This morning we continued our studies on Abraham, looking at the topic of prayer. Genesis 18:16-33 TNIV taught us much about how to persevere in prayer and Genesis 24:1-67 TNIV was an object lesson in being specific in prayer.

In Genesis 18, God decides to reveal His heart and plans to Abraham because of the covenant relationship He has established with him. In Genesis 18:16-19 TNIV He decides to tell Abraham of His concerns about the place where Lot, Abraham’s nephew, is living and in verse 20 decides to go and see what the situation is like for Himself and see if ‘what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me.’ Abraham knows something of what Sodom and Gomorrah are like. He has already had dealings with the people, so he knows the problems and once he hears that God is involved in this situation, he realises the seriousness and voices his concerns. He petitions God, asking Him to discriminate between the righteous and the wicked and not treat everyone in the same manner. He argues with God reasonably, based on a sense of fairness and justice: ‘will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ he asks (Gen 18:25 TNIV), basing his arguments on God’s very nature.

God agrees to spare Sodom if 50 righteous people are found there (Gen 18:26 TNIV), but Abraham is clearly not confident that there are 50 righteous people there, and so he begins to reduce that number! He goes from 50 to 45 to 40 to 30 to 20 to 10, and each time, God agrees not to destroy the city for the sake of the number of righteous people found there. In the end, God spares Lot: he honours Abraham’s prayers for his nephew.

Abraham’s persistence in prayer arose from his personal relationship with God. He prays from a position of reverence and humility, but also speaks directly and confidently to God. He did not give up easily and prayed for others. Intercession has to be part of our prayer life; we cannot be so selfish that we only pray for ourselves and our own concerns.

In Genesis 24:1-67 TNIV, we see how Abraham’s prayer life affects that of his servant, who is on a mission to find a wife for Isaac, the son of promise, from Abraham’s own country and relatives, rather than from the daughters of the Canaanites with whom he was living (Gen 24:3 TNIV). The servant, who is never named in this chapter, is initially a little daunted by this task: how is he going to find this woman and what is he to do if she doesn’t want to embark on this journey back with him? Should he take Isaac back to the original homeland under those circumstances? (Gen 24:5 TNIV)

Abraham is adamant that there is no going back (Gen 24:6-8 TNIV), so the servant sets forth. Similarly, Jesus told us, ’No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’ (Luke 9:62 TNIV) There can be no turning back on our journey of faith!

The servant’s prayer is an object lesson in being specific: “O Lord God of my master Abraham, give me success today and show kindness to my master Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be that when I say to a girl, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink’, and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’ – let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.” (Gen 24:12-14 TNIV) We need to learn to ask God with right motives and to avoid being vague. We can approach God as children approach a loving Father (Matt 6:26 TNIV). Articulating our heart’s desires can be an important facet of prayer. Thinking about situations and bringing specific requests to God can be useful way of approaching problems too. Paul encourages the Philippians ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, bring your requests to God.’ (Phil 4:6 TNIV)

Some may view the servant’s prayer as very ordinary, even worldly. It relied on the ordinary happening as well as the extraordinary. But we should not despise the ordinary. Jesus used mud and spit to heal people. All too often, we are looking for ‘miraculous’ answers to prayer and therefore miss the many ordinary ways God chooses to answer.

In conclusion, these passages teach us much about prayer.
1. Prayer arises from a personal relationship with God.
2. Prayer involves a trusting family relationship with God as our Father. We approach Him directly, confidently and reverently.
3. We must persevere in prayer, not giving up at the first obstacle.
4. We can be specific in prayer.
5. We must not think we can dictate how God will answer our prayers or despise the ordinary. God has many different ways of answering prayer. We only have to look at our journey to St Mark’s to see that!
6. We must pray for others. Intercession has to be high on any church’s prayer list if it is reflect God’s heart.