The Bible describes the sovereign God as the One who does as He wishes in Heaven and earth (Ps. 135.6). At the same time He is the God who hears prayer.
O Thou that hearest prayer, unto Thee shall all flesh come (Ps. 65.2).
This is quite something—that the great, the omnipotent, the sovereign God, desires to, is willing to, involve us in His sovereignty. This ought to inspire us greatly in our praying. I think it was John Wesley who said God will do nothing but in answer to prayer. For years I missed the import of that. This is not just saying we need to pray more, and that if we don’t we’re not going to see God do anything. It goes deeper than that. What Wesley meant is that God is the kind of God who wants to include a man in His sovereignty—someone who has an in with Him, and is recognized by others as having an in with Him. God wants to do things, but He wants us to be part of that doing.
The implication is that certain men and women have pull with Him, as they say. They are people with connections—connections in Heaven. Who are these ones? As we read further in Psalm 65 we discover they are those whom God has chosen to draw nigh to Him.
Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto Thee… (Ps. 65.4).
Simply put, then, they are people who are close to Him. We think immediately of the apostle John. Even the other apostles recognized that John had a certain in with the Lord Jesus—a closeness of relationship with Him that they themselves lacked. During the last supper as they were all reclining around the meal, John was the disciple who “reclined in Jesus’ bosom” (Jn. 13.23). You can see that in your mind’s eye—John reclining, leaning on his elbow, his head very close to Jesus’ breast as they supped together.
And at some point during the supper Jesus tells them that one of them will betray Him. They are all aghast. Who might this traitor be? Each of them, tender of conscience, is anxious it could be himself. They want to ask the Lord who it is, but this is something they sometimes struggled with. They would talk with one another about their concerns and questions, but there was sometimes a certain fear in them about approaching their Lord Himself. They stood so in awe of Him. But it was more than that—their own insecurity. They lacked the security of relationship with Him, the knowledge and assurance of His love that would enable them to draw near to Him and speak to Him face to face.
With John it was different. John somehow had the assurance of His love. The verse that tells us he was reclining in Jesus’ bosom goes on to describe John as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” You mean He didn’t love them all? Of course He did. But somehow there was an open-faced relationship between John and Jesus that enabled John to receive this love, to know and believe this love. And so during the supper he is reclining in Jesus’ bosom just where he wanted to be—and knowing that’s where Jesus wanted him to be too.
And while the attention of the others is on something else—perhaps they are anxiously conferring with one another about this very matter—Peter beckons to John to ask the Lord who the betrayer is. And the Lord reveals this to John.
This, I think, captures the essence of our message. The closeness of our relationship with the Lord puts us in the place where we stand between God and men on behalf of men. John was the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” John was secure in this love… and, oh, that we all might have the same open-faced relationship with Him—knowing His love for us, and loving Him in return… and therefore, instead of being among those who, like Peter, are asking someone else, “You ask Him…” we are the one reclining in His bosom, the one others are urging, “You ask Him for me, please.”
Consider Job. After God revealed Himself to Job He reproved the three men who with their unkind and unjust accusations had given Job such a hard time. They were in serious trouble with God now. His wrath was kindled against them. So He advised them to go to Job and offer up a burnt offering to God.
And my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept (Job 42.8).
This is very intriguing. Could not these men have prayed to God themselves? Could not God have transacted this whole thing with these men directly, telling them what He required of them to set things right? I suppose so, but we see here how much God desires this—a man praying to Him on behalf of other men—even men who have hurt that man. A man like Job. A man He has accepted. A man in close relationship with Him. Satan had tried to separate Job from God. Everything he did brought about the exact opposite. Job came through the great ordeal a man approved of God. He was now one who was accepted with God—meaning that his prayers would be accepted as well. Let us remember this in our own trials. God’s objective in it all is to make of us the kind of person who is near Him, has an in with Him.
Incidentally, by requiring these men to go to Job, God humbled them—something they very much needed.
Now Abraham. When Abraham went to sojourn in Gerar he fell back again on the old arrangement he had with his wife Sarah. Sarah was a very beautiful woman. Abraham’s fear was that someone might eye Sarah and want to take her for a wife—which they couldn’t do legitimately if her husband was alive. And so whenever they came into unfamiliar territory she was to tell people she was Abraham’s sister, not his wife.
And they come to Gerar. Apparently even at ninety-two years old Sarah is still a strikingly beautiful woman. Sure enough, Abimelech king of Gerar eyes her. And he takes her into his harem, thinking she is the sister of this man who has come to sojourn in his territory. But then God speaks to Abimelech in a dream.
Behold, thou art but a dead man for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife (Gen. 20.3).
Abimelech confronts Abraham about this and Abraham tells him the truth, at the same time explaining that he hadn’t really lied either: she is in fact his sister—the daughter of his father but not the daughter of his mother. However, God has afflicted the whole house of Abimelech for this. None are able to bear children. How will the matter be rectified? It’s interesting to note that while never referring to God by His covenant name Yahweh, Abimelech obviously has some kind of relationship with God. He is in conversation with Him about this, explaining that he took Sarah into his house in his integrity. And God tells him that He knew that, and withheld him from sinning against Him. Nevertheless the whole situation has to be set right by Abimelech restoring Sarah to Abraham.
And then God shows Abimelech how the death sentence upon him, and the affliction that is causing the barrenness of all the women, is to be removed.
Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live…
See how high a thing this is with God—that he has nurtured this man Abraham into such relationship with Himself that He is moved by his prayers? Abimelech obviously had a relationship with God to some extent: could not Abimelech have prayed to God himself? And could not God as a result of his exchange with Abimelech have dealt with the problem sovereignly when he returned Sarah to Abraham? But once again we see how greatly God desires to include in His sovereignty a man who is in close relationship with Him.
He shall pray for you…
One more illustration. Simon the sorcerer. This man was green with envy upon seeing that when the apostles Peter and John laid hands on others they received the Holy Spirit. He approached them and asked them to sell that ability to him also. Peter immediately rebuked him.
Thy money perish with thee because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money… Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee (Acts 8.20).
However, Simon isn’t all that confident his own prayers are good currency with God. He responds—and he is speaking to both Peter and John:
Pray ye to the Lord for me that none of the things which ye have spoken come upon me.
Once again there is the recognition here that God can be moved by the prayers of those who are on good terms with Him and in close relationship with Him—those who are near Him. Eliphaz the Temanite knew God (you know what I mean: God spoke directly to him). Yet it was not the kind of knowledge Job had. God told Eliphaz it would be Job’s prayers that saved him from being dealt with according to his folly. Abimelech also knew God. But it was Abraham’s prayers that moved God to heal Abimelech’s household. Simon the sorcerer did not know God. But he recognized that someone in close relationship with God could influence Him on his behalf.
And so… this is the kind of God that our sovereign God is. “O Thou that hearest prayer….” He is the God who hears prayer. The Hebrew word here actually means answerest. “O Thou that answerest prayer…” God hearing prayer means that He answers, and grants the desire of the heart.
But whose prayer does He hear? Those who are near Him. Let us draw near Him, then, nearer and nearer. Let us set our hearts to be such men and women—the kind that others come to asking us to ask God on their behalf—and being assured that He hears us when we ask.
(An excerpt from my writing The Golden Altar Of Incense)