Praying in context
“The devil is not terribly frightened of our human efforts and credentials. But he knows his kingdom will be damaged when we begin to lift up our hearts to God.” Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacl
While reading 2 Kings 19 recently in my morning devotions, I was reminded that Hezekiah’s prayer is a good example of praying in context. His prayer goes like this:
14Then Hezekiah took the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it, and he went up to the house of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. 15Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said, “O LORD, the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and listen to the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God. 17Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have devastated the nations and their lands 18and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. 19Now, O LORD our God, I pray, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, O LORD, are God.” (NASB).
Verse 14 shows Hezekiah creating the proper setting for prayer. He went to the temple (the house of the Lord). He was in the right place—before God. And he was prepared to talk with God about the letter from Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, which he spread before the Lord, not because God was ignorant of its contents but to show that he was giving everything to God in an act of reliance. Do we show by how we pray that we are really giving it all to God?
Hezekiah then started his prayer by worshiping God for who He is—Israel’s God, the One who chose to dwell in the Holy of Holies (“above the cherubim”), the true Ruler of all the earth and the Creator of heaven and earth. He is not a mere local god like Sennacherib thought (cf. 18:33–35). When we come to God in prayer, we must be sure of whom it is we are praying to. Because of His supremacy, we can leave everything in His able hands. Prayer is really our “declaration of dependence” on Him.
Hezekiah then made his first request— that God would hear and see what Sennacherib was doing (v.16). Even in his request, he acknowledged that God is the “living God.” In prayer, we bring God our requests, but we also remember who He is. Any affront or reproach to God should be taken as a reproach to his infinite dignity.
Of course, Hezekiah knew what Sennacherib and the Assyrian army had done to other countries (v.17). He was not blindly asking for God’s help. But because all was in the hands of almighty God, he knew that there was hope for the future, no matter how bad things looked at present. He had a proper view of things, a God-based view that kept its focus on God in spite of how things seemed.
In verse 18, Hezekiah acknowledged that the gods of the countries overrun by Assyria were not really gods at all. They were just man-made statues of wood and stone that could be destroyed. And by implication, he was also saying that God is truly God who cannot be destroyed by mere men—no matter how strong they are. He had led the Israelites out of Egypt. He had destroyed the Canaanites before them. He was the same God and thus completely dependable in this situation, no matter how hopeless it appeared at the time.
Hezekiah then ended his prayer with a plea for God to intervene. But this was not a selfish prayer. The king was concerned for God’s reputation (v.19). He wanted all the kingdoms of the earth to know that God alone was “the LORD our God.”
How do we pray? Do we acknowledge who God is every time we pray? Are we concerned with our selfish desires, or for God and how He is seen by others? We need to be realistic about the situation before us, but we also need an unwavering trust in God. Let’s praise Him for who He is and rely completely on Him. Only He is worthy!