The Prayer of Jehoshaphat

INTRODUCTION
because you should introduce stuff.
Bruce Wilkinson wrote a revolutionary book about a prayer. He called the book “The Prayer of Jabez,” and based it on little-read verse, I Chronicles 4:10. For your enlightenment, I have reproduced it here:

“Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked.”

Pretty sweet, eh? And kind of… not exactly lining up with everybody’s experience. I’ve cried a similar prayer, and it didn’t help much.

Well, the other day I flipped open my Bible to whatever was handy and as I was wondering if God could speak to me in the 15 minutes I intended to spend on my lunch break, I’d have to say He led me to this nifty little story. Check this out: It’s a little-read passage about a nearly equally unknown guy: Jehoshaphat. Listen, my children, and you shall hear…

THE STORY OF JEHOSHAPHAT
because stories are important.

Long ago, in the land of Israel, there lived a king. His name was Jehoshaphat. Some claim that he jumped, but that’s only a rumor, and not a very reliable one at that, and it’s beside the point. What is recorded about Jehoshaphat is that the Eternal God was with him, because he followed the example of his father David. It also says that he “sought the God of his father, followed his commandments, and did not act as Israel did.”

This might seem odd that this guy was from Israel and didn’t act LIKE Israel, but see, at that time, Israel was a divided kingdom. Split in two by a nasty civil war. Another story for another time. And Jehoshaphat was the king of Judah, the southern country. Israel was the rest of the states. err… tribes.

What I love about Jehoshaphat is how much he reminds me of me. He goofed up on occasion, but he sought God. He pursued God. He wasn’t perfect, and he wasn’t the ultimate king of Israel, but “He took great pride in the ways of the Lord.” He didn’t kill any giants, but he did do something else pretty awesome.

This HUGE army came out against Judah (Jehoshaphat’s kingdom). Now check this out: he doesn’t say any huge bold words, and he doesn’t say “Our great God, we know that You will destroy this evil enemy by Thy mighty power,” nor does he even tell everybody “Don’t worry about it, God’s got us” (like I tend to do). Get this verse!

2 Chronicles 20:3: “Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.”

Did anybody get that? Jehoshaphat was AFRAID! What about “Be not afraid, for I am your God?” What about “the fear of man is a snare?” What about all those other verses that well-meaning spiritually-minded people quote and say that fear is from the devil and we MUST NOT BE AFRAID? Nope… Jehoshaphat didn’t have any of that.

I looked up the Hebrew word for “afraid.” It’s ya-rey. it means fear. Afraid. Those verses that say to fear my Lord? Same word. Jehoshaphat was freaked out. But this is sweet, watch his reaction: He “turned his attention to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast.”

So fear is okay, I think. It’s human. It’s normal. And I love what it does to Jehoshaphat: it pushes him to the only Person he knows who can fix this problem. Jehoshaphat saw it, it scared him, and he sought the Lord. Which, I think, is an awesome reaction.

God doesn’t like artifices. Bono, that great theologian, once said,

“Coolness might help in your negotiation with people through the world, maybe, but it is impossible to meet God with sunglasses on. It is impossible to meet God without abandon, without exposing yourself, being raw.”

I love that about Jehoshaphat. He came to God with abandon, exposed himself for who he was, and was raw. He was scared. But he came to God. That’s what’s important here.

Now this is also insane. He stands in the house of God – this ruler of a country – essentially calls a press conference and addresses God before the nation. The prayer he prays would get any American president impeached. Imagine this! The president calls a press conference and prays THIS prayer (2 Chronicles 20:6-12):

THE PRAYER OF JEHOSHAPHAT
because that’s why you’re reading this, right?

“Lord God of our ancestors, are You not the God who is in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand, and no one can stand against You.

“Are You not our God who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel and who gave it forever to the descendants of Abraham Your friend? They have lived in the land and have built You a sanctuary in it for Your name and have said,

“If disaster comes on us—sword or judgment, pestilence or famine—we will stand before this temple and before You, for Your name is in this temple. We will cry out to You because of our distress, and You will hear and deliver.”

Now here are the Ammonites, Moabites, and [the inhabitants of]  Mount Seir. You did not let Israel invade them when Israel came out of the land of Egypt, but Israel turned away from them and did not destroy them. Look how they repay us by coming to drive us out of Your possession that You gave us as an inheritance.

Our God, will You not judge them? For we are powerless before this vast multitude that comes [to fight] against us. We do not know what to do, but we look to You. [emphasis added]

Is the guy nuts? “We do not know what to do, but we look to You.” Seriously, now. The King’s approval rating just dropped through the floor if God doesn’t come through here.

I absolutely LOVE that prayer, though! It’s open, it’s honest. Now here’s…

MY PARALLEL VERSION
because i can.

Lord God of our ancestors, are You not the God who is in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand, and no one can stand against You.

You are God. You have power. You have strength.

Are You not our God who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel and who gave it forever to the descendants of Abraham Your friend?

You got us here. You gave this land to us. You said “forever,” too. And our ancestor, Abraham? I remember you calling him your friend.

They have lived in the land and have built You a sanctuary in it for Your name and have said,“If disaster comes on us—sword or judgment, pestilence or famine—we will stand before this temple and before You, for Your name is in this temple. We will cry out to You because of our distress, and You will hear and deliver.”

We built you a house. We said, “if trouble comes, we’re coming to YOU!” And You’re going to be there.

Now here are the Ammonites, Moabites, and [the inhabitants of]  Mount Seir. You did not let Israel invade them when Israel came out of the land of Egypt, but Israel turned away from them and did not destroy them.

Have a look. We’re in trouble, we didn’t pick a fight, but now they’re coming after us.

Look how they repay us by coming to drive us out of Your possession that You gave us as an inheritance.

