TRA 30th November 2003
THE PROMISE OF PRAYERFUL ACCOMPLISHMENT
One year ago this week, two American passenger planes, loaded with unsuspecting passengers, ploughed into the World Trade Centre in New York, an-other into the Pentagon in Washington, while another was forced to crash after passengers wrestled with the hijackers. A new era of terrorism had begun in Western Countries. This was a war without rules where women, children and civilians were to be the prime targets. It was not a nation against a nation war, but an international network of terrorists against multi-national corporations and the symbols of their power. The object was not to destroy fortifications and arsenals but the morale of its citizens. It was a war that used not their own bombs and tanks but the other country's own infrastructure of transportation, aircraft and pilots.
From the very first moment, people prayed the attack would not happen, or if it did it would be limited, and if not, that their own loved ones would be safe. In most of these cases the attack did happened, it was horrific and many loved ones perished. Where now is our belief in prayer? Have you prayed for something and had no response? Have you prayed for something and had a response? Have you been surprised when God has not answered prayer, and equally surprised when He has? Have you wondered why He answers some prayers and not others? Do you wonder why it is that God sometimes says, "Yes," sometimes "No" and sometimes "Later on?" What is the secret behind prayerful accomplishment? Why do some people seem to accomplish so much through prayer?
Many will testify to the power of answered prayer. We need no other affirmation of God's presence and His care if our prayers are answered. Yet there are times when we have prayed and the answer has been "No", or "Not yet, wait a while." Why does God not answer all of our prayers according to our asking? If you do not believe in Jesus Christ, you have no problem with unanswered prayer, for there is no one to answer your prayer. If you are not a believer, then life is a matter of good luck or bad luck, fate or blind chance. What happens is fate; you cannot help it, or change it.
But once you believe, once you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and read in the Scriptures that Jesus promises to hear your prayers and answer them, then there is a problem created by His own promise. God said, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14
That is a promise of God to hear the prayers of His people and to respond to them with healing for their nation. Is this a prayer promise for Australia today? There are many in Australia who pray, yet we know that our land is not healed. We have massive unemployment, alcoholism, drought devastating our farmers and much poverty. Aborigines are seeking their identity and their rights. There are more people now with deeper troubles than I have known in all my experience as a minister. Why does not God answer the prayers of those people? Yet many of us have had prayers answered so convincingly that we commit ourselves to praying with confidence.
Before every service begins here, faithful men and women gather to pray for the preaching of the Word. We have known answered prayer. We have confidence in prayer, even though some prayers are answered with a "No" or a "Later". So the conflict remains, between the asking and receiving; and between the asking and not receiving! What is the answer?
Part of the answer is in the relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ, His Son. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." John 14:6,7 In affirming His relationship with the Father, Jesus offers to us the privilege of knowing the Father through Him. Philip was not yet convinced, but if he looked with eyes of faith he would see that Jesus and the Father are one. This relationship established the reality of prayer. "Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth; anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." John 14:11-12 Jesus promises to answer our prayers. It is a fundamental part of both the Jewish and Christian religions. We have a God who cares for us, who intervenes in the affairs of humanity, and who asks us to request Him for our every need. He is willing to hear and the answer. We must be willing to ask in faith, believing, and even to give thanks for the answered prayer before we see the answer. That requires much from God the provider, but also much from us the supplicants.
1. OUR LORD'S INVITATION.
Here is the climactic word about prayer: "I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." John 14:13,14 In that promise He gives; there is the Lord's invitation, "whatever you ask in my name." "Ask" is a significant word. Why does Jesus say, "Ask Me?" We know some people do not ask when they should. Students need to know and teachers are willing to tell, but many students do not ask their teachers. Some have an illness and fear the worst. Their doctor is available to advise them, but they are afraid to ask. Folk with financial problems are told where they can receive help, but they do not ask for help. Sir Keith Campbell, who headed the Campbell Inquiry into Australian Financial Institutions, spoke with me about our work of Credit Line. He said, "There is one thing that puzzles me. The Government provides many information sharing services, but why is it that people with tax and finance problems do not go to those Government centres?" Maybe people are afraid to go to Government centres, or they operate only in Public Service hours.
