Welcome to part two of our series “Pray!” as we look at “What Really Matters” to God when we pray. Isn’t that an important question? You know, we all want to live the abundant life that Jesus promised us, living as more than conquerors, and living victoriously in the promises of God. And yet we find that so many of us are disillusioned as we come to faith in Christ thinking that all of our problems will be solved, every mountain will be leveled, and all those things that once challenged us will be a thing of the past. Yet the reality is that mountains are a fact of life. As you consider your life, looking back, you can recognize a series of mountain peaks and valleys, struggles and successes, and with each success the mountains only seem to get bigger. But for the believer, for the follower of Christ, those mountains may get bigger, but your faith gets bigger too. And so as you grow in the Christian life your faith increases in the word of God and even the biggest mountain is no match for the word spoken in faith.
If you have your Bible turn to Mark chapter 11 as we look at one of Jesus most popular sayings. The context was just days before his death and resurrection, Jesus and his disciples had passed a fig tree on the road that appeared to have fruit but didn’t, so Jesus spoke to the tree and said, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”
The next day, Jesus and his disciples passed the same place in the road and they noticed that the tree had withered. Peter remembering the words of Jesus just the day before said, “Rabbi look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” Now Jesus response is the focus of this message as we consider “What Really Matters!” Let’s read together at verse 22.
22 "Have faith in God," Jesus answered. 23 "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” NIV
Now in Jesus day, just like today, a mountain was symbolic for a problem and so what Jesus was telling his disciples was that there wasn’t any problem in this world equal to the power of God. “Have faith in God” he says, because faith moves mountains. Mountains of debt. Mountains of guilt. Mountains of sickness. Mountains of conflict. Mountains of addiction. Mountains of regret. Just name your mountain and it can be moved through the power of God at work in you.
Yet I wonder how many of you at some point prayed earnestly for someone you love to be healed. You had faith, you believed God, and you prayed and he didn’t. Some of you, you might have prayed that God would save and heal your marriage and he didn’t. Some of you might have prayed that someone you love would have an encounter with Christ and it seems like the harder you prayed the farther they get from God. You prayed for that mountain and you wonder, “Why isn’t God answering my prayer the way I thought that he should?” That’s what we are going to look at today as we consider “What Really Matters” to God as we pray?
And so we’re just going to go step-by-step kind of like we’re troubleshooting. I suppose that everybody here has bought something that came with an instruction manual and in that manual there’s a section called troubleshooting. It’s usually in the back and in that section it tells you what to do if your electric blender, your phone, your Blu-ray player or your TV set is not working right. And they list the problem and the possible solutions. And so as we consider What Really Matters to God as we pray, we’re going to look at five things that really matter. Kind of like your troubleshooting guide: you know, make sure it’s plugged in, make sure it’s turned on, and so the first thing we need to understand is that our relationships matter to God.
It matters to God how you treat one another. You know, are you forgiving, are you loving, and are your relationships with others healthy? As a matter of fact that’s what Jesus said if we kept on reading in verse 25. Mark chapter 11 verse 25 says, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins" (Mark 11:25). And so Jesus makes it very clear that when you’re praying your relationships with others matter.
If you want to block the power of God from working in your life, the fastest way to do it is to refuse to forgive others. Jesus makes it very clear that there is an unbreakable connection between the forgiveness you’ve received, the forgiveness you extend to others, and the likelihood of mountain moving prayers. Yet many people kid themselves into thinking that they can experience the fullness of God’s grace without extending it to anybody else. However the Scriptures are very clear, 1 John 4:20 tells us, “If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar.” Yet many people carry bitterness and unforgiveness in their hearts and expect God to just magically do whatever we ask Him to do.
And honestly I think this is a struggle for us all. Have you ever found yourself, even years after the fact, still really ticked off about something, still unwilling to let it go, and still letting something from the past get in the way of your relationship with that person today? That unforgiveness takes a toll on that relationship, on ourselves personally, and on our walk with God. Today we need to get serious and consider how we can receive the forgiveness from God over and over and over again, yet be unwilling to forgive those who’ve wronged us.
