Pray!

22nd Sunday after Pentecost

Pray!

Text:  1 John 5:13-15

Intro

Wow!  That was awesome.  Were you paying attention?  Did you follow closely with the words?  It’s worth looking at again.  Hymn 443:

                  Rejoice, my heart, be glad and sing; a cheerful trust maintain,

                  For God, the source of everything, your treasure shall remain.

 

                  Why spend the day in blank despair, in restless thought the night?

                  On your Creator cast your care; He makes your burdens light.

 

                  Did not his love and truth and power guard every childhood day?

                  And did he not in threatening hour turn dreaded ills away?

 

                  He always will with patience chide; His rod falls gently down,

                  And all your sins he casts aside in ocean depths to drown.

 

                  His wisdom never plans in vain nor falters nor mistakes;

                  All that his counsels did ordain a happy ending makes.

                 

                  Upon your lips, then, lay your hand, and trust his guiding love;

                  Then like a rock your peace shall stand here and in heaven above. 

Absolutely incredible!  How does one do that?  How do you get to the point where your heart rejoices and is glad and sings and maintains a cheerful trust?  On your Creator cast your care; he makes your burdens light.  If only it was that easy!  If only I could trust that his wisdom never plans in vain nor falters nor mistakes and all that his counsels did ordain a happy ending makes.  How do I get to the point that I can trust his guiding love and have peace like a rock here and in heaven above?

Beautiful words!  They are more incredible when you know the context of who wrote them.  I’ve shared the story of Paul Gerhardt once or twice before.  This pastor in the mid 1600s went for many years without a job.  Not many churches were interested in the truth of God’s Word that he was preaching.  He was chased out of several towns.  He was very poor at times.  His wife died and four of his five children died.  Yet Pastor Paul Gerhardt could smile through the tears and still write Rejoice, my heart, be glad and sing; a cheerful trust maintain, for God, the source of everything, your treasure shall remain.

How inspiring!  But oh, how difficult!  Trust like that is the last thing my heart wants to do.  I want something solid to stand on.  I want something I can see and believe.  I want results.  I don’t want sickness.  I don’t want big doctor bills and a host of tests.  I don’t want stress.  I don’t want heartache.  I don’t want tragedy.  I don’t want death.  I . . . I . . . I . . .

There is a recurring theme there.  I want this and I want that.  I don’t want this and I don’t want that.  So when things start to stray from “my” plans, I start to have problems.  I don’t know where to go and I don’t know what to do.  I think God will help me.  I like to say God will help me.  I go to church and pray that God will help me.  But will God help me?  Will God even hear me?

Then I begin to think about everything in my life.  Is this happening to me because I’ve done something wrong?  Is God punishing me?  I guess I have done a lot of wrong.  More than I like to think about.  When I get tunnel vision with a laser focus on “me” and “my life,” is when I start to go astray.  That’s when I get angry that things don’t go my way.  That’s when I get angry with other people.  That’s when I get angry with God.  That’s when I lose confidence in God.  That’s when I wonder if it is really worth it to say those prayers at night, to fold my hands and bow my head in church.  Is it really worth it to come to church?  Is it really worth it to trust in a God who never seems to let things go “my” way?

Pastor Gerhardt would give a resounding “Yes!”  We all suffer in very stressful and serious ways in life.  But could we really compare to being persecuted, being without work, being poor, losing a spouse early to death and burying four out of five children?  Yet his confidence remained solid.  Why?

Pastor Gerhardt had perspective.  He wrote about our heavenly Father’s tender work in our lives in stanza four:  He always will with patience chide; his rod falls gently down, and all your sins he casts aside in ocean depths to drown.

How could his heart rejoice, be glad, and sing amid such tragedy?  How could he maintain a cheerful trust that God would hear his prayers?  How could he have this rock-like peace that could not be shaken?  He knew that since his heavenly Father lovingly forgave all his sins, his heavenly Father would also tenderly listen to his prayers.  So he had all the confidence in the world that God would hear his prayers.

This is exactly what we heard about earlier in worship today.  We saw Jacob refuse to let go of the Lord—literally wrestling with him—until he received a blessing.  Then Jesus told the interesting parable about the widow who refused to leave alone the cold, heartless, heathen judge until he finally gave in and gave justice.  So how do we get to that point of faith?  How do we get to the point that we can be so confident in our trust of God that we can wrestle with him in prayer, refusing to give up until he answers?

The apostle John has that answer in the second lesson today.  They are only three short verses, but these few words speak volumes about our God and our relationship with him.

I.

First he says this:  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”  John had a specific purpose in writing this first letter of his.  He wanted to strengthen the faith of those who believe in the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  He wanted his readers to know that they have eternal life.

So just before this John wrote about who Jesus is—true God and true man come to save us from our sins.  In the chapter before this he explains exactly how he did save us.  This is love:  not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  You could summarize this whole letter of John with one word—love.  Over and over again he mentions love.  He is even the one who famously said, God is love.”  And God showed his love by coming to this world to die for all our sins.  By his forgiveness, he adopted us into his family as his own children.

My children are never afraid to ask for anything.  Most parents could probably say the same.  Sometimes I feel like my day is nothing but a repeated refrain of:  “Daddy, can I . . . may I . . . will you . . . why won’t you . . . when can I . . . but why not . . . can we soon . . . please?”

We parents smile and shake our heads at times, but you know, I don’t think I would have it any other way.  My children absolutely positively know that I love them.  There is no doubt in their mind.  No matter what they do, or how many timeouts they sit in, or how much discipline is levied, they know that at the end of the day I forgive them, I love them, and I will listen to them.  They love me for that and are glad to ask me for things or for help any time of any day (whether they know that privilege or not).