Jesus urges us to ask God for what we need. For example, "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." Matthew 21:22 "Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." Mark 11:24 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives." Luke 11:8-10 "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you." John 15:7 The four gospel writers all report the same thing. Paul says: "ask God for what you need." Philippians 4:6 We must ask.
2. OUR LORD'S CONDITION.
The Lord lays down one condition. We can ask for anything, but it must be asked "in My name." When Jesus says, "You can ask anything.." that means anything! When Martin Luther was examining the Lord's Prayer, speaking of the word, "Give us this day our daily bread", he said that the Lord was using "bread as a symbol for everything that is necessary for the provision of this life, such as food, a healthy body, good weather, a house, a home, a wife, or children, or good government, or peace on earth." That prayer of Jesus taught us how to pray: "Give us …daily bread," "Forgive us our trespasses," and "Deliver" cover our material, physical, spiritual, and moral needs, and also the needs of others. It means that we can pray for the poor, the unemployed, the sick, the dispossessed, the refugee and the lonely. It means that we can pray for the Governments of our country.
There are many Bible examples of prayer being offered for material needs. During this drought, the worst this country has known, many others, and I pray daily for rain. We pray for the families on the land, distressed by the drought. Jesus says, "Whatever you ask in My name" is the condition. What does it mean to ask in His name? There are, in fact, three conditions given to us concerning prayer. One is that we should ask in His name. The second is that we should pray according to His will. The third is that we should pray in faith, believing. To pray "in His name", means to pray with faith, in line with the will of God, believing that God will hear and answer our prayer. This positive expectation allows God to use us in ways beyond our imagining to answer our own prayers.
3. OUR LORD'S ANSWER.
There are, inevitably, conflicts of interests when prayer is offered by separate persons for different needs. How does the Lord deal with such problems? Perhaps by answering immediately the prayer of one and later, answering the prayer of the other. Perhaps by saying, "Yes," to one and "No" to the other because He has a higher purpose for the one whose prayer is not answered. John Wesley prayed that God would bless his missionary endeavours in Georgia, in America. God said "No" to that prayer. A failure, he went home to England. The response to his prayer was "No" because God did not want him to become a missionary in the new land of Georgia, but an evangelist in the most powerful empire in the world.
Adoniram Judson wanted to go to India as a missionary, but God said, "No" in order that Judson might serve in Burma where he became a legend in the history of missions. Paul wanted to go to Bithynia but God said "No". Instead God opened for Paul the door to Europe, and through that door the Christian church flowed from Asia. When God says "No" to our prayers we are still able to pray with confidence, believing, knowing that His answer is ultimately for the best. Once, in Queensland I was guest speaker at the Premier's Breakfast for many visitors to the Commonwealth Games. Some people came to the then Premier to ask for his autograph. Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen took the autograph book, wrote something in it and signed it. He said to me, "I always write the same thing when people ask for my autograph. I write the words of Tennyson, 'More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.' Joh Bjelike-Petersen."
God hears our prayers and answers them. "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of Him." 1 John 5:14,15
"I know not by what methods rare,
But this I know: God answers prayer.
I know that He has given His word
That tells me prayer is always heard,
And will be answered soon or late -
And so I pray and calmly wait.
I know not if the blessing sought
Will come in just the way I thought,
But leave my prayers with Him alone
Whose will is wiser than my own,
Assured that He will grant my quest
Or send some answer far more blest."
Eliza M. Hickok
"I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." John 14:13,14 Great things are accomplished by those who ask the Father according to His name, in His will, and by a believing and grateful person. We have the example of the Lord Jesus praying like this. That is what he taught us, and for many the years of experience show that the promise of prayerful accomplishment is a promise that still holds true. Find that relationship with God through your faith in Christ, so that prayer becomes as natural as breathing for you and just as beneficial.
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