Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Going After God's Heart in Prayer

In 2 Kings 20, Hezekiah falls ill and draws near to death. Isaiah the prophet tells him to set his house in order to prepare for his demise (v. 1). Hezekiah then prays, pleading his faithfulness and how he's done what is good in YHWH's sight (vv. 2-3). YHWH responds and sends a word to Hezekiah through Isaiah: "I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you" (vv. 4-5). YHWH says he'll add fifteen years to his life, and promises to deliver him and the city of Jerusalem out of the hand of Sennacherib, king of Assyria (v. 6).

Why does God hear Hezekiah's prayer? Look closely, listen carefully. Does God respond to Hezekiah's prayer in this way by acknowledging Hezekiah's fidelity and good deeds? He says he had heard his prayer and seen his tears, right? Yes, but he doesn't say, "I know you have been faithful; I have seen your good deeds." No, but he does go on to tell us that he has a regard for his name and covenant. Doesn't he?

Is this line of interpretation heading in the right direction? It seems so. Look at v. 6b. There YHWH tells us why he's going to heal Hezekiah and protect the city. He's repeatedly appealed to the same reasons throughout Kings and indeed throughout the whole of Scripture. What are the reasons that YHWH will act? He tells us unambiguously: "for my own sake and for my servant David's sake." Not for Hezekiah's sake does God do what he does, at least not as the deepest motivation for his acting. No, it's for his own sake: for his glory and fame. It's for his servant David's sake: recalling God's sure covenant promises to David, fulfilled in great David's greater son, the Son.

God hears our prayers for the sake of his name, and in line with what he's promised in his word. This ought to instruct our prayers. We ought not to plead our goodness as the basis for God to act on our behalf. But we should go right after God's heart, asking him to stand forth in mercy and might for his glory, for his honor—for his name's sake! If there's anything that resounds throughout Scripture loud and clear, it's that God does all that he does for his reputation and fame. This needs to get into our bloodstream and prayers. And God's name, since it's who he is, and betrays his character, includes his faithfulness to what he's spoken. He will keep his word! Let's depend on it. And let's pray prayers that highlight that unassailable word and God's unswerving covenant purposes and promises.

And not incidentally, this is why we pray in Jesus' name. All God's promises are "Yes!" in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). Jesus' name holds sway in heaven. Jesus' name is the name above every name. He's the king par excellence. He's kept the covenant, he's lived well, he's never sinned, he's been obedient to death on the cross, and he's risen to that exalted place at the right hand of God, as King of kings and Lord of lords! Forever, and ever! Allelujah! Allelujah!

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