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Drawing Near

Words by Shelley Johnson | Illustrations by Marie Warner Preston

The conversation between God and Abraham in Genesis 18 demonstrates both the beautiful intimacy of prayer and the power of intercession and reminds us that as children of God we, too, are invited to boldly draw near—to enter into His presence and ask for the grace and mercy that we and others need.

I have a tendency to worry about my children. When I discovered that other mums felt the same, a few of us banded together to turn our worries into prayers. Every week for over a decade, we gathered to pour out all our hopes and concerns for our children to our Father in Heaven. We spoke God’s promises over them and, over the years, learned how to trust God with the outcomes. Those Friday mornings were special, set apart days because we intentionally drew near to God to intercede for those most precious to us.

Similarly driven by worry, Abraham intercedes for the righteous in the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18. Nowhere else in Scripture do we see Abraham so passionately pray for anyone, not even his family. Faced with the thought of any righteous person dying at the hand of God, Abraham steps into the role of a bold supplicant, becoming our first model for the way of the intercessor.

When we read that “Abraham approached [God]” (v.23), in the truest sense of the original language, Abraham is stepping into closer physical proximity with His Father to make the desires of his heart known. He draws near to pray.

God opens this door for Abraham when He invites him into conversation about His coming judgment on the evil cities. God looks upon this man with whom He has an intimate, covenantal relationship and chooses to share His plans; Abraham accepts the invitation and steps forward with reverence, remembering his lowly place as mere dust and God’s sovereign role as Judge of all the earth. He draws near to God with both holy fear and humble boldness to speak his heart on behalf of others.

When we look at this divine discussion between the Creator and the created, we recognize that God remains fully engaged with Abraham. He doesn’t argue. He never yells. Instead, He listens to Abraham with grace and kindness, relenting at every ask. As Matthew Henry puts it, God “did not leave off granting till Abraham left off asking.” Not because Abraham is a superhuman prayer warrior but because they share a deeply-rooted relationship. God can see that Abraham’s motivation derives from a source of love and concern for the righteous. Likewise, Abraham trusts God’s goodness and wisdom. Back and forth the dialogue proceeds with Abraham’s bold requests and God’s willing responses, revealing the intimacy between them.

This is intercession.

The moment we choose to follow Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit fills us, and we become covenantal people like Abraham. As such, we, too, are invited into dialogue with the Father. When our hearts are moved for someone, we can confidently enter into His presence and call on Him for action, crying out on their behalf. The way God answers Abraham’s appeals gives us solid evidence that not only are our prayers heard, but that they matter. God’s willingness to save an entire evil city for the sake of ten righteous people demonstrates His heart for Abraham—so much so that even when no righteous can be found, God makes sure to save Abraham’s family (Genesis 19:15).

Each time we draw near to God with hearts full of love and concern, we can think of Abraham’s intercessory prayers for Sodom and Gomorrah, remembering how Abraham steps away from these prayers full of faith, trusting God with the outcome. We, too, can pray with such faith because Abraham has shown us that our prayers are received by a God who welcomes our presence and petitions. We can trust that our Father hears our prayers and responds to them in the most perfect, just, and holy ways.

Who or what is God inviting you to draw near and intercede for? Spend some time in focused prayer being careful not only to ask, but also to listen. Record anything that you sense God speaking to you and keep prayerfully contending for what He has revealed.

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I am thankful for this new perspective about Abraham’s intercessory prayer. I am in awe knowing that I am able to come boldly to the throne of a holy and sovereign God that “welcomes my presence and petitions”.

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