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In Luke 9, we read about Jesus sending His twelve disciples on their first mission trip without Him. It’s a big deal for the disciples to preach and do miracles without Jesus standing right there. The trip goes well, and when the disciples return, Jesus tries to go off alone with them, but word spreads about His location and crowds quickly form. This is when the feeding of the 5,000 happens. Despite all of the miracles the disciples saw God do through them on their solo mission trip, when Jesus tells them to come up with food to feed the crowd, they protest that He’s asking the impossible. Hm. These boys are slow learners in the faith and confidence department. Jesus isn’t pleased, but He handles the situation and miraculously duplicates fish and bread loaves until the whole mob is fed with plenty to spare.
A lot more happens in Luke 9, but we’re going to skip ahead to the start of the next chapter when Jesus announces that it’s time for another mission trip. This time, instead of just sending out His inner circle of twelve, He chooses out seventy-two more guys to go and get their feet wet in the preaching and miracle performing department. This is another big moment.
After this Jesus appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of Him to every town and place where He was about to go. (Luke 10:1)
It’s big stuff to have Jesus send you out solo. It’s rather nerve-wracking to head out with just one other buddy to back you up. By now, Jesus has a pretty mixed reputation. The religious leaders of Israel really don’t like Him. Plenty of towns have already reacted hostilely to His Presence. How well will the disciples be received?
He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.” (Luke 10:2)
This famously quoted verse is not a general command for all believers. Jesus is not saying that for centuries to come, Christians should nag God to get off His duff and come up with some more people to spread the Gospel. God does not take orders from us and for blind grasshoppers to tell the Almighty King how to run this place is beyond ridiculous. When we tell God what to do, we are also telling Him that what He’s already doing isn’t quite right—hence the need for us to correct Him. Such an attitude leads us away from reverential submission and gives us inflated egos (which is exactly what we find among our population of self-titled “prayer warriors”).
So as a general rule, we need to avoid directing God. But there are exceptions to every rule and there are times when God will prompt us to pray some specific, directive prayer. Why does He do this? To glorify Himself, of course. Let’s use an example to see how this works.
Suppose you have a sick friend. Normally, you should not ask God to heal your friend. You should be honest with Him that you would prefer healing, but you should also ask for His will to be done in the situation and then leave room for His will to be different from your own. Yet suppose the Holy Spirit decides He is going to perform a miraculous healing. He then starts strongly convicting you to pray for a miracle. Your prayers aren’t going to change God’s mind, for He’s already decided what He is going to do. But by getting you involved in the process, God accomplishes two things: He blesses you with an experience of communing with Him, and He uses you to increase His own glory. When you start praying for God to heal your friend, you start looking for a miracle. You become an attentive audience that is eagerly waiting to applaud His work. When God then does the miracle that He was going to do with or without your prayers, you are thrilled. There is a special kind of joy which comes from being cued ahead of time by God as to what He is planning to do and then seeing Him do it. It’s quite a privilege that God brought you in on this surprise so early. Now you’re so excited that you go rushing out to tell everyone you know about what God did. Because God invited you to get involved with what He was doing, you end up helping to spread the news of how awesome He is, therefore God ends up raking in more glory than if He had left you out of it. There is something about being emotionally invested in an outcome which makes us humans talk about it a whole lot more than we would if we weren’t invested.
When God convicts us like this, the convictions are impossible to ignore. We feel compelled to pray. Now many people in the church today are just praying out of greed and they’re always demanding that God do miracles which He often refuses to do. This isn’t Spirit-led prayer, this is just carnal nagging. When we are praying in alignment with the Holy Spirit, seeing God glorified is more important to us than getting our way in a situation. Here in Luke 10, Jesus is telling His followers to ask Yahweh to do something that Jesus knows Yahweh is already intending to do. Yahweh is already planning on sending more workers into the harvest field—these seventy-two are some of them. They weren’t in the field before, they were just following Jesus around. Now they’re going to head out in different directions and start preparing the way for Jesus, who will be coming along after them (see verse 1). Just by heading out on their mission, these seventy-two will be living out the answer to the prayer Jesus is telling them to pray: that Yahweh will raise up more people to preach about His truth. And when they go into the towns, some people will listen to them and decide to start following Jesus. Those people will be a further answer to the prayer, for they will increase the number of Yahweh’s available “harvesters.”
It’s important to realize that Jesus is not telling us it’s okay to boss God about in life, nor is He saying that every soul who starts following Him should bombard Heaven with the same request over and over again. God is not deaf, and He does not like us to keep asking Him for the same things over and over again. He wants us to live by faith, to acknowledge that He hears us, and to recognize that His wisdom is superior to ours.