Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?” “If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.” Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?” He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.” Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?” He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”
Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?” He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” (Genesis 18:20-32)
You lie in bed. It’s late at night. You’d like to go to sleep, but there are so many things racing through your mind. So what do you do? You start praying… Does this sound familiar? As you pray, this peace starts to enter your mind. God’s in control. This is all in God’s hands. But then, in the middle of your prayer, this other voice pops into your head: “What good is praying going to do? Don’t you realize how foolish this is? You’re just thinking thoughts and expecting God to hear them? Who are you to ask God for anything anyway?” Have you heard that voice? I have.
When you pray, you really want to believe that God’s listening. You want to believe that God’s responding. There are so many things… What’s on your mind? What have you been praying about? A little boy’s broken leg… A family member battling cancer… A struggle at work that you can’t get out of your mind… Tension in a relationship that doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to change… I’m sure you’ve got a list—a long one! We want to pray. We need to pray. We have so much to pray for. But there’s that little voice: “Is it really worth it? Does it really work?”
Let’s learn from father Abraham today. Did you know Abraham’s your father? Have you heard of Abraham? This is a guy in the Bible you want to know about! 4000 years ago, out of the blue, God chose Abraham to be the family that our Savior Jesus would come from. What a promise! It’s just that Abraham didn’t have a son. Not when he was 30. Not when he was 50. Not even when he was 90. So Abraham is known in the Bible for his faith. A little verse about Abraham is repeated over and over again: “Abraham believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). This is the heart of the Bible’s message: Those who believe God’s promises are God’s people. That’s why believers in God are called children of Abraham.
In our lesson today, God told Abraham that he was going to destroy the wicked city of Sodom. God said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me.” Do you know what the people in those cities had done? Later in the Bible, it says that “Sodom and Gomorrah … gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion” (Jude 7). Sodom and Gomorrah were filled with sexual sin—including homosexuality. To God, that’s not okay! The “outcry” went up to God in heaven. He was going to destroy those cities. Abraham didn’t have to ask why. He knew. Everybody knew. These cities had rejected God and lived immoral lifestyles.
There was just one problem: Abraham knew someone who lived in Sodom. Do you know who? Lot—Abraham’s nephew. Abraham had been traveling with his nephew Lot. Lot was a grown man with his own family and flocks and herds. Abraham and Lot got along well, but there wasn’t room for both of them to live in the same place. So Abraham generously let Lot choose where he wanted to live. Lot chose the best land—a valley near the city of Sodom. Abraham lived up in the hills. When God planned to destroy Sodom, Abraham thought of Lot: “My nephew!”
So what did Abraham do? He prayed. When I was a kid, I was taught that prayer is a heart-to-heart talk with God. Have you heard that too? Abraham had a heart-to-heart talk with God. He said, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked…” “God, I can understand why in your justice you want to destroy Sodom. But what about the righteous people there? There’s got to be 50 (like Lot)! Will you save it for their sake?”
How would you expect God to respond? If I were God, I probably would have said, “Who do you think you are? Why are you giving me advice?” But that’s not what God said. What did he say? “Sure! If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” There’s something amazing about our God. He’s all-powerful. All-knowing. And yet, when we pray to him, he listens. Isn’t that amazing? But God doesn’t just listen. He acts in the best interest of his people. When you hear that, doesn’t it give you confidence to pray?
God’s grace gave Abraham confidence. He kept praying! “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes,what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people?” What a bold, yet humble attitude—“even though I am but dust and ashes.” Dust. That’s what God used to make Adam. Dust. That’s what God promised Adam would return to after he sinned. Dust. We’re dust! But God loves dust and gives life to dust and listens to dust. So faithful Abraham, trusting in God’s promise, boldly and humbly goes back to God: “What if there’s only 45 believers…?”
What did God say? “Okay!” You can almost see Abraham’s faith grow as he has this conversation with God! This is how faith grows—whenever you hear God’s Word. Whenever you hear God’s promises. We have God’s Word in the Bible. Abraham was hearing it face-to-face. So he prayed again. “What if only forty are there?” “Okay. For the sake of the forty, I will not do it.” I can see Abraham’s eyes widening. “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?” God’s answer? “Okay.” Four prayers. Four answers!
