Jeremiah’s cousin, Hanamel, visited him in prison and sold him a piece of the family farm. Jeremiah, under the prompting of God, obliged and sealed the purchase as legally as he knew how and preserved the documents for future generations. The catch is that the land is useless not only to Jeremiah, but to an entire generation of Judeans who are about to be taken off into exile. So why did God ask Jeremiah to buy the land? That is a good question, and one that Jeremiah now poses to God.
When we come to God in prayer and have something on our mind to ask of him, how do our prayers typically begin? When we have a request of God, what is the content and structure of our prayer? If you are anything like me, those prayers are usually entirely comprised of supplication. Here, however, we have a beautiful example of a prayer from a prophet of God in a time of bewilderment, and in it there is much for us to learn about our prayer lives.
First of all, the final verse of the prayer is Jeremiah’s inquiry. It is posed in the form of an implied question:
“Behold, the siege mounds have come up to the city to take it, and because of sword and famine and pestilence the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans who are fighting against it. What you spoke has come to pass, and behold, you see it. Yet you, O Lord GOD, have said to me, ‘Buy the field for money and get witnesses’--though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.” (32:24-25)
We should take note, though, that the request for understanding is the last verse, and only the last verse of the prayer. Here is how Jeremiah begins:
“Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who has made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. You show steadfast love to thousands…” (32:17-18)
For seven verses, Jeremiah extols God, lists his qualities and greatness, and then gets to his request. He begins by noting that God is the creator of the universe. What that means is that God created not only the heavens and the earth, but he created Jeremiah as well and knows his beginning from his end. Then the prophet praises God for his enduring love to all people. Even in the midst of strife and tumult, God loves his people and he loves Jeremiah.
Through the rest of the prayer Jeremiah praises God as all knowing, for being all powerful, and for being the great History Maker. If God was able to arrange the Exodus from Egypt, certainly he can handle this matter of the Babylonians.
When Jeremiah came to God with a request, his prayer was seven parts praise and one part petition. By focusing his prayer time on God’s greatness and goodness, he put his focus on the important thing-on God instead of his confusion. It has been said that good prayer requires good theology. If we do not know who our God is, then to whom do we pray? If our prayers are small and anemic, it might be because our God is small and anemic.
Begin your prayers this week by focusing your attention on God in all his splendor and love, spend time there before you move on to your supplication, and see if it doesn’t change your perspective and maybe even your situation.