MELVIN M. NEWLAND, MINISTER RIDGE CHAPEL, KANSAS, OK
(Powerpoints used with this message are available for free. Simply email me at email@example.com and request #406.)
TEXT: Ephesians 3:14-21: Daniel 4:35; Jeremiah 18:7-8
There is really no need this morning to dwell upon the feelings of fear, anger, division & uncertainty that have enveloped our nation during the last few months. And the pessimism about the impact of this pandemic is almost as bad as the pandemic itself.
A. What we must not forget is that we're not powerless. Our voices are heard in heaven! We can & need to lift our voices in prayer; to ask God to intervene & give us guidance for ways we can respond to these feelings with the love of Christ.
In Ephesians 3:14-21 the apostle Paul is praying for the Christians in Ephesus, & he is also praying for us, for all those down through the ages who come to know Jesus as Savior & Lord.
He prays, “For this reason I kneel before the Father . . . I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
“And I pray that you, being rooted & established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide & long & high & deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church & in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever & ever. Amen.”
B. Sometimes our prayers seem to be more urgent when we’re in the midst of difficulties, struggling to understand & overcome the problems that weigh heavily upon us. If that is true, then we should be a praying people, earnestly beseeching God for His help in times like this.
Someone said, “I don’t feel like praying.” His friend answered, “Well, why don’t you talk to God about it?” Prayer is simply talking to God. If you’re struggling with your prayer life, I want to assure you that God is still a prayer-hearing & a prayer-answering God.
You don't have to pray in any specific way, using holy words or repeating any religious phrases. You don't have to pray in any specific place. Anyplace you spend time with the Lord is holy ground.
You don't need to pray a long prayer – the Lord’s Prayer is rather short. You don't have to pray a flowery prayer – just speak from the heart. The important thing is that you take time to pray. And we're certainly living in a time for prayer!
ILL. In the satirical play, “Love and Death”, Napoleon walked by his lady's room & heard voices. Suspicious of her faithfulness to him, he questioned her about it.
"I was praying," she explained. "But I heard two voices," Napoleon said. "I do both parts," she replied.
C. The reason we pray is not because we believe in the power of prayer. We pray because we believe in the power of God. We believe that He is the all-powerful God of the Bible, who has not put His power on hold.
Psalm 115:3 declares, "Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him." God does whatever He pleases, & He doesn't need our vote - nor does He wait for our veto.
Even King Nebuchadnezzar knew that the God of Israel had that kind of power, for he declared, "He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven & the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: ‘What have you done?’" (Daniel 4:35)
PROP. So if we're going to talk about prayer, the first thing we need is to realize the awesomeness of God. Some have been taught that the only reason to pray is to change ourselves. But that’s not the emphasis of the Bible at all.
Instead, the Bible teaches that prayer can make a difference in what God does, & that prayer can also have an effect on our circumstances.
I. PRAYER CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN WHAT GOD DOES
A. Do you respond when your kids make requests of you? Of course you do. So does God. He is the perfect parent as well as the powerful creator. And the Bible teaches that prayer can make a difference in what God does.
ILL. For instance, remember when God brought His people out of Egypt by those great miracles? Then after seeing the sea open up before them, they traveled on to Mt. Sinai.
While Moses was up on the mountain having a long talk with God, & receiving the 10 commandments, the people got impatient. They took off their jewelry, melted it down, poured the liquid gold into a mold shaped like a calf - & guess what they got? A golden calf!
They worshiped that calf, sang hymns to it, brought offerings, & declared that the calf was the god who had brought them out of Egypt.
God was not pleased! He said to Moses, "I have seen these people...& they are a stiff-necked people." Then God gave Moses a command: "Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them & that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation." (Exodus 32:9-10)
Even though God told Moses to leave Him alone, Moses immediately began to beg God not to destroy His people. Deuteronomy 9:18 tells us that he kept pleading with God to spare the people.
In vs. 19 Moses said, “I feared the anger and wrath of the Lord, for He was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the Lord listened to me.”
So what happened? Exodus 32:14 tells us, "The Lord relented & did not bring on His people the disaster He had threatened."
Isn't it wonderful that God listens to our prayers, & that prayer can make a difference in what God does? God listened to Moses & God changed His mind.
ILL. Then there was King Hezekiah. God told Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah to get his affairs in order because he was going to die.
But Hezekiah prayed earnestly, & before Isaiah got out of the palace courtyard, God told him to go back & tell Hezekiah, "I have heard your prayer & seen your tears; I will heal you...I will add 15 years to your life." (2 Kings 20:5-6)
Some people say that God never changes His mind, but listen to what God says about that.
In Jeremiah 18:7-8 God says, "If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down & destroyed, & if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent & not inflict on it the disaster I had planned."
SUM. While God will never change His goal, the redemption of mankind, He will & can change some particulars in response to the prayers of His children. He has that right, & He has demonstrated that many times in the Bible.
II. PRAYER CAN HAVE AN EFFECT ON OUR CIRCUMSTANCES
A. Not only can prayer affect God’s actions, prayer can also have an effect on our circumstances because we're talking to the One who has all power - yesterday, today, & forever. In Gen. 18:14 we read, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"
When God was going to fill a valley full of water without any rain or wind, the prophet Elisha was told, "This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord." (2 Kgs 3:18)
An angel who came directly from heaven to Mary brought this message: "Nothing is impossible with God" (Luke 1:37). Jesus, who knows God the Father better than anyone, said, "With God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26)
SUM. If God, angels, prophets, & Jesus proclaimed the awesome power of God, then we who are Christians ought to proclaim it, too.
