How to Start an Argument

Do you ever argue with God? I do. But not as often as I’d like, and probably not as often as I should.

Now before you send out a posse to come and string me up, let me explain what I mean—and what I don’t. I am not talking about quarreling, fighting with, or “taking on” God. By no means am I suggesting that we challenge God’s sovereign authority or arrogantly suppose that we would do a better job of ruling the universe than He does.

What I am talking about is making a solid case for what we are asking God to do. Instead of just handing God a bunch of requests, as if we were submitting them to a giant suggestion box in the sky, I’m suggesting that we employ what Timothy Keller calls “thoughtful reasoning” to back up our prayer requests*

This is not a new idea. From the very beginning of the Book we have examples of this.

  • When Abraham argued for God to show mercy to Sodom, he made his case based on the God’s character: “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?” (Genesis 18:25).
  • In Exodus, we find Moses arguing for mercy based on God’s reputation: “‘Lord,’ he said, ‘why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and 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 wipe them off the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people’” (Exodus 32:11-12).
  • In one of his psalms, David made his case based on God’s glory and praise: “To the Lord I cried for mercy: ‘What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness? Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help’” (Psalm 30:8-10).
  • Hannah made a bargain with God, if you will. If God would give her a son, she would give that son back to God to live and serve Him all his days (1 Samuel 1:11).
  • When Paul prayed, his appeals were often made on the basis of God’s ultimate purposes. He prayed that the Philippians’ love would abound more and more so that they would “be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:10-11).

Do you see what I mean? These prayer heavyweights didn’t just drop their prayer into God’s inbox—they made a vigorous appeal based on God’s truth, purposes, and character. They didn’t ask for what they wanted simply because they wanted it. They made a reasoned, thoughtful request with God’s heart firmly in view.

How can we do this? First, we do some soul-searching to be sure that our request is in line with God’s word and character. If it’s a matter Scripture doesn’t directly address, then we should at least ensure that our request does not run counter in any way to who God is and what He does.

Next, we should ponder outcomes. What will happen if God answers our request? How will He be honored? How will His purposes be fulfilled? How will the answer cause us or the people we pray for to be more like Jesus?

Finally, if there is Scripture that relates to our request, we should find it and use it as we take the matter to God—kind of like the “Exhibit A” in our argument before God.

Job was a firm believer in this kind of praying. In Job 23:3-7, he said, “If only I knew where to find God, I would go to his court. I would lay out my case and present my arguments. Then I would listen to his reply and understand what he says to me. .. He would give me a fair hearing. Honest people can reason with him.”

I’m curious—how practiced are all of you, my readers, at arguing or reasoning with God? What difference has this practice made in how you pray, how God responds, and your relationship with Him? I’d love to hear from you. Let’s learn from each other.

*Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, page 229.

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