The Value of Repentant Prayer
The Value of Repentant Prayer
2 Chronicles 7:13-16
January 22, 2006
Our topic today is repentant prayer. In 1968 Evelyn Christenson, a pastor’s wife, was national women’s chairperson for the Baptist General Conference in the U.S. Her task was to discover what happens when women pray. She had started a prayer group with her two prayer partners in 1964. Everything was going great in her church, yet the three of them sensed that there was a missing dimension. They decided to meet once a week to pray – a noble idea they thought. They agreed at the start to base their praying on a verse of Scripture and right away God gave them Psalm 66:18: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.” Evelyn was confused as to why the Lord gave her that as their key verse. She wanted to pray for her church. But God continued to gently apply pressure. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.” She, a pastors wife, regarding iniquity in her heart!?
But God didn’t release them to pray for other’s needs until they had cleaned up their own lives by confessing sins. So they prayed and prayed and God kept bringing sins to their mind. As their first prayer meeting came to a close, they thought, “Phew! We got that over with, next week we can pray for our church.” But the next week they couldn’t get beyond Psalm 66;18. God kept bringing wrong priorities, thoughts, reactions, and attitudes to their minds. It took the three of them six whole weeks to get out of Psalm 66:18 and into effectual, fervent prayer for their church. You don’t have that many things to be cleaned up in your life do you? She, a pastor’s wife did!
Evelyn made a list of the many sins she had to confess, then asked her prayer partners to add to the list. The main one was their superior attitude concerning their spiritual status, the idea that they should pray for others. God showed them that their attitude was sinful. What other sins were on their two page list? Divided motives, ego, self-fulfillment, self-satisfaction, desire to build up their own worth in the eyes of fellow church members. Pretense – she wasn’t as spiritual as everyone thought she was. And the biggie – pride. “Look what I’ve done” would often come over her as she ran off her Sunday School lessons. None of them had been practicing any of the “dirty dozen” sins, but God exposed one by one the “little Christian sins” which Peter could have been referring to when he wrote (in 1 Peter 3:12):
”For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous
And His ears are open unto their prayers;
But the face of the Lord is against them that do evil”
John categorized these worldly sins as “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”, in 1 John 2;16.
Let's read what the Word of God has to say about repentant prayer and its value in bringing healing and restoration to disobedient believers.
"When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 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. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.” 2 Chronicles 7:13-16
There was a time in American history when the people of that nation learned the truth of 2 Chronicles 7:14 the hard way. It began with an eruption of attacks by local Indian tribes against the Massachusetts Colony in 1675. The local militia seemed powerless to stop the relentless, well-orchestrated attacks. The badly shaken colonists lived in constant fear as their attackers collected more and more scalps. Dr. Peter Marshall, in his book The Light and the Glory, describes this ominous uprising as "God's blast of judgment . . . on a complacent, greedy, self-oriented people."
As the war grew worse, the frightened settlers began to listen to their spiritual leaders, who called for a change of heart. People thronged to worship services and repented personally and publicly of their sins. Lives were reformed, broken relationships restored, and covenants renewed. Then, says Marshall, "God relented and poured out his mercy. There was a freshness in the colonies, a sense of cleanness, and a new hope" (The Light and the Glory, p. 223-233). Soon afterward victory over the enemy was gained, and the uprising dissipated.
God promises to relent from chastening his disobedient people, to hear their prayers, and restore them to his favor if they humbly repent of their sin and seek his face.
1. Retribution—God chastens his sinful people (v. 13 "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people,)
· God hates sin.
The disasters and plagues mentioned in the verse I just read are one kind of chastisement God brings on his people when they have sinned. God does this to re-mind them of his displeasure with their sinful life patterns and to bring them back to himself.
· Disobedience brings chastening
God so loves his own that he will chasten them in order to turn them back from their sinful ways and restore them to a right relationship with him.
The writer to the Hebrews gives this word of encouragement to children of God: "Do not lose heart when [God] rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son" (Heb. 12:5-6).
The amazing thing about God is that while he will not tolerate sin, he will forgive it. God's chastening is intended to drive believers to repentance so that he can forgive sin, blot it out of his sight, and restore the sinner to a state of grace. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” His forgiveness is instant, but cleansing may take much longer, like scrubbing out a persistent stain. And we all need scrubbing since we won’t be perfect this side of heaven. Like Paul in Romans chapter seven, we know that often “how to perform what is good, I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” As believers we do fail god – fall short.
Believers do backslide
To backslide is to slide back into sinful ways of life that were formerly disavowed. Backsliding may be caused by three things, prosperity (Deut. 6:10-12 says: “When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you--a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant--then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” ), secondly, worldliness (2 Tim. 4:10 states: “for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. “), or, finally, the influence of people who do not know the Lord (1 Kings 11:4 says: “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” ).
