I read about "The Road to Nowhere" this week. Just outside of Bryson City, NC is a beautiful highway that simply goes no place. It’s what’s left of an abandoned attempt to create a highway between Bryson City and Townsend, Tennessee. Environmental concerns caused them to halt the project. Those who travel the road tell of how beautiful the scenery is and how smooth the highway is, but it simply comes to an end. (Preaching J/A 2001)
Is your prayer life like this? Do you feel like the scenery is wonderful and the experience is pleasant enough, but it’s not getting you anywhere? Do you pray about your problems and come away thinking, “That was nice but I still don’t know what to do?”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to “just pray.” By this I mean that I don’t want to just take a nice scenic ride when I pray, although riding around with God is very nice. I want to get somewhere with God. I want God to give me some practical help with my problems. Don’t you? For example, how am I to handle problems I am having relating with difficult people? And what about those financial struggles we all tend to experience, not to mention marriage issues and moral temptations.
We need practical help from God, and the good news is that God wants to give us the specific help we need! This reminds me of my first day on the job as a Mechanical Engineer in a Power Plant. I knew only enough to be dangerous, but I was the Engineer. I was called over to approve the start up of a recently overhauled machine. When I arrived it was plain for all to see that I was the new guy because I was the only one with a very clean white hardhat. No knowing what to do I went over to the oldest guy with the dirtiest hard hat and asked, “What do you think? Is this thing ready to go?” And based on his expertise and advice, I signed off on it.
When you are faced with day-to-day practical issues and problems that you don’t have a clue how to solve, you need to know that you can take them to the One who does know what to do and that He’ll help you. That’s the point of today’s message. If we will pray about our problems and pray in faith when we pray about our problems, God will tell us what to do and He will help us do it.
This is third of four messages in our “Prayer Can Change Your Life” series. We’ve looked at the four purposes of prayer and the five conditions of answered prayer over last two weeks. Today our focus is How to Pray about Your Problems – those that you individually have and that you need specific help with. We are again following Rick Warren’s outline for this message from his series by the same name.
Faith is the Master Key that unlocks the door to an effective prayer life! In our new Community Life Center we have one master key that unlocks every door. This master key allows us to get into every room that has just what we need to meet our various needs at any particular time. Likewise, to gain access to the various things of God to meet our many needs in life, we need to have and to use Master Key of Faith!
A. How Do You Get this Master Key of Faith?
Romans 10:17 says that, “Faith comes by hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” In the context of our verse the message is the Good News of the Gospel of Salvation. To come to saving faith in Jesus a person must hear the Gospel in a way that makes sense to him. When this happens, the Holy Spirit gives him the faith to be saved, if he wants to. I met a guy I will call “Joe” this week through the Evangelism Response Center. I had the joy of sharing the Billy Graham tract, “Steps to Peace with God” with him and helped him to clearly understand the Gospel. While I was doing this the Holy Spirit was telling him that what I was saying was true and that it was true for him. He decided to accept Jesus, so this message of salvation was applied to his life.
My job, and yours, is to communicate the message clearly. That’s why when I witness or preach and teach I use illustrations and word pictures and PowerPoint presentations and video clips and testimonies, so people can easily “hear” the message of Word of Christ. Then the Holy Spirit illuminates the person’s understanding, enabling him to know that the message is true and true for him. This births and grows faith to believe the message and to receive it. When he does, it is applied to his life. In this case the application was for salvation. In your case it may be to meet a need or to solve a problem you are experiencing.
In “Joe’s” case, he needed to receive Jesus, which he did. But then he needed to be assured that he couldn’t lose his salvation, so I shared Ephesians 1:13-14 with him which tells us that once we hear the Word of Truth, the Gospel of our salvation, and believe it, that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit. This got “Joe” excited. As the Holy Spirit illumined him to this being true, he was very encouraged. He was also concerned about being able to avoid sinning. I shared 1 Corinthians 10:13 which promises us that no temptation will come upon us but that which is common to man but with the temptation God will also provide an escape route so we will be able to avoid sinning. “Joe” was very happy and encouraged because the word was confirmed to him to be true and he had believed it and received it, by faith.
