Do Abraham, Moses and others offer telling moments when prayer could have changed the outcome of the story?
Posted in , Jan 12, 2018
Have you ever looked at the people and stories in the Bible in order to learn from what they didn’t do?
People of faith often look to the Bible for inspiration and guidance. The scriptures show us where we come from and where we are going. The stories of people like Ruth and Daniel help us to understand and occupy our place in the world, and sometimes help us to believe that, with a little faith, we can be like them.
But what if the pages of scripture can teach us about prayer by revealing times when the people of God didn’t pray? What if we read our Bibles looking for those moments when someone could have prayed but didn’t? Here are six of those:
1) Eve (when you’re tempted)
You know the story, of course. It’s one of the most well-known in the whole canon of Scripture. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, but a meddling serpent showed up, got Eve by herself and filled her ear with tall tales and half-truths (see Genesis 3). And she listened. She reasoned with the tempter (always a bad idea). But there is no indication that she sought out God’s opinion on the matter.
Maybe that’s because she more or less assumed what God’s opinion would be and preferred her own (which, if true, would seem to indicate that she sinned in thought before she sinned indeed—but that’s a whole other matter). In any case, Eve can teach us by example that turning to prayer at the first tickle of temptation will prevent many unhappy outcomes.
2) Cain (when you’re angry)
One apparent outcome of Eve’s prayerlessness in the Garden of Eden was the introduction of sibling rivalry into the world. The sons of Adam and Eve—Cain and Abel—took divergent paths and evidently differed also in their understanding of and relationships with God (see Genesis 4). Cain saw his brother receive God’s favor, while his own efforts failed. As a result, “Cain lost his temper and went into a sulk” (Genesis 4:5, The Message). He eventually attacked his brother and killed him.
The Bible even records God speaking to Cain (Genesis 4:6) but says nothing about Cain replying to God. Wow. A brother’s murder—and Cain’s ensuing exile—may have been averted if only Cain had answered God’s overture to him, which is a good reminder to us that praying is an even better response when we’re angry than counting to 10. Or even 100.
3) Abraham (when you’re afraid)
The Bible has much to say about Abraham’s faith—his daring journey from his homeland, his belief in God’s promise, his pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah—but it also shows his lapses. On two occasions (Genesis 12 and 20), Abraham pretended that his wife Sarah was only his sister because he feared what powerful men would do in order to take her away from him. Seriously? The man who left Ur, who “believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6, niv), never thought to pray for God’s protection rather than lying and compromising his own and his wife’s integrity? Both incidents can serve as reminders to prayerfully do as the psalmist sang: “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you” (Psalm 56:3, nlt).
4) Moses (when you’re going through the motions)
The great deliverer, Moses, led his people out of slavery and through the wilderness. He had prayed them through the Red Sea and even offered his own life to stave off God’s righteous judgment of His people. But when the multitude arrived at Kadesh—where the Bible says Miriam, Moses’s sister, died and was buried (probably not an insignificant fact)—the people complained about the lack of water, much as they had at Rephidim, where God had told Moses to “Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink” (Exodus 17:6, niv). This time, however, God told Moses to “Speak to that rock before their eyes, and it will pour out its water” (Numbers 20:8, niv).
Maybe Moses didn’t listen closely enough. Maybe he should have asked God for clarification. But he didn’t. He struck the rock—twice—and water did gush from it. But his action prompted God to bar him from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 20:12), which should be a reminder to us that anytime we’re going through the motions (even if our minds are clouded by grief, as Moses may have experienced in the wake of his sister’s death), it is a good idea to pause, pray and make sure we’re proceeding as God wants us to.
5) David (when you’re riding high)
King David was riding high after establishing his capital in Jerusalem, returning the ark of God to Jerusalem and defeating all his enemies—to the extent that the Bible says, “The Lord gave David victory wherever he went” (2 Samuel 8:6, niv). What happened next, however, should serve as a warning to us when we’re similarly riding high, because it was then that David saw Bathsheba and committed adultery with her, an act he followed with deception and even murder (see 2 Samuel 11). What a cautionary tale, reminding us when we’re riding high, not to neglect prayer.
6) The rich young man (when you’re comfortable)
The Bible records (Matthew 19, Mark 10, Luke 18) an encounter between Jesus and a wealthy young man who asked, “Good teacher…what must I do to inherit eternal life?” to which Jesus eventually replied, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The conversation ended there, for the Bible says that man “went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Mark 10:17, 21, 22, niv). But what if the man had continued the conversation with Jesus? What if he had said something like, “Lord, why?” or “Lord, help,” or even, “Lord, I am willing; help my unwillingness.” What if he had prayed for Jesus’ help in overcoming his reluctance, his love of his possessions, his fear of poverty, or whatever it was that kept him from immediately agreeing to follow Jesus. We will never know, of course, but it should be a reminder to us that feelings of comfort and prosperity present us with golden opportunities to pray.
The above just scratch the surface, I think. What a treasure of encouragements in prayer we might find if we comb the scriptures for those telling moments when prayer could have changed the narrative—and changed lives—as they will certainly do for us as well.