Those who backslide may still be believers. God addresses the Old Testament believers in 2 Chronicles 7 as "my people, who are called by my name." In other words believers who backslide temporarily do not lose their status as God's people. They will lose the blessings of obedience and will open themselves up to the harassment of the evil one, but they will not lose their salvation.
Trials, however, are not always the result of sin.
Trials may come in order to strengthen our faith. Peter implores us to rejoice when we "suffer grief in all kinds of trails" since "these have come so that your faith . . . may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Pet. 1:6-7).
Trials may come in order that the sufficiency of God's grace might be demonstrated and his power be made perfect in weakness. This was the reality when God decided not to remove Paul's " thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor. 12:7-9) but to give him the grace to endure it. Trials may simply come as part of the stress of serving the Lord ( In 2 Cor. 11:23-29 we read: “Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches
When trials come to us as individual believers or to the Christian communities of which we are a part, it's important to discern the reason for the trials. They may be to train us up in the way we should go.
The Holy Spirit is able to search our hearts and to help us identify the sins that have led to God's discipline (Ps. 139) so that we can confess and turn away from them.
· What trials are you facing today? Whatever they are, God is allowing them. God is speaking to you through them. He may be speaking to you of sins that need to be confessed or life patterns that need to be changed. He may be convincing you that his grace is all-sufficient. He may be inviting you to feel the suffering of Christ. In the face of any trial try to understand what God is saying or doing. A right response will depend on knowing what God is trying to accomplish in your life.
Whatever the trial, believers can face it with the assurance that "in all things God works for good of those who love him" (Rom. 8:28). That's true even if the trials are the result of our own sin. There may not seem to be a way out of your trial, but there is always a way out of sin. 1 Corinthians 10:13 assures us there is no temptation which can overtake us. God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. And with all temptation, there is a way of escape.
Also — God prescribes turn-around steps (vs. 14
”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.” )
Step 1 - Humble repentance
The first turn-around step is humility. The humility that God prescribes in 2 Chronicles 7:14 is a humility toward God. It's a state of submission that makes people willing to face the pain of self-examination and to confess sinful pride. Humbled believers are positioned to experience the blessings God provides for those who submit to his will ( 2 Chron. 12:6-7 adds, The leaders of Israel and the king humbled themselves and said, "The LORD is just." When the LORD saw that they humbled themselves, this word of the LORD came to Shemaiah: "Since they have humbled themselves, I will not destroy them but will soon give them deliverance. My wrath will not be poured out on Jerusalem through Shishak. ).
The root sin of pride is our unwillingness to give God the central place he deserves in our lives. Only a humble spirit helps us to deal with the root sin of pride and to position ourselves to submit to God's place in our lives.
Step 2 - Prayer
God proposes prayer as the second turn-around step because it is an expression of dependence on him. God's people are completely dependent on him. Prayer acknowledges that. Prayer is the appeal of a "child" on the One who is greater and stronger.
Prayer, then, is the true outward expression of the humility of heart that God requires. It moves humility from an attitude to an action. True prayer by its very nature is a demonstration of humility.
Step 3 is Seeking God's face
The third turn-around step God requires is to "seek his face." Seeking God's face takes our humility and prayer a step further. It moves the believer from humble dependence to a restored love relationship. Prayer is the conversational part of an ongoing love relationship with God. To seek God's face is to want a personal relationship with him. It means stepping back into the love relationship that was broken because of sin. God wants us to seek Him. Isaiah 58:2 says: “Yet they seek Me daily, And delight to know My ways, As a nation that did righteousness, And did not forsake the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; They take delight in approaching God.”
Step 4 - Turning from wicked ways
The final turn-around step is repentance, turning from sin. True repentance is more than words—it must result in changed behavior. It is the about-face that comes from a humble heart and a new commitment. It means turning from evil to God, from evil ways to God's ways.
Is there anything in your life that requires turning around? Are you trying to "paddle your own canoe"—going without God? Does your prayer life reflect a childlike dependence on God? Is God the greatest "love" in your life? Is there a pattern of disobedience to God that requires an about-face? If so, take the corrective steps now.
Whether we have sinned as individuals or as communities of God's people, following God's turn-around steps will lead to forgiveness. God will hear and answer the humble prayers of the truly repentant. I we seek God He will be found. Isaiah 55:6-7 says: “Seek the Lord while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.” Let me repeat God’s beautiful promise in the second part of verse 7: “Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.”
3. Restoration—God promises restoration to favor (Let’s read verse 14-15 again: ”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. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. )”
Step one - God will hear from heaven
That God promises to hear means more than that he physically hears the words we utter. It means he responds affirmatively to what he hears. In other words, it means that God will grant the request that is made.