The disciples once asked each other about Jesus, "Who is this? He com-mands even the winds & the water, & they obey Him" (Luke 8:25).
B. We human beings are the only part of creation that God has given the freedom to listen to His command & then decide whether to obey or not. That's the reason God could say to the Red Sea, "Open up," & the sea opened up.
When Jesus commanded the fig tree to dry up, it did not have a committee meeting with other fig trees to decide what to do. Any time God speaks to nature, nature has no option but to obey
Remember when Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den? The lions were hungry, but God closed their mouths.
Remember when Jonah was thrown overboard? The Bible says that God provided a great fish to swallow him. That fish had no option but to obey.
Jonah was in that fish for 3 days & 3 nights. I'm convinced he tried every way he could to get out - but nothing worked. Jonah finally realized that he was in a crisis & started to pray.
And as soon as Jonah finished praying, "The Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah up onto the beach, & it did" (Jonah 2:10 TEV).
SUM. You see, prayer does have power to affect circumstances.
III. WHAT ABOUT TODAY?
A. But what about today? Does God really continue to hear our prayers & intervene in our lives? I'm convinced that He does. Many of our missionaries have observed God's intervention firsthand.
ILL. Ron Morse witnessed an example of God's intervention in Thailand. He was working with some villagers in northern Thailand, & that area was having the worst grasshopper plague that anyone could remember.
Finally, the leader of the village said to Ron, "You go back home & gather your Christians & pray for 3 weeks that the grasshoppers will leave the Christians' fields.”
"If, when you return in 3 weeks, the grasshoppers have left the Christians' fields, but are still in the non-Christians' fields, I will help you lead this whole village to worship your Jesus." What a challenge!
With earnestness & sincerity, the Christians prayed. Three weeks later Ron came back to that village & was devastated by what he saw. It was obvious that the grasshoppers were still in the Christians' fields. In fact, there seemed to be more grasshoppers in those fields.
But upon careful examination, they found that the grasshoppers in the Christians' fields were only eating the weeds - they were not touching the rice - while the grasshoppers in the non-Christians' fields were eating the rice & not the weeds.
There were so many grasshoppers in the Christians' fields that the droppings they left fertilized the ground so well that they had an abundant harvest of rice, enough to feed all the people there. Folks, we have an awesome God!
ILL. Missionary Jim McElroy also told about what happened in the Philippines when he was called into a village. An infant was deathly ill. The child had not nursed for days & was turning gray. His eyes were rolled back; he appeared lifeless, apparently just moments from death.
Jim turned to the Filipino preacher & said, "I didn't know we were coming here for a medical reason. I brought no medicine. Did you?" The Filipino preacher said "No. What shall we do?" Jim answered. "Let's pray."
While they were praying fervently for God's help, the little infant reached up & touched one of those who was praying. Before they finished praying, the infant moved toward the mother's breast & began to nurse.
The following Sunday was Easter. As Jim was preaching in a neighboring village in an outdoor assembly, he saw coming over the brink of the hill a woman carrying a baby. Behind her were over 20 adults.
As they got closer, Jim recognized the mother & the infant, who was looking very healthy. The adults had come to accept Jesus Christ & to be immersed. We serve a powerful & awesome God!
B. That does not mean God will always answer "Yes" to our prayers. We have all experienced the "No" answers. We must be careful lest we start to believe that we can order God around with our prayers.
Our God listens carefully to our prayers, agonies, & heartaches. But He will not permit us to dictate to Him what He has to do.
So how do we understand it when we pray for someone to be healed & that person dies? It does not mean that God loves some more & some less, or that God respects some & not others.
Psalms 103:11 says, "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him."
With that great love He also declares, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways...As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways & my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9).
I believe we can trust in a God who is that big & has that much love for us.
C. When the answer does not come exactly the way we want or expect, our faith should hold hands with the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego, those 3 men thrown into the furnace of fire, who declared,
"If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, & He will rescue us from your hand...
But even if He does not, we want you to know...that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:17-18)
Our trust in the power of God continues not because we always get our way, but because we believe in the way of God!
To pray is to tap into God's power. Non-Christians do not believe that God still has power today. If Christians don't believe it, who will?
Isn't it time for us to catch up with our forefathers & believe in, teach about, & pray to the God we read about in Ephesians 3:20 at the beginning of this sermon where it says, "Now to Him who is able to do . . . ALL we ask or imagine"?
We can imagine great things. Wouldn't a God who could accomplish “ALL” of them be a great God?
But do you notice in the Powerpoint of that passage, projected on the screen, that there are 3 dots between the words “do” & “ALL”? Those dots indicate that I left some words out.
Now putting those words back in – here is what Paul wrote: "Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us,
to Him be glory in the church & in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever & ever! Amen" (Ephesians 3:20-21).
That's the power of prayer. It is the power of God! It is tapping into Him who “is able to do immeasurably more than all we can possibly ask or imagine.” What a God & what a privilege - to be able to talk to Him, & know that He listens to us & answers our prayers!