I’ve always been fascinated with the conversation between God and Abraham in Genesis 18 concerning the impending destruction of Sodom. You remember the story, where Abraham says, “You wouldn’t destroy the city if 50 righteous people were found there, would you?” And he works it from 50 all the way down to 10.
There are a couple of immediate lessons there:
– God is pleased for us to make a case in our prayers. “Won’t the judge of all the earth do right?” Moses does the same in asking God not to destroy the Israelites for the sake of his promises to the patriarchs (see Exodus 32.7 – 14).
– God gave Abraham information about his plans: “Should I hide my plan from Abraham?…I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah…” Abraham uses the information God gave him about the destruction of Sodom not as “nice-to-know” but as fuel for prayer. We could do the same even when we listen to the news. Is it entertainment only or should events in the world inform our prayers?
But there’s another lesson. Abraham prays that the city of Sodom would be spared, but it’s not. However, the Lord sent two angels to get Lot and his family and drag them out of the city. The commentary on that action is in Genesis 19.29, “But God had listened to Abraham’s request and kept Lot safe, removing him from the disaster that engulfed the cities on the plain.”
But Abraham never asked for Lot’s safety. His words had to do with the Lord not destroying Sodom. But the text says, “But God listened to Abraham’s request and kept Lot safe.” So Abraham’s real request was not for Sodom, it was that his nephew Lot would be delivered. God worked past the words to the heart and granted the real request.
That’s a real comfort, isn’t it? That when I pray, God knows what I really want (and what I really need) and works in that direction, regardless of the specific thing I’m asking for.