God is a living God. He knows everything that happens on earth. He hears every word, knows every thought. "Does he who implanted the ear not hear?" asks the psalmist (Ps. 94:9). And because God hears, he is able to intervene in accord with his promise. This restoration also has three steps.
Step two in restoration will be forgiveness. - God will forgive people's sin
Forgiveness means removal. Forgiveness is possible because God is willing to remove from us the sin that makes us guilty before him. With our sin taken away, we are freed from the guilt of sin and the punishment that it de-serves.
Forgiveness in the Old Testament was always linked with sacrifice. The sacrifice of lambs, goats, and cattle pointed Old Testament believers forward to Jesus' atoning sacrifice on the cross as the final solution to their sin problem as well as the sin problem of the world. Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sin and bought us a ticket to heaven.
Step 3 – in restoration will be healing. God will heal their land
the healing that God promises is related to the chastening trials that he brings upon the land in response to disobedience. God promises to reverse the effects of these natural disasters—drought, locusts, disease—and to bring back the blessings of fruitful crops, good health, and abundant life.
For believers today, "healing" means restoration of the blessed life that comes with obedience. It means being "blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Eph. 1:3). It means having life to the full (John 10:10). It means being delivered from the evil one (Matt. 6:13), being filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5, 8), and bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).
Before we go any further, let’s take a look at what prayer is and what it isn't. Becky Tirabassi has written a number of books on prayer, including one entitled, “Let Prayer Change Your Life”. I’m going to quote extensively from her book because she says it much better than I could.
This is what she says:
I've been so dramatically changed and influenced by the discovery of prayer in my life that I've grown to agree with 0 Hallesby's conviction that "prayer is the heartthrob of a believer's life." Therefore, when the topic of prayer popped up in a casual dinner conversation with a younger Christian, I automatically asked my favorite mentorlike question, "How's your quiet time?" Her coy reply was, "Well, I'm not praying as much as I should or I ought ..."
Though her response didn't seem out of the ordinary, it allowed me to identify the problem of why she was struggling with prayer. Her perspective on prayer, as mine had once been, was confused. Prayer had be-come something she felt she had to do rather than something she wanted, desired, needed, or longed to do.
The "Problem of Prayer"
Prayer is a word that probably creates a different picture in each person's mind. It seems briefly discussed and little practiced at many Christian gatherings, and often when it is presented, attendance is sparse or the event is heralded mostly by women, rarely by youths and men.
Why? Why, in this time of great need for revival, especially in the Canada, does a power source for transformation and change—namely, prayer—get so little attention?
To answer that question, I needed to look only as far as myself. The reasons that prayer is pushed aside are varied and often based on misconceptions.
Misconception 1: "It's Boring!"
Prayer on the surface may seem boring. Perhaps it's the pure exhaustion of regular prayer that causes one to quit early without ever seeing the rewarding results of persevering prayer, or the boredom that prevails when group prayer sinks to monotone levels. And certainly falling asleep during prayer has been the experience of many a tired believer who reverently closes his eyes and winds up disrupting a prayer meeting or group due to loud snoring.
Oh the mention of prayer quickly triggers “I’ve got to get out of here before I’m stuck” reactions in many people, yet we possess little or no knowledge of the power released when we pray. And wouldn’t that just suit the enemy’s cause!
But if prayer was so boring and such a potential time-waster, why did Jesus Himself choose so often to spend time alone in prayer? Who started the rumor that prayer was boring, anyway?
As I’ve often said, if Jesus need to pray, how much more is our need?
Misconception 2: "Prayer Is Only for the Pious and the Spiritual."
Perhaps it's the thought that I'm not good enough. God wouldn't talk to me! He certainly is busy enough without having to make time for me. Why I'm just ..." That misconception holds some truth, but we hold the key that unlocks that shut door.
Yes, it is a biblical statement that God does not listen if we cherish—or hold onto—sin in our hearts (Ps. 66:18), but the Word also states that confession of sin brings His forgiveness (1 John 1:9) and opens the gates of communication with our heavenly Father. Therefore, an incorrect attitude of humility suggests we can never be good enough for God to hear—or care for—us; but a broken, contrite, and humble heart is the way to the foot of the King's throne—and to our loving Father!
Misconception 3: "God Doesn't Always Answer Prayer."
Is God unable to meet our needs, reverse our circumstances, or change what appears to be impossible? At this point, it becomes a matter of one's perception of God or, better stated, one's faith or belief in who God is.
A lack of faith—in anyone—certainly decreases one's ability to trust in that person, and it appears to be no different with God. Those who believe God can't or won't answer prayer seem not to believe in the God of the Old and New Testaments. The Bible speaks boldly of a God
who performs miracles,
brings the dead back to life,
turns the sea into dry land,
converts sinners to Christ, and
assigns them as evangelists and
The God spoken of by the prophets and priests of the Old Testament is all-powerful, all-knowing, and always present, and the God of the New Testament manifested in the person of Jesus Christ is personal and powerful, able to forgive the darkest sins and to heal the deadliest diseases. It then becomes one's personal faith to believe that prayer to God as validated in Scripture not only will be heard, but will be answered! In other words, God can, God will, and God does do the impossible when we pray. Do you believe that?
