Observations: Abraham’s Negotiating with God

I am sitting in a dark room in the hospital waiting for a PET scan, after being injected with radioactive dye. This scan will literally “light up” all the areas of my body that are infected by cancer. It will give a definitive view of where I am at after 3 years of living with this disease. Sometimes it is hard to know what to pray for at times like this. There is the human tendency to want to negotiate with God—”Lord, could you give me 5 more years . . . how about 3 . . . maybe 2?” Is it wrong to do this? I guess it all depends on if, in the end, we are willing to accept God’s answer.

Abraham is an example of someone who negotiated with God in prayer. In Genesis 19, we see the angel of Lord telling Abraham that he is about ready to destroy the city of Sodom because of its great wickedness. Abe is alarmed because his nephew Lot and family are living there. So he begins to negotiate with God about the baseline number of righteous people there would need to be living in Sodom before the Lord would stay his hand of judgment. Abraham starts high with 50 people- just 50 righteous people, Lord, is that too much to ask for you to stay your hand of judgment.” God “relents” and is willing to reconsider all the way down to 10—sounds like an Amish auction! It seems like God just can’t make up his mind and Abe is setting the agenda for prayer. Certain theologians and others who struggle with God’s sovereignty love this, because it seems to show that while God has a plan, it is set in wet cement allowing for input and adjustments.

Observation: Then the negotiations just end. And the angel of the Lord departs and it’s all over for Sodom. Why? What is going on here—why didn’t Abraham keep going down to 4 (Lot and his wife and their 2 daughters)? There were at least 4 righteous ones, right? Wait a minute, only 4? Ahhh . . . then the light bulb moment. Abraham comes around to realize what God is doing. Abe thinks: Wow, Sodom really is wicked— only 4 righteous ones and they don’t even belong there because they are my family? That city does deserve judgment and God is perfectly just in doing destroying it!

Thus, what initially looked like God relenting or changing his mind turned out to be a way of bringing Abe around to his way of thinking. We see a similar strategy (for an opposite reason) that God used with Jonah after Nineveh was spared judgment, and Jonah is beside himself with anger because God showed mercy. God grew up a plant to offer shade from the burning sun while the sulking prophet just sat there waiting for God to come around to his way of thinking. Then God used a little worm to destroy the plant which made Jonah angry, but showed him that he was more concerned for his own comfort than he was for the thousands in Nineveh who had just repented.

Someone once said that Jonah waited beneath the comfort of his shade-plant for God to come around to his way of thinking, while God destroyed Jonah’s comfort and waited for him to come around to his (God’s) way of loving.

Application: We tend to look at prayer as a way of getting things from God —and we are enjoined to ask, seek, knock. However, when prayer is just asking we often grow frustrated when the answers are not immediately forthcoming or not according to our expectations. The experience of Abraham (and to a certain extent, Jonah) shows us that God often uses the process of prayer (be asking, be seeking, be knocking) to bring us around to his way of thinking; to understand his mind and perspective on things. In prayer then, God often changes us to see what he sees and then ask for what he wants.

And so, Lord, you have heard my prayer (as well as the prayers of many others) concerning the outcome of these scans. I’ve asked you for the things that I want, but you have convinced my heart that this whole situation is not about me and my longevity. It is about you and what you want for my life and the faith of those around me. It is about you being glorified in my body whether by life or by death. I’m not sure I even understand what that means, but you have brought me to the place where that is what I want. I am in your hands; I bless you, I trust you, and I worship you my Father. Amen.

24 thoughts on “Observations: Abraham’s Negotiating with God

  1. darjoyt

    It’s always good to come around to God’s way of thinking of and for us. I pray for you daily, Dave, that God continues to be glorified as you serve him.

    1. mamabylls

      You have been on our minds and in our prayers. When you taught “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.” I am encouraged by your ability to live out this verse. Petitioning Him for good news.

    2. Barbara Edwards

      It is about trusting God’s plan for your life. God is using you mightily thru your blog, your life and your faith. I wrote and shared very openly on my blog when I was going thru breast cancer 4 years ago and many people shared how much that helped them too. I talked with God alot, he showed me whatever way it turned out that it was going to be okay! Glad your scans are stable. You’ve got work yet to do! Prayers for you and your family.

  2. Shirley McAllister

    Thank you David. You share such vulnerable thoughts with us. They help us as we seek real and genuine truth.
    And I do so hope the sharing helps you on this journey.

  3. Mark

    The great thing I have found reading the Bible is I don’t have to make the same mistakes my brothers have before me.

    I pray not for more time but instead I pray for my time. The time GOD intended me to live. And that no one steals it from me until that day.

  4. jax3172


    I’ll cut to the chase: I am asking God for a miracle. Yet somehow I have an incredible sense of peace having faith that Almighty God hears our prayers WRT your health. Our God reigns. I know there is a special place of peace and rest for your heart and mind in the midst of this. We all love you!!!

      1. bobgatza

        Dave, I know you realize how your Father has blessed you.

        Because of the blessings you’ve transferred in His Perfect Will over the years.

        To me, for sure, through ALPHA at our Community Fellowship Church.

        All we know and have is transient, EXCEPT for the saving Grace of Jesus Christ.

  5. Once I had two tumors and was about to be scanned as Stanford, was literally lying in a hospital bed with the port in my arm when some fella from my church communicated that I might be ‘delusional’ and they stopped the process mid stream.

    Thank goodness for me that was in the days of true PPO’s and I could go to the Mayo Clinic later where they found the two tumors after Stanford detirmined I was delusional for no good reason and then they kidnapped me to try to force me into their way of thinking. I believe I had a phone call with you when I was on the run during this part of the drama.

    Ah the spectacles of life.

  6. Alison Couser Rhodes

    Dear Pastor McDowell- I just recently did an internet search for you to see where you were and discovered your blog which is wonderful. I have enjoyed reading several posts and really would like to sit here all day reading them. I’m not sure if you remember me, but I attended College Church in the late 80’s and you married Steve and I in 1993. We now have 3 adult children who are in or finishing up their college/post grad years.

    I also just discovered that you have cancer and I am so sorry to hear that. I will add you and Gloria to my prayer list. Please give my best to her. Thank you for this wonderful blog. I still look back on my college years and my time at College Church as one of great spiritual growth. It was due to several factors, but your influence in my life ar that time through your preaching ministry was a large part of that. Much love and many blessings to you and your family.

    1. Of course I remember you and Steve! It’s wonderful to hear from you. Gloria and I are doing well- celebrating our 49th anniversary tomorrow. My cancer is in check so I’m feeling good and productive. I’m just finishing a manuscript for a book, The Goodness of Affliction: Encouragement for those who Suffer. It is made up of about 30 of my blogs which deal with the subject and that I have written mostly over the last 3 yrs. Pray that I get it done. Blessings Alison.

  7. Hi Chaplain Mac,

    It’s Michelle Sampson – John Sampson’s wife. I just came across your blog and am encouraged as I read of your faith and trust in the Lord, enabled by His Spirit.

    John and I will be sure to keep you in our prayers as you go through this round of chemo. I was also reading your comments/replies – Happy 49th anniversary to you and Gloria! That’s longer than John and I have been around 😉

  8. Mr David I Morey

    Good to come across your writing. Will pray for you.
    The bottom-line purpose of every test is that God’s glory be seen and endorsed by the faith of ourselves and others. Then He truly has our heart.

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