One of the great truths that is evident throughout the Scriptures is that God speaks to His people. He speaks in order to reveal His Character, His Ways, and His Purposes for your life.
God speaks. The question among the Hebrews, however, is: "We are speaking, but is God listening?" Chapter 59 is still part of God’s response to the false worship of His people in chapter 58. In Isa. 58:3 the people have asked the question: “‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’” In other words, they are asking, “God. Why are you not paying attention to us?”
Our Lord Jesus is quoted by the apostle John as saying, "He who belongs to God hears what God says." If the Christian does not know when God is speaking, he or she is in trouble at the heart of his or her Christian life. In the case of the Hebrews it wasn’t because they couldn’t hear the voice of God, but because God was not on speaking terms with them. The Prophet Isaiah writes, But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
When God does speak, and when we hear Him speak, He always uses the Holy Spirit to reveal to us one of three things. The Spirit will either reveal something about God's character, God's ways or God's purpose. We cannot discover anything about God through our own initiative. If the Spirit does not reveal truth to us we simply cannot know it.
We know from the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit uses a variety of means to reveal God's truth to us.
- God also uses prayer to speak to us. Prayer is not merely a religious activity. Prayer is living in relationship and fellowship with God.
- God will also speak to us through the circumstances—both good and bad—of our lives. In the lives of many Biblical characters we see that God used what was happening around an individual to either reveal or confirm His purpose or will to them.
- God will even use the Body of Christ—His church—to speak to us. He will often use other believers to speak to us and He uses us to speak to the Body to reveal His will for the congregation.
- Obviously God use Scripture to speak to us. The Bible is God's Word. To read the Bible is to hear the voice of God speaking. In this case, God uses the prophetic voice of Isaiah to reveal why the prayers of the people go unanswered.
God speaks: Are we listening? If God so desperately wants to speak to us, why do we so frequently not hear Him? The answer to that question is the focus of tonight's message.
I. GOD'S RESPONSES TO PRAYER
- first of all, we need to understand that God does not always answer us in the way that we would like
- you've heard me say on several occasions that God has a number of answers to our prayers
- wait (Zacharias and Elisabeth)
- as God considers our petitions, He must thoughtfully weight the ramifications of the prayer that we are making
- throughout the Bible we see examples where God communicated a positive response to a person's requests
- we also have examples throughout the Bible where God responds to a believer's petitions, but not in the way the petitioner hoped!
- if God answered every prayer or petition with a "yes", some of us would become monsters of egocentricity
- sometimes our prayers have implications for other people that are not healthy and wholesome
- ILLUS. Most of you are familiar, at least in part, with the story of King Midas. King Midas was a very kind man who ruled his kingdom fairly, but he was not one to think very deeply about what he said. One day, while walking in his garden, he saw the elderly satyr Silenus asleep among the flowers of the King's private garden. Midas recognized him and treated him hospitably, entertaining him for ten days and nights with politeness, while Silenus entertained Midas and his friends with stories and songs. When the god Dionysus heard about Midas' compassion, he rewarded the King by granting him one wish. The king thought for only a moment and then said, "/ wish for everything I touch to turn to gold." And so it was. Midas rejoiced in his new ability, which he hastened to put to the test. He touched an oak twig and a stone; both turned to gold. Overjoyed, as soon as he got home, he ordered the servants to set a feast on the table. Swelled at first with pride when he found he could transform everything he touched to gold; but when he beheld his food grow rigid and his drink harden into golden ice then he understood that this lust for gold was a curse. His water, his bed, his clothes, his friends, and eventually the whole palace was gold. When the king accidently touched his daughter, she too, turned hard and fast to gold. King Midas saw that soon his whole kingdom would turn to gold unless he did something right away. He asked Dionysus to turn everything back to the way it had been and take back his golden touch. Because the king was ashamed and very repentant, Dionysus took pity on him and granted his request. Instantly, King Midas was poorer than he had been, but richer, he felt, in the things that really count.
- all of God's actions are holy, wise, and loving
- as such, He will not grant anything that might endanger our growth or the growth of others
- the result is that we sometimes experience disappointments in our requests of God and God answers them with a "no"
- God is accomplishing a sanctifying work in our life
- ILLUS. The Apostle Paul had some kind of affliction that he desperately sought relief from. There has been any number of suggestions over the melania as to the nature of the Apostle's "thorn in the flesh", but we simply do not know what it was. We know from Paul's own testimony that on three occasions, the Apostle "implored the Lord" to remove it. The petition was not granted, not because of sin in his life, nor because he had mis-heard or not heard God speak. The thorn was actually given to him "lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations."
