Bible Study

Prayers of the Bible

“When we don’t know what to do, we pray.” by Major Valerie Carr

Prayer. We all know that it is important. And given the abundant number of books available on the topic, we want to know more about it. But how do we start? What do we pray about? How do we grow in our faith so that our prayers are less “to-do lists” for God and more intentional conversations with our Savior? 

This Bible study series will focus on prayer and what can be learned by looking at some prayers found in scripture. Over the next few months, we’ll dig a little deeper into some well known and some lesser-known prayers. The hope is that we can discover some principles to guide our own prayers as we seek to see that prayer serves as a lifeline in our circumstances.

In “The Cost of Discipleship,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “It matters little what form of prayer we adopt or how many words we use. What matters is the faith which lays hold on God, knowing that He knows our needs before we even ask Him.” As we look at prayers of those who have gone before us in faith, may we seek to trust God for our needs as well.

Our first prayer comes from 2 Chronicles 20:5-12. King Jehoshaphat prays over a corporate gathering of the people of the southern kingdom of Judah during the time Israel was divided. In verse 2, the king is informed that a vast army has gathered to attack the city. In fact, it is three kingdoms that have come together to declare war on Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:1). The three armies are marching against the people of Judah, and the king is caught unprepared for how to respond. He calls for the people to come together in prayer and fasting (v 3). King Jehoshaphat leads them in seeking the Lord in their dire situation and prays a bold and desperate prayer.  

Jehoshaphat was overwhelmed by his circumstances and afraid for what the future held. Verse three specifically tells us that “Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the LORD for guidance.” As you read his prayer, you can almost hear the line from “Hamilton” the musical playing in the background: “Outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, out planned.” God’s people were vastly outnumbered and underprepared. The situation didn’t feel fair or right. The prayer calls on God to stop what is happening and answer their need for guidance against this enemy.

Our own lives can sometimes feel like they are careening out of control. We are left feeling powerless in the face of myriads of situations that we didn’t see coming and aren’t prepared to handle. It can feel hard to breathe, hard to function, even hard to pray. In the fear of our circumstance, we can give way to anxiety and feel powerless. 

Jehoshaphat, in his fear and anxiety, turns to God and essentially tells God that the outcome is all up to Him. He reminds God, himself and the gathered people that “whenever we are faced with any calamity … we can come to stand in your presence … we can cry out to you to save us, and you will hear us and rescue us” (v 9). In the first four lines of a seven verse prayer, the focus is on all the ways God’s power has been displayed in the past: creation, driving out nations as Israel settled in the land, promises made to Abraham, and the building of the Temple. Jehoshaphat also bookends his prayer by talking about who has the power in these situations. In verse six he prays “You are powerful and mighty; no one can stand against you” and in verse twelve he prays “we are powerless … we are looking to you for help.” The strength to handle this overwhelming situation of three advancing armies is solely on God, and that is where Jehoshaphat placed all his trust in that moment. 

We are challenged by Jehoshaphat’s example to look at the things we are anxious about and claim the same truth. One commentator suggested that “we can follow Jehoshaphat in calling to mind past acts of God’s deliverance as a basis for hope that He can also bring about deliverance in the present situation” (“Speaking with God: Probing Old Testament Prayers for Contemporary Significance,” by Phillip Camp). This prayer reminds us that our prayers can be desperate for help, fearful of the circumstances, and still replete with trust in the full power of God. When we don’t know what to do, we pray. When we are under intense pressure from without or within, we pray. When we fear what the future holds, we pray. We pray simple prayers that say, “we don’t know what to do, but we are looking to you for help” (v 12).

In the end of this story, Jehoshaphat and his kingdom saw deliverance by the hand of God against their enemies. The army of King Jehoshaphat didn’t even have to fight. God tells them, “Take your positions; then stand still and watch the LORD’s victory … Go out against them tomorrow, for the LORD is with you” (v 17). God’s answer to Jehoshaphat’s bold prayer was to show up and show off. God took care of all three armies and the people of God were defended by Him alone. In the end it is recorded that “Jehoshaphat’s kingdom was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side” (v 30).

Unfortunately, those circumstances that overwhelm us today won’t always see a miraculous reversal of a situation. But we do have the same promise that we need only to trust God to work in our situation for us to have the victory. We are promised the same presence of God in those circumstances that seek to convince us that we are alone and already defeated. We can have what Jehoshaphat received in the end: peace. Jesus Himself made us this same promise: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27 NIV). It is the peace of knowing that the Creator of the universe is on our side. We are not alone in our trouble; we may not know what to do, but we know where to go for help.

 In your desperate situation, in your moment of powerlessness, when you are challenged, prayerfully seek God, the One with all the power, and He will help you come away with peace. Peace comes from trusting God to be on our side. Peace leads to renewed courage to face our circumstances, “and watch the LORD’s victory” in our life.  

Questions to consider

  • When I’m faced with a situation that makes me feel powerless, what is my most common response (seek advice, live in denial, withdraw)? Why?
  • What anxiety do I need to “beg the Lord for guidance” on in my own life (v 3)?

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