Summary: Prayer is the most powerful force in the Universe and yet the most overlooked.

"The Urgency of Prayer"

Isaiah 56:1-7

It is good to be back with you after spending a month away on a sabbatical. I have to tell you how appreciative I am for your graciousness in allowing me to withdraw from all of my normal responsibilities so that I could be still for a while to be renewed and refreshed by being in the Lord's presence.

I have learned many things in the past month. The lessons have been rich from the time I have spent in study and prayer. This morning I want to share with you the most powerful of the lessons the Lord has taught me. I have been so anxious to share this insight with you because I am convicted in my heart that God has opened my eyes to this insight for us as a church and not just for me.

At the beginning of the sabbatical I felt a strong leading from the Lord to dig deep into the Minor Prophets and see what God would uncover there for me. Reading the prophets every day has left a lasting impression on my heart as God has shown me some themes that run through each of their lives as they spoke to the people of their day. Let me share these themes with you before we dig into our Scripture for this morning.

* God, in His infinite grace, chooses to reveal Himself to the people to draw them into relationship with Himself.

* God showers the people with the blessings of His presence and His provision for every area of life. He promises to Shepherd them, love them, and protect them.

* The people are made aware of God's goodness and it stirs their hearts.

* The every day cares of life, their own sin-nature, and the surrounding influences of society begin to wear down their zeal for the Lord and they begin to slip away.

* God sends His judgment to discipline His people and to seek to turn them back to Himself. Once His discipline is exacted, He waits for them to cry out in prayers of repentance and submission to His will.

* When matters grow most desperate the people drop everything and cry out to the Father for His help.

* God responds to their cries of prayer in grace, because of His love for His chosen people, and He brings them back, rescues them from their destruction, and restores their relationship to Himself.

If you take the time to read the Prophets you will find these themes running through each and every book. As you read, you may be overwhelmed with a combined sense of elation and frustration from one page to the next. On the one hand, it is so exciting, so inspiring, and so encouraging to see God's grace shine so brightly. My friend, God is so faithful, He is unwavering in His infinite love for His people. The faithfulness, love, and constant care of the Father for His people should move us to the depth of our soul because it is not just the people long ago whom God loved and cared for - His love, salvation, and abiding presence are still at work today for those who will cling to Him in faith.

On the other hand, the stories of the prophets are so frustrating, almost agonizing to read. In story after story in Hosea, Joel, Zephaniah, Malachi, and the other prophets we see how easily the people forget about God and the constancy of His love and salvation. These stories were so frustrating for me to read and pray through because the judgment of God upon the people, their exile to foreign lands, and the desperation they felt in feeling so alone and unable to do anything about their situation did not have to happen. God desired, He yearned, for intimacy with His people, but they chose to walk away and make their own way through this world.

The stories are agonizing when you stop to pray through these stories and realize that they are us. Who among us can honestly say that we have not known the goodness of God? Who among us has not felt His divine hand of grace sparing us from certain disaster? Who among us has not known of His mercy that pardoned us when we knew a guilty verdict was certain? Who among us this morning has not experienced our world coming apart at the seams only to have the Father knit us back together with cords of lovingkindness? Oh, we know the goodness of God, we've tasted of His grace, we've felt His comforting hands, we've seen His deliverance, we've heard of His salvation, but we've walked away to chart our own course, set our own path, and dictate our own destiny--only to find that our wisdom was foolishness and our road to happiness and success was nothing more than a dead-end.

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