What about you? Do you need to know that God can and will solve your problems and meet your needs? Then fill up on His Word in the area of your need. I have a God’s Promises Book. It gives me a promise for every need I have! As you read God’s word in your area of need, the Holy Spirit will grow your faith so you can believe in His promise and He will apply it to your personal life situation.
B. Why Doesn’t This Work for Me?
1. Maybe you’re hard of hearing. In Mark 4 we find the Parable of the Sower. It teaches us that anytime you hear the Word of God in church, on the TV or Radio, or read it, God is trying to help you. But we don’t always listen to Him when He is trying to speak to us. When our ears are closed because our hearts are hard we hear the words, but immediately forget them. This is like the seed sown on the path. When we are indifferent to God, are set in our ways, are unwilling to be open to hearing what He has to say, no faith is born. I see this often at the back of the church after a service as some folks do the very thing God just said not to do. They didn’t hear a word He just said.
The Rocky Places represent those who have shallow hearts so any kind of problem in life causes what faith is generated by God’s word to shrivel up and is quickly blown away. These folks want church-lite – more benefits – less responsibility! The Thorns represent those who get bogged down trying to have things both ways; they try to serve God and self. They want to take both forks in the road of life; to have their cakes and eat them too. Finally, the Good Soil represents those who receive God’s Word gladly. If you can listen to God’s message without growing in faith, you may be hard of hearing.
2. Or, Maybe you have either misunderstood or misapplied the Word.
There are some parts of the Bible that apply to us all. For example, “You must be born again,” and “Call on the name of the Lord and you will be saved.” But there are some parts that only apply to you when the Holy Spirit wants it to apply to you. I remember when I was called into the ministry. I was attending church and minding my own business when the pastor preached on Isaiah 6:1-8, Isaiah’s call to the ministry. Even though the pastor was trying to recruit church workers for the new church year, God was speaking to me personally about becoming a pastor . . . and I knew it. I was sure about it because I knew that I didn’t want to obey God. How did I know this? The Holy Spirit illuminated me and made it clear to me that that is what He was saying to me.
Has this verse been used by God to call others to the ministry? I am sure it has. In the sense that we are all called to ministry, yes, but specifically to you as it was to me. No. The application is personal and specific.
We misunderstand and misapply the word when we over-generalize it. For example, if I said that Isaiah 6:1-8 means that everyone is called to be a pastor, this would be a misapplication of this passage. I remember a guy I was in seminary with who was actually thinking about divorcing his wife because she didn’t feel called to the ministry. I told him, “If He hasn’t called her; He hasn’t called you. God would never call one of you or want you to get a divorce to go into the ministry.” The fellow had misunderstood and misapplied God’s Word.
A better example would be God’s promise to heal. Can and does God heal people? Yes! Does he heal all people? No! We read about Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 who asked to be healed and his request was refused. Paul wasn’t healed even though he prayed to be healed. God’s word to him was to be weak instead. Should you pray for healing? Yes. But don’t claim it unless and until he promises to you personally that He will heal you! Faith believes what God has said to you; the promises made to you and applied to you as an individual.
C. How Do You Know When the Word is for You?
You know that God’s word is for you when you have an “Ah-Ha” moment. When you hear a sermon and you say, “He’s talking right to me,” that’s an “Ah-Ha” moment. These are times when you know you know God’s got your number. “You stepped on my toes today, preacher.” It wasn’t me. That was the Holy Spirit illuminating His Holy Word and applying it directly to your life situation! For example, this month our Series on Prayer is also the SBCV Emphasis and the focus of Billy Graham’s Decision magazine. What’s up? We all have the same “Ghost Writer.” The Holy Spirit is speaking to us. This is how He directs those who are listening to Him. The Bible tells us this in John 16:13, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” If you want Him to guide you, pray and ask Him to illumine you, and He will.
