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Politically Incorrect Christianity: Living the Truth—The Prayers of the Saints—Can you Hear Me Now?

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[Play Video] "Can You Hear Me Now? Good"

You've seen the commercial, "Can you hear me now? Good!" In 2001 Verizon Wireless hired 50 people to travel the country and test the company's cellular network. They each averaged 100,000 miles a year, going to various, out-of-the-way-places, and testing the Verizon Network. In 2002 Verizon hired thirty-four-year-old Paul Marcarelli of New York City to be the "personification" of those 50 testers. And yes, those are his own glasses! He became simply known as the "Test Guy" and in the Verizon commercials you would see him, on his cell phone, in a variety of places and situations testing the Verizon network. And of course there is always a connection, and it is ‘good'. Now the phrase, "Can you hear me now?" has become part of our cultural vocabulary.

If we would be honest this morning, many of us would ask the initial question of God—“Can you hear me now?”—only to respond, “Gee, I’m not sure.” Few questions vex faithful believers as much as that of petitionary prayer, especially in view of the extravagant promises in the New Testament that those who ask, receive—whatever they may ask. These promises are always understood to be qualified—one must ask with faith, or one must ask with the qualifier “nevertheless, thy will be done,” as Jesus did in his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. But such a qualifier is important for it reveals that authentic prayer is the submission of the person to God. Prayer is not a battle with God whereby we wrestle blessing from him. It’s power consists of discovering His will and making it our own, not in demanding that He conform His will to ours!

Our text for this morning is 1 John 5:13-17. We only have one, perhaps two message left in our journey through 1 John. If you've been with us, you would know that John is quite concerned with helping his readers know how to tell apart those who belong to God and those who don't belong to God. This morning, John wants to remind us that if we belong to God, we can have confidence in making requests of God. We call this prayer and this passage is a guide to being more effective in our prayers.

I. THE FIRST KEY TO EFFECTIVE PRAYER IS KNOWING IT’S FOR BELIEVERS

    • “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.” (1 John 5:13, NIV84)
            1. in this letter, the Apostle’s primary purpose in writing has been to offer pastoral encouragement, and to instill confidence and hope by reminding his readers of the fellowship with God and with each other that they now enjoy
                1. despite the defection of some members of the Christian community there in Ephesus, his readers can be assured of inheriting eternal life because their faith has been authenticated
                2. both their faith and their practice, being in harmony with each other, is evidence that they truly have Christ
            2. because they believe in the name of the Son of God they have eternal life and abundant life and all the blessings that go with these
                1. one of those blessings is the ability to come before God in prayer
                  • “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14–16, NIV84)
            3. because our fellowship with God is personal and intimate, like the relationship between a loving parent and child, those who have eternal life also have assurance in approaching God in prayer
            4. the crucial question becomes: Does God respond to the prayers of the unregenerate?
                1. certainly there is no question that God “hears” all prayers
                2. God is omniscient, and therefore hears and sees everything that transpires on Earth (God is really good at multi-tasking!)
                  • “For a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths.” (Proverbs 5:21, NIV84)
                3. the Scriptures seem clear: God is not obligated to answer the prayers of the lost though He may choose to do so when it suits His sovereign purposes
                  • “We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will.” (John 9:31, NIV84)
                  • “The LORD is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous.” (Proverbs 15:29, NIV84)
                  • “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2, NIV84)
                  • “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:12, NIV84)
                  • ILLUS. Suppose you happen to be out shopping at the local Toys-R-Us. You’re there to purchase a toy for your nephew’s birthday. With you is your ten-year-old daughter. As you’re trying to make a decision regrading what to get your nephew, your daughter approaches you with a doll. She looks at you with those adoring eyes and says, “Daddy. You are my beloved father and I know that you love me and desire for me to have a sense of abundance and joy in my life. Will you please buy me this doll? I will be every so grateful and besides it will magnify your generosity and love toward your daughter.” Well, you have three responses that you can give your little girl: “Yes”, “No” or “Let’s wait.” (Or if she actually spoke like this you might be asking “Who are you and what have you done with my daughter!”). Of course you tell her “yes” and she goes skipping down the isle to say, “Mommy, daddy said yes! I just love him!” And your chest swells with pride because this is your daughter whom you love and you really do want her to experience the abundance of your love and blessing. Now, suppose a few minutes latter, a child you’ve never seen before approaches you and says, “Sir, you don’t know me, but I saw how generous you were with your daughter. I don’t suppose you’d buy me this radio-controlled car, would you?” You’d probably stare in disbelief at the audacity of the child’s request, and then simply ignore him. And you’d do so with a clear conscience because you’re under no obligation to respond to the requests of one who is not your child.
                4. it’s not a perfect illustration, but I think you get the point
                    1. you’re obligated to respond to your child
                    2. you’re not obligated to respond to someone who is not your child
            5. The First Key to Effective Prayer Is Knowing It's for Believers
                1. do you have Christ in your life?

