My friend Heidi and I were talking about prayer. We knew that Elijah was “a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain,” and it didn’t (James 5:17). We knew that George Müller (1805-1898) was a man with a nature like ours, and God provided for him and his orphanage in miraculous ways. So we concluded that God answers the prayers of ordinary people who trust Him. So, why do we hear of so many prayers hitting the ceiling?
Then I remembered an incident from the book of Judges.
The tribe of Benjamin has perpetrated unspeakable evil (see Judges 19), so the rest of the nation of Israel was going to war against them (see Judges 20). (Notice that they did it the right way, inquiring of the Lord at Bethel before springing into action). The Lord gave the go-ahead and specific directions: Have Judah go up first.
But Benjamin shellacked Israel, which must have been stunning, especially since Israel had made a point of procuring the Lord’s blessings for its attack. Nevertheless, they dusted themselves off, took courage, wept before the Lord until evening, and asked Him again, “Shall we again draw near to fight?” Again the Lord said, “Go up,” and again they got their hats handed to them.
I can only imagine how baffled they must have been. There is a saying, “Fool me once, your fault; fool me twice, my fault.” Job’s wife would perhaps have said, “Why are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die.” This is the second time God gave the green light and the second time it felt like Lucy snatching the football from Charlie Brown just as he runs in for the kick.
How many times would we moderns have gone back to Bethel to inquire of God? Once? Twice?
The Israelites went a third time to the Lord with their inquiry. This time they meant business. They fasted, too. The Lord said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand.” And he did. The Lord must have been mighty pleased that the Israelites had the right stuff, and did not accuse their God of perversity after the first or second prayers seemed to have failed.
I feel ashamed just writing all this.