Response to Brokenness Continued

 

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PRAYER PART II

 

4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,

           

            Nehemiah 1:4

 

            Since we have so many new faces with us tonight I thought it appropriate to recap our exploration of the book of Nehemiah so far. I have attempted to show the similarities of Nehemiah’s quest to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem with the need for many of us to rebuild our own lives.

 

            We have spent 7 weeks in the first 4 verses of Chapter 1 which we should conclude this week. We saw the following themes so far:

·         Living as an Outcast

o   An overview of the book of Nehemiah with emphasis on his situation and how it pertains to those in bondage.

·         Trials or Tribulations

o   We looked at how Nehemiah may have experienced trails but not tribulation which we defined as suffering for Christ.

·         Recognition of Brokenness

o   Using verse III we discussed how one must recognize that they are broken before any repairs to their life can be made.

·         Response to Brokenness Part I

o   Nehemiah’s first response to learning his fellow Jews in Jerusalem are broken is to weep and mourn

·         Response to Brokenness Part II

o   Next Nehemiah responds by fasting

·         Response to Brokenness Part III

o   Nehemiah’s final response is prayer. Last time we discovered what prayer is (and is not), why we pray, why we should pray, to whom we should pray and the reason(s) we should pray.

 

            Tonight we will conclude with the final two points how we should pray and our expectations in prayer.  Let us look at our main text Nehemiah Chapter 1 verse 4 one more time:

 

4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,          Nehemiah 1:4

            The question that I think crosses all new believers minds is how are we to pray?  I mean I want to pray right so my prayers are effective.

                       

            Because we are children of God we can approach the throne of Grace with bold confidence Ephesians 3:11-13  According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: 12 In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him. 13 Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. “Bold confidence’ however should never be mistake for arrogance.  Again using the WCF let us dig in to the word.

 

Q. 185. How are we to pray?

A. We are to pray with an awful apprehension of the majesty of God,[1183] and deep sense of our own unworthiness,[1184] necessities,[1185] and sins;[1186] with penitent,[1187]thankful,[1188] and enlarged hearts;[1189] with understanding,[1190] faith,[1191] sincerity,[1192] fervency,[1193] love,[1194]

 

            I love the beginning of this pray with an awful apprehension of the majesty of God. What sounds bad is actually so magnificent. Baker’s Bible dictionary notes: When confronted with God's awesome presence the inevitable human response is to quiver and cower. In fact, the Bible never records a direct personal encounter with God in which the individual was not visibly shaken by God's awesomeness. Awful apprehension is not the same as disgusting it is a sense of Awe, Wonderment, and our Smallness as compared to the Almighty God of the Universe whenever we enter His presence. 

           

            When we pray we are to acknowledge our unworthiness; let me pause there. It is impossible for us to appreciate the love of God and therefore to have fellowship with God until we FULLY understand our own unworthiness.  Next we need comprehend the very real need to pray to God, confess our sins, while being thankful that we have a God who listens and open our hearts to His understanding. All that we MUST do BEFORE we begin our petitions.

 

            Our prayers must be done:

 

                        a)  in faith Mark 11:24. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. James 1:6. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

 

                        b) in sincerity Psalm 145:18. The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. Psalm 17:1. Hear the right, O LORD, attend unto my cry, give ear unto my prayer that goeth not out of feigned lips.

 

                        c) with frequency  I have heard it said prayers should be one and done. God hears us the first time no need to repeat. Well while technically true, God hears all righteous prayers, repetition demonstrates our resolve in the matter.

                        d) in Love 1 Timothy 2:8. I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.

 

            In the jail a while back I was counseling a guy that was really angry. He spurted out “I hate these people; I pray God kills them all”.  Do you really think God will honor that I asked. He replied I do not care I hate them. Therein lies the rub, He really did not care what God wanted he only cared about what he wanted. God cannot and will not honor prayers of malice.

           

            I would venture to say from the text that it was Nehemiah’s love for his fellow Jews and their plight that drove him to prayer. Are there people or circumstances in your life that you love in need of prayer?

 

            Another issue in our prayer life can be our expectations of prayer. Prayer can be a mystery at times. Not because it truly is but because we miss use it so often. Our expectations are so high that anything less than immediate fulfillment of what we want leaves us lacking.

