Praying the Redemptive Story
Scripture has instructed and formed my prayer life in a myriad of ways. I’ve learned from the Lord’s Prayer the glorious truth of what it means to pray “My Father” and “Thy Will be Done.” Paul’s prayers have taught me to look beyond immediate physical needs and desires and to the deeper spiritual needs of the heart. The psalmist’s raw honesty has taught me to come to the throne of grace just as I am.
A perhaps lesser known prayer I’ve learned from Scripture, yet just as important is praying through God’s story, the story of redemption.
A Prayer of Despair
In the book of Habakkuk, the prophet cried out to God because of the egregious sins of God’s people. Idolatry was rampant and the prophet could not understand why God had not done anything about it. Then he learned that God would indeed intervene and in the most unexpected way: through the Babylonians. As Habakkuk worked through his confusion and heard more of God's plan, he responded in prayer.
In Habakkuk 3, the prophet prayed, "O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy” (vs. 2). The prophet spoke of God's holy purposes and grace.
Then he then focused on God's faithfulness to Israel in the past, beginning with the judgement against Egypt: “His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power. Before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels" (vs. 4-5). He recalled how God helped the Israelite’s defeat their enemies in the land of Canaan, "The sun and moon stood still in their place at the light of your arrows as they sped, at the flash of your glittering spear" (vs.11).
As he prayed through all that God had done for his people in the past, he trusted in God and found his joy in him. Habakkuk ended his prayer with: "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places" (3:17-19).
In this prayer, Habakkuk prayed through the story of redemption. He reviewed the history of God’s people. He reminded his heart of God’s faithfulness and goodness to his people in the past and trusted in what God would do in the future.
A Prayer of Repentance
Another example comes from the book of Nehemiah. A remnant of God’s people had returned from exile and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. Ezra read God's word to them (chapter 8) and in hearing it, they felt the weight of their sin and prayed a prayer of repentance. In this prayer, the Levites led the Israelite’s in prayer, praying through the story of redemption.
They prayed through the story of creation: "You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you" (Nehemiah 9:6).
They prayed through the call of Abraham and recalled God's faithfulness in bringing their ancestors to the Promised Land (vs. 7-8). They prayed through the Exodus and God's provision for them in the wilderness (vs. 9-21). They prayed through all that God had done for them in their history.
They also recalled all the ways they had violated God's commands and God’s steadfast faithfulness. “Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God” (vs. 31). They confessed their sins, “Our kings, our princes, our priests, and our fathers have not kept your law or paid attention to your commandments and your warnings that you gave them” (vs. 34). They then made a covenant to the Lord to walk in his ways.
Praying Through God’s Story
Whether we are going through an unexplainable trial or a season of discipline or just need to pour out our heart to God, praying through God’s story, the story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration can help us to follow the story God has written and is writing.
When we pray through the story of Creation, we are reminded that God is our Creator, Maker, and Sustainer. We remember that this world is not as it should be. When we pray through the Fall, we are reminded why things are the way they are. We remember the expansive effects of sin on all of mankind. As we follow the story of God’s work in redemptive history, culminating in his Son, Jesus Christ, we realize that our God is a covenant keeper. He is faithful. He fulfills his promises. He does not abandon us. As we pray, we can't help but be amazed at all that God has done. We can't help but be undone by his endless mercy and grace.
But our prayers don’t end there; we can then pray about the coming Restoration of all things. We can pray, “Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” We can focus our hearts on eternity and remember that this world is not our home and that we were made for something more. We can remember the promise in Revelation 21 that there is coming a day when there will be no more sin or sorrow.
Prayers like that of Habakkuk and that of the Levites in Nehemiah are useful to add to our prayer tool box. Praying through God’s story reminds us that the story is not over. It is moving forward. Nothing can stop it. His gospel will go forward. He will gather all his people from every tribe and nation together. One day he will return to make all things new.
So when life gets confusing or when unexpected trials cut into our life or we feel the weight and weariness of our sin we can pray through God’s story. And like Habakkuk, we can watch, wait, hope, and rejoice in the God of our salvation.
Christina Fox writes for Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition. She is the editor for enCourage, a women's ministry blog for the PCA and the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope Through the Psalms of Lament. Christina also serves on the advisory board at Covenant College and in women’s ministry at her church. She prefers her coffee black and from a French press, enjoys antiquing, hiking, traveling, and reading. You can find her at www.christinafox.com, @christinarfox and on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/ChristinaFoxAuthor.
The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.