People of faith all over the world are aware of the power of prayer and believe in it earnestly. When times are difficult, however, it can be easy to forget that God hears even the quietest and most humble of prayers. As such, Christians love to hear stories about prayers that were answered by God. When they want to listen to tales of answered prayers, Christians tend to ask friends, family or members of their church. While these are all perfectly good sources with undoubtedly wonderful experiences, Christians tend to overlook the collection of the most incredible answered prayers of all, the Bible.The Bible is filled with tales of how God answered prayers in the most extraordinary of ways. From Adam’s request for a partner to Jesus’ final words, the Good Book shows the incredible power that prayer has to change not just a single person’s life but the course of history itself.
Hezekiah’s PrayerIn 2 Kings, the Israelites are in serious danger. The Assyrians have cut a bloody trail of carnage through the Holy Land and are practically at Jerusalem’s door. With the fate of his people hanging in the balance, Hezekiah went to the Temple and prayed:
“O Lord the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, you are God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth…Hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands… So now, O Lord our God, save us, I pray you, from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.”
With the destruction of the Israelites close at hand, Hezekiah went down on his knees and prayed for God’s deliverance. God listened, and He answered. God said that “[The Assyrians] shall not come into this city, shoot an arrow there, come before it with a shield, or cast up a siege ramp against it. By the way that [King Sennacherib of Assyria] came, by the same he shall return; he shall not come into this city…For I will defend this city to save it.” Hezekiah’s desperate and humble petition saved the Israelite people when they were on the brink of destruction.
Moses’ PleaThe Book of Exodus is in many ways a story of taking one step forward and two steps backward. A perfect example of this takes place in Exodus 32. The Israelites were camped at the base of Mount Sinai, and Moses was up on the mountain speaking with God. After having been rescued from Egypt and having God appear on Mount Sinai, the Israelites become impatient while waiting for Moses to return to them and want someone to make an idol for them. Aaron makes a golden calf. The Israelites worship it. God plans to smite them all. Moses begs for the lives of his people.
“O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’”
Moses’ heartfelt prayer was answered, and God “changed His mind about the disaster that He planned to bring on His people.” The Israelites were saved by a man’s prayer when they might otherwise have never reached the Holy Land.
Zechariah’s MiracleLuke 1 opens with a miracle that is the answer to a prayer. In this story, the priest Zechariah was praying in the Temple when the angel Gabriel appeared to him. Like many of the men in the Bible, Zechariah prayed that he would have a son. Gabriel told him that his prayer would be answered. “Your prayer has been heard,” Gabriel said. “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son …He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will go before Him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah was made mute until his son’s birth, but Elizabeth did give birth to a healthy boy. As the angel commanded him, Zechariah named his son John. This miraculous child would go on to prepare people for the coming of Christ, just as the angel foretold. In the process of doing so, Zechariah’s son would come to be called John the Baptist.
Israel’s CryGenesis is largely the story of the beginning of mankind. It is Exodus that is truly the beginning of the story of Israel. Perhaps fittingly, the entire Book of Exodus begins and is driven by a single prayer spoken by many different voices. The prayer that kicks off the events that defined the next several millennia is never explicitly stated. Its words are lost forever, but its spirit is captured in the few words used to describe it. Exodus 2 tells of how “the Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of their slavery their cry for help rose up to God…and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” God heard His people and began the millennia long project that would see His people free and all people saved.
Mary’s MagnificatNo list of biblical prayers is complete without the Magnificat of Mary. The Magnificat is a prayer of joy, thanks and praise that Mary sings after delivering the news to Elizabeth that Mary is to be the mother of the Messiah. Mary speaks of how blessed she feels to have been chosen to be the mother of the Lord and praises God for both His power and His mercy.
The Magnificat is not a traditional prayer requesting protection, mercy or assistance, but it was a prayer that was answered. The Magnificat describes how God will have mercy “generation to generation” and will “[bring] down the powerful from their thrones, and [lift] up the lowly.” Jesus, of course, did exactly that. He died to save all people, those living and those yet to be born. He lifted up the lowly during His life, and in His death, toppled empires.
Everyone loves to hear about prayers that were answered. Yet oddly enough, most Christians tend to seek out modern examples of answered prayers when the Bible is filled with endless examples of how prayers can change history when God answers those desperate human cries.