to know what God desires to do, what he has promised to do, and what he will do.
To practice this method of recounting God’s deeds and promises to him in petitionary prayer requires knowing scripture. We need to know what God has done, and we need to know the promises that he has made to us. When we are desperate for God to act in our life, we need to know that every one of God’s promises are “Yes” in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:20a). We need to remember that, when our sanctification is slow and we long to see greater fruit, God has established a covenant with us through Christ’s blood (Matt. 26:28) in which he forgives us of our sins and remembers them no more, and he will, by his Spirit, write his law on our hearts (Jer. 31:33-34) and cause us to carefully observe his commandments (Ezek.36:26-27).
There are many things that God has promised us that he will do, and he has always done what he has said. And, in one way or another, Christ is the fulfillment of everything he has promised. So, when we go to him in prayer, we should boldly recount his works and his promises to him. As Pastor Andrew says, in whatever we ask for on earth, we do not know if he will fulfill our requests, but we beg him to because we know that he can and we know that it is something that it seems like he would want to do.
But we must know God like we knew our parents or guardians when we were kids. We must know how to say, “You said! You said!” God has revealed himself through the scripture and trains us through his Holy Spirit. He has made a covenant with us that he will not break. He has done marvelous things throughout all of history, and he will do many more. And like Daniel, we should use the knowledge of what God has promised to drive us to prayer and ask for these things. He could very well just be waiting for us to ask.
-Alex Nolette (Equip Associate)