            R.C. Sproul on the Ligonier Ministries site has this to say about Eliminating Unrealistic Expectations

Sometimes we all feel as if our prayers lack the power to penetrate our ceilings. It seems as though our petitions fall on deaf ears and God remains unmoved or unconcerned about our passionate pleading. Why do these feelings haunt us?

 

There are several reasons why we are sometimes frustrated in prayer. One is that our expectations are unrealistic. This, perhaps more than any other factor, leads to a frustration in prayer. We make the common mistake of taking statements of Jesus in isolation from other biblical aspects of teaching in prayer, and we blow these few statements out of proportion.

 

We hear Jesus say that if two Christians agree on anything and ask, it shall be given to them. Jesus made that statement to men who had been deeply trained in the art of prayer, men who already knew the qualifications of this generalization. Yet in a simplistic way we interpret the statement absolutely. We assume the promise covers every conceivable petition without reservation or qualification. Think of it. Would it be difficult to find two Christians who would agree that to end all wars and human conflict would be a good idea? Obviously not. Yet if two Christians agreed to pray for the cessation of war and conflict, would God grant their petition? Not unless He planned to revise the New Testament and its teaching about the future of human conflict.

 

Prayer is not magic. God is not a celestial bellhop at our beck and call to satisfy our every whim. In some cases, our prayers must involve the travail of the soul and agony of heart, such as Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane. Sometimes young Christians have been bitterly disappointed in “unanswered” prayers, not because God failed to keep His promises, but because well-meaning Christians made promises “for” God that God never authorized.

 

            The WLC in continuing question 185 says: and perseverance,[1195] waiting upon him,[1196]with humble submission to his will.[1197]

[1195] Ephesians 6:18. Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints. We are to persevere or endure how with supplications or prayer.

 

[1196] Micah 7:7. Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. In our on demand society waiting patiently is not always easy. God however does not work on your time clock. When we ask for something, lift something or someone up in prayer we must wait on the Lord.

 

[1197] Matthew 26:39. And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. I firmly believe Nehemiah has a real expectation that God would hear, honor and grant his petition. I think when we take a closer look at Nehemiah’s actual prayer next time you will really get a better understanding of this.

 

            Like Nehemiah when we find that there is an issue in life’s journey we must turn to God for answers and help. Godly man and women understand that they apart from God do not have the strength on their own to surmount many of today’s challenges.

 

            In closing I wish to quote Charles Spurgeon who said "Even as the moon influences the tides of the sea, so does prayer influence the tides of godliness." 

If you wish to live a God honoring life you need to be in prayer.

 

 Next time we will begin to look at Nehemiah’s actual prayer in verses 5-11.

 

In HIS Service

                                                                                                                         

 

Response to Brokenness Continued

 

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PRAYER PART 1

 

4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,

           

            Nehemiah 1:4

 

            Remembering that we defined Brokenness as the state which man is not living as God intended.  We continue our series on Nehemiah this week by continuing to look at Nehemiah’s and hopefully our Response to Brokenness.

 

             A quick review, Nehemiah hears of the plight of the Jewish people back in Jerusalem. He is told that they are are in great affliction and reproach. He also learns the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. Nehemiah’s response is not to blame the government, he does not say oh well it’s not my problem; no he sat down and wept, and mourned certain days. Last week we explored his next response where he fasted. Today let us examine his final response where he prayed before the God of heaven.

 

            I may be way off base here by I would venture to say most people Christians or “religious types” or not, understand some concept of prayer. Here are some definitions of prayer:

 

Wikipedia says: Prayer is an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with a deity, an object of worship, or a spiritual entity through deliberate communication

 

Focus on the Family- So what is prayer? Prayer is a relationship, wherein we humbly communicate, worship, and sincerely seek God's face, knowing that He hears us, loves us and will respond, though not always in a manner we may expect or desire. Prayer can encompass confession, praise, adoration, supplication, intercession and more.

 

Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 178 - What is prayer? A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit; with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.

 

            I hope you can easily spot the differences between Wikipedia’s secular definition and that of the next two. I included it to make my point, that even non-believers and those who would deny a deity in any fashion (an object of worship) have a concept of prayer.

