Isaac could not have missed the reality that his life was being played out under the sovereignty of God. The promises made to Abraham his father, the way that God graciously broke into life time and again, the trip up the mountain and the substitute sacrifice God provided–all those moments and more would have worked to persuade Isaac that his life’s story was being written by another, another he trusted and depended upon.
What is sweet about watching Isaac live into this life is that such an awareness never left him fatalistic or disengaged. And one of the more compelling moments is captured in his prayer for his sons toward the end of his life (recorded for us in Genesis 27).
God had made clear that the fulfillment of His promises to Abraham would continue through Isaac’s younger son, Jacob. This would have been contrary to the culture of the day; the preferential heir would have been the elder, Esau. As the story unfolded, it seems as if nearly everyone involved was scheming against God’s intent. Esau wrongly sought to get the patriarchal blessing from his father. Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, conspired with Jacob to steal the blessing. Jacob, somewhat reluctantly, went along with the plan.
When the moment came that Jacob stood unrecognized before his father, Isaac, to receive the blessing from his nearly blind father, the old patriarch prayed. What is so startling is that Isaac thought something happened when he prayed. This is clear because after Jacob left and Esau finally arrived for the blessing, Isaac declared he had already bestowed the blessing. It is that moment, when Isaac tells Esau that he has already prayed for Jacob, that provokes some thought about whether it matters what we ask for in prayer.
Here’s what I see:
- Isaac recognized the sovereign hand of God in what was going on–in spite of the deception.
- Isaac had prayed asking God to bestow specific blessings–not thinking he was forcing God’s hand but asking as God’s friend.
- Isaac thought God had done something in response to his prayer–not because he made God do it but because he really believed that prayer mattered.
This old patriarch’s prayer challenges the way I think about prayer.
My praying is often an afterthought. (“Oh, I better pray about that . . .”) I typically pray for God’s “blessing” on what I am doing thinking that He will aid me to accomplish what I want to do. (“Lord, please help me . . . bless this effort of mine . . .”) I am not always convinced that God is sovereignly at work in and around and under and over my praying. (“I sure hope God does something . . . “) And I am not often persuaded that my praying actually makes much difference. (“Well, we’ve tried everything else, maybe we should pray . . .”)
As I start the new year, I am trying to think a bit differently about praying. I’d like to learn a bit from Isaac. How to pray in the midst of weird circumstances with a certainty that God is sovereignly at work while still believing that something actually happens–God genuinely responds–when we ask Him.