2017 is officially upon us and with a new year comes a fresh reminder that we desperately need the Lord’s grace to see us through or we’re doomed. A resolution to pray more in 2017 is a good one, but the problem comes when we don’t know exactly what to pray or the proper manner in which to pray. In 2 Chronicles 20, the author narrates for us a crisis moment in King Jehoshaphat’s life and his prayerful reaction. I see at least five principles we can draw for our own prayer lives from the situation found in 2 Chronicles 20.
Set your face to seek the Lord
When King Jehoshaphat was informed that a massive army of Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites was encroaching on the people of Judah, he responded wisely. We are told in 2 Chronicles 20:3b-4 that he: “Set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD.”
Instead of seeking help from another nation or a trusted battle plan, King Jehoshaphat sought Yahweh Himself. The emergency prayer meeting the king called for wasn’t a casual tipping of the hat to God. It was a blood-earnest plea that included fasting. As Dr. Don Whitney has said, fasting puts an exclamation point on the sentence, “I need God.” If in our prayer lives there is no serious setting of our faces to seek the Lord, we ought not be surprised when He doesn’t show. God told the exiled Jews through Jeremiah, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). There is a running joke at our house that if something goes missing, my first search for the item is not a very good one. I hurriedly glance around the room and often don’t see something that is right in front of me because I’m not very focused. Our prayer lives cannot be haphazard and random if we wish to know the Lord more in 2017. It may be that a monthly time of fasting combined with your prayers can help you seek the Lord more fervently.
Assert God’s limitless power
King Jehoshaphat’s prayer was dripping with faith in God. He prays, “O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In Your hand are power and might so that none is able to withstand You” (2 Chronicles 20:6). There was no question in the king’s mind as to God’s ability. Jehoshaphat knew that the God of the covenant was all powerful and His plan could never be thwarted. Weak prayers that elevate our problems and question God’s ability have no place in the regular prayer closets of God’s people. We must pray God-exalting prayers that acknowledge His power if we wish to see His hand at work in our circumstances.
Present your request
It may seem to go without saying that when we pray we should have a specific requests, but there are times when we find ourselves rambling on and on without actually mentioning a need. Of course prayer is all about communion with God, but if we never get around to requesting anything from God we’re probably not expressing our genuine heart concerns to Him. If a young girl wants money from her father to go shopping with her friends, he’d get frustrated if she only poured a bunch of accolades his way and never got around to the point. We must tell God our needs and concerns if we wish to see Him meet them.
Keep your eyes on our sovereign God
In verse 12 of our passage, King Jehoshaphat prays one of the most honest statements any man has ever made:
“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
When we confess our own inability and weakness, we do well. Praying is not for those who, “know what to do.” The entire practice of prayer is an open acknowledgment that we need God’s wisdom. In public, we all try to present ourselves in a better light than we really are because we don’t want people to think we’re inadequate to handle life. But in prayer, God expects and commands that we drop all the games and gimmicks and express to Him our honest neediness. Keeping our eyes on God is hard because God is invisible. To keep our eyes on God means we must, “look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
For Judah it meant refusing to grow fearful at the sound of invading troops and refusing to look at the thousands of battle-readied men spread thick across the countryside. Prayer involves waiting in desperation on God when everything else in life seems to be saying there is no hope.
Joyfully give thanks for answered prayer
God heard Jehoshaphat’s prayer and sent word to the people of Judah through one of His prophets. Verses 15b and 17a states, “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s…you will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf.”
Just as God foretold, the massive army was defeated before Judah’s eyes as they sang of God’s covenant faithfulness. Verses 26 and 27 give us Judah’s response to God’s answered prayer, “they blessed the LORD…returning to Jerusalem with joy, for the LORD had made them rejoice over their enemies.” Returning thanks is only a small sacrifice of praise we can offer to God for His grace in answering our prayers. Yet we so often neglect to praise God for answered prayer because we’re so selfish. We must regularly check ourselves to ensure we aren’t enjoying a certain blessing of answered prayer without expressing the gratitude we should along with it.
May we always remember that Jesus bore God’s wrath for our sins on the cross so that we would have access into God’s presence in prayer. If we pray in this manner by faith in Christ, the New Year will be full of reasons to rejoice and praise God.