************ Catechism Sermon on Lord's Day 52-45 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 10, 2019
Lord's Day 52-45
1 Chronicles 4:9-10; 1 John 5:13-15
"Prayers God Doesn't Have to Answer"
Today is our last look at the sound doctrine of the Catechism. It is sound doctrine because it is based upon the Bible and not upon what man's itching ears want to hear.
I The Certainty of Answered Prayer
A Our Bible reading from 1 John tells us that God hears our prayers. "Hear" means more than listening. Hearing is answering for God. That's what John has in mind here.
God hears and answers our prayers. About that we can have "confidence" -- we can be sure, we can take this to the bank. Isn't that amazing?! The sovereign God, the mighty and everlasting God, binds Himself to hear our prayers.
What is even more amazing is that God did not hear the prayer of His one and only Son. Remember Jesus' prayer in the Garden?
(Mt 26:39) "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."And, remember His cry from the cross?
(Mt 27:46) "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"Even though God has promised to hear and answer prayer, He did not hear and answer these two prayers. Why not? Because this was part of His plan for our salvation.
B Now, in praying as Jesus taught us to pray, we make a staggering number of requests. We have prayed about God's name, kingdom, and will. We have prayed for daily bread, forgiveness, and temptation. This morning I want to ask, has God bound Himself to answer all these prayers? Does God have to hear and answer these prayers?
II The Prayer of Jabez
A Have you heard of the "name it and claim it" movement? According to this movement, all you have to do is name something in prayer and, in faith, it is yours to claim. The people in the "name it and claim it" movement answer "Yes" to my question. They say "Yes, God always answers our prayers and grants our requests."
As proof, they direct our attention to the Prayer of Jabez. We don't know much about Jabez. We know he did not have a good beginning to his life. His mother called him Jabez, meaning "I gave birth to him in pain." Imagine if you went through life being called a "pain." Imagine your own mother thinking of pain every time she said your name. We also know that Jabez prayed a prayer.
B In his prayer, Jabez makes four requests of God. First, "Oh, that you would bless me." "To bless" means to ask for God's favor. We need God's favor or blessing upon all that we do and say and think. And, if we don't have His blessing then we are spinning our wheels and wasting our time.
Second, Jabez prays, "Enlarge my territory." In that time and place he was asking for riches -- having more lands and flocks and herds.
Third, Jabez prays, "Let your hand be with me." God's hand represents His power and His strength. He was asking for God's power to be made real in him and through him.
Fourth, Jabez prays, "Keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain." He was asking for safety and protection.
C Did you notice how our passage ends? Scripture says, "And God granted his request." God blessed him, God enlarged his territory, God's hand was with him, and God kept him from pain.
Now, based upon the Prayer of Jabez and its amazing answer, pastors are preaching and people are saying that if we want a life of blessing and health and strength and prosperity, then all we have to do is pray about it. "Name it and claim it."
I want to warn you about the danger of the Jabez Prayer movement. Do you know why I say this? Because millions who expect to be "extravagantly blessed by God" have faced a painful cycle of depression and despair when their prayers have gone unanswered. Multitudes who are promised "miracles on a daily basis" have been left discouraged and questioning their faith when those miracles do not happen.
What am I saying? In spite of God's promise in 1 John 5 to hear and answer prayer, there are prayers God does not have to listen to. Let's find out why.
III Why Prayers are Not Answered (Lord's Day 45)
A The Catechism asks, "How does God want us to pray so that he will listen to us?" The answer tells us why there are prayers God does not have to answer.
The Catechism tells us we must pray to the one true God, the God of the Bible. All of our praying must reflect what the Scriptures tell us about God. Scripture tells us that God is our Father in heaven; so we know He doesn't have to listen when we pray to Him as our Mother in heaven. Scripture tells us that God is holy and that He hates all sin; therefore we know He doesn't have to listen when we ask for His help in committing a sin.
B The Catechism tells us to pray for everything God has commanded us to ask for. That is, we must pray according to God's will (cf 1 Jn 5:14). If we ask according to God's will, do you know what God gives us? He gives us a blank check, a blank signed check, where we fill in the amount. If we ask according to God's will we have access to all of God's resources. But if we don't ask according to God's will, God is not required to hear and to answer.
C The Catechism also tells us we must pray to God with honesty and humility. Remember the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Lk 18)? The Pharisee's prayer lacked all humility; in his prayer he actually boasted about himself and failed to show reverence for God; it also lacked any honesty in that he did not acknowledge His own sin and guilt. The tax collector, on the other hand, was both honest and humble. He knew and confessed his sin and he was filled with reverential awe as he approached God in prayer. Jesus tells us that God does not have to answer the prayers of those who are not honest and humble.
D The Catechism tells us to pray in Jesus' name. Unless you know Jesus, unless He is your Lord and Savior, your prayers are not necessarily heard and answered. But prayers prayed in Jesus' name are prayers prayed with confidence. We know that because of Christ God hears our prayers. "You may ask me for anything in my name," says Jesus, "and I will do it" (John 14:14).
