PULPIT TODAY SERMONS
Robert D. Pace
What was true about Jesus 2000 years ago is still true today. The closer you scrutinize Him the more impressive He appears. That cannot be said about anyone other than Christ because the closer you investigate mortal men the more evident their flaws become. But Jesus is distinguished from others because He was perfect at every point!
He was spiritual but not weird.
He was merciful but not permissive; forgiving people regardless of their sin but warning them to repent and live righteously.
He was authoritative but not oppressive.
He was contemporary yet closely connected to God.
He was cultured but humble.
Everything about Him was perfect.
Some people would assert that the obvious reason Jesus was perfect is because He was the divine Son of God. That’s true, but the mystery of the incarnation reveals He was not only the Son of God, He was the Son of Man. And the reason the eternal Son of God assumed human flesh and appeared as Mary’s child is so He could fully identify with our weaknesses. Christ’s birth as a man-child would provide humanity the perfect Example for living. And the apostles, His closest companions, were those most impressed.
They noticed how He confounded the Pharisees, calmed the storms, healed the sick, and dismissed demons with a word. After awhile, the Apostles discovered the secret to Christ’s success and miracles:
They noticed that He retired to the mountains . . . to pray.
They noticed that He escaped to the desert . . . to pray.
They noticed that He repeatedly visited the Garden of Gethsemane (one of his favorite places)v. . . to pray (John 18:2).
This is once that the apostles got it right. They actually perceived a connection between prayer and triumphant living. So in Matthew 6, the apostles hovered around Jesus and made perhaps their greatest petition. In essence they said: “Lord, we get the message. We see your miracles and wonders. We understand the secret to your favor with God. Lord, teach us to pray so that we can claim God’s blessing”!
What most Christians have discovered about praying is this: there are times when their praying is terribly ineffective and disappointing. On other occasions, their praying is rewarded and satisfying. Praying is like many other aspects of life: it is filled with peaks and valleys! There are times when we pray for weeks and even months without sensing a glimmer of hope. And yet there are times we merely breathe a word and receive an immediate answer.
(Illustration) I recall my grandfather lying in bed one evening with an aching foot. With nothing more than a simple prayer I stood at his bedside and said: “Lord, heal his foot in Jesus’ Name.” That was it. And he was instantly healed! On another occasion I recall my mother having an insufferable migraine. As we talked by phone we paused to pray and before hanging up she testified to being completely healed!
It’s wonderful when prayers are answered like that. And yet we all know what it’s like to pray when heaven seems padlocked. Despite our pleas and pressure we put on God, there might as well be a sign outside the prayer closet that reads: “God unavailable; angels discharged; miracles depleted; seek God later”!
I don’t understand why God seemingly ignores crucial prayers and leaves us hanging when we desperately need Him. But here’s what I do know: God is always good and He is infinitely wise. That means regardless of how deep the pain or desperate the need, God goodness and wisdom will treat our praying with the highest respect.
(Transition) But this isn’t a message that deals with the Mystery of Prayer, this is a message about, Prayer that Works! One type of prayer that works is, “Praying the Word.”
I. “Praying the Word” Works!
Praying the Word is more than thumbing the edges of Scripture and groping for a promise. It’s more than flipping open the Bible, like “Bible Lottery,” and pulling out a winning verse. Praying the Word is much more disciplined than that. Let me explain what I mean:
“Praying the Word” is when we take time to pray the Psalms or a passage from Scripture.
“Praying the Word” works when the Holy Spirit “quickens” a passage of Scripture.
Christians can “pray the Word” after hearing a sermon or teaching that God uses to enlighten our understanding.
As the Son of Man, Jesus illustrated how we should “pray the Word.” I know He didn’t walk around with parchments of Scripture because He was the “Word made flesh.” But as our Example, He prayed what the Father revealed to Him to pray. Let me show you.
Jesus said in John 14:24, “These words you hear [from Me] are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” That meant the Holy Spirit inspired His every utterance—His dialogue, His sermonizing, and His praying. God answered Christ’s prayers because He listened to the Spirit and prayed according to His Father’s will. And you can too! There are times when the Holy Spirit will direct you to claim a verse of Scripture or inspire you with a prophetic impression. That’s the time to pray according to the Lord’s leading!
(Transition) I want to investigate a man in the Old Testament that prayed the Word. It’s an obscure passage that illustrates the blessing God reserves for those that pray His Word. Turn to 1 Chronicles 4:10.
The Prayer of Jabez
“Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.”
A casual observance of this prayer makes it appear as a selfish “bless me” prayer. But after analyzing it, you will discover Jabez exercised incredible discernment. This is a twenty-nine-word prayer extracted directly from Abraham’s promises. And it reveals that a “bless-me” prayer is appropriate when it’s aligned with Scripture! Look once again: “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” One scholar suggested that this prayer was likely uttered during Joshua’s conquest of Canaan. If so, Jabez merely exercised His divine entitlement to claim his inheritance! He merely seized Abraham’s promise. Jabez was authorized to pray this!
