Intentional Fixedness in the Prayer of Jehoshaphat

No, not the prayer of Jabez. The prayer of Jehoshaphat.

A phrase I have adopted recently that I have become quite fond of using and reflecting on is: “intentional fixedness.” Part of the allure of that phrase stems from a number of verses that touch on such iron-sharp excellence in the Christian saint and his or her steadfast pursuit of the glory and pleasure of God:

Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.” -Col. 3:2

“[…] But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” -Phil. 3:13-14

Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.” -Dan. 6:3

Fix my eye, eye-eyes, on You, oh, ooh, oh ooh, oh ooh, on Yoooou.” -For King and Country

That last one was just to see if you were still reading.

So the wholehearted desire for excellence in the call of the Christian is a non-option. Paul tells us in his letter to the Colossians that whatever we do, we ought to do with all of our heart unto the Lord (3:23). This is, of course, a derivative of Jesus’ statement that the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind (Matt. 22:37). It would seem that keeping an intentionally fixed gaze upon the Lord is tethered to an abundant passion for His glory and our joy. More on intentional fixedness in future posts.

This sort of intentional fixedness, however, is evident in the prayer of Jehoshaphat recorded in II Chronicles 20. For a bit of context, Jehoshaphat was a godly king of Judah, the son of Asa, and he ruled the southern kingdom after Israel was split in two. In chapter 20, Jehoshaphat is being approached by a “great multitude” of enemies for battle (vv.1-2). His immediate reaction to this news is our first insight into the sort of righteousness we ought to glean from Jehoshaphat:

“Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD” (v. 3)

The order of this sentence is important. Jehoshaphat moves instantly from fear (“was afraid”) to an intentional fixedness in prayer (“set his face to seek the LORD”). This should be impressed in the muscle memory of the godly man. What boldness and confidence would we have in the Lord if we could knee-jerk into seeking the Lord in prayer as a response to any fearful experience!

Upon hearing the news, Jehoshaphat summons all of Judah into a communal spirit of fasting and prayer, and I argue that the prayer that follows from this godly king over his people serves as a model for the prayers we ought to pray with our hope intentionally fixed on the Lord. The king’s prayer follows four basic stages:

1. The Identity of God

Jehoshaphat begins his prayer simply affirming the very name and being of God:

“O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven?” (v.6)

This is a helpful reminder that beginning our prayer to God with petition (“Dear Lord, help me pass this test,” “Dear Lord, provide a hedge of protection and traveling mercies” [whatever those are], etc.) may not always be the most God-honoring way to communicate with Him. Jehoshaphat begins his prayer not by stockpiling groceries into the cart of God but by tuning his heart to sing God’s praise, to quote the hymn. He begins his prayer reaching for the pitch pipe, for calling on God by affirming who He is sets the key in which the rest of his prayer will be aligned. Notice he names God in three distinct ways: “O Lord (YHWH, the name of God), God of our fathers (the covenant-keeping God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), are you not God in heaven?” (the sovereign, celestial God above all men). Jehoshaphat acknowledges what the author of Hebrews would later declare: “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that He is” (11:6). We must first identify the awesome, glorious, all-powerful God to move us to a right position of humility and praise.

2. The Power of God

After he begins his prayer asserting the sovereignty and very identity of God, Jehoshaphat shifts to a description of God’s power:

“You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.” (v.6)

This is a right progression. Notice Jehoshaphat has yet to plea or request anything of God; he is simply occupying his heart and his lips with an intentional fixedness on the character and majesty of almighty God. How can we proclaim the name and identity of God and not be rocked into a whirlwind of praise and admiration? When Jehoshaphat prays to the God of heaven, he realizes he prays to an infinite, wonderful, mighty, passionate, jaw-dropping God; thus, he moves quickly from identifying God to trembling before His power. God is sovereign over everything, and Jehoshaphat is quick to remind himself of this in his prayer. There is no right petition of God without a right view of His absolute rule. God can give us nothing He does not own (Eph. 3:14-21). So when Jehoshaphat surveys the storm of Moabites and Ammonites descending upon his people, he cries out not to any old savior but to the Ruler of all kingdoms, Moab and Ammon included. The king prays to God, affirming His power to deliver his enemies into his hand, for they are subject to Him. For they belong to Him.

3. The History of God

After pronouncing both the identity and power of God, Jehoshaphat moves into a remembrance of what God has done in history:

“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?” (v.7)

Remembering in prayer the works and miracles of grace the Lord has already done for us provides an assurance and a confidence as we approach the God of might and power. Too many of us pray on tiptoes, weak in our footing and not quite sure if what we are peering at in our prayers is really there or really able to help. This is not the posture of those intentionally fixed on God! Jehoshaphat calls out to God and checks off a number of God’s mighty works in history as a way of both praising Him and bringing to his own memory the ways God has saved his people before. The psalmist elaborates on this point: “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done […] so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God” (Ps. 78:4,7).

4. The Present Help of God

At last, Jehoshaphat makes his request known to God:

“And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab […] 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?” (vv.10-12)

By this point in his prayer and in our observance of it, we all can see his petition saturated in the truth and glory of his previous assertions. His identifying God has established His sovereignty over all things, including enemies. His describing the power of God has established God’s ability to provide a victory for Judah. And his remembrance of God’s might and grace in time past has established God’s willingness to provide a victory for Judah. Now, Jehoshaphat’s plea for the Lord to work is filled with these truths (i.e., “your possession”, “you have given”,” O our God”, etc.) The king has prayed in such a way that his request for present help in time of need is delivered to the Father soaked in the knowledge, trust, humility, mercy, and love that ought to exist between a saint and his God.

But, most importantly, notice how Jehoshaphat concludes his prayer:

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (v.12)

May this be the very breath of the Christian, steeped in an intentional fixedness on Christ and His identity, power, history, and present help in time of need.

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