When Paul was writing the letters of the New Testament, God inspired him to say a lot about our relationships. Colossians 3:13-14 tells us one of the things that we need to do. “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” So if you feel like, “God’s not answering my prayers,” maybe you need to ask yourself, “Am I forgiving? Am I growing in love toward those around me?”
Let’s face it, this is the heart of God, this matters to God, and this is literally close to home. The Bible tells us in 1 Peter 3:7, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” This is pretty clear isn’t it? If you’re harsh, unloving, critical, and inconsiderate of your spouse the Bible says, this “will hinder your prayers.” So your relationships matter to God when you pray. And number two, your motives really matter to God when you pray.
James chapter 4:3 says this. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives.” Your motives matter. In fact, Jesus talks about this in Matthew chapter 6, verse five. He’s talking about the religious folks of their day called the Pharisees and he says, “They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.” He says they “keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” And so their motives were to be seen and heard by people as they prayed; and so their prayers weren’t focused toward God, they weren’t going to be answered, because they prayed with selfish motives.
Last week I shared about a course on prayer I took in Bible College and one of the things we did in that course was to analyze our prayers. I discovered, especially with the prayers that weren’t working, was that the overwhelming majority of them were me-centered, me-driven prayers. “God, make my life better, make my life easier, make me look better, give me more stuff” and on and on and on.
You know, it’s like you single ladies who meet this really cute guy, but he’s not a believer; and so you pray for God to save him so that you can date. You see, you know the Bible says that if you’re going to be in a relationship that they must be a believer, so you pray that he would believe. Now that may be a good prayer right? But selfish motives will sabotage your prayers. And so if you’re thinking of yourself, the motive is not right.
And maybe your prayer is that you win the lottery. You pray to God, “If I win I promise I’ll give you half.” And so God’s like, “You’re not believing enough to give me a 10th right now; why should I believe you’re going to give me 50 percent?” You see God knows the heart and here’s what Proverbs chapter 16, verse 2 says, “All of a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.” So what really matters when you pray? Your relationships with others matter, your motives matter, and number three, the way you live, your lifestyle matters to God.
The way you live matters and each of us have the same access to God. The Bible says, “Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence.” Let us! His power is available and each of us have the same mountain moving potential in prayer. Yet there is one thing the Bible says about the power of your prayers and that is simply that the way you live matters.
James chapter 5, verse 16 says, “…The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). It doesn’t say the prayer of an unrighteous person, the prayer of a Christmas and Easter Christian, the casual Christian, or the prayer of the whomever. But it says “the prayer of the righteous… is powerful and effective.”
Just for second, try to imagine yourself in God’s shoes, and you’ve got two guys praying for money. One needs some financial help, but he’s totally healthy, just turned down two jobs because he’s better than that, and the last time you gave him money he went out and bought beer, peanuts, and lottery tickets with it. Now would you supernaturally move the course of the universe to financially bless him because he asks or would you give to the other guy who’s praying, who’s busting his butt working two jobs to feed his family, his car broke down on the way to church and he’s fallen behind, but you know that if you give to him he’s going to buy resources for his family. As God would you want to give you the first guy or the second guy? I would think as God you’d want to give to the guy that has some forward momentum, whose life gives evidence of faith, and who is a good steward of what he’s received, and therefore the way that he lives matters.
Here’s what the Bible says in Proverbs chapter 15, verse 29, “The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayers of the righteous.” Now, that’s not saying that if you try really hard to be good that God has to do everything that you ask him. Nor is it saying that if you messed up that God is going to ignore your prayers. Proverbs chapter 15 simply says that at some level, the way that you live matters to God when you pray. So your relationships matter, your motives matter, your lifestyle matters, and number four, your faith matters to God when you pray.
James, chapter 1, verse 6 is very clear. James says, “When he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord…” (1:6-7).” So your faith matters, because God really loves a simple childlike faith; and yet some of us, the longer we’ve been Christians it’s like the less childlike faith we have. And so we’ve become so educated, we know the Bible so much, that we know what God’s not going to do, and we even tell him what he can’t do, when his Word tells us, “All things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27).
James tells us that our faith matters; that you must believe and not doubt. Kind of like the two blind guys who were following Jesus, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” In Matthew chapter 9, verse 28, Jesus asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied.” Verse 29 tells us, “Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you,” and their sight was restored” (Matthew 9:27-30).
