Among the many spiritual disciplines, prayer can be one of the most frustrating as well as one of the most rewarding. We know we need to pray, but few of us pray consistently with the depth that prayer deserves. Often we don’t feel like praying, and our thoughts wander. Some of us aren’t even convinced that God wants to listen to us.
Genesis 18 presents an encounter between God and Abraham that gives us many insights into prayer. Some see God and Abraham’s exchange much like marketplace bargaining. But this passage deserves another look. It is more of a dialogue between loving friends who are tackling a mutual concern than a negotiation between opposing parties.
First, this passage shows us that the Lord comes to us (see Genesis 18:1 – 15). Even as the Lord came to Abraham, God has taken the initiative to meet us, to have fellowship with us. This process shows us that prayer centers not on our requests but on our relationship with God. Through Jesus Christ, God has come in the flesh and fulfilled his promises to us (see 2 Corinthians 1:19 – 22). We do not have to coax or cajole God to pay attention to us.
The encounter in Genesis 18 also shows us that the Lord regards us as “friends.” The Lord’s kind and thoughtful interactions with Abraham reveal that he values us and enjoys speaking and listening to us. In Isaiah 41:8 God called Abraham “my friend.” In John 15:15 Jesus said, “I have called you friends.” God reveals his heart to us through his Word, and our friendship with him is experienced and deepened through prayer.
This passage also reveals that the Lord wants to show us his ways. The Lord wanted Abraham and his descendants to sense God’s justice and compassion for humanity, so God carefully investigated the complaint against Sodom and listened to Abraham’s requests for mercy.
Note that Genesis 18 contains the themes of both redemption and judgment. God’s redemption is shown in the three men’s promise that Sarah would have a child. However, “when the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom” with the intention of executing judgment on the city (Genesis 18:16). In this way, a promise was given before judgment was rendered so that Abraham would see God’s mercy as well as his justice. Like Abraham, we must look for both facets of God’s character.
Do you see God as a loving friend or as someone with whom to negotiate? Do you trust him to fulfill his promises or expect him to reject your requests? What is your attitude toward disasters? Abraham viewed bad news as a call to intercessory prayer. Too often we wring our hands in worry when we should fold them in prayerful faith and compassionate intercession.