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The first time God mentions prayer is in Genesis 20:7.

He tells a king named Abimelek that he should not attempt to get a woman named Sarah as a wife because she is already married. God reveals that the woman’s husband (Abraham) lied to him telling him that Sarah was his sister. In fact as we know, Sarah was in fact Abraham’s wife. So God tells Abimelek to return Sarah to Abraham; and that Abraham would PRAY for him, Genesis 20:7. Abraham PRAYS for Abimelek; and God then heals Abimelek and his household so they could have children again, Genesis 20:17.

What is truly wild about this first account of prayer is that God abundantly blesses Abraham in the middle of his sin!  And even more interesting is that it is a repeated sin!  See Genesis Chapter 12:10-20 which details the first time he lied about Sarah being his sister!

In the middle of being caught in his sin, Abimelek gives Abraham flocks and servants and land and money, 

Genesis 20:`14-16!!!

  In Genesis 12:16, Pharaoh gives Abraham large amounts of flocks after he takes Sarah into his palace.  He keeps the gifts!  The gall!  And then gets away with it even after being found out.  No rebuke from God!  Abraham is treated with a great amount of favor that is radically unreasonable, especially since he started all the trouble by lying! 

Take a minute to wonder, why would God have a man who lied TWICE about the status of his wife (to save his own neck) pray for Abimelek? Early in chapter 20, you learn that Abraham told Abimelek that Sarah was his sister because he was afraid of being killed, thinking Abimelek would forcefully take Sarah from him by taking his life. In reasoning this way, he put Sarah in great danger, but God intervened and kept Abimelek from touching Sarah, Genesis 20:6.

You learn that Abraham’s fears and schemes for self-preservation drove him to do this. You could make a case for Abraham’s fears and justify the lie pretty easily. Abimelek was a Philistine king of a nation with war-like values.  Clearly Genesis 12 gives precedence that the rulers of these lands took woman as they so pleased.  They were cultures that loved self-pleasure, worshipped false gods, and could be violent to outsiders, . Therefore the fact that Abraham feared for his life was reasonable. But still, by lying, he put his wife’s life on the line to save his own neck. God could have punished Abraham for this, still saved Sarah and Abimelek, but that is not what he did. Instead God tells Abimelek that Abraham is a prophet who would pray and save his life. So here you see God calling Abraham out on his God given position as prophet whose prayers would save Abimelek’s life, Genesis 20:7. God also warns Abimelek that if he did not allow Abraham to pray for him, in his disobedience, he would die, Genesis 20:7.

By going through those details, you learn what prayer is… judging in a way that intervenes in order to save. This a key aspect of prayer… modeling God’s character towards us, not treating us as our sins deserve.  This is the biblical definition of the Hebrew word palal. This essentially means mercy, judging with mercy in order to save. Mercy must always be part of prayer.

God in his mercy saved us.  Jesus is our ultimate intercessor continually interceding on our behalf.

Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.- Hebrews 7:25

God developed that lesson in Abraham by saving him from his own stupid mistake. He would have realized the hand of God intervening on his behalf because Abimelek came to him and told him that God appeared to him in his dream and told him about Abraham’s lie, Genesis 20:8-10. And then when Abraham would have probably expected to die on the spot, instead Abimelek makes Abraham exceptionally wealthy in a sudden outpouring of gifts!

God saved his neck and then blessed him in abundance!  This is the heart of God!

What would your response be if you were caught in a lie by someone who was pre-disposed to violent ways? Wouldn’t you be afraid? But instead, God blesses Abraham through the man pre-disposed to violence… Abimelek! That is some incentive to pray! And this is a key to prayer. God’s mercy incentivizes you to pray! I imagine Abraham’s prayers being fervent and lively for Abimelek based upon God treating him with such unreasonable mercy!

So what is a prayer? It is a request asking God to intervene with acts of mercy in order to save.

Therefore, if you ever want someone to pray effectively for you, ask them if they have experienced God’s mercy in these ways? Was their life saved by Jesus? Have they experienced him intervening on their behalf saving them from stupid decisions, self-preserving ways? Has God supplied their needs and blessed them in unexpected and sudden ways? If you find that type of person, you have found a treasure. They will pray for you in a way that judges you with mercy, intervening in order to save. This is what true prayer is.

Republished with permission from, featuring inspiring Bible verses about prayer.

Republished with permission from

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