This morning I declare to you, that the God who did that 2000 years ago, is the same God who can answer your prayers when you believe “all things are possible with God.” But let me assure you that when it comes to prayer your faith matters, but it doesn’t mean that God has to do exactly what you tell him to do. You see, when it comes to prayer many of us would love to be able to tell God what to do at any given moment and to be assured that he’ll do exactly what we’ve said. But that’s not how it goes. Prayer is not a work order for God. He’s not our errand boy or a genie in a bottle, and so while the Bible makes some bold promises regarding answered prayer, we can’t interpret them to mean that God has surrendered control of the universe to us. You see, all things are possible with God, but there is another thing that matters. Number five, God’s will also matters.
1 John 5:14 says, “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.” Now that’s very powerful isn’t it? But it’s not a name it and claim it teaching. God’s will matters. In fact, the apostle Paul was a great man of God, who loved God, served God, and did mighty works in Jesus name; but he had something that bothered him. In 2 Corinthians chapter 12, Paul says in verse seven, “There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” Now we don’t know exactly what that was, but we do know that he pleaded for God to take it away. The Bible says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” Three times he pleaded using the same word that was used to describe Jairus pleading with Jesus in Mark Chapter 5. Listen to how strong this word is. “One of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, "My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live" (Mark 5:22-23).
Jairus pleaded earnestly, “Please, please, please Jesus” “Three times” Paul says, “I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” This is the most intense kind of pleading that you can do and yet for some reason, when God could have, God chose not to, and said, “I’ve got another plan. I’m going to do something even greater than what you ask.” And in 2 Corinthians 12:9 he said, hold on, hang in there Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. Illustrating perfectly for us that God’s ways are higher than our ways, his thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).
You see, God’s will matters. That’s why when Jesus was praying in the garden the night of his arrest, the night before his crucifixion, Luke chapter 22 tells us that he knelt down and prayed, “Being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (vs. 44). Here’s the Lord Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, in the worst agony you could imagine, knowing that he was about to be abused, to be humiliated, and then to suffer and die as he takes on the sins of the world, both your sins and mine, and then the anguish of being separated from the Father. And so here he prays in verse 42, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." And what great words of trust those are! “Father here’s what I want, I’m believing you for it, I’m asking you for it, I know you can do it… but if you don’t, Father I’m still going to trust you.”
Those are some of the greatest words of faith, and today God in His own way, in his own time, and according to His great power will answer our prayers and that’s why we’re going to become people of prayer. We’re going to seek Him, we’re going to honor Him, and we’re going to trust him because we know that he’s able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). So this morning if you want God to answer your prayers here’s what really matters. More than anything else what matters is this… that you have an honest relationship with God through his Son Jesus Christ. Listen to what the Bible says in John 9:31, “We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will”. If you want God to answer your prayers you need to know him. And God wants to hear from you; he wants to be there for you, he wants to talk to you and walk with you. He wants you to know him and have a relationship with him. So let’s pray about that.
Last week we talked about talking to God, and today we need to tell him we want more. We want more of God. We want to pray prayers that touch his heart. We want him to remove anything that would hinder our prayers. And so this morning if you would say, “I want my prayer life to increase. I want my intimacy with God to increase. I want to hear His voice. I want more of God. I want more!” If that’s you, would you respond to God this morning?
Some of you, are still thinking about those words, still thinking about having an honest relationship with God. And you’re not sure that you do. And I’ll be the first to admit, I grew up in church, but I didn’t have an honest relationship with God. I knew about him, but I didn’t know him. And maybe that’s where you are this morning? Others of you, you might be really far from God in most people’s eyes, but deep down God is doing something in you. He’s drawing you to himself. And so here’s what you need to do.
You talk to God and tell him honestly, in your own words, “I need you. I admit I’m a sinner and I need a Savior.” And so you call on God’s son Jesus Christ, who shed his blood so that we could be forgiven. You call his name, you surrender your life to him, and you pray, “Lord Jesus, take my life. Make it yours. I surrender!” This is your moment, this is why you’re here. Would you respond to God today?
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
March 06, 2016