Bring out the battering rams!
I was asked recently by an experienced minister, ‘In a prayer meeting, after you’ve asked God for something, what more can you do?’
The question reflects the accepted norm in many, if not most, contemporary church prayer meetings. People take it in turn to bring their requests to God, and warmly seek his gracious answers. It is taken as self-evident that all God expects from us in prayer are sincere requests from a believing heart and he will be pleased to answer according to his will.
In other words, once you have asked God for something, there is little more you can or should do.
But how different was Job who longed to ‘state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments’ (23:4).
Why arguments? Is God so reluctant to hear the cry of his children that he needs to be brow beaten? Certainly not! Our gracious God has made us his co-workers, who are privileged to share his heart and compassion. It is for our benefit not his that God wants us to search for biblical reasons to argue before him.
As we marshall sound arguments to bring before God, we are gripped by the importance and urgency of the matter for which we pray, and this increases our desire for an answer. And when we know we are pleading with solid biblical reasons, we are confident that we are touching the heart of God and, therefore, our faith becomes bold and expectant.
Richard Sibbes said, ‘It is a pitiful thing for Christians to come to God only with bare, naked petitions and have no reason to press God out of his own Word’. Stuart Olyott comments on Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9, ‘Daniel came to God with strong arguments and with importunity. He gave God convincing reasons why he should hear him, and repeated his requests and reasons with fervour and urgency. This is one of the secrets of those who prevail with God’.
C. H. Spurgeon wrote, ‘When we come to the gate of mercy, forcible arguments are the knocks of the rapper by which the gate is opened’.
What then are the arguments that we can bring before God in prayer? First, there are the promises of Scripture. No argument can be more persuasive with God than to remind him of what he has already promised and then plead, ‘Do as you have promised’ (cf. 2 Samuel 7:25).
Likewise Jacob, when he feared meeting Esau who was coming with 400 armed men, prayed, ‘But you have said, I will surely make you prosper…’
Therefore, in the same way today we need to find out from Scripture what God has promised and reverently, but boldly, hold him to his Word. For ‘God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should change his mind’ (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29).
Therefore, because we can confidently argue from what God has promised, why not become familiar with and meditate upon a selection of precious Scripture promises, so that, as the Lord leads, these can be wedded to our prayer requests.
Second, there is the argument based on God’s character. God has revealed himself as a God of justice, mercy, faithfulness, wisdom, patience and compassion. Spurgeon describes each one of these as battering rams with which we may open the gates of heaven.
For example, Abraham pleaded God’s justice and integrity when he prayed for Sodom: ‘Far be it from you to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the judge of all the earth do right?’ (Genesis 18:25). What an argument to bring to a holy and just God!
Or again, the Lord Jesus was frequently moved with compassion. ‘We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses … let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need’ (Hebrews 4:16).
Third, there is the compelling matter of God’s own honour and glory. In Numbers 14:15-16, Moses argued successfully against God’s threatened destruction of the sinful Israelites: ‘If you put these people to death … the nations will say, the Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath; so he slaughtered them in the desert’.
In Joshua 7:9, after the defeat of Israel at Ai, Joshua fears that their enemies will ‘wipe out our names from the earth’, but because God’s honour is so closely identified with his people, Joshua masterfully pleads, ‘What then will you do for your own great Name’.
In both these instances, God is reverently provoked to defend his own honour. Should we not also seek to reverently provoke God to rise up and defend his honour, as we pray about the spiritual and moral meltdown all around us; and about the arrogance of Richard Dawkins and the militant, fundamentalist ‘new atheists’?
Then, fourth, Christ’s finished work on the cross is surely our greatest argument of all. Christ’s precious blood has been presented and accepted by the Father to secure the eternal redemption of sinners. God has promised that he will save a great multitude; he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.
Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners. He is patient with sinners, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. Everyone the Father has given to Christ will come to him, and nobody who comes will be turned away.
The rejoicing in heaven over every repenting sinner is extraordinary. The praise of the Lamb who was slain will eternally fill the courts of heaven (see Revelation 7:9; Ezekiel 33:11; Matthew 9:13; 2 Peter 3:9; John 6:37; Luke 15; Revelation 5:9-14).
We can quickly see that our gracious saving God has loaded Scripture with handfuls of mighty arguments with which we can plead for the salvation of unconverted sinners, as we wrestle for the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon gospel preaching and pray for fresh doors of gospel opportunity to be opened into our communities.
Spurgeon wrote … ‘The man who uses one argument with God will get more force in using the next. The best prayers I have ever heard in our prayer meetings have been those which have been fullest of argument…’
‘I have listened to brethren who have come before God feeling the mercy to be really needed, and that they must have it. For they have first pleaded with God to give it for this reason, and then for a second, and then for a third, and then for a fourth and a fifth, until they have awakened the fervency of the entire assembly’.
Our church prayer meetings can be so much more than the reciting of requests.
Now, where’s that list of Bible promises to distribute?
This article first appeared
in the EFCC magazine Concern