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When we pray, we do not bargain with God
Bible Speaks
Rev. L. Althouse

October 15, 2006
Background Scripture: 1 Samuel 7: 3-13. Devotional Reading: Psalms 31:14-24.

I believe in the power of prayer, both for one’s self and for others. Valere and I have a daily prayer list of 80-odd names.

Some of these are for people for whom we have assumed the task of intercession. Others are people who write, call or e-mail for help. In August, when my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, we asked for intercessory prayers from people and prayer groups far and wide.

Over the years we have established a network of people who are mutually supportive in times of need. When the lab tests of her lumpectomy and biopsy relieved our concern, we offered up and continue to pray with thanksgiving for the blessings we have received. Like Samuel, we have raised our Ebenezers.

But, if the results had not been encouraging, I like to think that we would still be uttering prayers of thanks. For we know from our own experience that God has always been with us in our time of trial and that he always answers our prayers, although the answer we receive may sometimes not be the answer we sought.

Qualifications for help
I write this as a preface to 1 Samuel 7, because the experience of Samuel and the people of Israel could be misinterpreted to promise that God’s help will be given in the same way we ask for it and if we meet certain qualifications.

We might wrongly assume that God rescued the Israelites from the Philistines in 1 Samuel 7 because they agreed to Samuel’s demand to return “to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashteroth from among you, and direct your heart to the Lord, and serve him only, and he will deliver you…”

Furthermore, they offered a water sacrifice to the Lord and later, at the suggestion of the prophet Samuel, a burnt offering.

When we pray prayers of supplication, we do so with confidence, not that we are striking a deal with God, but with the knowledge that God’s response is a matter of his grace, not our qualifications or technique. We do not bargain with God; we throw ourselves on his mercy. That doesn’t mean that I am not explicit in my prayers or that I don’t care if the resolution is not what I asked for. But, after I have told God exactly what is on my finite mind, I throw myself on the mercy of his infinite mind, knowing that however he responds, it will be exactly what I need from him, although not necessarily what I ask for. And if I give up my “other gods,” it is not for the purpose of buying his grace, but of saying thank you for the answer whatever it is.

Real prayer, I believe, is not in placing an order, but in trusting in a relationship. That relationship has sustained us through many trials and concerns. We have never known it to fail, even when God has answered differently than what I asked for.

Stones of help
Having said that, let’s reconsider the “sacrifices” and “other gods” in 1 Samuel 7. Although our rituals and acts cannot buy God’s pleasing response, they can help us build a relationship with God that both makes it easier to pray and accept his answers. It isn’t that either of these make us more pleasing in God’s sight, but more receptive to God’s providence.

In 1 Samuel 7 the Israelites were saved from the Philistines and Samuel responded by setting up an Ebenezer, literally “a stone of help.” The stone is a testimony: “This is a witness that the Lord has helped us.” Samuel does this, not to impress God, but to witness to everyone who sees it: the Lord has helped us. All of us have good reasons for displaying in some way our own “stones of help.” But do you?

This farm news was published in the Oct. 11, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.