Sermon, April 19, 2020
Oh to be able to move the mountains!
Jesus said more than once, “Ask for anything, believing, it will be done for you”. How many times have you prayed, believing that He was going to answer you, and your prayer was not answered? Truthfully, I have prayed, believing (or at least thinking that I was believing) and my prayer did not seem to be answered. It strikes at my faith and has caused me to doubt.
Have you ever felt like He was not listening to your prayer, or have you reasoned that Christ was only talking to this these twelve men, not to you and me, or maybe only to those “perfect” Christians. Do you think (but are afraid to admit to fellow Christians) that this idea that you can ask for anything and receive it is all a bunch of baloney?
-My dad was in my home many years ago and suffered a catastrophic stroke. I prayed and prayed, earnestly, privately, sincerely and tearfully for his recovery. But he still died 36 hours later.
-At my first camp a young staff, 16 years old, was struck by lightning during our week of training. For twelve days, as she hung on to life in intensive care, I prayed for her recovery and begged God to take my life but please restore life to that young lady. But she also passed away.
-Early, a few mornings ago, at my time of prayer, I asked God to send me a word of encouragement that morning, I was depressed. But the first two emails I opened after my prayers were anything but encouraging. The letters were very unkind and hurtful. What happened?
As I read the entire Bible, and not just a verse here and there, I note that sometimes Jesus prayed and things happened just like He said—immediately. But other times He prayed, and things did not happen as He requested—i.e. “let this cup pass from me”, or in Nazareth where He “could not perform many miracles because of their lack of faith”. God said “no” a couple of times, at least, and to His own, beloved and perfect Son. There other prayers that were offered by prophets and folks like Moses that we also given the thumbs down, by God. He said “no”.
Similarly there are some prayers God seems to answer immediately, e.g. “God please keep me humble”, or “Lord please send something in my life to test my patience”. Pray those prayers and watch how swiftly He answers!
So why doesn’t God do what I ask when I beg? Because He answer is “no”, “yes” and “not now” when His beloved pray—-and if we are praying in His will, as Jesus did, we can pray with total faith, knowing that He does answer, but not always in the manner we think is best.
I think that if you look at what Jesus said about praying it’s rather obvious: A follower of Jesus has the super-natural ability to petition God Almighty to intervene in ways that defy our understanding of science, physics, natural law and even our imagination. But again, Jesus was talking to men and women that truly believed that He was the Son of God and were living lives obedient to Him. What kind of obedience? Not an obedience that would lead to a morbid life of doing nothing so that they did risk offending God, but rather the freedom that comes from deliberately choosing what they KNEW was right and eschewing what they KNEW was wrong! The disciples were not flawless human beings, but they lived and died knowing Jesus in an intimate and personal way and their prayers were therefore effective. They chose to be obedient children and their faith could move mountains.
Jesus told us that we ought to pray more, be bold, and not be afraid to ask! When you decide you want to play basketball or tennis or to swim, you don’t wait till you have perfected the skills, strokes or techniques before you try to play! You have to pick up the basketball, tennis racket or jump in and learn as you play——- and get a coach or master athlete to teache you. Jesus understands our immaturity, our foolish prayers and our tendency to “ask wrongly”. But Jesus is our “prayer coach” … the “prayer master”… and He’s is happy to help us earn a black belt in prayer—-if we’re ready to let Him teach us and put them it to use. It is Satan’s lie that God will not hear you until you learn to pray a perfect prayer! The Devil does not want you to get closer to God——and prayer is the quickest path to the heart of God. Think of all the ways this week the enemy has tempted you and me to NOT pray.
You’ll never learn to pray in power and you’ll never see the miracle of prayer if you don’t do it.
You’ll never to swim if you don’t jump in the water. Pray —and pray without ceasing—-those are the words from Paul to fellow believers. Pray and don’t give up…..pray and believe that He hears….pray and trust that He is good, able and prepared to give us the desires (true desires) of our hearts—those words come from Jesus Himself.
The truth is, no man has ever asked God to do too much or for the impossible. My longest and most earnest prayers have not taxed God, drained His energy or caused Him to be drawn away from other matters you cannot exhaust God. Quite the opposite, I believe that I have asked (and anticipated) too little and then complain about getting just what I prayed for—too little! He is happy to hear me and answer my petitions.
There is a real danger of praying and expecting less that what He is ready to give and thereby limiting what God is prepared to do for us right now in the middle of this pandemic. Men like Elijah prayed for incredible things and were spectacularly answered! Paul and the other apostles not only healed people and cast out demons, but also, by prayer and faith, on at least one occasion caused a man to become blind for a few days in order to get his attention. They prayed for mighty things. Are we?
Charles Inglis, the well-known evangelist, relates the following example of prayer:
"When I first came to America thirty-one years ago, I crossed the Atlantic with the captain of a steamer who was one of the most devoted men I ever knew; and when we were off the banks of Newfoundland he said to me: 'Mr. Inglis, the last time' I crossed here, five weeks ago, one of the most extraordinary things happened that has completely revolutionized the whole of my Christian life. Up to that time I was one of your ordinary Christians. We had a man of God on board, George Mueller, of Bristol. I had been on that bridge for twenty-two hours and never left it. I was startled by someone tapping me on the shoulder. It was George Mueller.
Captain,' said he, 'I have come to tell you that I must be in Quebec on Saturday afternoon.' This was Wednesday.
It is impossible,' I said. Very well, if your ship can't take me God will find some other means of locomotion to take me.I have never broken an engagement in fifty-seven years.’
I would willingly help you, but how can I? I am helpless.’
Let us go down to the chart room and pray,' he said.
"I looked at this man and I thought to myself, 'What lunatic asylum could the man have come from? I never heard of such a thing.’ "'Mr. Mueller,' I said, 'do you know how dense this fog is?’
No,' he replied, 'my eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God, who controls every circumstance of my life.’
"He went down on his knees, and he prayed one of the most simple prayers. I thought to myself, 'That would suit a children's class, where the children were not more than eight or nine years of age.' The burden of his prayer was something like this: 'O Lord, if it is consistent with Thy will, please remove this fog in five minutes. You know the engagement You made for me in Quebec for Saturday. I believe it is Your will.’
"When he had finished, I was going to pray, but he put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to pray.
First,' he said, 'you do not believe God will do it; and, second, I believe He has done it. And there is no need whatever for you to pray about it.’
I looked at him, and George Mueller said this: 'Captain, I have known my Lord for fifty-seven years and there has never been a single day that I have failed to gain an audience with the King of Kings. Get up, Captain and open the door, and you will find the fog is gone.' I got up, and the fog was gone. On Saturday afternoon George Mueller was in Quebec.
Friends, we ask God for a "sardine" when what we needed is a "sea bass”. I have asked for “just enough” because I have assumed God could not give more. How bafflingly foolish of me. My Father loves me infinitely more than I love the four boys I am raising, and yet I would never deny them what they needed—and more—-if they asked me.
We are praying and fasting for God to give me “just enough” while we wait for this pandemic to pass, and I have been praying for God to help us meet our modest goals in our church and ministry.. But I have held back, for some reason, from asking God to bless me abundantly and indeed, for some unfounded fear that it might bankrupt His reserves.
He is gently reminding us that it pleases Him to bless His children. He is quite willing, I know, to take away my fears and anxious thoughts and replace them with those things I need in order to serve as your interim minister and the director of my camp.
I doubt that anyone listening this morning has ever asked God for the full measure of what He is prepared to give. I want to be bolder in going to His altar and humbling asking for His help, His hand and His blessing.
“My eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God, who controls every circumstance of my life.’ May George Mueller’s words become our words today!