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Relevant Passages: 2 Kings 20; Exodus 32; Daniel 9; Psalms 51; Acts 12

Is prayer “successful” simply because it yields tangible and measurable results? The reverse of that question is at least as troubling, namely, if the desired results are not forthcoming, has prayer been a failure? Those questions can be measured and tested by some of the prayers and pray-ers recorded in Scripture.

  1. Hezekiah wants more time (2 Kings 20). Hezekiah’s famous “answered” prayer for an extended life is a dramatic example of a pray-er reversing a divinely authorized judgment. The prophet Isaiah had already told the king that the end was near. But as a result (apparently) of his own passionate prayer, the king received an additional 15 years. During this extended time he committed a serious mistake of showcasing the wealth of his kingdom to the Babylonians. Does the narrative suggest that his prayer for longer life had therefore been a mistake? Was God’s willingness to grant his request tinged by painful irony, an echo of “I told you so”? Or was the extension simply a gift abused? Today, how willing is God to respond to prayers of passion like Hezekiah’s? Should we urge such prayers or caution against them?
  2. Moses changes God’s mind (Exodus 32). Moses, like Abraham, is one of those powerful figures in Scripture who is willing to confront God and is even able to change God’s mind. Is God’s willingness to “change his mind” (Exod. 32:14, NRSV), an indication of a “successful” prayer? If so, what is the requirement of such success: more passion, more anger, more tears? Is such confrontation a model for daily living for all believers, or is it only for certain select people to pray thus and then perhaps only on special occasions?
  3. Daniel intercedes for his people (Daniel 9). The prayer in Daniel 9 is often seen as one of the most powerful and beautiful in Scripture. Did Daniel “get” what he wanted? What is it about this prayer that is so “beautiful” for us? One notable feature of the prayer is Daniel’s willingness to include himself in the sins of his people. Is such penitence always part of the ideal prayer? Or can a “good” prayer also plead innocence? Did Daniel’s prayer “change God’s mind” like the prayers of Moses and Hezekiah?
  4. David’s penitence and confession (Psalm 51). Although the great penitential prayer in Psalm 51 is linked with David’s repentance for his sin against Uriah and Bathsheba, nothing in the psalm itself is so explicit. Should such “general” prayers be reserved for public consumption while the specific applications be made in private? How does one negotiate the distinction between inner experience and public ritual as suggested at the end of the psalm?
  5. The church prays Peter out of prison (Acts 12). Why did church prayers work for Peter, but not for James (cf. Acts 12:1)? Should we be more cautious about expecting “success”?

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