When would you have told him to stop? Parents, how often do you hear a continuous, “Dad, dad, dad…” How much do you like that? Now imagine being God with a billion Christians saying, “Dad, dad, dad…” We parents get annoyed quickly, don’t we? We say, “Just say my name once and don’t ask again!” Not God. Not our Father. He’s so much more patient than we are. God doesn’t get sick of you. I might. Your family might. But God doesn’t get sick of you! He wants you to pray again and again. Jesus gives us this invitation: “Always pray and never give up” (Luke 18:1). God never gets tired of hearing your voice. Always pray and never give up!
So Abraham kept going—a 5th time and a 6th time! “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?” And God said, “Okay.” So Abraham said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” And God said, “Sure! For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” Wow! Prayer works. Always pray and never give up—that was Abraham! But he’s not at the center of this story: God is! Even though Abraham was dust and ashes, what did God do? He listened to him—every time. He answered his prayer—every time. God shows perfect love and grace and patience with us his people. He’s your Father. He’s my Father. God invites us to always pray and never give up.
I have to admit that I don’t pray like that—boldly, persistently, humbly. Do you? So this week I’ve been asking myself, “Why not?” Sometimes it’s because I don’t think I need to. “I’ve got it, right? I don’t need that. Thanks, God, but I’m good!” While inside I know that I don’t got this at all! Other times, I don’t pray because I don’t think it will work. Remember that little voice? “What’s prayer going to do?” Think of how we talk about prayer. We “throw up a prayer.” It’s like a hail Mary—probably not going to work. Really? At the root of it, my lack of prayer shows my lack of faith and trust in God. So I need God’s grace. I need God’s forgiveness. I need God’s promise: Always pray and never give up. What an invitation! Our God loves hearing our voices!
How many cities like Sodom or people like Lot do you think God has saved through believers’ prayers? We need more Christians praying to God for everything! In our Spanish service, I ask for prayer requests. One lady raises her hand every Sunday. “Please pray for my son who’s on the wrong path. Pray that God change his life.” Every week. So we pray over and over again for her son. After about 4 months, her request changed. Now, every Sunday, she says, “My son has had a 180-degree turn in his life! Thank God for him, and ask God to keep working on him.” I like to keep asking her, “What changed?” She says, “God hears our prayers.” Yes he does!
I think of a woman in a different church I served. Suddenly, without any warning, she found out she had cancer. Actually, she had a tumor the size of a volleyball in her stomach. The doctors didn’t even have to test it. They knew it was cancer. So what did she do? She prayed. We prayed. She went in for major surgery. You know how it turned out? This huge tumor wasn’t cancer at all. She was back at home in two days, perfectly healthy. It sounds unbelievable! Except, Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). God’s promise motivates our prayers. Always pray and never give up!
But what about all the times when prayer doesn’t seem to work—at all? Well, think about Abraham’s prayer for Sodom. Did God save Sodom? No! When Abraham got up the next morning, he saw smoke rising from Sodom. There weren’t ten righteous people there. Despite all of Abraham’s prayers, God absolutely destroyed Sodom for their sin. God didn’t do what Abraham expected, but he did better. God sent his angels to personally rescue Lot and his family, even as the city was destroyed. God punished and saved at the save time. Even if our prayers get it wrong, God always gets it right! Prayer works, it just doesn’t always work like we expect.
Just think about Jesus. Remember what Jesus did on the night before he died? He prayed. For so long that his disciples fell asleep! He had to wake them up three times. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). Bold. Humble. Persistent. You’d expect God the Father to answer Jesus’ prayer by not having him die. But he didn’t, did he? Instead, he sent his angels to strengthen Jesus for his death. Then God punished and saved at the same time. He punished Jesus for our sins, so that you and I are saved and forgiven. Jesus’ death on the cross is the reason why God hears and listens and answers. Your sins are forgiven. Nothing can separate you from God your Father. He loves to hear your voice.
So always pray and never give up! Prayer is an act of faith. It takes our trust off of ourselves and puts it firmly on Jesus. Whether you’re lying in bed at night or driving on the road or sitting in church… Always pray and never give up! For that family member with cancer… For that loved one who has fallen away from God… For that relationship in conflict… That little voice in your head is wrong. God hears. God answers. Like father Abraham, always pray and never give up!