Stay for the Feast
There is a story told in the Old Testament book of 2 Chronicles, where King Jehoshaphat who ruled over the Southern kingdom of Israel called Judah, found himself in a crisis a lot more serious. Three neighboring kings had rallied their troops together to attack him, and by the time he got the report that this was happening, the messengers said, “they are already across the border. They are here.”
As you can imagine, when Jehoshaphat got the news, he was afraid. It’s one thing if the army planning to attack the US is in Brazil, and they have plans to head this direction. You have time to put together a defense plan, mobilize troops and weapons. But it’s another thing if the invading army is already in Texas. You don’t have time to really strategize. You have to act, and act quickly.
In my head I picture the king with his top generals around him, shouting orders while they are running to the armory, tossing swords to whomever is close by, the army already getting in formation, someone in the stables flying to the horses, etc, etc. I picture mayhem as riders take off to neighboring cities to alert them to prepare for battle, people running everywhere, shoving a little food into a pack before they jump on horses. It’s chaos.
But that’s not what scripture records. Jehoshaphat acts quickly, but he doesn’t do what you and I probably think he would do. In fact the scene isn’t chaotic at all.
He orders his troops, he rallies the people, but 2 Chronicles 20:3 gives us the scene: Jehoshaphat was afraid, and he resolved to seek the Lord. Then he proclaimed a fast for all Judah, who gathered to seek the Lord. They even came from all the cities of Judah to seek him.
Jehoshaphat had an invading army in his backyard and said, we’re not doing anything until we ask God what we should do. So he sent the message, proclaimed a fast for all of his people, and they all came together to seek the Lord.
As scripture records, they all gathered together and King Jehoshaphat stood up on a platform in the temple and he prayed for deliverance quoting King Solomon’s prayer when he dedicated that very Temple. There was no chaos. No noise. No hurry. No scurry. Just prayer.
Here’s my question to you – what does your prayer life look like? And I don’t want numbers of how many minutes you pray, but what are you hoping to accomplish when you pray? What is your motivation for praying? Why do you pray? What is the purpose of prayer? What is it that makes King Jehoshaphat say, “I know the army is already here, but we’re not moving an inch until we have prayed”?
I mean, if you think about it, the idea of prayer is a little absurd. Right now there are some 200 billion stars in the milky way galaxy. That’s one galaxy. A National Geographic study in 2016 estimates there are 2 trillion galaxies in the known universe, and we know there is more to be discovered. Then you think about all the animals and trees, plants, aquatic life, etc on this planet that depend on God for their daily food, not to mention 7 billion other people with 7 billion other problems, and yet here I come to God in prayer expecting him to stop what he’s doing and listen to me. Who do we think we are? What motivation does God have to bend his ear to help you find a good parking spot, or give you a safe trip, or bless the hands that made your food???
We’re talking about the God of Psalm 33, who breathed galaxies into existence with the breath of his mouth, who upholds the universe the word of his power; the God of Angel Armies who commands every single atom in all of creation and it obeys his voice.
Most religions are about humans making themselves better than they are, so they become good enough for God to give them his attention. And yet the gospel says that the God of heaven and earth, who breathed stars into existence, has come to us! The God who transcends time and space entered into time, became matter that takes up space, and in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, showed us that not only has God made himself known to us, he loves us. That he is for us.
That when you sing, he enjoys your song; That when you do your work with him in mind, that he is actually glorified by your work; that when you pray, like mother squatting down to get eye-level with her child, God lowers himself to hear us, to listen to us, and to act for us. It’s not your weakness and humanity that makes him look away from you, it’s your weakness and humanity that makes him come to you. And he doesn’t come in a whirlwind of fire to take you out, or in frustration because you are small and can’t get things right – he comes in gentleness, kindness, and mercy.
Author and pastor John Starke asks the question, which is crazier – that you could become good enough for the God of galaxies to listen to you? Or that the God of galaxies would, in love, make himself low enough that you would be able to know him and have fellowship with him?1
They are both insane!
And yet, here is king Jehoshaphat praying even while the opposing army advanced, because the God who breathed galaxies into existence makes himself available to us, he is for us, and he is merciful enough that he will show us what to do.
I picture thousands of people, mothers bouncing infants, maybe shedding a tear, dads with their swords strapped on, hands on the shoulders of their young ones, teenagers looking around anxiously, older people with their heads bowed low and their mouths silently moving in prayer. Waiting. Setting their face, determined to seek the God of galaxies.
And here is what the king prayed:
Lord, God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven, and do you not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in your hand, and no one can stand against you. 7 Are you not our God who drove out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and who gave it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 8 They have lived in the land and have built you a sanctuary in it for your name and have said, 9 “If disaster comes on us — sword or judgment, pestilence or famine — we will stand before this temple and before you, for your name is in this temple. We will cry out to you because of our distress, and you will hear and deliver.”
I want to make a couple observations about his prayer so far:
- God of our ancestors – King Jehoshaphat acknowledges that he is praying to the same God Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joseph, Ruth, Hannah, King David all prayed to. That anything God was and did for them, he still is and can do for him.
- Are you not the God who drove out the inhabitants of the land…” – The king now recalls what God has done in the past. “You either are the God who parted the Red Sea or you’re not. You’re either the God who drove out the people in the promised land to give it to your people or you aren’t.” You rule over all the nations of the world and no one can stop you when you move.
- You promised us… – KJ recalls Solomon’s prayer of dedication when the Temple was built, where the people promised to call on God and promised to hear and deliver.
Summary: Jehoshaphat’s prayer is based on recalling the character and the actions of God. He hasn’t asked for wisdom or guidance, he hasn’t asked for two or three backup armies to show up suddenly and cut off the enemy at the pass – he simply recalls who God was and who God is, and then says...
