If we are honest with ourselves, all of us struggle with prayer at times. We feel guilty when we don’t pray, inadequate & ineffective when we do pray, and we often can think prayer is pointless. But there is good news for those of us who feel discouraged, guilty, or confused about prayer. Romans 15:4 tells us that the Scriptures were written for us to give us instruction, encouragement, and hope. And Hezekiah’s humble prayer in Isaiah 37:14-20 serves exactly that purpose. It teaches us the kind of prayer that pleases God and is the result of true, saving faith.
The Motives, Posture, and Aim of Prayer
Upon receiving the intimidating, threatening letter from Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, the first action on Hezekiah’s to-do list is to bring the letter to the Lord and run to him in prayer. Based on this life-threatening problem, armed with the promises of God (Isa. 37:5-7; cf. 2 Chron. 7:14) Hezekiah turned to the one true God of Israel, the sovereign King and Creator of the world (Isa. 37:16). He prays hopefully, acknowledging that God alone can fix this problem, and honestly, neither minimizing or exaggerating the situation (37:17-19).
Not only does he pray hopefully and honestly, but he also prays humbly. Hezekiah is not basing his prayer on his own righteousness, or the worthiness of Judah for he knows they have not trusted God completely (cf. Isa. 37:3). Instead, he bases his prayer on God’s character and prays to the God of Israel, who has bound himself to his covenant people. His chief desire is not his own glory or even his own well-being necessarily, but that, through this situation, God would be made known in all the earth.
What Humble Prayer Looks Like
But do you notice what is missing from his prayer? In verse 20, he prays for God to save his people and deliver them. Yet nowhere in this prayer does Hezekiah give God any restrictions, details, or deadlines.
He doesn’t blackmail God. He doesn’t draw circles around his problems and fears, giving God ultimatums or timelines. He doesn’t treat prayer like a magical formula he needs to repeat over and over, like he’s putting coins in a vending machine. And he certainly doesn’t see God as a genie that owes him anything because of his great faith. He simply prays with hope, honesty, and humility, like a child trusting his Father to do what he knows is best. This is the kind of prayer that pleases God.
Prayer that Actually Limits God
Many of us have been duped by faith-healers and best-selling books to into thinking the prayer of faith is believing God will do what we want, the way we want, when we want it done. But this ultimately is because we think we know what’s best. Think about it: this “boldness” is actually limiting God; it’s this prayer that puts him in a box! It constricts him to what we want or think. But our God doesn’t subordinate himself to human agendas and our misguided, uninformed desires.
Mountain-moving, salvation-spreading, God-glorifying prayer is not believing God will do what we want, the way we want, when we want it done, because we think we know what’s best. It’s trusting God to do his will, his way, in his timing because you believe he knows what’s best. Of course, this prayer isn’t easy, but it shows a faith that rests in the fact that God knows what’s best for us. It shows we believe God can do more abundantly than we can ask or even think (Eph. 3:20).
Humble Prayer Lets God be God
Rather than demanding that God give you a better job, better health, better marriage, or better kids when and how you want them, we should pray: “God, I want you to be God to me, whatever the cost may be. Lord, take my life, my problems, and show the world your glory, that you save sinners, and that you give peace and joy in the midst of suffering.”
This might mean suffering, or job trouble, or difficult kids, or struggles in your marriage for a season, but the power of God’s grace is made perfect in our weaknesses (2 Cor 12:1-10). If you seek first the kingdom of God, delight yourself in Jesus Christ, and trust his goodness enough to pray for his will to be done, and his glory to be known in all the earth, then God will give you the desires of your heart and will provide you with everything you need for life and godliness.
Yes, we can bring every need, big and small, to our loving Father. We can (and ought!) to pray for healing, for restored relationships, for healthy churches, for the gospel to bear fruit, but humble and hopeful prayer leaves the results, the timing, the details to God. It lets God be God for us, and that’s all our God wants to do!
This article is based on a sermon preached on June 28th, 2020 by Mitch Bedzyk entitled: Take it to the Lord in Prayer.
Mitch Bedzyk serves as a teacher and worship leader at Elmira Christian Center. He received his Master of Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and works in IT for the NY Office of Mental Health. He and his wife, Sarah, have two sons, Oliver and Micah, and are foster parents. In his spare time he enjoys reading, coffee, guitar, following the Bundesliga and MLS, and playing fantasy soccer. You can follow him @mitchbedzyk