Isaiah 64:3-4 “When you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you. Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”
The problem with our prayers is not that we ask God for too much. We shoot too low. We underestimate his generosity, his power, and his willingness to help. We might think we are asking for a lot when we ask him to let us win the lottery. That’s not a big request. It would be incredibly easy for God to do. It does not require him to suspend the laws of physics. It doesn’t change the course of history for entire nations of people. No one has to die. It seems like a big thing because we overvalue earthly riches. We don’t think about how often they do more harm than good.
Isaiah is going big with his prayer, “awesome things that we did not expect.” He could look back on a history that included a world-wide flood, the death of all Egypt’s firstborn, a sea of water splitting in two so that God’s people could go through on dry land, enough bread to feed two million people miraculously appearing on the desert floor every day for forty years. “That’s what I’m talking about, Lord. No one asked you for those things, but you did them anyway. Come down and deliver us like that! Do awesome things for us.”
Our eternal salvation worked like that. “You came down, and the mountains trembled before you.” Remember what happened at the moment Jesus died on the cross? “The earth shook and the rocks split,” Matthew writes. “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’” Remember what happened when Jesus rose from the dead? “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven…The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.” Apparently that was a tough weekend to get assigned guard duty in Jerusalem if you were a Roman soldier. Did anyone expect God to save us this way? Would anyone have dared to ask him, “Lord, I know I deserve to die for my sins, but could you sacrifice your Son in my place and raise him from the dead?” Who would have thought of such a prayer? But the Lord does awesome things we do not expect.
Generally, we may not need to ask for something so big in our day to day prayers. God doesn’t need to set off earthquakes to help us find a new job, or recover from an injury, or get help in marriage counseling. (Well, depending on how stubborn we are, maybe we need the earthquakes for the marriage counseling). But when we lift our eyes from our own little lives, and we see our lost and broken world, and a culture that is so hostile to our faith, and Christians under physical attack around the world from false religions and antagonistic governments, and the church weakened by inner scandals and betrayals, we realize that the only way to fix this is going to take God’s intervention on a Biblical scale. In the mean time we will fight the good fight of faith bravely. But our urgent prayer is still: “Come, Lord Jesus. Do awesome things for us like you did for your people in ages past.”
We worship the only God who will. “Since ancient times, no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” Boston College Professor Peter Kreeft has observed that our faith is uniquely dependent on miracles. Take the miracles out of Christianity, and you have nothing. God came and intervened with a miracle to create the virgin birth, to become a man, to die in for the sins of the world and rise again, to ascend into heaven. No other God in all the religions of the world gets his hands dirty in our history to save us like that. It gives us confidence to come to him again and ask him to come, come Lord Jesus, one last time. Judge your enemies and set your people free.