If you’ve seen the move, The Field of Dreams, you will remember the scene where Ray’s skeptical brother-in-law is trying to get Ray to sell the farm and to stop all this foolish talk about ballplayers. In this particular scene they are on the ball field and the players are there and Ray, his wife and little girl all see the players. Everyone sees them except Ray’s brother-in-law. Burt Lancaster, playing Shoeless Joe Jackson steps across the foul line to help Ray’s daughter who is chocking on a hot dog. Suddenly the brother in law sees the Doc and then all the players and says, “Where did they come from?” He goes into the house muttering, “Don’t sell the field, Ray!”
Suddenly he could see what everyone else was seeing. You know the word of God is for you when the Holy Spirit illuminates you to the truth that He is speaking a particular word to your heart. Rick Warren uses the story of Peter walking on the water to illustrate this point. Peter and only Peter is commanded to walk on the water in Matthew 14:28-29, “Lord, if it’s you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus.” Only Peter got out and walked on the water and he only did it this one time. He still needed his boat to go fishing after that day.
We’re not called to walk on water! But we are being called to do other things that are specifically for us to do. The point is that Jesus is not giving formulas for doing various things in the Bible. Instead He is teaching us that an intimate personal relationship with Him that is based in His Word and Illuminated by His Holy Spirit is how we know what to do and how to handle our particular problems.
D. How Can You Be Sure (it is the Holy Spirit)?
1. He won’t contradict Himself. For example, the Holy Spirit would never tell someone to divorce his wife so he could go into the ministry. A great example of this truth is given in Galatians 1:8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” The Holy Spirit will never tell you to do something that would contradict what He has already spoken in His word.
2. The word will suddenly come alive for you. When I meet God in my daily devotions I keep a journal because I am expecting God to speak to me and to say things that I personally need to hear. I write out my concerns and ask for specific answers, and He always gives me the guidance I need. He will do this for you too.
3. You need to listen for God to speak personally to you. Don’t use the Ouija Board approach to knowing His will. This is when you flop the Bible open and point finger at a verse. Rick tells a story of guy who did just that and the verse said, ”Judas went out and hung himself.” He knew that couldn’t be right so he tried again, “Go thou and do likewise.” Frustrated yet determined he tried a third time, “What thou doest, do quickly.” You can be sure you are hearing from God when you pray first for God to lead you to His word for you; then when you find it you will know it’s for you.
Finally, Rick gives us six steps for praying about your problems. After we review these we are going to spend some time in small groups. I encourage you to use these steps when you get together to pray in a few moments.
E. Six Steps to Praying About Your Problems
1. Confess any known sin – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
2. Commit any decisions to God. Make up your mind that you will not argue with God; that you will be good soil and that you won’t be hard of hearing. Pray as Jesus prayed, “Father, not my will, but Thy will be done.”
3. Ask God to give you His Heart’s Desire. In James 1:5 the word says, “If any of you lacks wisdom (God’s mind), he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” Ask God, “Father, what is the right way for me to handle my situation? What is Your way?”
4. Compare your desires and ways with Scripture. Some people claim that the Bible says different things to different people! Actually, it says the same things with different applications! The message to Isaiah in Isaiah 6:1-8 was for him to be willing to wholeheartedly serve God. This message is the same for us all. But, the application is personal and individually applied. For some of us this means full-time Christian service, for others it means being an active church member serving the needs of their local church. Ask God whether your desires and His desires for you match with His message in the Word.
5. Listen for God to give you a Personal Promise. Don’t do the Ouija Board approach, but actively interact with God by prayerfully reading His Word. God will speak directly to your heart about your specific needs and problems.
6. Claim it! Start thanking God for His assurance that what He has promised you will happen.
Invite everyone to gather together in small groups to pray.
(Sources: Rick Warren Sermon Series, ”Prayer Can Change Your Life;” Preaching Magazine Illustration)