II. THE SECOND KEY TO EFFECTIVE PRAYER IS UNDERSTANDING GOD CANNOT BE COERCED

    • “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:7, NIV84)
            1. the idea here is that of coercing an answer out of God by simply wearing him down until He finally gives in
              • ILLUS. Years ago, I remember talking to a Pentecostal preacher who claimed that he had figured out how to get God to answer any prayer, anytime. He believed that everything we need to know about getting what we have what we asked of him, is in the Bible. All we needed to do was pray a certain way, believe a certain way, and God would come through. He would have to because God responds favorably to anyone who prayed in faith and asked it in Jesus name. Here you have it: Name-it-and-claim-it theology.
                1. but what happens if the prayer for healing, or the new house or the changed spouse, or the better job is not answered?
                    1. according to the Pentecostal preacher, either the person praying or the person that is sick simply doesn’t have enough faith
                2. what people like this are implying is that they’ve got God figured out
                    1. they know how He operates
                    2. God is totally predictable … that He responds a certain way in a certain situation every time that situation occurs ... we just need to figure out the formula
                3. this is, of course, a simplistic—even an idolatrous—view of God that is simply not taught in the Scriptures
                    1. this kind of prayer treats God as a means to an end, and God the Creator refuses to be used by His creation
            2. we need to understand that God does not always answer us in the way that we would like
                1. throughout the Bible we see examples where God’s response to a person's requests is yes — (Exodus 9:29; 33, NIV84)
                2. we also have examples throughout the Bible where God’s response was a flat-out no—(2 Corinthians 12:7–10, NIV84)
                3. we also have examples throughout the Bible where God responds to a believer's petitions by telling them to wait!—(Luke 1:5-7; 11–13, NIV84)
                4. if God answered every prayer or petition with a "yes", some of us would have egos so big that we would become insufferable to be around!
            3. sometimes our prayers have implications for other people that we cannot see, but God does
              • ILLUS. Most of you are familiar, at least in part, with the story of King Midas. The legend says that 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 arboretum, he came upon the elderly Satyr, Silenus, asleep among the flowers of the King's garden. Midas recognized him and treated him with hospitality, entertaining him for ten days and nights with politeness, while Silenus in turn 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, "I 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 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 wish had become 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 into a golden statue. 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 counted.
                1. the moral of the story, or course, is be careful what you wish for
                2. unlike the Greek god Dionysus, God Jehovah knows that our prayers have implications for other people that may not be healthy and wholesome
                    1. all of God's actions are holy, wise, and loving
                    2. as such, He will not grant anything that might endanger our spiritual growth or the spiritual growth of others
                    3. the result is that we sometimes experience disappointments in our requests of God because God answers them with a "no"
            4. there's a second reason why God may not answer our petitions in the way we desire
                1. 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."
                2. without the thorn, the greatness of Paul's Christian character might not had developed
                3. with the thorn, God glorified Himself through Paul's achievements in spite of his weaknesses
                4. God is not obligated to always say yes to our prayers
            5. The Second Key to Effective Prayer Is Understanding God Cannot Be Coerced

III. THE THIRD KEY TO EFFECTIVE PRAYER IS TO ASK ACCORDING TO GOD'S WILL

    • “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, NIV84)
            1. the Apostle John could write these words, because Jesus had already said them
              • “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” (John 15:7, NIV84)
                1. neither Jesus nor John are giving the believer carte blanche for selfishness and self-indulgence
            2. many Christians have a great deal of misconceptions about praying for whatever you ask
                1. God is not a celestial vending machine that gives what we ask, when we put money in the offering box
                2. God is not a heavenly genie who grants us three wishes when we rub Him in the right direction
            3. if we belong to God, we are His children, and He, our Heavenly Father
                1. and a good Father does not give everything his children ask for
                  • ILLUS. A Danish proverb notes, "Give to a pig when it grunts and a child when he cries, and you will have a fine pig and a bad child."
                    1. God is raising children, not pigs