Misconception 4: "My Prayer Has No Power."
But in truth, the vast majority of us fall into the classification of ignorance—not rebellion, not conscious avoidance, but simply not knowing the truth about the power released when one prays. Ignorance about prayer automatically sets a good deal of believers into the powerless category of Christian living called "prayerlessness." Who would have imagined that not praying could be considered sin in a believer's life?
Certainly we all enter into a personal relationship with Christ through various individual circumstances: most of us were then encouraged to read our Bible daily to get to know the God we serve. Yet how many of us were presented with the spiritual discipline of prayer as an incredible, powerful, exciting, life-changing, and life-directing daily experience with and expression to the living God? I think it's safe to assume only a fortunate few were taught and trained to pray by | |
a godly mentor, parent, pastor, or teacher who had experienced prayer in that very way, or there would be many more of us who love to pray!
The current result: Powerless Christians who find Bible reading and praying too time-consuming for their daily lives, who think those things are okay on Sundays or when an urgent need arises or when all else has failed.
Results of Prayerlessness
Just as the Public Safety Department of the Auto-mobile Club of Southern California has developed a survey indicating possible problem drinkers—answer one yes and consider it a warning to your problem, two yes answers and you just might be, and three yes answers mean you most likely are a problem drinker—so O. Hallesby has developed a list of the dangerous results of prayerlessness:
· We have more "world" in our thoughts.
· We feel farther away from God.
· We have less "God" talk in our conversations with others.
· Slowly an unwilling or rebellious spirit creeps into our personality.
· Sin doesn't sting as much, because it is less honestly confessed.
· We deal with sin as the world does, by hiding it!
Isn't it almost humorous how those with the disease are the least likely to pick up a book or be involved in a setting where they would ever hear a convicting message? But like some reading their Bible even now, if I had read a list of the results of neglected prayer, such as the one above, perhaps I would have been caught long before I had reached a serious, spiritual drought.
It's too bad that the word prayer on the cover of a book or in the title of a workshop can keep us from what has the potential to radically release a supernatural power to change our lives while here on earth. But that's where it seems that the victory over prayerlessness begins ... with helplessness.
Andrew Murray in his classic, The Prayer Life, de-votes numerous chapters to the issue of prayerlessness in a believer's life. A sincere study of his findings, consolations, rebukings, and encouragement offers great hope to someone discouraged by self-effort and continuous lack of victory in the pursuit of a true prayer life.
My advice to you is: Give over your restlessness and effort; fall helpless at the feet of the Lord Jesus; He will speak the word, and your soul will "live." If you have done this, then comes the message: "This is but the beginning of everything. It will require deep earnestness, and the exercise of all your power, and a watch fulness of the entire heart—eager to detect the least backsliding. Above all, it will require a surrender to a life of self-sacrifice that God really desires to see in us and which He will work out for us."
Bottom line, Murray powerfully suggests,
If we recognize, in the first place, that a right relation-ship to the Lord Jesus, above all else, includes prayer, with both the desire and power to pray according to God's will, then we have something which gives us the right to rejoice in Him and to rest in Him (emphasis added).
Once again, like alcoholics faced with the truth of the problem, we as believers are forced to examine our own prayer lives in the privacy of our hearts. It is only then, with complete dependency upon the Holy Spirit and His renewing, revealing power, that we can allow God to speak to us, perhaps as we have never before experienced Him, regarding our relationship with Him and our prayer lives.
Perhaps it is time for you to
· Let God convince you that prayerlessness in a believer's life is sin.
· Admit your helplessness.
· Confess your sin and accept God's forgiveness.
· Be encouraged that you are not alone in the world, but you may be a trailblazer for prayer in your home, youth group, church, organization, city, synod, or state.
Then as C. S. Lewis put it, be challenged to change with "a fellow-patient in the same hospital who, having been admitted a little earlier, could give some advice."
· Is this the life you want? A rich life of blessing from God? It belongs to you if you are a believer living in obedience to God. And if you have failed and sinned against God, it is still available to you if you follow the turn-around steps that God prescribes—humility, prayer, seeking God's face, and turning away from evil ways.
· God wants this for you. He wants you to love him and serve him with an obedient spirit. He wants you to be his child, a member of his family. God's love for you means that he always wants what's best for you. He offers you this gift, the gift of eternal life, a life of supreme quality beginning now and lasting for all eternity.
· For an example of repentant prayer, please turn with me to Psalm 51. We’ll close with the reading of this:
”Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.
Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart,