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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Effectual Prayer

vs. Impressive prayer.

Genesis 27:26–33 (ESV)

Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son.” So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said, “See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed! May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”

As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting. He also prepared delicious food and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son's game, that you may bless me.” His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.”

Isaac’s blessing of Jacob implies real consequences—and it seems to be irrevocable. How?

The Bible doesn’t explain how Isaac’s words have such power, but any power it might have has to come from God. Isaac’s blessing is, at most, an effectual prayer.

But why is it irrevocable? Are some prayers cast in stone? That seems unlikely given that even God’s own pronouncements can be revoked (e.g., see Jonah 3:1-10). So, why is this one is irrevocable?

Actually, the Bible doesn’t say that it is. Isaac thinks it’s irrevocable and so won’t revoke it. Scripture doesn’t have any instructions on “blessing law,” so Isaac seems to just be following tradition.

Remember, this is before any mass communication; everything Isaac knows he heard word-of-mouth. To know that a blessing can’t be revoked, even if given under false pretenses, he would have to know of a special rule or at least a similar case.

Neither is mentioned in scripture.

Imagine how mangled everything would be if God didn’t edit our prayers. We’ve all made amusing goofs while on our knees. We mistake names, places, goals, even Scripture.

But it’s all okay, even glorifying. God does wondrous things in response to fumbled prayers. Our prayers aren’t really all that different from the bedtime prayers of a child—and they’re just as beautiful.

Consider the simplest prayers we say, the ones we teach our children, the memorized grace we might say before dinner. Those prayers seem dull, rote, and unimportant, but they have the benefit of not pretending to be wise or clever. They’re just child-like pleas. That’s the right posture to take before an infinite God.

The last thing a prayer should strive to be is “impressive.”

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These weekday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. Saturdays' by Matt Richardson. Subscribe here:

The weekly study guides, which include questions for discussion or meditation, are here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NASB stands for the New American Standard Bible. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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