This is true with our heavenly Father.  John is writing to us today so that we know with sure faith that we have eternal life.  No matter what we do, no matter how many times we slip up or stray, no matter how deeply sinful we have been, at the end of the day we know that our heavenly Father has forgiven us, loves us, and will listen to us.  At any time of any day in any amount of trouble (or even in no trouble) we know that if God loved us enough to forgive us, then he loves us enough to listen to us.  So Pray!  Pray with faith in your heavenly Father who will listen to his dear children.

II.

There are more reasons to be bold and persistent in our prayers to our heavenly Father.  The second verse, verse 14:  This is the confidence we have in approaching God:  that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

Here we have a great fork in the road when it comes to prayers.  On the left are prayers according to my will.  I love to pray those prayers.  “Lord, please let this scratch off ticket hit it big.  Lord, I made all the deadlines—make the Publisher’s Clearing House show up tomorrow at my door.  Lord, I promise I would finally be happy if I finally got this raise.  Lord, I’m not asking for much.  I just want my bills paid off.”

The amazing thing is that God is so loving and forgiving of our selfishness, that he even tolerates these prayers.  But much better with this fork in the road is to walk down the road to the right.  These are prayers that are according to his will.  We have God’s promise that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

When you pray for strength under hardship, God always hears you.  When you pray for patience instead of anger, God always hears you.  When you pray for wisdom in making decisions, God always hears you.  When you pray for healing from sickness, disease, or cancer if God thinks that is best, God always hears you.  When you pray for guidance through this life—not the golden ticket easy way out, but guidance through this difficult life—God always hears you.

Not only do my children relish and cherish that I am their father but they also, because of that relationship, have full confidence to ask me anything.  They will ask me to go to Disney World (They tend to ask me this a lot.).  They will ask me for video games or new dollies.  They will ask me for food when they are hungry.  They will ask me for a hug when they are crying.

The Disney World visits and the Nintendo Wii video games and La La Loopsy toys are a little much, and not really in line with my will for them.  But I am loving enough to let them enjoy these things now and then.  But giving them food, protecting them, comforting them, strengthening them, raising them—these things are in line with my will.  I always listen to their requests.  But only the things in line with my will do I answer right away.

This is true with our heavenly Father.  Our Father loves us so much that he will listen to all of our requests.  We can be bold in what we ask.  But, This is the confidence we have in approaching God:  that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  We know that when we do ask for things in line with his will he will always hear and answer.  So Pray!  Pray with confidence that God loves you and God hears you.

III.

One final reason to be bold and persistent in prayer in verse 15:  And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”

Here we find another great fork in the road when it comes to prayers.  We have taken the road to the right and we have prayed according to his will.  Now comes a second fork.  On the left is a bumpy road.  It’s a road of uncertainty.  We aren’t sure where it is going.  We aren’t sure where it is leading.  We aren’t sure we are on the right path.  That’s because we aren’t sure God will follow through and answer our prayers.

But on the right is a much smoother road.  It looks nicer.  It’s straighter.  But it almost looks too good to be true.  “Come on!  Simply trust?  Trust that God will answer?  How?  Why?  When?”

Yet this is the road we can and will walk down for all the reasons John already mentioned.  Note the very clear progression of thought in these verses.  1) We can know with sure faith that we have eternal life.  2) Because God loves us we can have confidence in approaching him.  Now 3) Because God loves us and allows us to approach him with confidence, we can trust with confidence that he will give what we ask.

I don’t think my children have ever doubted—not even once in their lives—that I would properly feed them to sustain their lives.  They may get growling tummies at times, but I have never failed to provide them with food.  I don’t think they have ever doubted that I would give them proper shelter and proper clothing for life.  I don’t think my children have every doubted—not even once—that I would do everything in my power to show my love in everything I do.

Now sometimes they may selfishly lose focus.  Sometimes they may grumble and complain.  Sometimes they may want something different for their lives than what I want.  But in the end they know that when they ask me for the necessities of life according to my will—food, clothes, comfort, attention, love—they always trust I will give them these things.  And usually they trust that even the things they don’t like I’m doing for their good.

This is true with our heavenly Father.  We don’t ever need to doubt that God will give us what we ask according to his will.  We don’t ever need to doubt that God will give us this day our daily bread.  We don’t ever need to doubt that God will forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  We don’t ever need to doubt that God will give us patience or strength or wisdom when we ask for it.  If God loved us enough to forgive us, and then loves us enough to listen to us the we can know that we have what we asked of him.”  So Pray!  Pray with trust that God loves you, God hears you, and God will answer you!

Conclusion

I don’t think I can possibly fathom the tragedy that some people in life have endured.  I think again of Pastor Paul Gerhardt as a great example.  Lost job.  Lost wife.  Lost children.  We may not have such tragedies in our lives.  But we will have plenty of our own.  That is to be expected this side of heaven.

So wrestle.  Wrestle with your God in prayer.  Wrestle like a little child wrestling with his father, confident that his father will be gentle and sometimes will even let him win.

Dear children of God, your heavenly Father is more than gentle.  He is compassionate, loving, and forgiving.  He will always hear you.  He will always answer you.  You may not always know how or when or why, but you can know with absolutely confidence and trust that he hears and answers.

                  Rejoice, my heart, be glad and sing; a cheerful trust maintain,

                  For God, the source of everything, your treasure shall remain.

                  Upon your lips, then, lay your hand, and trust his guiding love;

                  Then like a rock your peace shall stand here and in heaven above.

AMEN

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About Pastor Phil Huebner

Pastor. Missionary. Principal. Husband. Father. Serving in love as each. http://www.ctkpalmcoast.com

Posted on October 22, 2013, in Church, Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Tremendous words of encouragement along with an inspiring example from Pastor Gerhardt. Thank you.

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