Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Prayers that Please God

Which prayers does God hear and answer? Which please Him? The Bible has a consistent answer. Solomon consecrated the Temple he had built with a wonderfully God-centered prayer. Here is a representative segment:

  • "When they [Israel] sin against you [God]—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to a land far away or near; and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captivity and say, 'We have sinned, we have done wrong and acted wickedly'; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their captivity where they were taken, and pray toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and toward the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their pleas, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you” (2 Chronicles 6:36-39). 
Solomon touched on all of the key areas of prayer—sin, righteousness, justice, confession, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. What did God think of Solomon’s prayer? Evidently, He was pleased. Fire came down from heaven to consume Solomon’s offering (2 Chron. 7:1) indicating that God had received his prayer. Also:

  • The LORD appeared to him at night and said: "I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices…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” (2 Chronicles 7:12-14).
What did it mean for Israel to “humble themselves”? Jesus told a parable about two people who entered the Temple to pray. The Pharisee was self-righteous and looked down on everyone else. The tax-collector was despised and held in contempt by all. The Pharisee’s prayer was “about himself”—his worthiness before God. The tax-collector could only cry out, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” However, it was the tax-collector who humbled himself and confessed his unworthiness who received forgiveness. Jesus explained:

  • "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:14).
However, according to the faith or prosperity preachers—some call them the “name-it-claim-it preachers”—humility has nothing to do with receiving from God. Instead, it’s about demanding our rights. Pat Robertson once stated:

  • “Most people ask God for a miracle but many omit a key requirement—the spoken word. God has given us authority over disease, over demons, over sickness, over storms, over finances. We are to declare that authority in Jesus’ name…We are to command the money to come to us” (Michael Horton, The Agony of Deceit, 128).
Actually, the Bible clearly teaches us that everything God gives us is by His unmerited favor. God will never be in a position to owe us anything!

  • Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! (Romans 11:35-36) 
Since all good things come from God (James 1:17), we are always beholden to Him. Jesus instructed that even if we do everything that we are supposed to do, we must consider ourselves unworthy servants (Luke 17:10). Instead, the prosperity preachers claim that we are so worthy that we have the right to “command the money to come to us.”

Commanding God is something that we never find in Scripture. Perhaps the closest thing to this was the hubris of Simon the magician, who wanted to pay God for a supernatural gift. The Apostle Peter was horrified by such an arrogant suggestion:

  • "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin" (Acts 8:20-23). 
To think that we can merit something from God with either our money or good deeds shows that our minds are “captive to sin” and still tainted with darkness. In contrast, Solomon’s prayer reflected a mature understanding that everything comes to us through the mercy of God.

Prior to this, Solomon had prayed for wisdom:

  • "Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?" The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this (1 Kings 3:7-10). 
The Lord was pleased that Solomon hadn’t asked for wealth and power. Instead, he asked for the wisdom to govern His beloved people. Nor did Solomon command the wisdom to come to him. In fact, no one in the Bible had such an expectation.
Solomon had learned well from his father, King David. David also knew how to pray humbly to God. He, confessing that he deserved nothing from God but punishment, found blessedness through confession:

  • Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"—and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:1-5). 
David understood that blessedness was a matter of receiving the grace of God through a humble confession of his sins and not from claiming things that he didn’t deserve.

Prosperity preachers claim that we can establish heavenly merit through good deeds and then demand payment. Joyce Meyers claimed:

  • “It says in Romans 4:17 that…we have a God who gives life to the dead and He calls things that be not as though they already existed…If there’s something in your way, speak it…When I talked with Dr. Roberts today and we talked about this seed-faith thing, he said…when you give you get a receipt in heaven that when you have a need you can then go with your receipt and say ‘You see, God, I have got my receipt from my sowing and now I have a need and I’m cashing in my receipt’” (Christian Research Journal, Joel Hunter). 
Meyers is right about one thing. God will answer us according to our deeds or righteousness. However, this doesn’t mean that God owes us anything (Romans 11:35) or that we have a heavenly bank account in the black from which we have the right draw. Rather, if we want to draw from God what we rightfully deserve, it is nothing but condemnation! Instead, it is by the mercy of God alone that we receive anything good from Him.