(Example) Suppose a wealthy relative died and willed you 100 acres of prime real estate along with $1,000,000. Let’s say the court quickly disbursed the money but wouldn’t transfer the real estate deed. In order not to appear selfish would you accept the court’s decision but forgo the prime acreage that would add millions to your inheritance? No! You would seek to claim your entire inheritance.
Jabez acted similarly. Over forty years earlier, when Moses delivered Israel from Pharaoh, Jabez’s ancestors plundered the Egyptians of silver and gold (Exodus 3:21-22). But Jabez wasn’t content with a sack full of cash. As a descendent of Abraham, Jabez wanted to seize God’s territorial promises. He wanted everything God had ordained—including the real estate. And this is what God wanted for Jabez too.
I want to ask you a question: Are you hesitant to ask God for something that is rightfully yours? Are you reluctant to demand a blessing that God has promised? James 4 says: “You have not because you ask not.”
God has the power of the Holy Spirit available. Have you claimed it?
Jesus said: “Pray that you do not enter into temptation.” Are you praying for God’s sovereign protection against sin and evil?
Are you praying for the salvation and protection of your family?
There’s a reason God inspired His Prophets to record His promises. It’s because He wanted them claimed! One scholar notes that God has inspired 1500 promises in the Bible—promises of salvation, healing, deliverance, restoration, blessing, and whatever is needed. And there is a key to receiving from God. You must remember that God does not dispense His promises based on your need. In many cases, Christians secure God’s promises when they approach Him in prayer and faith and claim them. In other words, God makes the promise, but it’s our duty to point at it and say, “Yes and amen. In Jesus’ Name” (2 Corinthians 1:20). This is what Jabez did! He simply prayed a Word-centered prayer and received His blessing.
(Transition) First, God answers Word-centered praying. But God also honors another means of praying. God looks for those that pray fervently and earnestly.
II. Earnest Praying Works!
Have you ever investigated Christ’s prayer life? What is your picture Christ praying? Do you realize that Jesus prayed fervent, passionate, vociferous prayers? We don’t necessarily imagine Jesus praying this way, but it was His exact practice. The typical picture of Christ in prayer probably portrays Him addressing His Father in soft, mellow tones that wouldn’t disturb anyone. But notice how Hebrews described Christ’s praying: Hebrews 5:7 describes the praying of Christ, our Example: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”
This is how we should approach God and petition Him. We should intercede for the lost with desperate passion. We should intercede for the persecuted church and those that are suffering with fervency. Passionate praying touches God’s heart!
(Quote) John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress, said this: “When thou prayest, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words without heart.” John Bunyan understood that Heaven was under no compulsion to answer cold, perfunctory, complacent prayer. He understood that Heaven could be set in motion by fervent, hot-hearted, passionate praying.
Saints of God, the Bible says God is a “consuming fire.” How can the God of fire respond to ice-cold prayers?
When Elijah sought God for rain he was so determined to break the three and a half-year drought Scripture says he bowed to the ground and tucked his head between his knees. And he repeated his prayer seven times before a cloud was spotted and the rain descended (1 Kings 18:41-46).
Simon Peter’s miraculous, angelic release from prison occurred after the Church gathered and prayed with impassioned determination (Acts 12:1-5).
Psalm 102:19 says, “The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, (20) to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.”
You will discover one immutable quality when you analyze the praying of Moses, Paul, Elijah, or Christ. They prayed fervently. Consequently, God answered their prayers. And this type praying works today.
(Transition) Thirdly, prayer that works is prayer that’s aimed toward the ministry.
III. Ministry-Directed Prayer Works!
The apostle Paul was well-aware of this concept. That’s why he constantly recruited intercessors for his ministry. Notice how Paul encouraged Christians to pray for his ministry:
Ephesians 6:19 says: “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.”
Romans 15:31 says: “Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there.”
2 Thessalonians 3:1 says: “Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.”
Colossians 4:3 says: “pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. (4) Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.”
Paul understood the force of prayer! That’s why he urged fellow Christians to pray for him. He knew prayer empowered ministry, brought conviction to sinners, and opened doors for the Kingdom of God. Ministry and Kingdom successes do not occur because the preacher preaches or the worker works. The Holy Spirit set the pattern in the book of Acts. When Christians pray the ministry succeeds!
(Example) This is one reason the Billy Graham Crusades were so successful. Throughout the years, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Organization began prayer for its citywide crusades more than a year in advance. Here’s what Billy Graham said about a Crusade in California:
“The secret of each crusade has been the power of God’s Holy Spirit moving in answer to the prayer of millions of his people around the world. If we did not believe that there would be this same prayer support for the Northern California Crusade, we would not dare to attempt it. We are depending on your prayer support.” Now I have a question: How can the Church attempt any ministry without being mighty in prayer? Jesus said: “My house shall be called a “House of Prayer” for all nations.”
Let’s close by looking at Revelation 3. Here John envisions the resurrected Lord, triumphant over every dominion and possessing the keys of death and hell. That’s when Jesus announces: “These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open” (7-8).
What a picture—our sovereign Lord opening and shutting doors at will. But why don’t we see more doors of opportunity opened for churches today? It is because Jesus Christ has chosen to cooperate with Christians. And when Christians unite in prayer for the Gospel, God will sovereignly open doors of blessing.
“Men ought always to pray”!