Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Praying for unsaved loved ones and friends by appealing to God's character

Image result for Abraham praying for Sodom
Genesis 18:1-8 "Now the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. 2 When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, 3 and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by. 4 Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; 5 and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.” And they said, “So do, as you have said.” 6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes.” 7 Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it. 8 He took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate."

Genesis 18 begins with some mysterious visitors paying Abraham a visit at the Great Oak of Mamre, where he was camped. Abraham's behavior in the remainder of the chapter indicates to the reader that these three men are not ordinary men. Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary notes: 

"Abraham was waiting to entertain any weary traveller, for inns were not to be met with as among us. While Abraham was thus sitting, he saw three men coming. These were three heavenly beings in human bodies. Some think they were all created angels; others, that one of them was the Son of God, the Angel of the covenant. Washing the feet is customary in those hot climates, where only sandals are worn. We should not be forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares, Heb 13:2; nay, the Lord of angels himself; as we always do, when for his sake we entertain the least of his brethren." 

If we take one of these mysterious visitors to be a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ, with the remaining two possibly being angels in disguise, what follows in the remainder of the chapter will make sense. In Genesis 18:9-15, we find one of the figures speak to Abraham, telling him that He will return by that point next year. The promise of a son is given by this figure, which Genesis 18:13-14 identifies as the Lord God Himself. God is in effect telling Abraham that he and Sarah will have a son, despite the fact that they are in their nineties and well-passed the prime of life for child-bearing.

It is after this conversation we find Genesis 18:16 state - "Then the men rose up from there, and looked down toward Sodom; and Abraham was walking with them to send them off." In Genesis 19:1 we see two angels appear in Sodom to begin their dealings with Lot, Abraham's nephew. By presuming that the two angels used by God to exercise judgment over Sodom and Gomorrah were the two men in Genesis 18, the process of elimination confirms that the one whom Abraham will continue conversation in the remainder of Genesis 18 is none other than Yahweh Jehovah God Himself. 

The Bible's first recorded intercessory prayer
What will follow in Genesis 18:22-33 transitions from a conversation with God to a full-blown intercessory prayer by Abraham to God on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah. What makes this text so intriguing is that it represents the first recorded intercessory prayer in the Bible. Moreover, we find Abraham praying on behalf of unbelievers who had all but exhausted their time and space to turn away from their sins. Lot, Abraham's nephew, had moved into the city and, over time, had come to influence it by the certain political position he held at the city gate. According to 2 Peter 2:7, Lot had retained his walk with God, despite being oppressed by the intense societal pressure of the day. Lot's conduct and testimony would had served as God's method of delivering the specific message of redemption to the city. They clearly rejected Lot and came to resent he and his family. As the noted commentator Albert Barnes notes:

"Lot is called "just," because he preserved himself uncontaminated amidst the surrounding wickedness. As long as he lived in Sodom he maintained the character of an upright and holy man."

And so Abraham begins his prayer in Genesis 18:23-25 "Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” 

God then responds in Genesis 18:26 "So the Lord said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.” This basic pattern of Abraham interceding for the city and God responding carries on down through the rest of the chapter. Abraham presses his intercessory prayer with increasing urgency: "if there but be forty-five" in verse 28; "forty" in verse 29; "thirty" in verse 30; "twenty" in verse 31 and then finally, "ten" in verse 32. Now we're not told how large Sodom and Gomorrah were in those days. But from what we can gather, the amounts that Abraham was praying for was his attempt to be extremely conservative. He wanted God to give as much leeway as possible. 

God of course then speaks throughout this prayer, reminding us that prayer, especially intercessory prayer on behalf of list-people, is a two-way conversation between God and us, and us and God. As we meditate on this chapter in Genesis, what truths can we glean about intercessory prayer for the unconverted in our day?

1. Appeal according to God's character. 
First and foremost, Abraham's intercession began with God. He appealed to God's justness and righteousness. As he pressed further into the prayer, Abraham was also appealing to God's mercies. Keeping our prayers for lost people based upon God's character will ensure our hearts are in tune with God's intentions.

2. Believe God is hearing and "be" still to listen. 
Did you notice throughout the prayer how Abraham would speak, then God would speak. Abraham's persistence indicates that he truly believed God heard him. Furthermore, the two-way nature of the prayer tells us that Abraham was willing to listen to God. As we pray for our unconverted loved ones and friends, we need to be still at times while believing that God hears us.

3. Come broken-hearted.
Abraham in Genesis 18:21 had undoubtedly heard God state how he heard the out-cry of Sodom. In understanding God's intentions and seeing the city ripe for judgment, Abraham's heart was broken. Why would he pray for this city? In Genesis 13, Abraham and Lot had parted ways, with Lot choosing Sodom as his new home. Abraham was given the promised land by God. His focus is on the city. His focus is on appealing to God to give them one more chance. His heart is broken. You and I can never pray consistently for the lost until our hearts are broken. Until our intentions and motives match God's, we will never develop a heart for the unconverted. May we, like Abraham, intercede for our unsaved lost ones today and appeal to God's character, believe that He hears us while being still and coming with broken hearts, ready to pray.