 

            As believers our concept of prayer is quite different than that of those still living in darkness. Today I want to look at five specific things Nehemiah did (and we should follow suit) concerning prayer and why he did them. They are:

 

            1) Why he/we should pray prayed

            2) To whom he/we should pray

            3) Reason(s) he/we should prayer

            4) How he/we should pray

            5) Our expectations of prayer

                       

I am going to use the Westminster Larger Catechism to look deeper into prayer in the life of Christians.

 

1.         The first question many have is why pray? Principal reason we pray because we are commanded to do so:

 

(WLC 186) What rule hath God given for our direction in the duty of prayer?

A. The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in the duty of prayer;[1198] but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which our Savior Christ taught his disciples, commonly called The Lord’s Prayer.[1199]

 

(1198) 1 John 5:14: And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us.

 

(1199) Matthew 6:9-13: After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. 

 

Luke 11:2-4.And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.

 

            Christ in leaving us this model on how to pray, commands us to pray. There is no if you feel like it, when you get around to it, or if the spirit moves you suggestion here. No Christ clearly says After this manner therefore pray ye and When ye pray, say undeniably a command to pray. Prayer develops our relationship with God.

 

            One of my favorite passages of scripture (So much so my thesis is on its importance) is 1 John 1:4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. I really like the idea of a full cup of joy, don’t you? Well John in the preceding verse tells how to get that:  That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. Fellowship is the key to joy. Both fellowship with believers and with God. Now it should be obvious that fellowship with believers can happen in many ways but fellowship with God (whom we can’t see or touch) can only happen through prayer.

 

            Christ did not command us to pray just for ha ha’s no He wanted us to communicate with Him that our joy may be full.

 

2.         The next question is whom do you pray too. Unlike the unbelievers who pray to establish a rapport or connection with some unknown deity   (god, idol, immortal) Christians already have a connection to God and that is whom we communicate with:

 

(WLC 179) Are we to pray unto God only? A. God only being able to search the hearts,[1152] hear the requests,[1153] pardon the sins,[1154] and fulfill the desires of all;[1155] and only to be believed in,[1156] and worshipped with religious worship;[1157] prayer, which is a special part thereof,[1158] is to be made by all to him alone,[1159] and to none other.[1160]

 

            It is to God the one and only true and living God of the bible that we are to pray. None other can search our hearts, hear our requests, pardon our sins and fulfill our desires. Let’s face it that is the reason most folk’s believer or not pray. They are in a jam or things are just messed up and they want help (desires). The unbeliever in desperation calls out; God if you are there help me.

 

             While many cry out in desperation with no real sincerity some (like many of us at one time) cry out with true understanding of the situation and our Broken state. The importance of this cannot be underestimated, R. C. Sproul wrote on the matter:

 

Prayer has a vital place in the life of the Christian. First, it is an absolute prerequisite for salvation. Some people cannot hear; yet though deaf, they can be saved. Some may not be able to see; yet though blind, they can be saved. Knowledge of the Good News—salvation through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—will come from one source or another, but in the final analysis, a person must humbly ask God for salvation. The prayer of salvation is the one prayer of the wicked God has said he will hear.

 

            Why God only, His word tells us so: 1 Tim 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. Let’s get logical for a moment. I have never met anyone that has said I will take the worst thing, the weakest person the laziest helper. No we want the best for ourselves and our families. There is nothing wrong with that. So why would you chose a lesser god?

 

            John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. Now if obtaining the best means going through Jesus to God that for sure is the path I want.

 

            Nehemiah prayed to God because he knew that God alone could help in this matter. Like Nehemiah I pray to God because I want the best. I desire the guidance of He who is able to do all things.

 

3          Now let us look at the Reasons we pray. This could be a whole sermon series on its own so I am going to try and give a helpful overview by again using the WLC.

 

Q. 183. For whom are we to pray?

A. We are to pray for the whole church of Christ upon earth;[1168] for magistrates,[1169] and ministers;[1170] for ourselves,[1171] our brethren,[1172] yea, our enemies;[1173] and for all sorts of men living,[1174] or that shall live hereafter;[1175] but not for the dead,[1176] nor for those that are known to have sinned the sin unto death.[1177]

 

            That is quite the list. Some of the persons mentioned are quite easily understood. The first five would seem relatively common today.  Most folks find it easy to pray for their church family (as Nehemiah was doing here), the government (especially in these times) our families and friends, our church leaders and of course our own needs. But I want to look at two specific items on the list:

 

            a)        Our enemies, the WLC uses Matthew 5:44. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you to make this point and I totally agree. How easy it is to pray for our loved ones but those that hate and oppress us.

