Pulpit Today Sermon
Robert D. Pace
Our generation has a formula for whatever need confronts us: Seven Steps to Financial Freedom; The Thirty Minute Workout Guide; the Weight Watchers Diet; and 12 Steps for Recovery. You’ve heard the offers. And there’s nothing wrong with applying valid programs to improve your welfare. But for the Christian, there’s no such thing as a no-fail formula for spiritual success. God isn’t a Genie waiting for somebody to conjure with a verse from Scripture. The Bible isn’t a book of magical incantations that cause God to leap into action. However, there are religions that embrace such practices.
There are religions that teach God answers prayer when you bow and pray in a specific direction or when you wear a particular garment or when you repeat a skillfully formatted prayer. Perhaps orthodox Christians wouldn’t do these things, but we do come close to implementing similar designs to attract God’s attention. Let me give you some examples:
Somebody says: “If you’ll pray the Lord’s Prayer every day you’ll notice a dramatic difference in your life.” So when we awaken we rip through the prayer like we’re reciting the ABC’s. But for some reason, life doesn’t improve.
Then you’ve heard a well-meaning believer say, “God will answer prayer if you’ll find a specific Scripture that meets your need and stand on it until God answers your prayer.”
Someone else suggests, “If you want to keep Satan away then draw a blood-line against him and prohibit him from crossing it.”
I know some of you are shocked at the analogies I just used. Maybe you’re gasping for air! And that’s because these practices have become common among Christians. But before anybody runs out of the sanctuary, let me assure you that these practices are appropriate. In fact, I practice them. (1) Christians should pray the Lord’s Prayer on a regular basis. (2) It’s proper to invoke the Scriptures and stand firmly upon them. (3) It’s correct to proclaim the Blood of Jesus over your welfare. But there’s something we must understand:
(Insight) Our persuasion with God can never be reduced to a cold, stale formula! It has nothing to do with techniques or repeating spiritual refrains. Our persuasion with God resides in developing a personal relationship with Him.
(Transition) That leads me to the first point of this message. God wants a Dynamic Relationship with You!
God wants a Dynamic Relationship with You!
Have you wondered what made the First Century Christians successful? They were fearless before their foes, powerful in prayer, patient in afflictions, and filled with joy. Why was this so? Well, the Bible makes this answer clear.
The early disciples lived victoriously because they were filled with the Spirit and still connected to their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It didn’t matter that Christ had died on the Cross and ascended into Heaven. They were still connected to Him by the infilling of the Holy Spirit. They were talking with Jesus, walking with Jesus, and consequently, they were replicating the wondrous works of Jesus.
If this worked for early believers, it will work today. Jesus is waiting to take us by the hand and wholly give Himself to us. He wants us to have a dynamic relationship with Him.
That’s why Satan works to shift our focus from Jesus to something totally different. Something like . . . a spiritual-sounding formula . . . something vastly inferior to Jesus! You see, when Christians substitute a formula for fellowshipping with Jesus, the Kingdom dynamic is enervated. This is why Jesus couldn’t work through the Religious leaders of his day. Let me illustrate this:
(Example) God specifically chose the Jews to write the Scriptures. And no other people-group could have improved on that assignment. They wrote, read, and preserved the Scriptures with remarkable precision. For example, there was a group of Pharisees that prayed three times a day, fasted regularly, and observed the Sabbaths. They paid tithes and understood exactly how to perform worship at the Temple. But they were spiritually powerless and without any evidence of God’s presence upon them.
Why? It’s because their hearts weren’t right with God! They were stubborn and rebellious. These are the very people that should have ushered in the Kingdom of God and heralded Christ’s arrival; but they didn’t! Their problem was they assumed they could claim God’s blessings by ritualistic acts of the flesh. And even to this day, the Jews have never learned to live with God’s presence resting upon them. It’s all about ritual and acting out the Feasts.
But let’s not get too accusative, because we need to analyze ourselves. Could it be that many Christians are guilty of repeating the same mistake? It seems that many Christians/Churches have learned how to assemble, sing, pray, and worship, but without any perceptible presence of the Spirit filling the atmosphere. And this goes for all Christian denominations—from liberal to evangelical to Pentecostal.
