Faith of the Faithless?


That God answers prayer is an essential article of our faith. We know that He answers according to His perfect will and His mercy (not according to our desires and finite plans), and in His time (which is not ours). We even know that He answers at least some of the prayers of the unsaved, as He answered the first prayer of each believer for salvation (which was prayed from "outside" of His family). He is not deaf, and He is active in the lives of men.

What about, however, the prayers of those who neither know God nor worship Him? In Genesis 24, we see an interesting display of the prayers of a man seemingly in such a position. The scene opens with Abraham, advancing in years, concerned for the spiritual well-being of his son Isaac and the perpetuation of his line according to the promise of God. Abraham wants Isaac to marry from among his own people, not from among the pagans in the land of Canaan, and so he asks his servant (whose name is not given in this passage) to swear to travel to his relatives and find a wife for Isaac. The servant obliges, and sets out on his errand.

Upon his arrival in Mesopotamia, he utters a prayer that belies 1) his position outside of Abraham's beliefs, 2) his confusion at Abraham's orders, and 3) his worry that he cannot complete his task. "O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring, and the daughters of the men of this city are coming out to draw water; now may it be that the girl to whom I say, Please let down your jar so that I may drink,' and who answers, Drink, and I will water your camels also'-may she be the one whom You have appointed for Your servant Isaac; and by this I will know that You have shown lovingkindness to my master" (Gen. 24:12-14).

He sounds unsure of himself and detached from the God to whom he prays. He prays not so much for himself but according to Abraham and Isaac's faith and makes an outlandish "damp fleece" request of the Lord-but he prays! He steps out in the faith he has seen modeled in his master's household and calls out to God with at least some recognition that only the Lord could accomplish the task he was sworn to by Abraham.

God not only answers the servant's earnest plea for a successful completion of his mission, He does so immediately. "Before he had finished speaking" (v. 15), Rebekah walks up to the well and performs exactly the unusual set of actions he had prayed for as a sign. "Then the man [the servant] bowed low and worshipped the Lord. He said, Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His lovingkindness and His truth toward my master; as for me, the Lord has guided me in the ways to the house of my master's brothers" (vv. 26-27). He proceeds from there to seal the deal with Rebekah's family and bring her back to marry Isaac, praising the Lord for His provision (vv. 42-49).

Reading an attitude of skepticism into the servant's prayers may be a bit "Western" of me (the language is such that he may have been simply honoring Abraham as his master even in prayer), but his amazement at the Lord's sudden and exacting answer is palpable in the text. God will answer whom He will answer, and whether or not the servant was a partaker in Abraham's faith "reckoned to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6), the Lord showed up in response to his earnest request.

To say that the Lord answers the prayers of the faithless is, in any case, misleading-there are no faithless prayers. All true prayer is born out of a person's honest belief "that [God] is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Heb. 11:6)-a request made from any other attitude is just hollow and meaningless talking to the ceiling. Prayer is faith in action.

Justin Lonas is editor of Disciple Magazine for AMG International in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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