And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace. (Jeremiah 29:7, NKJV)
Judah was in Babylon, exiled by the Lord God because of her sinful rebellion against Him (Jeremiah 29:1, 4). In this letter to the elders of the people, God’s prophet instructed them to build houses, plant gardens, maintain their families, and be at peace with those who ruled over them. Like them, we live in a strange land as we live for heaven. In times of societal distress we are tempted to become militant against unrighteous governing powers, forgetting that God rules over every nation (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:17). During times of peace as well as turbulence, Christians supplicate heaven, giving thanks and praying “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:2). While the mobs gather, we live for a better country, a heavenly one. Instead of repaying evil for evil, “have regard for good things in the sight of all men” so that, “if it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:17-18). In His time, God rights every wrong with just vengeance (Romans 12:19). We are to promote peace in righteousness. That is what sojourners do while living in a foreign land (1 Peter 2:11-12).
15 “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” 16 But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to declare My statutes, or take My covenant in your mouth, 17 Seeing you hate instruction and cast My words behind you?” (Psalm 50:15–17, NKJV)
The wicked, who defy God’s law and break His covenant, have no ground to stand upon and declare what God will or will not do. God is not a talisman or lucky charm to be called upon to conjure up blessings in a moment of crisis. Yet, too many people think of God this way. They have little time or use for God until a crisis occurs, and then they can be heard crying to God for help. God is not a fire-extinguisher on standby only when we have a problem that needs fixing. He commands and deserves our gratitude and faithful allegiance always. The Lord God hears and answers the cries of the righteous (1 Peter 3:10-12). Are you responsive to what God wants from you (His words of instruction)? If not, how can you expect Him to respond to your cries for help? What right do you have to say what God will or will not do, seeing you have rejected His word? Come back to God and obey His word. Then, He will hear and answer your prayers according to His will, not yours (1 John 5:14-15).
147 I rise before the dawning of the morning, and cry for help; I hope in Your word. 148 My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word.” (Psalm 119:147–148, NKJV)
There are no better ways to start your day than prayer to God and reading God’s word. Unhindered by the distractions and pressing demands of the day, such prayers rise early and reach the throne of God like incense from the altar (Revelation 5:8; 8:1-3). Our hope is in God’s response, which is sure and certain (Revelation 8:4). Reading and meditating on God’s word at the break of day equips us to be prepared and faithful throughout the day. Should sleep escape us during the night, even then, God’s word will be on our minds. Prayer is the communication of God’s children with their Father in heaven; His word is His communication to us. In tandem, prayer and the word form an unbreakable cord that assures our faith and anchors our hope. Make time for both (whether morning, noon or night). The spiritual blessings you derive from prayer and reading God’s word will be immeasurable.
16 Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will declare what He has done for my soul. 17 I cried to Him with my mouth, and He was extolled with my tongue. 18 If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear. 19 But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer. 20 Blessed be God, Who has not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me! (Psalm 66:16–20, NKJV)
The psalmist was eager to tell God-fearers what God did for his soul. God heard his prayers and blessed him with mercy. Like him, we also need divine mercy. He has assured us mercy in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). God will hear and answer the prayers of His people, who 1) Fear Him (verse 16), 2) Praise Him (verse 17), and 3) Refuse to give their attention to sin (verse 18). God did not only hear this man’s prayer, He attended to his prayer. The prayers of God’s people bring Him to action! God’s mercy is turned toward those who fear Him, trust Him, and praise Him. His mercy is given to those who refuse to approve of sin. “The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous” (Proverbs 15:29). May we ever tell what great things God has done for our souls through His Son, Jesus Christ!
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. (James 5:13, NKJV)
Prayer and song. This couplet proves comforting and invigorating as we go through life’s storms and life’s calm. Suffering comes in many forms; physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Prayer is a balm for the weary, an assuring strength during times of tumult and uncertainty. And so, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). Even as suffering leads to earnest prayer, happy times evoke praise of the Almighty. The Lord is the source of joy that no one can take from us – the joy of victory over sin and death (John 16:20-22, 33). When life brings good fortune, Christians raise up songs of praise to God. We remember that God is the Giver of every good blessing; we did not create our happiness without His good providence. And so, James gives us sound instruction for difficult and happy times. He reminds us to look to God through all of life’s joys and sorrows. The Lord “will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). He will see you through.
One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. (Proverbs 28:9, NKJV)
Prayer is not an unconditional blessing. This way of viewing prayer is quite different from the way most view it. But, today’s passage makes the conditional nature of prayer very clear. God’s ear is not open to the person whose ears are closed to the law of God. Simply put, we cannot live in disobedience to God, yet expect God to be open and responsive when we decide to pray to Him. Prayer is not an escape hatch we take as a final resort. It is not a fire escape when all other possibilities are exhausted. Prayer is the ongoing communication of God’s child to the Father in heaven. “Pray without ceasing” is an active way of life for the person who listens to God’s law and follows it (1 Thess. 5:17, 18-22). Prayer is a spiritual blessing Christians have “in Christ,” precisely because we choose to “turn away from evil and do good” (Ephesians 1:3; 1 Peter 3:10-11). We must prepare ourselves to be heard by God: “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:12). Get right with God. Open your ear to hear and obey His law. Then, your prayers will be a blessing to God’s ear, and not an abomination.
43 Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:43–44, NKJV)
Jesus was reaching a point of mental fatigue as His soul agonized under the anticipation of the cross and all that would lead to it. Strength from heaven revived him, even as His sweat dropped profusely from him. Have you ever heard someone say Jesus sweated blood in Gethsemane? Many, if not most, Bible commentaries say He did. Yet, the text says His blood was “like” great drops of blood. Luke uses a metaphor to describe the intensity of Jesus’ distress. We need not distort the text in order to strengthen this scene of agony. The Lord’s humanity is on full display as He “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:7-8). Jesus arose from prayer to find His disciples “sleeping from sorrow” (Lk. 22:45). Yet, sorrow is not the time to sleep, but the time to “rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Lk. 22:46). When you face the agony of sorrow, turn your prayers heavenward for relief. Though your struggle with sorrow may be intense, pray for earnestly. Relief from heaven will strengthen you and secure your faith (Heb. 13:5-6; Jas. 1:2-4).