Faintly Whispered Prayers
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And as they brought them out, one said, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.” 18 And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords.19 Behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life. But I cannot escape to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I die. 20 Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!”21 He said to him, “Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken.22 Escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.” Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar. – Genesis 19:17-22 [ESV]
I’m not inclined to push my agenda in the short term. If I get resistance, I back down. I may try a different tact later. And if the goal is really important, I won’t soon give up. In the bargaining game, I’m not as insistent. I don’t drive a hard bargain. I might pay a little more for that car than someone else. I might not negotiate the best deal on a rental car, or other negotiable deals.
It seems, however, that Abraham is masters of the art. Abraham negotiates a stay of destruction if 10 righteous people can be found in Sodom. Lot, on this occasion, pushes it with the angels. His prayer, however, is not like Abraham’s. He seems more to plead from weakness and fear than boldness and faith. But his weak and fearful plea does not go unheeded. The town of Zoar is allowed to be a place of refuge for him and his family.
Sometimes we may pray boldly. We might throw the sack at the door of God’s throne of grace. I’ve previously quoted this prayer of Luther for his friend and colleague Philip Melanchthon:
Filled with fear, [Luther] said: “0 God, how the devil has shattered this instrument for me!” Then the faithful and manly friend approached his God in prayer for his much beloved friend, by throwing, as he, himself afterwards said, “the sack before the door, and by rubbing his ears with all the promises from His own word.” He exhorted and commanded Melanchthon to be of good cheer, because God did not desire the death of the sinner, but needed further services from him; told him that he himself would rather depart now; had food prepared for him when he was gradually becoming convalescent, and upon his refusal to eat, threatened: “You will have to eat, or I will put you in the ban.” Gradually the patient improved in body and spirit. Luther could write to another friend: “We found him dead; by an undeniable miracle of God he lives.”*
Sometimes, though, our prayers are faint whispers, and we may wonder whether they get above the ceiling, much less reach the throne room of God. But take heart! The prayers of Lot are heard as well as those of Abraham. Abraham is the father of faith. And his strong faith shows up in the manner in which he speaks to God. Bold. Direct. “Sack against the door” Strong.
Lot is weak and pleading. Both are heard. This is good news. For we’re not all Abraham-like in our faith. We might occasionally feel very weak. While there may be times for us to claim a faith like Abraham’s, we can lean into the goodness, mercy, and kindness of God in every situation. In those weak and uncertain moments, we can remember this encounter with Lot and the promise of Isaiah 42:3, which says that God “will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.” Knowing that may make even the weakest prayers stronger.
*Julius Kostlin, Life of Luther, trans. John G. Morris (Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1883), 440. Also see Julius Kostlin, Luthers Leben, 2nd ed. (Leipzig: Fues’s Verlag, 1883), 546-547. As quoted by Albert B. Collver III, in the April/May edition of the Concordia Theological Quarterly