Folks, God has designed the worship of Christians to occur from the inside out; not the outside in. It’s designed to flow from a pure heart.
(Illustration) Awhile back, I heard a nationally recognized preacher say something that seemed to be correct. The preacher said, “Radical worship produces the radical presence of God.” While that appears to be true; it is not! Let me illustrate what this statement implies: If Christians want to attract God’s presence during their worship, the answer comes by singing fervently or clapping loudly or engaging in something demonstrative. Now, again, let me explain the nuances: God is in favor of high-spirited worship. Exuberance and passion are Scripturally appropriate. But God never accepts worship, regardless of its style, while Christians live dishonestly, display wrong attitudes, and break God’s commands. Radical worship of this nature doesn’t please our Lord. I don’t doubt the sincerity of that preacher, but his statement was no more true than saying God will always expel demons or heal the sick if we will send out prayer cloths. It’s true that the apostle Paul sent out prayer cloths, but there’s no guarantee that demons will scatter just because we imitate his technique.
Here’s what Jesus said real worship involves in John 4: “They that worship God must do so in “spirit and truth.” It’s honest and sincere worship from the heart that pleases God and this is what ushers in his presence!
(Harbinger) The point of today’s message is this: Our spiritual victories don’t come through a precise and carefully executed strategy. God answers prayer, extends his blessing, and performs wonders because Believers are in a dynamic, faith-filled relationship with Him, not because somebody has figured out a formula.
(Transition) Let me explain why this is so, because maybe you’re thinking about times in the Bible when God did issue a strategy, or even a formula, to accomplish his purposes. For example:
God commanded Israel to march around Jericho for 7 days before he toppled the city. That sounds like a strategy!
The prophet Elijah commanded the Naaman the leper, to dip 7 times in the Jordan River to secure his healing.
Even Jesus spit in the dirt, pasted the mud onto a blind man, and told him to wash in the pool of Siloam in order to heal him. This too, sounds strategic!
The Bible tells the church to “anoint the sick with oil,” “lay hands on” the afflicted, and “lift holy hands” when we pray.
Then, there are Biblical precepts such as “the law of sowing and reaping” and “asking and receiving.”
Aren’t those formulas? Well, “Yes” and “No.” “Yes,” in the sense that they are strategies; but “No,” in the sense that the strategies elicit miracles. Again, the secret to what looks like a Biblically successful formula is that God uses a person that is in dynamic relationship with him. For example, let’s illustrate this by identifying some people from the Bible that seemed to use a formula to accomplish something incredible for God:
- Let’s first consider Moses. God gave Moses a Staff that helped him deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage. When he shook that staff gnats, frogs, and swarms of insects appeared. He held it over the Nile and that river turned to blood. He extended it over the Red Sea and the waters parted. But despite appearances, Moses’ staff wasn’t a magic wand! The miracles of Moses occurred because Moses spent time in God’s presence.
- Then there was the prophet Elisha. One miracle of Elisha involved purifying the bitter waters of Jericho. This is perhaps the most “formula” oriented miracle of Scripture. It unfolds in three steps:
First, Elisha needed a new bowl to work this miracle. Secondly, he then filled the bowl with salt; and thirdly, he threw the salt into a spring of bitter water. The Bible says from that time forth the waters of Jericho were healed. So there it is: a three-step prescription for purifying unclean water.
But it wasn’t a (1) new bowl, (2) filled with salt, (3) thrown into the spring that sweetened the waters. It was a man anointed by the Spirit who was listening and obeying God’s plan that worked the miracle!
(Example) In fact, there was a time when Elisha’s “formulistic” strategy failed to produce a miracle. It occurred when Elisha sent his servant, Gehazi, to resurrect a child. Elisha told Gehazi to (1) take his staff, (2) hasten to the boy’s home, and (3) press the staff on the boy’s head. But when Gehazi precisely executed his master’s strategy nothing happened! The boy didn’t flinch!
I can see Gehazi struggling to perform this miracle. He ran as fast as possible to the boy’s house, crashed through the front door, dashed up the stairs; and then pushed the staff time and again against the boy’s cold head. But all his efforts were useless! Perhaps Gehazi invoked a command: “Rise up, son! I’m doing what my master commanded. Arise!” But nothing happened.