Jesus taught that we don’t even deserve a “thank you” from God. Instead, we are to consider ourselves as unworthy servants (Luke 17:6-10), not deserving anything from Him.

Well, how is it that He blesses us according to our obedience? Because it is the fruit that He produces through our obedience (Philippians 2:12-13)! Paul confessed he couldn’t take credit for any of his labors, let alone make demands on God, because of his heavenly account:

  • But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me (1 Corinthians 15:10).
God even gets the credit for our labors. Sound confusing? Well, it is! God produces the fruit, and yet, we must still take full responsibility. Can we understand this fully? No, but we shouldn’t expect to!

If we deserve anything from God, it is death:

  • For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
While our heavenly account will always be in the red, our Savior has given us life.

Meyers is mistaken about Romans 4:17 in another way. Yes, God has the power to call things into existence from nothing. However, there is nothing in this verse to suggest that we have such a power. Claiming that we do places us on the same level as God. This represents a denial of God’s revelation.

Instead, the prayers that move God are characterized by a humble brokenness—the acknowledgement that it is all about the mercy of God. King Hezekiah had been a good king. However, because of his success and wealth, he became proud and distanced himself from God. However, God struck him down with a fatal disease. Hezekiah did not pray as some of the faith preachers recommend: “I am healthy and will live to be 100!” Instead, he “wept bitterly” (Isaiah 38:3) and God answered his prayer for life. As a result Hezekiah thanked God:

  • “Like a lion he [God] broke all my bones; day and night you made an end of me. I cried like a swift or thrush, I moaned like a mourning dove. My eyes grew weak as I looked to the heavens. I am troubled; O Lord, come to my aid! But what can I say? He has spoken to me, and he himself has done this. I will walk humbly all my years because of this anguish of my soul. Lord, by such things men live; and my spirit finds life in them too. You restored me to health and let me live. Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back” (Isaiah 38:13-17).
Hezekiah’s illness restored his humility.  He acknowledged that God’s ways are just and that He, in His mercy, had struck His servant down.

In contrast to this display of appropriate humility, TV megachurch pastor, Joel Osteen, claims that our words have “enormous creative power”:

  • “Our words are vital in bringing our dreams to pass. It’s not enough to simply see it by faith or in your imagination. You have to begin speaking words of faith over your life. Your words have enormous creative power. The moment you speak something out, you give birth to it…Just look in the mirror and say ‘I am strong, I am healthy. I’m rising to new levels, I’m excited about my future.’ When you say that, it may not be true. You may not be very healthy today, or maybe you don’t have a lot of things to look forward to, but Scripture tells us in Romans [4:17] we have to call the things that are not as if they already were” (Christian Research Journal, Joel Hunter).
Scripture gives us no indication that we have such power. Rather, God wants truth in our inmost being (Psalm 51:6). We have no right or authorization to play fast and loose with the truth. All truth is God’s truth. Consequently, we are not free to manipulate it.

James chastens those who speak arrogantly, who say that they will make a financial killing:

  • Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil (James 4:15-16).
Our words have to conform to God’s reality and not to our imaginations and dreams. Claiming that we can shape reality with our words is boasting. Instead, we have to acknowledge that it’s all about “the Lord’s will.” James claims that we need to realize that we are no more than a “…mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14b).  We are incapable of succeeding at anything apart from God.

King Manasseh of Judah was the worst of the worst. He reigned for 55 years in Jerusalem and bathed the city with the blood of the righteous. Scripture informs us that he was worse than the Canaanites. However, Manasseh was captured by the Assyrians and thrown into jail. There he humbled himself in prayer before the God he had hated:

  • In his distress he sought the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God (2 Chronicles 33:12-13).
Amazingly, God restored Manasseh to the throne! Had Joel Osteen counseled Manasseh in prison, he would have instructed him:

  • “The moment you speak something out, you give birth to it… Just look in the mirror and say ‘I am strong, I am healthy. I’m rising to new levels, I’m excited about my future.’”
However, such an assertion cannot be found in Scripture; nor would God have responded to such a prayer!

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