Seriously. Take a closer look. See? See what they’re doing?

Our God, will You not judge them? For we are powerless before this vast multitude that comes [to fight]* against us.

We are in SO much trouble.

We do not know what to do, but we look to You.

We do not know what to do, but we look to You.

Help.

IS THAT AWESOME OR WHAT?!

GOD ANSWERS
because He’s good like that.

It says EVERYBODY in all Judah was there. Everybody. Then, right in the middle of the press conference, this guy stands up and says “Listen up, everybody! Don’t be afraid because of all these armies coming against you, ’cause the battle isn’t yours. It’s God’s. Go down against them, but you’re not going to be in a fight. Stand by and watch God work. Don’t fear, or be dismayed, for the Lord is with you.”

There’s where the “don’t fear” part comes in.

So the next morning, everybody gets up and Jehoshaphat is more encouraging. Stronger. More of a leaderly leader than a “God-we’re-in-trouble-help” kind of leader. Naturally. Because he has God’s assurance OF that help. Now he tells everybody,

“Listen to me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, put your trust in the Lord your God and you will be established. Put your trust in His prophets and succeed.”

NOW he says to trust God.

Then he does a most peculiar thing: he consults with his people and puts together a praise band. A choir. A big one. And they start singing,

Give thanks to the Lord,
for His faithful love endures forever

They’re about to have a war, and the commander in chief is putting together a praise band.

But it’s not all bad; check this out: While they’re singing and praising, The Eternal One is putting together ambushes against their enemies. The chronicler didn’t bother to mention who was in these ambushes, only the God put them together. And that the enemy got routed. Struck down.

They got their butts kicked.

There’s three different kingdoms in this war, and two of them go against another one, and then when they beat that one, they come against each other. A little like Risk®.

So Jehoshaphat’s army comes out and what do they find? All the armies of their enemies. Dead. There was only one thing left to do: collect the loot!

For the next three days, Jehoshaphat’s army is engaged in hard work: bringing all their enemies’ stuff back home. The gold, the silver, the X-Boxes, the Wiis… just kidding… but if it’d been today, I’d bet you those Ammonites would’ve had Wiis.

CONCLUSIONS
because i want to pound this stuff into your heads.

So what do we get from “The Prayer of Jehoshaphat?” I’ve grabbed a couple things that I’ll put down here on the bottom shelf where everybody can reach…

q: is it okay for Christians to be afraid?
a: Absolutely! if you’re scared of something, don’t toss “oh no! I’m a bad Christian!” on top of your fear and make it worse! Tell God you’re scared. Be honest. Take off your super-Christian sunglasses and own up to being freaked out by it. Seek God, like Jehoshaphat. Maybe even fast, if you’re really scared by it.

q: is it okay if Christians don’t know what to do?
a: Man, that’s a funny question. I could swear we went over this… here’s what Jehoshaphat had to say about it: “We do not know what to do, but we look to You.” You don’t get it much clearer than that.

q: this is all nice, but I’m in a position of authority. I can’t just throw off my self-confidence and tell God I don’t know what I’m doing in front of the people I’m leading! That’d be horrific!
a: Only if God doesn’t show up. That’s what faith is. Faith is believing that God will show up. And that if he doesn’t, you’re in so much trouble. And that takes guts. Anyone can stand up and say, “Don’t worry, everybody! I know exactly what to do!” and then fake it. Only a Jehoshaphat can stand up and say, “God, we do not know what to do, but we look to You.” That takes courage. That takes guts.

q: so is this a principle, that if I throw myself on God’s mercy, he’ll get me out of any situation?
a: nope. …But if you do, you’ve got a better chance that He will. What’ve you got to lose? If your situation’s impossible anyway, throwing yourself on God’s mercy gives you the best odds.. and if He doesn’t get you out, He’ll get you through. If you trust yourself, your chances were zero to begin with… they won’t get much better.

q: did the sons of Ammon really have Wii’s?
a: No.

FINAL THOUGHTS
that didn’t fit anywhere else.

God works while the army praises. That’s pretty neat.

This story is permission to be open and honest with God. And with others. This story says, “if you’re in trouble, that’s okay, and it’s not necessarily a curse. Call on God. He’s the only One who can help you.”

That’s when the bland blah hum-drum walk of “the Christian life” turns into the great adventure. The Ammonites are coming. You know what to do.

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2 thoughts on “The Prayer of Jehoshaphat

  1. Thanks for this refreshing look at this passage of Scripture. I like your approach, and am looking forward to reading more of your work in the future. You have given me some pretty good food for thought. All of us, no matter who we are, or how much we would like those around us to think that we've got it all together, experience fear on some level. There is a such thing as a healthy sense of fear. The question that we must ask ourselves is, "Are we going to allow our fears to control us to the point that they become unhealthy." While fear can, if we allow it to, become paralyzing, it can also teach us to trust more upon God. That is exactly how Jehoshaphat reacted. He knew that when trouble would come, in the form of his enemies, he could either run in fear screaming uncontrollably like a little girl, which would get him absolutely nowhere, or he could run in fear to the one who would be His source of strength. As we make the decision to run to God in the midst of our fears, then and only then can we proclaim, "whom shall I fear?" As a pastor of a growing church, I can honestly say that there are many things that I fear (board meetings, budget reports, disgruntled little old ladies with blue hair and canes just to name a few). But the biggest thing that I fear as a pastor, is not hearing the words, "Well done good and faithful servant," when I stand before the searching eyes of my Savior one day. Again, thanks for stirring up some thoughts in my head. God bless you brother.

  2. Thank YOU for your refreshing commentery! I'm glad God gave you something out of it and that I got to be part of it! You have no idea how encouraging it is to have a pastor comment and say that something i wrote gave him food for thought. THANK YOU! And God bless you also!

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