Prayer in Times of Testing
“Put your money where your mouth is.” It’s a well known phrase and illustrates in a poignant way to determine what a person really values, sometimes in contrast to the things they say are important. The true animal lover most likely does more than post cat video’s to her facebook feed, she probably is also sustaining the existence of one or more of God’s creatures and perhaps even donates regularly in terms of time or finances to a shelter or vet’s association. The phrase creates a sort of test to call a person to demonstrate the invisible secrets of the heart.
In addition to money, the Lord has many other means by which he tests and reveals our hearts. He does this for our good so that we might understand what is there and identify and correct any disparity between what we say we believe and what our actions might reveal to the contrary. We can see the process at work in the life of Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles chapter 20. Leading up to this chapter, Jehoshaphat has been rebuked by the prophet Jehu for his alliance with wicked king Ahab (their kids had gotten married to each other if that tells you anything!). Jehoshaphat’s response seems to be correct: going about reforming the nation and encouraging a return to the Lord. But was this just an external attempt to avoid the judgment of God or stay in the good graces of a prophet, or perhaps even an attempt to keep a foot in the door of both camps? The answer is revealed through testing when an alliance of Moabite kings and their neighbors suddenly appear with a massive army just outside his eastern border. Would Jehoshaphat go running back to Ahab, or could he demonstrate that he was willing to put his money where his mouth was and personally trust the Lord in the face of opposition. When the water started boiling, what would come out of the “teabag” of Jehoshaphat’s heart? Thankfully, this test reveals the true faith of Judah’s king and gives us some incredibly helpful guidance for our own experience of testing, the conclusion of which is that we should praise God for testing that proves our faith and allows us the opportunity to experience his power.
Verses 1-4 reveal that this was no minor pickle that the nation faced. It produced intense, natural fear (v.3); the same kind of fear you would fear with a would-be burglar on your doorstep! The time will soon come for rallying the army, but the king’s knee-jerk reaction is notable: he called the nation to pray.
The content of Jehoshaphat’s own prayer is recorded in verses 5-12. Notable in this prayer is a major piece of guidance for when testing comes and that is how Jehoshaphat’s confidence for prayer comes from God’s own word. Specifically, much of his prayer comes directly from the mouth of Solomon whose prayer for dedication of the temple (recorded back in chapter 6 of this same book) expects these exact same kinds of attacks and calls for God to respond with protection and vindication for his people. If God had recorded it, it must have been because he intended to keep it, and thus, Jehoshaphat reasons, he can be expected to do so now. What value would the words of Scripture be if they were merely a record of history? If we were not intended to claim their promises for ourselves, the words would be powerless. But we are! The God who inspired them intends for us to draw from these words and prayers which come out of the mouths of the saints of old truth about his nature and character that can be claimed in our own time of need.
So thoroughly is the king acquainted with the word of God that he draws on it a second time as the nations square up for battle. Judah’s soldiers are equipped with more than shields and spears, they come armed with the promise of the Lord through Jahaziel the prophet (v.14-17): “You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf.” They are required to show up, march out in ranks, but “show” is all it will be. The battle is not yours, but God’s (v.15). Believing this message, the Commander-in-Chief instructs those on the front lines to sing! And sing they do. Right out of the pages of the songbook of Israel comes the text of Psalm 136: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his lovingkindness is everlasting” (v.21)! The victory celebration has already begun and the battle has not even started! I heard a speaker once question why, when we are faced with temptation, do we merely pray for victory over sin when sin’s defeat and our victory have already been promised by Christ? Not that we shouldn’t ask for help, but knowing that there is no temptation taken us but such as is common to man and knowing that God is faithful who will, with the temptation, always provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13) why do we stand there asking for help rather than searching for the escape route that God has promised will be there?
A final piece of guidance for testing comes to us in the aftermath of the “battle” if it can be called that. Much like the way He destroyed the Midianites in the days of Gideon, the Lord sent division throughout the hoard so that the Ammonites and Moabites turned against the local instigators and the warring factions ended up destroying themselves entirely! The Judean army arrives in verses 24-25 to find the remains of the slaughtered antagonists and proceeds to take three whole days sorting through their valuables! Isn’t it remarkable that the Lord entirely gives the victory, but the people enjoy the spoils! Christ, our champion has done the same thing, you know. “When he ascended up on high he led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men” (Ephesians 4:8). He defeated death so that we might live. He was holy so that we might be clothed in righteousness. He became a captive so that we might be free from sin’s captivity. There is an old song we sing that captures it well:
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater, He sendeth more strength when the labors increase; To added afflictions He addeth His mercy, To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance, When our strength has failed ere the day is half done, When we reach the end of our hoarded resources Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision, Our God ever yearns His resources to share; Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing; The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure, His power no boundary known unto men; For out of His infinite riches in Jesus He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again