You see, a formula couldn’t raise the boy from the dead. It would take Elisha—a man filled with God’s presence and power—to work the miracle. And when you study Gehazi’s character you learn he was filled with greed, selfishness, and rebellion. Always remember that God’s utmost desire is to fulfill his plan through people with pure hearts.
Notice how God scolded Israel in Isaiah 29:13. “This people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.”
- Before I leave this point let’s look at David. There were times that David conquered Philistines because he explicitly obeyed God’s tactical instructions. But again, it wasn’t the strategy itself that brought victory. The secret to David’s success is found in our opening text. Psalm 16:7-8 says: “I will bless the Lord who has counseled me; indeed, my mind instructs me in the night. (8) [Here’s the key] I have set the Lord continually before me; [and] because he is at my right hand I will not be shaken.”
When the Lord is continually before you, even “at your right hand,” you won’t be easily shaken. He will instruct you and bring victory. God may use a “course of action” to elicit a victory, but it only succeeds as you are connected to Jesus. Remove Jesus and it’s sure to fail! That’s why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:57, “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(Transition) Since this is the case, our ambition should be to spend time with Jesus and, like David, “set the Lord continually before” us. But how do we “set the Lord before” us?
Seek the Presence of God
I believe many Christians want to live like David. They want to sense the weight of his presence upon them, but they don’t know how. And it isn’t easy, because it takes conscious, deliberate action to “set the Lord before you” and walk with him.
In essence, here’s what it involves: You need to spend time with Jesus in prayer, stay “filled with the Spirit,” and then read and obey his Word. That’s it! And when you do this his presence will grow larger and you’ll know he surrounds you.
Do you think Adam experienced a tangible weight of God’s presence after fellowshipping with Him in the Garden? Yes.
I believed Abraham was overwhelmed with a sense of awe when God appeared to him that night and passed between the sacrifice with his fiery presence.
Don’t you think Moses felt the weight of God’s presence when God met with him in the Tent of Meeting and walked with him forty days atop Mount Sinai?
And what about the Apostles with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration? Don’t you think a wondrous “Heavenly Witness” settled upon them?
This is what I want to experience! But be assured there is a price to pay! In order to live in God’s presence you have to go where he dwells. You don’t ask Him to come where you are or try to meet Him halfway. You go where God dwells!
Do you remember God’s dwelling-places in the Bible?
Exodus says God dwelled in the Tabernacle when Israel journeyed through the wilderness.
2 Samuel says he dwells between Cherubim (33:5).
Isaiah says he dwells in a high and holy place (33:5).
And Psalms says God abides in the Temple (27).
But God has another dwelling-place, and it’s unlike any other. It’s a place where his presence descends like the dew of heaven descends upon the earth. This place is a garden. And if you want a real experience with God you need to find this garden.
Adam and Jesus both understood this. That’s why they spent time in the Garden. But don’t expect anything to happen quickly, because it’s a place where God’s presence surrounds you slowly. The Garden of Prayer has to be treated differently than other places of prayer because it’s a special place.
(Illustration) If you’ve ever visited a Garden in early evening you know its foliage is dry and the grass can be brittle. But at twilight the stars begin casting their light and throughout the night slow, but certain changes occur. All night long the garden gathers moisture. And as the night drifts toward daylight you know by sunrise the plants literally drip with wetness. The dew has slowly left evidence of its presence. You can see how that resembles the Garden of Prayer. When you arrive at your Garden of Prayer it’s dry and brittle. But you take time and linger. It’s not a Camp Meeting atmosphere or a place where you rattle off a list of requests and then bolt out toward your busy schedule. You worship, wait, and listen. And as you linger, the world quietens and God’s voice gets clearer. Time passes, and you sense something beginning to rest upon your soul. And as you linger a little longer the atmosphere thickens. Now you know God is there. He’s descended upon you like the dew, and you’ve experienced Him.
The problem is many people aren’t patient in prayer and they leave the Prayer Garden the way they enter it—dry and brittle. But there is a secluded place of prayer that offers something that the world cannot match—and it’s God himself! Deuteronomy 4:29 says, “you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find [him] if you search for him with all your heart and all your soul.”
The Bible is clear: triumphant Christian living and our “formula for success” flow out of a living, communing relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Start seeking to live in his presence today!