“Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” (Deuteronomy 4:6–7)
What should make the people of God distinctive?
In many ways that question is at the heart of the book of Deuteronomy. God’s people are on the verge of the promised land and God instructs them through Moses about what life will be like when they enter the land. Moses repeats the commands of the Law for the people (and Deuteronomy means ‘second law’). They are reminded of what it means to live as God’s people as they settle into the place that God is giving them.
God’s laws are not arbitrary. They are designed to be for the good of his people. They are also designed to show that good to the other nations around them. Moses tells Israel in chapter 4, that they are to follow the law so that their wisdom and understanding is seen by the nations. They are not only to obey God for their good, but also to show the wisdom of God to those who don’t yet know him. Although we have a different relationship with the law as Christians, since Jesus has fulfilled, or completed, the law, this principle still stands. We are to walk in God’s ways, in the power of the Spirit, for our good and to demonstrate God’s wisdom to the world.
So how do we do that? Deuteronomy chapter 4 tells us one particular way in which we can live this out: in prayer. Moses tells the people:
What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? (Deuteronomy 4:7)
Prayer is not only a good thing for us to do, it communicates something powerful to those around us. It says something about who we are, what we believe, and the God who we follow.
First, it tells the world that God is near. When Christians pray, we declare something about God. We declare not only that we believe that there is a God, but that God is near to us. Prayer tells a listening world that God listens to prayer. Psalm 145 reminds us “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” (Psalm 145:18). When those around us see us praying, hear us praying, know about the prayer that happens in the church community, they hear that God is near to us and accessible to us.
Second, prayer tells the world that God is good. God is near to us, and God hears us, and God answers our prayers. God is faithful to his people and faithful to his promises. Moses calls God “the LORD”, using the covenant name of God, a name that constantly reminds God’s people that he has made promises and keeps those promises. Hebrews 11 tells the basic principles of prayer: “anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) When we pray we declare that God exists, that God is near and that God answers our prayers. He may not answer in the way we expect, but he does answer because he is a good God who keeps his promises.
So what makes the people of God distinctive in the world? Lots of things, but prayer is key. Because prayer declares these fundamental truths to the world and to ourselves: that God is near, and God is good.