Step 1 – “Setting yourself” to pray (get serious with God)
And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah gathered themselves together, to ask help of the Lord: even out of all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.
II Chronicles 20:3-4 (KJV)
Be serious and sincere when praying. Stop what you’re doing, and pray. Too often prayer (if it happens at all) is an unwanted interruption, a brief interlude in the stream of our busy lives. Not Jehoshaphat’s prayer. The Bible says Jehoshaphat “set himself” to seek the Lord. I like that. Setting ourselves! Every time we pray, we have an audience with Jehovah. Let’s stop playing with God. Don’t just hit pause on that movie, Samuel. Shut down the laptop/computer and pack it away. Close the door, and lock it. Switch off that phone. Get the kiddies to bed. Get up early, when it’s quiet. Sing some, or listen to some good Gospel music. Get ready, get quiet and then start praying. Set yourself to pray! The idea is not to launch into a barrage of Christian-ese. Remember, there are those that Jesus said “think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” (Matthew 6:7) That’s a bad place to be, thinking that you’re being heard, when you’re not. Get ready to pray, then pray. What we need is prayed prayers, not said prayers.
The Bible says that King Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast throughout Judah, so fasting must receive mention here. Fasting seems to have become extremely unpopular among us these days. I heard of one man who was fasting in that he was only eating a banana at mealtimes. Many times I fast by going the whole day without food, but then at suppertime all hell breaks loose. The concluding prayer is made with the aroma of a Steers takeout wafting in my nostrils. Well, maybe it has worked up to now. But I get the feeling this is not the kind of fast that Judah was observing. This country was facing dangers such as imminent destruction, the ravishing of their wives and daughters, the killing of their little ones and slavery or at least taxation (called tribute in those days). They were in trouble! Now, it is not practical to fast every single time that we pray. However, in times of crisis, we ought to fast. Let’s fast like we were fasting to God. Some things cannot shift without fasting, and that is Scripture (Mark 9:29). Fasting is hard, but remember this is not modern Christianity. This is a back-to-the-Bible treatise on prayer.
In response to the king’s call, Judah “gathered themselves together to ask help of the Lord”. What a righteous nation. In other words, nationwide activity ground to a halt. If it was planting time, they stopped planting. If it was harvesting time, the harvest was left in the fields awhile. An entire nation stopped what it was doing to pray! Judah really got serious with God. So we see that there is much to be said for corporate prayer. Remember it is also written
“…If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven.“
One may not be able to gather the whole nation to pray for their own needs (nor is this necessary). But find a trustworthy friend or two. Then confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. Amen, that’s good Scriptural strategy for prayer (James 5:16).
This morning [12 December 2011] my attention has been caught by the phrase “even out of all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.” We pray in secret, in our rooms, in our closets and this is effective. But there are times when we may find it useful to go “out of the city” and there cry out to God. Remember, there were few men as prayerful as the Lord Jesus. Though He was God on earth, though He had the fullness of the Godhead in Him, He too, was in the habit of setting Himself to pray. He would send the multitude and His disciples away and pray (Matthew 14:22-23). Or else He Himself would depart into a solitary place, and pray (Mark 1:35). The night before He chose His disciples, He went out into a mountain and continued all night in prayer (Luke 6:12). If the Master required to set Himself to pray in this manner, how are we ever going to make it without a similar commitment to personal prayer?
I remember when the time came for me to leave my former workplace. The conviction that it was time to leave was so strong that I took leave from work and “left the city” to pray for three days. God heard my prayers, and the rest is history. Since then I have continually seen what God can do when we pray. He’s taken me places I would never otherwise have visited, blessed me beyond what I deserve… Only five months ago, in July 2011, He surpassed my wildest expectations and took me to visit Israel. I spent my birthday in the Holy Land, on a 5-week assignment and therefore free of charge. I have been known to call myself “God’s spoilt little boy.” I say this not to boast, but to move away from theory and give a real-life, modern, current, “live-live” example that these things are true and they are effective and God is alive and well and ready to listen to you. I am in no way special or more deserving than anybody. But if we are willing to give God a chance, we shall see what He can do.
Although the Bible does not say what time Jehoshaphat prayed, I’d like to reserve a special mention for early-morning prayer. There’s nothing quite like it. There are numerous mentions of this habit in Psalms, the most well-known of which, perhaps, is found in Psalms 63:
“O God, Thou art my God; early will I seek Thee: my soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth for Thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is…”
I know for a fact that God has been encouraging me to do this. God can speak all the time, but I know from Scripture that He speaks early in the morning, for in Jeremiah (a book that made me wonder whether God cries) the following statement appears:
“I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but ye answered not…”
Do you know how many times this statement appears in Jeremiah? This phrase appears no less than 11 times (Jeremiah 7:13, 7:25, 11:7, 25:3, 25:4, 26:5, 29:19, 32:33, 35:14, 35:15, 44:4). Guess what, friends. Maybe God waits for us every morning and then we don’t show up.
Let’s be serious with God. Let’s set ourselves to seek Him. The Bible says if we will draw nigh to Him, He will draw nigh to us (James 4:8). Let us pray.