10 Now here are the Ammonites, Moabites, and the inhabitants of Mount Seir… (skip to verse 12 and I’m reading from the ESV now) O our God, will you not execute judgement on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.
- We are powerless
- We don’t know what to do
- Our eyes are on you.
If it’s true that God has opened the door for us to know him, to love him, to experience him as a Father and a friend, then the only prerequisite to prayer is that we see ourselves as needy. That we see ourselves as powerless. That we see our own wisdom as lacking. That we see our own abilities as deadly.
I know the first rule of 2021 is that we don’t talk about 2020. But I felt like last year drove me to my knees in a way that I had never experienced. Anxiety uncovered my lack of prayer, my dependence on myself. And I’m not saying everyone who wrestles with anxiety doesn’t pray, but it revealed my dependence on myself. But what I found on my knees was that God was there, and that he is faithful, and that he will not let his children fall.
He was not upset with me; he never condemned me or demanded more from me. He patiently listened to my cries for help and never left my side. So why is my prayer life the best when I’m struggling with something? Just listen to just a few verses about prayer:
- “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Luke 18:1
- “…pray without ceasing,” 1 Thessalonians 5:17
- “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12:12
- “But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:36
- “…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,” Ephesians 6:18
- “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” Colossians 4:2
God clearly has a much higher view of prayer than we do! We often pray because we should. We pray out of habit. But what we miss is that God is literally with us when we pray. Could it be that in our hustle and bustle, we have settled for a fast food, drive-thru kind of prayer, when God has a full family banquet prepared for us if we would just come inside?
If you who are evil give good gifts to your kids, how much more will God give good gifts to his own? Aren’t those the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:11? So if God asks us to pray continually and he is the giver of good gifts, would it not make sense that there is treasure to be found in prayer? A feast to be had there? Would it not make sense that if prayer is boring or uninteresting or a chore to us, that the problem lies with us?
As I’ve thought about this Sunday’s message for a couple weeks now, what I felt like God was putting in my heart for this new year is that if you feel like the last year drove you to your knees in prayer, like it did me, I don’t think we should get up just yet. I don’t want to get up just yet, even if our prayers to meet in person are answered this week. Even if our prayers for healing are answered; even if our prayers for reconciliation in relationships or restored marriages are answered; even if we see the virus disappear, no more masks, and everything back to normal. Let’s not be quick to move on – Let’s stick around for the feast that God has prepared for us!
The rest of the story of Jehoshaphat is pretty sweet. As they prayed, the Spirit of God came on one of the worship team members, and he said – “The Lord says don’t be afraid, or discouraged because of this vast number, because the battle is not yours, but God’s. You won’t even have to fight this battle. You’ll march out, stand still, and you’ll see the salvation of the Lord. He is with you – do not be afraid or discouraged. Tomorrow, go out and face them; the Lord is with you.”
Then the whole group did three things that all of us should do when crisis hits:
- They worshiped the Lord
- Got a good night of sleep
- Then got up early and marched out to battle.
And when they got to the place where the armies should have been, all they found were dead bodies. The Lord had set an ambush against the three kings and their armies, and the three kings all turned on each other until everyone was dead, and it took Judah 3 days to collect all the loot. They returned to Jerusalem joyful, shouting, blowing trumpets, and worshiping because the Lord had given them victory.
Names meant a lot more in ancient times than they do today, and in this story there is massive significance. Jehoshaphat’s name means “The Lord has judged,” which is what he prayed would happen to the kings coming to attack. But the person the Spirit of God chose to speak through was a dude named Jahaziel, which means, “God sees.”
One of the takeaways from this story of Jehoshaphat is this: no matter how small or insignificant or powerless you feel, you cannot escape the fact that God sees you, and has made himself known and available to you in prayer.
To say that God sees us is not like the all-seeing eye in the Lord of the Rings, where he is distant and heartless and full of judgment. The beauty of the gospel is that Jesus became powerless for us. He was born as a poor, weak baby, grew up rejected and despised by people – he had no features or talents or impressiveness that people were drawn to him. Until he started preaching and doing miracles, by human standards he was a nobody. Just a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth – a town with a bad reputation. And that’s good news, because you have a savior who can identify with you when you feel rejected, ignored, or like you’re at the bottom of the totem pole.He hasn’t come as a judge to condemn you for not praying enough, to condemn you for not trusting him enough. He hasn’t come to guilt trip you into obedience or serving him – He has come to you as a brother, in love, in mercy, and has swung open the door for you to know the love of his Father the same way he did, to feast with him, and love him for it!
That’s what you were made for! That’s what we were created for! That’s what heaven is all about – undiluted, unfading, imperishable fullness of joyful satisfaction in the God we were created to know and love.
And the beauty of prayer is that we don’t have to wait until heaven to get a taste of the goodness and presence of God.
So as we close today but kick off a New Year, I’m going to leave the Holy Spirit convict and lead and guide to how you could grow in your personal prayer life, but here are three practical ways we’re going to stay for the feast as a church:
- We are going to keep prayer a primary piece of our Sunday gatherings. We’ve been spending time in prayer most of the last several weeks as we’ve been online, but even once we’re back together, we’re going to keep doing this. Leaning in as the people of God, asking God what he wants us to do next.
- Secondly, there is a group of women that have been meeting on Thursday mornings at 6:30am at Madeline’s coffee house here in Riverside, and I want to encourage any of you women who haven’t been there to jump in on that if you’re able.
- Last, we are going to pick up in 1 Peter next week and finish that book around the end of February. Then in the month of March, we are going to do 31 days of prayer that will be both our sermon series and something for us to do as an entire church together.
- John Starke, The Possibility of Prayer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 14