 

            How many of us could respond as Stephan and say:  Acts 7:59-60  And while they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, Lord Jesus, receive and accept and  welcome my spirit! 60 And falling on his knees, he cried out loudly, Lord, fix not this sin upon them [lay it not to their charge]! And when he had said this, he fell asleep [in death].

 

            An even greater example to me is recorded in Romans 5:7-8 Amplified Bible (AMP) 7 Now it is an extraordinary thing for one to give his life even for an upright man, though perhaps for a noble and lovable and generous benefactor someone might even dare to die. 8 But God shows and clearly proves His [own] love for us by the fact that while we were still sinners, Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) died for us. Christ did more than pray for His enemies He died for them. What are you willing to do?

            b)        those that are known to have sinned the sin unto death. The WLC uses 1 John 5:16. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it,  to make its case. There are varying opinions on exactly what John meant when writing this. I tend to agree with Dr. John Gill on the matter:

There is a sin unto death; which is not only deserving of death, as every other sin is, but which certainly and inevitably issues in death in all that commit it, without exception; and that is the sin against the Holy Ghost, which is neither forgiven in this world nor in that to come, and therefore must be unto death; it is a sinning willfully, not in a practical, but doctrinal way, after a man has received the knowledge of the truth; it is a willful denial of the truth of the Gospel, particularly that peace, pardon, righteousness, eternal life, and salvation, are by Jesus Christ, contrary to the light of his mind, and this joined with malice and obstinacy; so that there is no more or other sacrifice for such a sin; there is nothing but a fearful looking for of wrath and fury to fall on such opposers of the way of life; and as the presumptuous sinners under Moses's law died without mercy, so must these despiteful ones under the Gospel; see Matthew 12:31. Some think there is an allusion to one of the kinds of excommunication among the Jews, called "shammatha", the etymology of which, according to some Jewish writers, is, "there is death" (t).

 

I do not say that he shall pray for it; the apostle does not expressly forbid to pray for the forgiveness of this sin, yet what he says amounts unto it; he gives no encouragement to it, or any hopes of succeeding, but rather the reverse; and indeed where this sin is known, or can be known, it is not to be prayed for, because it is irremissible; but as it is a most difficult point to know when a man has sinned it, the apostle expresses himself with great caution.

 

            As Dr. Gill points out I think this is in reference to Matt 12:31 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. John is relating that there are better things to pray for than those who have so hardened their hearts to the Gospel that there is little hope for them. Is that so called tough love, maybe? Yet if given the choice to pray for known needs of those listed prior and that of a blasphemer; well you get the idea.

 

            Along with people we are to pray for certain things also.

 

Q. 184. For what things are we to pray?

A. We are to pray for all things tending to the glory of God,[1178] the welfare of the church,[1179] our own[1180] or others, good;[1181] but not for anything that is unlawful.[1182]

 

            Again while this may seem obvious to all I think two areas are worth closer exam.

           

            a)        The Glory of God should be on our mind in all things especially in prayer. The Lord’s Prayer or Model Prayer as so insist, is the lasting example left by Jesus. Matthew 6:9. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Our prayers should acknowledge that God is worthy to be Hallowed or Glorified. It is not enough o just understand it it is important to express it.

 

            This is going to be a poor example but we are humans like being acknowledged to the accomplishments in life. Get an “A” on the exam and your teacher writes “excellent”. Finish your work ahead of schedule and the boss gives you a big at-a-boy. Well if sinful creatures such as us desire and deserve acknowledgement for the good we do how much more so does God?

 

            b)        …not for anything that is unlawful. Really do we need to go here, YES! for to many times today I hear Psalm 37:4 Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart misquoted and out of context. It should seem obvious that unlawful things (illegal, immoral, unethical) are not God honoring. Yet I hear folks all the time willing to bend the truth of the bible to meet their needs.

 

            Listen you cannot ask God for things that are out of His will for your life 1 John 5:14. And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us nor for things that do not glorify Him and expect results. That is foolish.

 

            I think this is a good place to stop for tonight. Next time we will continue with the last two things Nehemiah and we should do in prayer.

 

Until Next time

 

In HIS Service