E The Catechism asks, "What did God command us to pray for?" Its answer: "Everything we need, spiritually and physically."
We need to make sure we don't confuse needs with wants because God does not have to answer prayers for wants. For instance, some friends brought to Jesus a cripple, someone who could not walk and jump and run, someone who could not get up for his most natural needs and wants. When he was lying there, at the feet of Jesus, we would think his real needs were evident to everyone. That man needed healing! But Jesus said, "Son, your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2:5). Jesus knew, Jesus identified, Jesus satisfied this man's deepest need: forgiveness.
The Lord does not have to answer prayers for wants. His focus is on our needs, our real needs.
IV Examples of Unanswered Prayer (LD 46-52)
A Let's now look at the Lord's Prayer in terms of unanswered prayer.
The prayer starts with, "Our Father in heaven ..." This tells us that only those who are God's children can pray. The right to enter God's throne room by prayer belongs only to the children of the King.
This means God does not have to answer the prayers of those who are not His children. He does not have to answer the prayers of those who do not acknowledge Him as Father. God may choose to hear and answer but He is not obligated to hear and answer. God does not have to answer prayers of the unsaved. And many of them do pray -- for family, health, children, jobs. They pray at athletic and political events. But God is under no obligation to hear or answer any of these prayers.
B "Hallowed be your name." The catechism says this first petition means we want to really know, bless, worship, and praise God (A 122). To pray this petition with integrity, to expect God to answer us when we pray this petition, means we will attempt to know God better and more intimately than before. Therefore, Christians who have no time or interest in Bible study can't expect to be answered. Christian parents who neglect to teach their children about Jesus can't expect an answer either. Christians who neglect worship and devotions cannot honestly expect that God has to answer their prayers.
"Hallowed be your name." According to the Catechism, this also means, "Help us to direct all our living ... so that your name will never be blasphemed because of us but always honored and praised." We are hypocrites and cannot expect an answer if we make no attempt to live for the honor and praise of God's name.
C "You kingdom come." According to the Catechism this means we pray, "Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you."
If you think about it, this petition runs counter to sinful human nature. Our sinful human nature doesn't say, "Please govern me, please rule me, please let me submit to you." Rather, we seek ways to be our own boss, to be in control of our own lives.
Yet, the Christian prays, "Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you." God does not have to answer, we cannot expect God to answer, if we fight against the rule of the Word and Spirit.
D "Your will be done." If we are serious about this petition, if we are not hypocritical about praying it, if we expect an answer, then we will strive for obedient Christian behavior. God is under no compulsion to answer if obedience is not a habit of our heart.
E "Give us today our daily bread." Many have noticed that we pray to "our" Father and ask for "our" bread. Jesus teaches me here that I am not to pray only for my own physical needs. He wants you and me to also pray for the needs of others, for the needs of the church, for the needs of our community and nation, for the needs of the world.
Take a look at your prayers, congregation. How many of your requests concern yourself? Is your prayer "Our Father in heaven ... Give us today our daily bread," or is it "My Father in heaven ... Give me today my daily bread"? In the words of Paul, God wants "requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving (to) be made for everyone ..." (1 Tim 2:1). How can we expect an answer if we only focus on ourselves and if we don't share with the poor and hungry?
"Give us today our daily bread." If we want God to hear our prayer for daily bread, then we must also work for bread. God is very much opposed to all laziness (Prov 10:4; 20:4; Eph 4:28).
F "Forgive us our debts ..." When we pray this, we pray, says the Catechism, as "poor sinners." This means we must pray as people who are aware we have a debt with God.
"Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors." If we expect God to hear us and answer then we must be sinners who practice forgiveness as "evidence" of God's grace. If we cannot forgive our neighbor or our brother their debt to us why would we expect God to hear us when we pray?
G "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." We cannot regularly put ourselves in the face of temptation and expect God to answer our petition. We need to flee temptation. We need to "put on the full armor of God" (Eph 6:10-18). We need to watch and pray so that we will not fall for the devil's lures and traps. Then God hears prayer.
H "For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever." We are being reminded that our life, and our prayer life, ought to be God-centered and not me-centered.
Compare the Prayer of Jabez movement to the Lord's Prayer at this point. The Prayer of Jabez movement is all about me. Bless me, help me, save me, heal me, guard me, protect me, prosper me. The Lord's Prayer, by way of contrast, begins and ends with God: His name, kingdom, will; His kingdom, power, and glory. The Prayer of Jabez movement makes me think of myself whereas the Lord's Prayer makes me think more about God. The more I pray the Lord's Prayer the more my mind and heart bend away from me and toward God. That's the kind of prayer that God answers.
Does God answer every prayer? Does God promise to answer every prayer? Is God required to answer every prayer? Can we follow the example of the Prayer of Jabez movement and name it and claim it? The answer is "No." But when we pray the way God wants us to pray, then we know God has to hear and answer our prayers.
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