A. OUR CONFIDENCE IN APPROACHING GOD COMES FROM KNOWING THAT GOD ONLY GIVES US WHAT IS IN HIS WILL

            1. when we don't know God's will, prayer becomes a time of learning God's will
              • ILLUS. E. Stanley Jones, a 20th century Methodist missionary, illustrated this point when he said, "If I throw out a boat hook from the boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God."
                1. obviously, we can learn about God's will in prayer, but we can only pray effectively when we ask according to God's will
                2. this is why prayer and a knowledge of the Scriptures go hand-in-hand
                    1. Jesus taught His disciples to pray according to the Father’s will
                      • “This, then, is how you should pray: “ ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9–10, NIV84)
                    2. in Matthew 26:42 Jesus himself prayed as he faced his pending crucifixion,“ ... “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42, NIV84)
                3. for us to pray effectively, we must pray according to God's will
                    1. and God has made His will known to us through His Word, the Bible
                    2. for us to pray effectively, we must know what God says in the Bible—there is no shortcut
                4. to pray in Jesus’ name is to pray consistent with who He is, with the goal of bringing Him glory
                    1. it is to follow the pattern of His model prayer: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”
            2. let’s go back to the Disciples Prayer for a moment, because it is rich in requests that are obviously within God’s will for us
              • “This, then, is how you should pray: “ ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’” (Matthew 6:9–13, NIV84)
                1. it’s short, but consider some of the things Jesus tells us to pray for, and if the Savior tell us to pray for them, they must be according to God’s will
                    1. hallowing (honoring) God’s name in our prayer is in His will
                    2. praying for His kingdom to come is in His will
                    3. praying that His will be accomplished on earth is in His will
                    4. praying for daily bread i.e. basic needs of life, is in His will
                    5. praying for forgiveness of our sins is in His will
                    6. praying for ability to forgive those who have sinned against us is in His will
                    7. praying for victory over temptation and the devil is in His will
                2. the inference is that these are prayers that God will hear and grant a positive response to because they are according to His will
            3. I would suggest to you that these seven petitions are enough to keep us occupied
                1. as you search the Scriptures, and as you seek God’s will in prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit, you may well find other things that are in God’s will and then begin to pray for God to bring them to pass
                  • “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God;” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5, NIV84)
                2. praying according to God’s will not only brings glory to the Son, but also joy to believers
                  • “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:23–24, NIV84)
                    1. when obedient believers delight themselves in the Lord, He will plant the desires in our hearts for what glorifies Him, and those desires will control our prayers
            4. The Third Key to Effective Prayer Is to Ask According to God's Will

IV. THE FORTH KEY TO EFFECTIVE PRAYER IS TO AGREE WITH GOD'S JUDGMENT

    • “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.” (1 John 5:16–17, NIV84)
            1. this is considered one of the more difficult passages in the New Testament
                1. just what is the sin the leads to death that we are not to pray for?
                2. evidently John and his readers knew what the sin leading to death was, since no explanation is given, but its exact meaning is difficult for us to determine
            2. three possibilities present themselves
                1. first, the Apostle John may be referring to a non-Christian who’s sinning leads to eternal death
                    1. in that case it would be a final rejection of Jesus Christ, such as that committed by those who attributed His miracles to the power of Satan
                      • “Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” (Matthew 12:22–24, NIV84)
                    2. Jesus declared such sin unforgivable
                      • “And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31–32, NIV84)
                    3. praying for those who have ultimately, finally rejected Christ is useless for God has already judged them
                2. second, the Apostle John may be referring to a Christian’s sinning that is so grievous that God takes the life of the one committing it
                    1. we see two examples in the New Testament of God's judgment of sin leading to death
                    2. in Acts 5:1-10 records the story of Ananias and Sapphira
                        1. John would say, “Don't pray for Ananias and Sapphira—their sin led to death”
                    3. in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, Paul refers to a profoundly disturbing sexual sin taking place within the church at Corinth—a young man is having a sexual affair with his father’s wife
                        1. the assumption is that this is the man’s second wife and thus the young man’s step-mother
                        2. Paul writes to the church, “ ... hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.”
                        3. John would say, "Don't pray for this young man—his sin leads to death"
                3. third, the Apostle John may be referring to professing Christians who abandon Christ and his church and become apostates
                    1. in the Epistle itself we have the clue as to who the Apostle is talking about and the sin they’ve committed
                    2. it consists of those who gave initial indication that they were Christians, but in actuality were counterfeit Christians who left
                      • “ ... This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” (1 John 2:18–19, NIV84)
                    3. these were examples of
                        1. those who walked in darkness rather than walking in the light
                        2. those who were tares among the wheat
                        3. those who were goats instead of sheep
                        4. those who were children of the Devil, rather than children of God
                4. it’s this last group that I believe the Apostle is referring to
                    1. the author of Hebrews writes of the impossibility of bring such people back to true repentance and faith
                      • “who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (Hebrews 6:5–6, NIV84)
                5. John basically says that effective prayer doesn't waste time upon apostates
            3. we have many brothers and sisters for whom we can and should pray
                1. effective prayer doesn't waste time or energy disagreeing with God's judgment for those who are beyond prayer
                    1. this of course, is politically incorrect because these are the very people we often spend so much time praying for
                2. instead, John encourages us to pray for those who have not sinned in such a way
                3. this means praying for brothers and sisters in Christ that they might walk worthy of their calling
                4. this means praying for the lost that they might come to Christ

The good news for believers this morning is, we never, ever have to wonder if God hears our prayers. He does! Regardless of where we are, we always have a full set of bars in our connection with Him. And that’s good. He may not always grant us exactly what we are asking for, but we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he will answer according to his Sovereign will and what is ultimately best for us in the scope of eternity.

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