I’ve got a confession to make. I’ve had to take this post down and start over. Even after revising and revising, I couldn’t make the Genesis part float. What went wrong? I wondered. I just retold the story. But something was missing. I think I forgot to look for God’s glory.
This little ray came through the fog when I read the Genesis passage again today, so here’s try #2.
Abraham’s chief servant travels nearly 900 miles to find a wife for Isaac, Abraham’s son, in the town of Haran. He takes ten camels loaded with gifts for the lucky bride-to-be and servants to manage them along the way.
After a three week trip, the servant and his entourage arrive “toward evening” at the coolest part of the day when the women are out drawing water for their animals, Ge 24:10-11. It’s here when the servant asks for God’s help. I want to dissect his prayer because it’s answered so spectacularly. Surely there is something outstanding about it to make note of.
The Servant’s Prayer:
—He begins, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham…”
—He asks for success for himself.
—He asks for kindness for Abraham.
—He briefly describes where he is and what’s happening: he’s standing by the spring, and “daughters” are coming out to draw water.
—He makes a very specific request of certain words, that when he asks for water, the right girl would say, “Drink, and I’ll water your camels, too.”
—He says these words will be a sign of God’s choice for Isaac and of God’s kindness to Abraham, Ge 24:12-14.
It’s a fine prayer, and it’s sincerely prayed. But it’s not extraordinary. In fact, it seems pretty ordinary to me. I wonder that it receives such a miraculous answer, an answer that begins before the servant finishes praying.
“Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder.” She fills it at the spring, and the servant hurries to meet her. He asks for water from her jar, “‘Drink, my lord,’ she said…and ‘I’ll draw water for your camels, too, until they have finished drinking,'” Ge 24:15-18.
What are the odds? The granddaughter of Abraham’s brother has come along (Abraham instructed the servant to find a girl from his family), who just happens to be “very beautiful” and a virgin, and she’s said the code words, as if she’s just read the script.
God has led him to the very person he’s prayed to meet–the bride God’s chosen for Isaac. The servant is so overcome by the miracle of it, he worships right on the spot. “Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, saying, ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives,'” Ge 24:26-27.
I look back at the prayer the servant prayed to find the key for this miraculous answer, and what I find confuses me. Because as fine as his prayer is, the servant waited ’til the last minute to pray it. I mean, here he is on this three week journey with camels and gifts piled high–a whole caravan–for a bride he hopes to bring back for his master’s son, and he doesn’t pray until he gets there?
In fact, he doesn’t pray until he’s gotten down off his camel and is standing by the spring and the sun is going down. It’s getting on “toward evening.” I mean, you’d think he’d have been praying the whole way there. You’d think he’d have said a little more, once he finally prayed.
I look back to see what I’ve missed, and these words jump out at me, “Before he had finished praying….”
And I realize, this isn’t a story about “how to pray well.” It’s not a story about the faithful servant and his winsome prayer. It’s a story about the God who was already answering the servant’s prayer before he prayed. It’s a story about God and his faithfulness to bring about good for this servant and his master, and for Isaac and Rebekah.
The servant’s prayer was full of faith. He depended on God to make his choice known to him. He trusted that he wasn’t asking too much of God. And he didn’t dip into shame and apologize for waiting until the last minute. He simply talked to God and asked. That’s what prayer is.
But the wonder of prayer is the God who hears and answers us before we’re finished asking, and sometimes, even when we don’t ask. I’ve had many answers to prayers I hadn’t thought to pray until after the fact and marveled that God had my back, as if he read my mind, as if he really is the attentive Father he says he is.
This is the secret of prayer: God wants to give us good things. We see him in this story, tipping his hand, bringing out Rebekah before the servant’s finished asking, giddy about giving, it seems to me, the way I’ve sometimes felt when I’ve had a really great surprise for a child and could hardly wait til their birthday to give it.
I wonder if God’s the one who moves us to pray in the first place, giving us the desire for something good he wants for us and letting us get in on the wanting and the asking for what he’s already set the wheels in motion to give. Could God be that kind and good?
When I think about how giddy I am on Christmas morning, watching my kids and grandkids tear into their gifts, I get a taste of how God must feel, giving good things to us. Maybe he’s so glad to give, sometimes he gets the giving going, even before we ask. If even I do this, surely he does it, too?
Before I knew I needed air and water, a mother and a father, God provided them. Before I knew to ask for family and food, for home and health, God already had them up and running. Before I knew I was a sinner and needed a Savior, God had salvation planned and done. God’s greatest gift, wrapped in skin and tied with blood, was given before I ever asked for him.
And if “he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Ro 8:32.
Jesus confirms, saying, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer,” Mt 21:22. And, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you,” Jn 15:7.
When I pray, do I really believe that God intends to give me all things? Do I believe he means whatever I ask for, I’ll receive?
And if I did, wouldn’t that change how often I engaged with his word, and how often I came to him, and how eagerly I asked him?
Yes, it would.
For now, I think I’m just gonna soak in the truth that God delights to be good to me, that “…the Lord longs to be gracious…,” Is 30:18.
Jesus came down from the mountainside and healed a man with leprosy and then a centurion’s servant and then Peter’s mother-in-law, and by evening, many more who were demon-possessed and still others who were sick. And he did all of this among a crowd of people who followed him that he taught much of the time.
And I think, Well of course he did. He was Jesus. That’s just what Jesus would do, as if it’s unremarkable and easy. But Jesus was a flesh and blood man. And this was quite a lot to do in one day, if it was just one day. (It’s written that way).
Dealing with healthy people can be exhausting enough, but dealing with troubled, sick and deranged people, even more so. Jesus did this sort of thing day-in and day-out—always helping, healing, teaching, leading, loving.
It’s astonishing to me that Jesus has always done this…and that he does it still…and that he always will, day-in and day-out, until he returns. Matthew 8:17 says,
“This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
‘He took up our infirmities
and carried our diseases.'”
Jesus is the man who knows what it’s like to suffer, and Jesus is the God who has what it takes to help us through it. He takes up our weaknesses and bears our sicknesses of body, soul, mind, and spirit.
He is a worthy and indefatigable Savior.
These verses feel like math, like a table of what we do and how God blesses us for doing it:
“My son, do not forget my teaching,
but keep my commands in your heart,
for they will prolong your life many years
and bring you prosperity.
Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.”
|Our side to do||God’s side to bless|
|Don’t forget God’s teaching; keep his commands (his words)||They’ll prolong your life and give you prosperity|
|Keep your love and faithfulness “on” like twin faucets||You’ll win favor and a good name with God and others|
|Trust in, lean on, and acknowledge God in everything||He’ll make your path of life “straight,” (right and good).|
Who wouldn’t want these blessings? Keep me in your word. Keep me straight, God.
My takeaway today is God’s goodness, giving me more than I can absorb as I think back on these passages today.
I see it in his answering the servant’s prayer, even before he finished praying it, to lead him nearly 1000 miles right to Isaac’s bride. I see it in Proverbs–a long life, favor with God and others, and a straight path. But when I add to that the sympathetic Savior who daily carries me and bears with me from Matthew, well, I’m just overwhelmed.
The power and wealth and help of prayer is a goodness I usually take for granted, but today it feels like a direct line to the King of the Cosmos, a peek into the treasures of Solomon’s mines, a 911 call to the EMT who’s already at my side. Jesus lives to give me the abundant life that God’s had planned for me since Adam. Give me faith to believe this when I’m weak and forget to seek you, God.
Thank you for goodness and blessings that overflow the banks and run all over my path.