II. SINS THAT HINDER GOD HEARING OUR PRAYERS
- when we do not hear God's voice it is not because God has become disinterested in our lives
- when we do not hear God’s voice, it is not because God is hard of hearing
- “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.” (Isaiah 59:1, NIV84)
- "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear." (Isaiah 59:1-2, ESV)
A. SIX ROADBLOCKS TO ANSWERED PRAYER
- ANGER is the first roadblock to answered prayer
- “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lining holy hands without anger or quarreling;" (1 Timothy 2:8, ESV)
- the anger of God is not like the anger we experience
- God's anger is always holy, and an unchanging part of His nature
- God is eternally angry at sin, unrighteousness and injustice
- but in His anger He is never malicious
- God never "gets mad" and loses control of Himself
- but our anger is usually unholy and unrighteous
- it is usually sudden and vindictive
- when we become angry we often lose control of our emotions and our actions
- we hold grudges and seek retribution over and above those actions perpetrated upon us which caused the anger
- sometimes our anger causes our hands to become stained with blood
- our anger hinders our prayers to God
- it's easy for us to assume, "O, that's an easy sin forme to avoid. I don't worship Buddah or Mohammad or Krishna."
- our God is not merely jealous of godlike images in stone and wood and metal which we may create
- He is jealous of anything which takes up more room in your heart than He does
- what God want's more than anything else is to be your greatest heart's desire
- "My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways." (Proverbs 23:26, ESV)
- God does not accept any competition for your loyalty
- anything you love more than God is an idol in the heart, and hinders prayer
- ILLUS. When the elders of Israel came to consult Ezekiel, the Lord told the prophet, "Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all?" Ezek. 14:3
- "Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered." (Proverbs 21:13, ESV)
- indifference to the needs of the weak and helpless is sin
- the Bible is very clear that God loves the poor, the oppressed, the widows, the orphans and the imprisoned
- to close our eyes and our hearts to the needs of those around us, is the same as closing our eyes and hearts to God
- ILLUS. Jesus illustrates this truth in the NT when he tells the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 26. On the day of judgement he will separate the sheep (righteous people) from the goats (unrighteous people). He will commend the sheep because they have given our Lord food and shelter and love. They ask, "Lord, when did we do these things for you?" Our Lord tells them that on those occasions when they fed the hungry, gave cloths to the destitute, sheltered the homeless and fellowshiped with the downtrodden that it was the same as doing those things for him. On the other hand, he will banish the goats from his sight. When he was hungry they did not feed him. When he was destitute they did not cloth him. When he was homeless they did not shelter him. The goats, in great distress will offer their defense. "Lord, when did we see you hungry, or homeless or without a friend?" What will be his answer? "Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me" Mat. 25:45
- hypocrisy IS NOT failure to live up to holy expectations when we earnestly try to do so
- hypocrisy is intentionally putting on a false front
- ILLUS. The meaning of the word hypocrite is traced back to early Greek theater. When an actor wanted to portray a certain emotion, he would go over to the side of the stage and pick up a large mask characterizing that emotion and he would speak his lines through the mask. He was a hypokrisis—one who spoke through a mask. In life, the hypocrite is a person who masks his real self while he plays a part for his audience.
- praying to be seen by people rather than God is especially offensive to God
- "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward." (Matthew 6:5, ESV)
- failure to forgive others will interfere with your prayers
- "And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." (Mark 11:25, ESV)
- allowing broken relationships to exist between yourself and others is similar to an unforgiving spirit
- in fact, an unforgiving spirit usually results in a broken relationship
- if you want God to hear your prayers you cannot allow broken relationship to continue to be broken
- "So if you are offering your gin at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gin there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24, ESV)
III. CONFESSION AND PRAISE ARE THE CURE FOR SPIRITUAL DEAFNESS
- what do you do when it seems like God doesn't hear you?
- well, you have some options:
- first, you can ignore the situation and let your heart grow colder
- second, you can blame God for not hearing you, put a spiritual chip on your shoulder
- you can deal honestly with your sin, praise God and renew your relationship with him
- when you do that, God will hear your prayers and you will hear God speak
A. STEPS IN CONFESSING SIN
- confession is more than telling God you're sorry
- First you must acknowledge that sin was committed
- the word confession means "to speak the same thing"
- when we confess sin we are agreeing with God that we have transgressed one of his divine laws
- in Jeremiah 3:13 God commanded Israel, "Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God."
- Second, you must repent or turn from the sin
- repentance includes more than sorrow and tears
- true repentance includes turning from sin and doing the things that please God
- genuine repentance may require a radical change in the things you do
- Thirdly, you must accept God's forgiveness, and in accepting God's forgiveness allow Him to cleanse you
- "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9, NASB95)