How long should we ask for God’s help?
This might be a strange question to ask, but the answer to this question has tremendous practical applications. Is there ever a time when we should cease asking God for His intervention in a particular matter? If so, how do we know that the time has come to stop asking?
In this installment, we will look at several examples where God made it very clear that no further requests or pleas should be made in a particular matter. In the next installment, we will discuss situations where prayers should continue to be made.
Due to Saul’s disobedience and rebellion, God rejected him and asked Samuel to anoint David instead as king. We read in 1 Samuel 15:35; 16:1: “And Samuel went no more to see Saul until the day of his death. Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul, and the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel. Now the LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel. Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.”
Samuel had already told Saul previously: “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent” (1 Samuel 15:28-29).
Still, Samuel kept praying to God for Saul, hoping that God would change His mind. So God had to remind him that he himself had clearly pronounced God’s Will in the matter which was final (God would not relent), and that further prayers for Saul would be useless.
Another example can be found in the episode when David’s firstborn son died. David had sinned greatly by committing adultery and murder, and God sent Nathan, the prophet, who clearly proclaimed to David: “… because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die” (2 Samuel 12:14). Understandably, David was hoping that this outcome could be changed, and when the child became ill, David pleaded with God for the child, and he fasted and prayed. Still, the child died seven days later. When David realized this, he ended his fast and ate. He had accepted God’s judgment, and there was no longer any reason and purpose to pray and fast for the child’s life. David expressed it this way in 2 Samuel 12:22-23: “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again?’”
A third example can be seen in Moses’ life. Due to the ongoing murmuring and complaining of the unthankful people, Moses lost his cool and spoke and acted too rashly and in anger. Although he was supposed to talk to the rock once to give water to the thirsty people, he struck the rock (symbolic for Christ) two times and took glory to himself, rather than to God. We read in Numbers 20:10-12:
“And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, ‘Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?’ Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank. Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.’”
We find an additional commentary on this episode in Psalm 106:32-33: “They angered Him also at the waters of strife, So that it went ill with Moses on account of them; Because they rebelled against His Spirit, So that he spoke rashly with his lips.”
Even though God had pronounced that Moses and Aaron would not enter the Promised Land, Moses asked God repeatedly to change His mind. But God’s judgment stood firm.
We read in Deuteronomy 3:23-26:
“Then I pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying: ‘O Lord GOD, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand, for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do anything like Your works and Your mighty deeds? I pray, let me cross over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, those pleasant mountains, and Lebanon.’ But the LORD was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me. So the LORD said to me: ‘Enough of that! Speak no more to Me of this matter.’”
And so, Aaron died on the way, and even though Moses was allowed to see the Promised Land, he was not allowed to enter it. We read in Deuteronomy 32:48-52:
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses that very same day, saying: ‘Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, across from Jericho; view the land of Canaan, which I give to the children of Israel as a possession; and die on the mountain which you ascend, and be gathered to your people, just as Aaron your brother died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people; because you trespassed against Me among the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah Kadesh, in the Wilderness of Zin, because you did not hallow Me in the midst of the children of Israel. Yet you shall see the land before you, though you shall not go there, into the land which I am giving to the children of Israel.’”
A fourth example can be drawn from Paul’s experience.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 says:
“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
God made it abundantly clear to Paul that He would not heal him at that time, and that therefore further prayers for healing would be without any effect.
Also, God told Jeremiah the prophet that he should not pray for the people as they had gone too far in rejecting God so that His judgment against them would not be altered:
Jeremiah 7:16-20 states:
“‘Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I will not hear you. Do you not see what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger. Do they provoke Me to anger?’ says the LORD. ‘Do they not provoke themselves, to the shame of their own faces?’ Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, My anger and My fury will be poured out on this place–on man and on beast, on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground. And it will burn and not be quenched.’”
Jeremiah 11:11-14 adds:
“Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will surely bring calamity on them which they will not be able to escape; and though they cry out to Me, I will not listen to them. Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they offer incense, but they will not save them at all in the time of their trouble. For according to the number of your cities were your gods, O Judah; and according to the number of the streets of Jerusalem you have set up altars to that shameful thing, altars to burn incense to Baal. So do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them; for I will not hear them in the time that they cry out to Me because of their trouble.’”
Jeremiah 14:10-14 reiterates:
“Thus says the LORD to this people: ‘Thus they have loved to wander; They have not restrained their feet. Therefore the LORD does not accept them; He will remember their iniquity now, And punish their sins.’ Then the LORD said to me, ‘Do not pray for this people, for their good. When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence.’ Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, the prophets say to them, “You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.”’ And the LORD said to me, ‘The prophets prophesy lies in My name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart.’”
Finally, let us note Christ’s own example. Matthew 26:37-46 tells us about Christ’s prayer to the Father shortly before His arrest and His brutal torture and murder:
“And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.’ He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.’ Then He came to the disciples and found them asleep, and said to Peter, ‘What? Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.’ And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then He came to His disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.’”
Christ knew now with absolute certainty that the Father’s Will stood firm, and that there was no other way.
Luke 22:40-46 adds:
“When He came to the place, He said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation.’ And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.’ Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow. Then He said to them, ‘Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.’”
Temptation could include here the unwillingness to accept God’s decision and to try to do something to prevent it from happening, as Peter attempted to do when he took his sword to “defend” Christ.
(To be Continued)
Lead Writer: Norbert Link