Amos 7:2 “…then I said, O Lord GOD, forgive, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small.”
As I prepare to lead our fledgling church into another building project and other ministry initiatives that feel so big, this prayer of Amos resonates with my sense of inadequacy and insufficiency. These feels are infinitely bigger when I consider what we, as sinners, rightly deserve from a holy God. When God warns Amos of coming judgments—famine by locusts (vv. 1–2) and devastation by fire and drought (v. 4)—the prophet knows he is helpless to stop famines and firestorms. But he also knows he can intercede with God on Israel’s behalf, even against God’s declared intentions. In so doing, he models intercessory prayer for us and reminds us that God keeps mercy for all who flee to him in repentance and faith.
Here are some steps to take in prayer when you feel small:
Address God by His covenant name. (“O Lord God”)
Where the capitalized “GOD” occurs in the Bible is a translation of “Yahweh”-the covenant name of the Lord. Amos’ appeal is wisely built not upon the noble intentions of his people but the covenant commitment of his God. By beginning in this manner, Amos is reminding God that He made a covenant to be the faithful Redeemer of His people. Genesis 17:7 “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” He is appealing for covenant mercy, even for the covenant breakers.
When God is big in our eyes, the “woe is me” sentiment of Isaiah 6 is not debilitating but awe-inspiring. Is this not the heart of the repentant prayer that allows the God who fills heaven and earth to show up through our prayers? The takeaway would be this: when you feel reduced and limited, remind God of His grand, Word-bonded promises to you and yours. As the beleaguered missionary Adoniram Judson once declared, “The future is as bright as the promises of God.”
Start with an appeal for forgiveness before deliverance. (“forgive”)
Amos does not begin his prayer with, “please take away these locusts.” Instead he understands that it is not tangible insects but spiritual decay that has reduced Israel from its physical and spiritual vibrancy. Feeling small, in an unproductive manner, often is the result of unresolved sin. That is where we need to start. Proverbs 28:1 reminds us, “The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.”
When will we prayerfully admit that our sin is the primary root of our woes? Amos distinctively understands human sin and divine justice. His petition is therefore for forgiveness. Pesticide and an uptick in rainfall would solve nothing: the people of Israel-and us-need a Savior. It is the same spirit of Nehemiah that led him to be the catalyst of renewal in his small dayl, “Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned” (Ne. 1:6). In effect, that pardon is actually the dawn of the very deliverance for which we long.
Claim your insignificance as a motivation for God to give mercy. (“he is small”)
The truth is, that they—and we—have no claim on God for what passes for righteousness in our lives (Is. 64:6). Our only resort must be to his covenant faithfulness and his provision of salvation in the gospel of his Son. As the hymn reminds, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” In other words, “small” equals nothing. To feel like nothing is not the antithesis but the means to God’s grace and mercy.
What is incredible is that God relents from His promised judgement because of Amos’ intercession alone! Moved by the prophet’s prayer, the Lord relented in the next verse and promised that the swarm of locusts would not happen. The word “relent” suggests a turning away and a relief from an earlier decision because one has been deeply stirred by the appeal of another. An appeal that can be a part of our desperate prayers.
Acknowledging our “smallness” does not disqualify us but engage the intervention of the Lord. By the way, we have a better intercessor than Amos-Jesus Christ who “ever liveth to make intercession for us” (He 7:25). God has made provision for our insignificance through the epic gospel of Jesus Christ. Press into that reality through prayer. Don’t give up in the mires of fatalism; pray “in Jesus’ name.”
Charles Eliet had a problem. He had a contract to build an engineering marvel-a suspension bridge over the Niagra River. But he had no way of stretching his first cable between the shores. Any boat that tried to cross the falls would be swept over. Then Eliet hit on an idea. If a kite carrying a cord could be flown across the river, the cord could then be used to pull larger cables across. So Eliet announced a kite-flying contest, and a young man named Homan Walsh responded. On Walsh’s first attempt the kite’s cord broke when it caught in the river’s ice, but on his next try he succeeded in flying his kite to the opposite shore of the river. The vital link was established, and the bridge built.
No matter how small you and your prayers may feel, launch the fragile kite upon the winds of the Spirit toward a faithful Father who will bridge His mercy and grace to your little heart, home, and church. The Apostle John reminds us “For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things” (1 John 3:20).