“Then he said, ‘May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?’ He answered, ‘For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.’” Genesis 18:32
This exchange between Abraham and the Lord is one of the earliest recorded examples of intercessory prayer. Abraham had just received a visit from “three men” (believed to be two angels and the Lord, Genesis 18:2). The visitors were leaving when the Lord decided to tell Abraham that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were about to be checked out and, most likely, wiped out. This was important to Abraham. His beloved nephew Lot and his family lived in Sodom. Most of us have probably never been told by the Lord, “I plan to destroy the city where your family lives,” so we have to use our imagination a little bit.
The storm on the East Coast has been newsworthy for nearly a week. If you have loved ones in the vicinity, you have probably checked in with them about it. You have probably also been in prayer for your loved ones. My older sister leaves near Boston, and she was the first one who came to mind for me. When the mass shooting took place in Colorado, my younger sister, who lives in Denver, came to mind. When I see a forecast for icy roads in the winter, I pray for my older brother who often drives a semi for deliveries. In all of those examples, I am one thing – helpless. I would rather have something that I could do to help.
Abraham was in the same predicament. He was no dummy. Abraham is a descendant of Shem, son of Noah. Abraham had no doubt that God would destroy the unrighteous if that’s what He said He would do. Abraham decided to make the bold move of asking God to show mercy. Optimistically, Abraham begins by asking God to spare the city if fifty righteous people are found in the city. God agrees.
The scene that ensues is funny to me, but refreshing. I imagine Abraham thinking, “Wow, the Lord agreed to that pretty easily…my number must be off.” Abraham goes back and forth with the Lord five more times (makes me think of an early game of “The Price is Right”…the crowd is yelling at Abraham “Thirty!” “No! Twenty!”). Abraham and the Lord finally agree on ten, and it was settled. “When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.” Genesis 18:33
DO YOU HAVE TEN?
I have been reading through the book The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. It was written by A.J. Jacobs a few years ago. It is a fascinating, and often hilarious, journey to follow. It is hilarious because he makes an effort to import Biblical rules into modern society (building a hut in his living room for a festival..buying a transporatable seat so he doesn’t sit where an “ unclean” woman sat). And it is fascinating to me because he enters this journey as an atheist (haven’t finished the book..don’t spoil the ending).
It is one thing to follow some of the more obscure laws of the Old Testament as an atheist, it is entirely different to pray as an atheist. I know that you cannot talk to God and remain unchanged. You just can’t. We are ALL made in His image, and when we pray we are in dialogue with our Heavenly Father. Jacobs’ running diary shows what can happen. Compare these two passages he wrote on prayer, one from Day 2, and the second from Day 103:
“The whole experience is making me uncomfortable. My palms are sweaty. I’m trying to speak with earnest intent, but it feels like I’m transgressing on two separate levels…I glance at the clock. I’ve been praying only for a minute. I’ve promised myself I’d try to pray for at least ten minutes three times a day.” (page 21)
“And yet I still love these prayers. To me they’re moral weight training. Every night I pray for others for ten minutes…It’s ten minutes where it’s impossible to be self-centered.” (page 128)
NOT FOCUSED ON RESULTS
Abraham bargained hoping for a better outcome. A.J. Jacobs followed a plan in order to experience prayer. We go into prayer with different agendas. But always God is loving in His response. Abraham was not rebuked for his negotiation. Jacobs was not struck by lightning for “faking” his prayers (he actually started by reciting his favorite prayers from the Bible – not bad for an atheist, huh?)
You probably know that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. You should also know that Abraham’s nephew was spared. And you should also know this: the next morning, Abraham stood where he had spoken with the Lord, looked down and saw the destroyed cities. But don’t miss this passage: “So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.” (Genesis 19:29)
The word “remembered” also appears in Genesis 8:1, when God sent a wind to push back the waters of the flood and, therefore, take care of His child, Noah. God desires our time because He loves us. And He allows us to bring our requests before Him. We don’t spend time with those we love only to see a certain result. That sounds like manipulation, and we attempt to do that when we fail to value the relationship.
Spending time with those we love deepens and strengthens the connection – allows us to know the other even more. Maybe you don’t start off with 30 minutes in prayer, but I bet you could do 10. Or maybe you have 10 people that you can lift before the Lord, or 10 things you can thank Him for. Just start, and then watch the change comes as the relationship grows deeper.
Remember God; He remembers you.