This morning I read our eldest the story of Jehosaphat in 2 Chronicles 20. I’ve always had a soft spot for Jehosophat, and not simply because his name is Elijah Baley’s favourite swear word (you need to be an Asimov SF fan to get that reference). He is one of the few “good kings” of Judah. He’s not a “really good king” – he still lets the people worship at high places, and is rather too ready to ally with Ahab’s Israel (much to the detriment of his own family), but his heart is at least in the right place – he himself is loyal to the LORD,
The story starts like this:
“After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle.
Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar” (that is, Engedi).
Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.
And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD.”
(2 Chronicles 20:1–4 ESV)
Jehosaphat is afraid. Being an earnest follower of the LORD does not remove fear. But he knows who is really in charge (which is kind of appropriate, since Jehosaphat means something like “The LORD rules/judges/delivers”). So he does what he is supposed to do, he calls all the people together to seek help from the LORD, indeed to seek the LORD. What are the challenges we face? What are the challenges as a church? What is our first response? How rarely mine is to seek the LORD – yet that is what we need to do. If our church faces a crisis our first response should be prayer. Only then should we turn to strategies. It’s why I was a bit hesitant to read about the CofE’s new plans for growth, inspired by various business leaders. It’s not that planning for growth and changing dead structures is bad – the church needs to do lots of it, but what I missed was the call to prayer that needs to go with it and before it. I trust that those involved prayed, and prayed lots. But I think the church as a whole needs to be called to prayer. I also know that I need to be called to prayer. I need to seek help from the LORD.
Then we get Jehosaphat’s prayer
“And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD, before the new court, and said, “O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’ And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy— behold, they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit. O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.””
(2 Chronicles 20:5–12 ESV)
Here Jehosaphat goes back to the LORD, and he prays. Here is the King doing what he should do. He builds a case before God, based on God’s rule, and God’s power and God’s concern for his people. He reminds God of the purpose of the temple, to be a sanctuary for God’s name. To be a place where God’s character is known and displayed. And since God’s character is one of unlimited grace and mercy he knows he is on solid ground as he prays. Finally he draws the attention of God to the immediate threat – that word “behold” sounds archaic, but it would be better translated as “Look!” or “Pay Attention!” in this case.
Finally the one whose name means “The LORD judges” prays “LORD will you not judge them?” Jehosaphat knows that the LORD has to act, because he is powerless. Judah is in a corner, and with words that echo into every hopeless situation, and every desperate cry prays “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” – we are looking to you to act, because we do not know what to do. Those words echo in my heart as I struggle to finish off a PhD, and then we face an utterly uncertain future. We do not know what to do. We do not know how to do it. May our eyes be on Him. This is the prayer for when we do not know what to pray. We simply lay out the situation before God and say “Help: we don’t know what to do, but we are looking to see what you will do.”
In a future post at some other point when I need a break from PhD rewriting and editing I will post the LORD’s response – or you could just go and read it now. I promise it will be worth the read…