Hitchhikers and Prayer

Hitchhikers and Prayer

“Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people” . . . And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.  Exodus 32:12-14

When I was a kid, I remember seeing a hitchhiker for the first time, holding his thumb up, hoping for a ride. Though my parents tried to explain, I just didn’t understand. I thought it was some sort of game. I also thought we should stop and pick the guy up. No, we’re not doing that. We don’t know him. Wisely, my parents weren’t willing to allow a total stranger into the backseat with their kids. We had no relationship with him and so, we drove on, effectively refusing the request for a ride. I feel confident in saying though, that if my parents saw someone they knew along the highway, that they’d have stopped. We know this person. We have a relationship. We must help.

Today’s passage suggests that something similar happens in our relationship with God. In the story, God’s anger burned against the Israelites for making and worshipping an idol. In his wrath, God planned to destroy his people. Moses intervened on behalf of the Israelites though, imploring God to relent. In response to Moses’ prayer, God changed his mind. I don’t know for certain, but I feel it’s likely that the same prayer from anyone else would have been ineffective. If God had brought some calamity upon the Israelites, they would have all begged for mercy, but it was only Moses’ prayer that changed God’s mind. Why did God listen to Moses when he wouldn’t have listened to anyone else?

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working (James 5:16). It seems that our proximity to God has something to do with his answer to our prayer. If we spend zero time on our relationship with God, only going to him for help when we’re in trouble, it may well be that he’s less likely to answer our prayers. I don’t mean to suggest that if God has ever said no to you, that it’s your fault for not being a good Christian. I am suggesting that like any parent, God listens to and answers his children better than those who’re total strangers to him.

If all we do is demand stuff from God when we’re in trouble, and then completely ignore him the rest of our lives, I don’t think we should be surprised when God ignores our requests. If we want God to treat us like his children, then we must live as his children, investing time in our relationship with him. If we want God to listen, then we’d do well to live as close to him as possible.

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