While rummaging though the iron market of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with the many loud voices inviting me to the bargain of the century, I discovered an interesting turtle carved out of wood. It was beautiful. The “shell” lifted off, revealing a little place to store jewellery or coins, and as I examined this “shell”, carved to match the design of the local sea turtles, I couldn’t help but wonder how such a master piece had been achieved.
Before I had time to think more about it however, I was confronted with two merchants: “$10.00!” they shouted simultaneously in their broken English.
I had already learned that Haitians live to bargain, and to accept the first offer was not only an affront, but was also considered ridiculous.
“$1.00!” I replied, speaking in the local language.
“Monsieur parle Français!” they exclaimed. “The gentleman speaks French!” Then they switched to their native tongue: “This masterpiece is worth much more than $10.00, monsieur!”
“$1.00!” I continued to insist.
“I see monsieur knows our customs. We can sell it to you for $5.00! It’s our last offer! Take it or leave it.”
And so it went, until I eventually left with the turtle tucked under my arm, $3.00 poorer. I was feeling pretty good about having made such a good deal, when I noticed the two merchants rolling with laughter. I looked at them, perplexed. “Did I do something wrong?”
“You could have had it for your $1.00 if you had insisted,” they said as they continued in their uproarious laughter.
I was happy I made their day . . .
In the North American culture, we aren’t used to haggling. We generally pay the indicated price, plus all of the additional taxes, without thinking twice. In fact, it seems like it’s only when we buy a car that we revert back to the custom in olden days: haggling for the best price.
God also enjoys haggling with us in prayer. If you don’t believe it, read the Psalms. The only difference is that He doesn’t mock us if we don’t bid low enough!
When Abraham heard that the Lord was planning to wipe out Sodom and Gomorrah, he approached Him with a plea: “Then Abraham approached him and said: ‘Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?'” (Gen 18:23-25 NIV)
When the Lord agreed He would spare Sodom if fifty righteous people were found, Abraham continued to bargain with God: What if there were only 40 righteous, what about 30, no 20? He finally settled on 10, and God made the promise: “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” (Gen 18:32 NIV)
The only problem was that there weren’t even ten righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah, and the four who were forced out of town by the Lord’s angels were far from being righteous! (See Gen 19:23-32). In fact, God showed much more mercy than Abraham himself in his bargaining techniques!
Moses liked to argue with God as well. Remember the time when God was giving Moses the 10 commandments? At the same time, the Israelites were busy making their own god to worship, and God became angry: “I have seen this people, and they are a stiff-necked people indeed! Let me alone, so that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make you into a nation stronger and more numerous than they.” (Deut 9:13-14 NIV)
This opened the door for Moses to respectfully disagree: “O Sovereign LORD, do not destroy your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed by your great power and brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Overlook the stubbornness of this people, their wickedness and their sin. Otherwise, the country from which you brought us will say, ‘Because the LORD was not able to take them into the land he had promised them, and because he hated them, he brought them out to put them to death in the desert.’ But they are your people, your inheritance that you brought out by your great power and your outstretched arm.” (Deut 9:26-29 NIV)
And God had a change of heart. He didn’t destroy Israel. However, in reality, He never intended to destroy them. He simply wanted Moses to see the Israelites from His own perspective, from His viewpoint, with His unfailing love!
Many years later, the tables were turned and it was Moses’ turn to complain: “Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now!” (Num 11:12-15 NIV)
This time it was God who “haggled” with Moses. God sympathized with his plight and suggested using 70 elders to help Moses. Mercy was once again bestowed, and there wasn’t even a mention of destroying the people.
We could go on and site examples from Jacob, Isaac, Job and countless others, who bargained with God, only to discover His mercy. In fact, I have noticed that every time humans haggle with God, their compassion always comes up short; meanwhile they learn just how overflowing God’s mercy really is!
“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.'” (Isa 55:8-11 NIV)
Our Heavenly Father welcomes it when we bargain with Him. We can let our hair down with Him. We can be ourselves around Him. We can tell Him our frustrations. We can even share the depths of our heart, no matter how black that may be. Just be aware that doing so will change you from the inside out, and in the end, you will discover that His love is truly much purer than ours!
By the way, would you like to buy a wooden turtle? It’s only $100.00, plus tax.
Don’t forget inflation!
(To access the entire “Important Elements of Prayer” devotional series, please click here.)