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The Value of Repentant Prayer

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The Value of Repentant Prayer

2 Chronicles 7:13-16, Psalm 66:18

January 14, 2007

Last Sunday, I opened my series of messages on prayer with a “Back to the Basics” teaching. Today we are moving on to another prayer basic – repentance. Repentance is a precursor to prayer. This story will illustrate its importance: 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. If you have your Bibles with you please turn to our key passage for today – 2 Chronicles 7:13-16 and follow along as I read:

"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

A basic tenet of our faith regarding prayer is this: 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.

There is retribution—God does chastens his sinful. What did verse 13 say? "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,

Why would a loving God do this? Well, first and foremost, God hates sin.

The disasters and plagues mentioned in this verse 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 and to bring them back to himself. It works doesn’t it! My own life is full of examples of God bringing me back to Himself because God hates sin. God chose us to bring His message of hope to the world and He can’t use us when we are wallowing in sin. He chose us to be fishers of men: we catch’em; He cleans’em. But first He cleans us! 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, as Romans 3:23 says, we 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. Let’s look at them now. The three things which cause us to backslide are prosperity, worldliness, and the influence of the ungodly. Let’s look at what the Bible says about each.

First, 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 are 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 do not lose their status as God's people. They will lose the blessings of obedience and they will open themselves up to the harassment of the evil one, but they will not lose their salvation. Phew!! Thank God for His mercy!

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. Do not do as Job’s accusers did, assume suffering means sin. But, on the other hand, do not assume suffering does not mean sin We are to test ourselves. As 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you are disqualified.’

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 patterns that need to be changed. He may be convincing you that his grace is all-sufficient, that in your weakness, He can be your strength. 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. As I said before, 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. Praise the Lord!

Let’s look at the the way of escape now:

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. So the first turnaround step is to humbly repent.

Step 2 – Prayer – “if My people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray.”

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 Seek 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.” Do you take delight in approaching your Abba Father?

Step 4 - Turn 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? Are you doing your own thing? 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: humble yourself, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from your wicked ways.

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.” Isn’t that a wonderful promise?

God promises pardon and restoration: If we follow our four corrective steps – to humble ourselves, to pray, to seek God’s face, and to turn from our wicked ways, then He promises to take His three steps:

Step one - God hear us

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 - 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, pointing believers 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. And, lastly,

Step 3 –will be healing

The healing that God promised in the Old Testament is related to the chastening trials that he brought upon the land in response to disobedience. God reversed the effects of these natural disasters—drought, locusts, disease—and brought 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).

 

Becky Tirabassi has written a number of books on prayer, including one entitled, “Let Prayer Change Your Life”. 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." If prayer was really important to us – the heartthrob of our life – wouldn’t we do all we could to keep that channel of communication open? Has prayer become something we feel we should do rather than something you want to do? Is your prayer life stuck? Becky Tirabassi identifies some misconceptions about prayer. She does this because she recognizes there is a problem with prayer – several problems:

1.     Did you know that prayer gatherings are the least practiced Christian gatherings?

2.     2. When prayer meetings are called attendance is low. Why?

The "Problem of Prayer"

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? Becky identified four misconceptions, four reasons that prayer is pushed aside.

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.

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?

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 Father2 Chronicles says 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.

The Bible speaks boldly of a God

who performs miracles,

brings the dead back to life,t

turns the sea into dry land,

converts sinners to Christ, and

assigns them as evangelists and

apostles!

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 with a clean heart. 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? Unbelief is sin. Unbelief in God or unbelief in prayer. Both are sin.

Results of Prayerlessness

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!

Andrew Murray in his classic, The Prayer Life, says: 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."  This is but the beginning of everything. It will require deep earnest­ness, and the exercise of all your power, and a watch ful­lness of the entire heart—eager to detect the least backsliding. Above all, it will require surrender to a life of self-sacrifice that God really desires to see in us and which He will work out for us."

We as believers are forced to examine our prayer lives in the privacy of our hearts. It is only then, with complete dependency upon the Holy Spirit and His renewing, revealing power. Allow God to speak to you. Your relationship with Him and your prayer lives depend on it.

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, or province.

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."

Conclusion

·       Is this the life you want? Or do 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.



 

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