Some people wonder about prayer. Wonder not about the way to pray—sitting or kneeling, eyes open or eyes closed, to the Father or to the Son, liturgically or devotionally—but metaphysically about prayer itself. If God is all the “omnis” (pan-omni?)—omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent—why do we need to pray? Certainly, I AM includes I KNOW and I CAN. God already knows what we will pray for (and better yet He knows what we need) and certainly He can do whatever we ask (better yet whatever He wants). So why pray? Is prayer spiritual lobbying—to convince God to do things He doesn’t really want to do? Or is prayer a form of spiritual post-it notes—to remind God of things He wants to do but may have forgotten about (a case of omnesia)?
Genesis 18 provides an answer in narrative. Once unpacked, this chapter hints at two fundamental reasons for prayer, ultimately showing how prayer is the catalyst in God’s purpose.
The chapter nicely divides into two distinct sections that mirror the two major aspects of prayer revealed in the New Testament—prayer for fellowship and prayer for intercession (1 Tim. 2:1). Taken together, the two sections of Genesis 18 show how our prayer life interfaces with God’s original intention for man (Gen. 1:26)—to express His image and represent Him in His dominion. Genesis 18 can be considered a case study in applying God’s eternal purpose, where God speaks through the narrative of the Old Testament to New Testament believers.
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our admonition, unto whom the ends of the ages have come. —1 Cor. 10:11
A. W. Pink put it this way:
God’s dealings with Abraham, in the general, foreshadow His dealings with us. Therefore, to read most profitably the record of Abraham’s life, we must see in it a portrayal of our own spiritual history.
—Gleanings in Genesis, p. 199
Abraham’s story, read from the perspective of “our own spiritual history”, reveals two significant aspects of how prayer relates to God’s purpose, which helps answer the question, “Why pray?”
The prayer of fellowship
The first aspect of prayer is fellowship. The primary reason for prayer is to commune with God, to gain God, not to gain an answer from God. This aspect of prayer centers on man’s need of God. From God’s perspective we only have one need—God. Because God is I AM, when we gain Him we gain everything we need.
One thing I have asked from Jehovah; that do I seek: to dwell in the house of Jehovah all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of Jehovah, and to inquire in His temple. —Psa. 27:4
Abraham had a need—to bring forth Isaac (to gain God). This need coincided with God’s need in His eternal purpose—to be expressed. In Gen. 1:26 terms, this was related to God’s image and life.
The first section of Genesis 18 (vv. 1-15) focuses on Abraham’s intimate fellowship with God concerning the birth of Isaac. Although God appears to Abraham as a mortal man, the name of God that is still in view is El Shaddai (variously translated, I prefer “the All-sufficient God” in the Recovery Version) from chapter 17. The birth of Isaac will be by God’s all-sufficient supply not by Abraham’s fleshly strength. The key attribute of God in the first section is “life”—Isaac’s birth will be at the time of life. The application for us is that we fellowship with God to receive more of His divine life as the all-sufficient supply to bring forth Christ for God’s expression. New Testament theme verses would be Phi. 1:19 (on “supply”, cf. Gill’s Exposition) and Gal. 2:20.
The prayer of intercession
The second aspect of prayer is intercession. The primary reason for intercession is to accomplish God’s purpose and bring His will to earth. This aspect of prayer centers on God’s need of man.
In His economy and by His own decision, God has chosen to limit Himself in carrying out His purpose to man’s cooperation. Although man’s cooperation is through God’s sovereign grace, we still remain free will agents with the ability to choose or refuse. Intercession is man aligning his free will with God’s determined will to bring that will down to earth. Two passages that illustrate this are 1 Tim 2:1-6 (follow the “alls”) and Ezekiel 36 (22x God says He will do it, then in v. 37 He says “for this I will be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them”). Genesis 18 provides a vivid account of God’s operation to gain an intercessor.
The second section of Genesis 18 (vv. 16-33) focuses on Abraham’s intercession for Lot. The title of God that emerges here is the Judge of all the earth, and the key attribute of God in view is His righteousness. In terms of Genesis 1:26, this is the exercise of God’s dominion in prayer to bring His will to the earth. The application for us is that God needs our intercession to carry out His will. New Testament theme verses would be Matt. 18:18 and John 15:7.
The issue of Abraham’s prayer
Ultimately this chapter is about two people—Isaac and Lot. God needed both Isaac and Lot for the fulfillment of His intention to bring forth Christ. Eventually Isaac’s lineage produced Boaz and Lot’s lineage produced Ruth and these two lines were joined together in marriage. Both of these were crucial ancestors of Christ (Matt. 1:5). It’s incredible to me that Boaz and Ruth’s marriage is the fruit of Abraham’s fellowship and intercession in Genesis 18. Abraham’s prayer was the fulcrum of the divine intention.
Our prayer is crucial for the realization of Genesis 1:26.