So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer. Ezra 8:23 (NIV)
Petitioned . . Answered – Ezra’s statement shows us the proper protocol for answered prayer. It does not guarantee that the answer we receive is the answer we hope to receive, but it tells us that answers do come. What is the proper protocol? It is captured in two Hebrew words we already know. They are just disguised from us in this English translation.
The first word is baqash. We petitioned. But now we know that baqash is more than requesting. It is asking with full submission. It is coming to God as His completely obedient servants, ready to do whatever He decides, without argument. It is the word for the full reign and rule of God’s authority. “We fasted and came to God fully surrendered to His will” is the essence of Ezra’s statement. Why fast? Because denying my physical well-being is a symbol of my submission. I show that I am willing to go to extreme measures in order to be obedient. Without baqash, prayer is just mouthing religious words.
Now we come to the second word. It’s the unusual word athar; the seldom used official word for prayer. Here is it used reflexively. The verse doesn’t actually say that God “answered our prayer.” What it says is that God was “entreated on behalf of us.” In other words, this verse simply says that God heard and acted. When His people come before Him with a demonstration of full commitment and the willingness of total surrender, God hears and acts. How God acts is entirely up to Him. But since we know that God is good, we know that all of His actions are destined for the completion of His good purposes. And, for those who are fully surrendered, that is enough! Prayer is completed when God hears and acts. Nothing more is needed. Prayer does not demand as its result a specific action. It does not dictate to God what must occur. It simply calls to God to hear and act, leaving the nature of the response entirely in His hands.
There is a deep, theological reason to leave your prayers open-ended like this. You don’t know what is the best course of action for the purposes of God. You don’t have an eternal perspective on things. You don’t see the full picture. You are a very limited creature. He is the Creator, the Ruler, the All-mighty and Omniscient One. So asking Him to act with an open-ended agenda is trusting His decisions. Furthermore, God is full of surprises. He is the constantly creative God, not limited to the solutions that men devise. He is glorified when His answers are something we could never have imagined.
Ezra knew the secret – total surrender, evidenced by action; then open-ended acceptance. God hears those prayers – and acts!