“And the Lord granted his prayer”: a reflection on Genesis 25:21 and #ngac19

June 13, 2019

Genesis 25:21: “And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.”

Rebekah, like Sarah before her, seemed unable to have children. Her husband, Isaac, didn’t presume that because he was God’s chosen one, God would automatically solve this problem—at least apart from Isaac’s own prayers. So Isaac prayed, expecting the Lord to respond. Why not? Isaac’s very name (Hebrew: “He Laughs”) bears witness to the miracle of his own conception and birth. As God asked Isaac’s father, who “fell on his face and laughed” when he heard about Isaac’s imminent birth (Genesis 17:17), “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14)

What about me? Strange as it is to say, I am not, biblically speaking, less called and less chosen than Isaac. In my case, God has called me to be a pastor. He has given me a purpose. I am fulfilling his plan.

If I’m so much like Isaac, however, why do I often presume that I will be successful apart from prayer?

See, I’m convinced that I’ve hardly seen what God can do in my life and ministry—what God wants to do—through prayer! After all, when I’m confronted by the seemingly impossible, I usually give up. Or I pray by rote—heedless that the “great spirit I so lightly invoked” (C.S. Lewis) could move mountains if he wanted to (Matthew 17:20).

But have pity on me! I’m mostly doing what I’ve been shown.

For example, I’m currently at the North Georgia Annual Conference, a gathering of United Methodist church leaders from throughout north Georgia. I sometimes believe that gatherings like these exist to convince us of what we can do apart from God—relying, for example, on the best business and marketing practices that the corporate world has to offer. “Do you want to grow your church? Apply these seven principles. Implement these five practices. Employ these four strategies! They work!” Jesus, by contrast, recommends prayer above all else: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:38).

Not that we Methodists don’t pray, and not that we don’t have the best of intentions. But in my experience prayer is much harder than principles, practices, and strategies. Yet we treat the really hard thing like an afterthought.

Even today, our bishop prayed (sincerely!) for missionaries on stage to be “anointed with the Holy Spirit”—an excellent petition, especially on the heels of Pentecost Sunday! Yet did any of us in the audience (forgive me for calling us that) wonder whether an actual anointing of the Spirit took place?

And if it did… can I have one, too? Please! 

Speaking of which, is there any problem facing our United Methodist Church, much less our North Georgia Annual Conference, that wouldn’t be solved by a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Why don’t we gather tomorrow on the conference room floor and pray for that? Don’t we believe that a supernatural event like that could happen to us?

Or do we believe that this prayer for anointing was merely one item on the agenda among others—something to check off before lunch break?

And I can anticipate one objection to these words: “Brent, the problem is with you. Your heart’s not in the right place. At the moment that this petition for anointing was being prayed, after all, you were on your phone, reading predictions for tonight’s Warriors-Raptors game!”

Well, that’s true… And I am the problem. I am Romans 7:15 personified!

But isn’t that the point of this post? If I have to depend on myself—in this case, on my ability to “get my heart right”—in order to have an anointing of the Holy Spirit or to experience any other good thing in life or ministry, then I’m doomed! God help me, I can’t make that happen! Through years of bitter experience, I know I can’t! But isn’t the very nature of grace that God will do what we cannot do on our own? “For when I am weak, then I am strong”?

One obstacle in my life and ministry is depending on myself to get things done, rather than trusting in the One who has the power to do even the impossible.

So I’m writing this post to say that I recognize the problem, and I’m going to change—or at least I want to! What about you?

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