So Solomon finished the Lord’s temple and the royal palace. Everything that had entered Solomon’s heart to do for the Lord’s temple and for his own palace succeeded.
Then the Lord appeared to Solomon at night and said to him:
I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple of sacrifice. If I shut the sky so there is no rain, or if I command the grasshopper to consume the land, or if I send pestilence on my people, and my people, who bear my name, humble themselves, pray and seek my face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. My eyes will now be open and my ears attentive to prayer from this place.And I have now chosen and consecrated this temple so that my name may be there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there at all times.
As for you, if you walk before me as your father David walked, doing everything I have commanded you, and if you keep my statutes and ordinances, I will establish your royal throne, as I promised your father David: You will never fail to have a man ruling in Israel.
However, if you turn away and abandon my statutes and my commands that I have set before you and if you go and serve other gods and bow in worship to them, then I will uproot Israel from the soil that I gave them, and this temple that I have sanctified for my name I will banish from my presence; I will make it an object of scorn and ridicule among all the peoples. As for this temple, which was exalted, everyone who passes by will be appalled and will say: Why did the Lord do this to this land and this temple? Then they will say: Because they abandoned the Lord God of their ancestors who brought them out of the land of Egypt. They clung to other gods and bowed in worship to them and served them. Because of this, he brought all this ruin on them. 2 Chronicles 7:11-22 CSB
We’re continuing our series called Holy Things and we’re going to begin looking at Practices of Holy People for the next 4 weeks. Today’s practice is prayer. Prayer simply means talking to God. Most religions have some form of prayer. In some religions prayers are merely rituals. In some religions prayer has more to do with you than the god or gods you are praying to. But, in Judaism and Christianity, prayer has more to do with God than than it does us as God’s people.
Our text for today comes from the Old Testament, which means it was originally written to the nation of Israel, to the Jewish people. I believe this text explains the way that God has designed prayer to work.
I’ll give you some context.
Some time after the Lord had delivered the Israelites into the Promised Land, the land we know as Israel, there was a King named David. King David wasn’t by any means perfect, but he was a righteous king. Later in life, though, David sinned against God. He failed to trust the Lord and began to trust instead in his own wisdom and power. David tried to repent of his lack of trust, so he wanted to build a temple to worship God in Jerusalem. But the Lord forbid it and told David that His son would be allowed to build the temple instead of him.
And that’s exactly what David’s son, Solomon, did. Here’s what the author of Chronicles wrote about the building of the temple in Jerusalem.
Solomon built an amazing temple for the Lord. And the Lord was pleased with Solomon.
God heard Solomon’s prayer.
How many times have we prayed and wondered if God had even heard our prayers?
God heard Solomon’s prayer and God was pleased with Solomon so He chose the temple that Solomon built to be His temple. Solomon offered this amazing temple to God and God was pleased to reside there.
But, the Lord does not dwell in the temple any more. You may know this, but the temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD. And that’s okay, actually, because we don’t need the temple any more. In the book of Acts, Stephen said,
The Lord no longer resides in temples made by human hands, but now he lives in the temple that He made—not a temple that man made, but a temple that God made. The Apostle Paul wrote,
You are God’s temple and God resides in you as a Christian.
Solomon offered a physical, man-made temple to God and God was pleased to live there for a time. But, today, you offer yourself, your body, your mind to God as a temple and God is pleased to come and live in you. You are the temple of God. When you commit your life to Jesus Christ, he responds to you, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen you for myself.”
What’s interesting about this passage is that the Lord knew that the Israelites were disobedient to the law and that they would sin against him. After the Lord commended Solomon for the temple, His very next statement addressed what would happen if they disobeyed. The Lord said,
The Lord spoke of discipline. But, he promised that, although we may undergo discipline when we don’t submit to his Lordship, he will not abandon us.
He will hear us from heaven. He will forgive our sin. He will open his eyes to us and hear our prayers.
But, I want you to notice, there are four criteria in those verses I just read that God requires in order to hear our prayers. I’d like to go through each one briefly.
So often we feel as though God is not hearing our prayers and it is quite possible, based on this text, that we are right. I guess it’s not that he can’t hear the words. It might be clearer to say that God may not be listening or paying attention when you pray. So, we’ll go through these four criteria so that your prayers may not be hindered.
The first criteria is…
There are many people who claim to be very spiritual. They try to be good people and they read the Bible or other spiritual literature. And of course they pray. But, notice in our passage, if you don’t have Christ then you don’t pray as you ought to pray. The Lord said,
Now, I won’t say that God never hears the prayers of an unbeliever.
Certainly, God can listen to whoever he wants to listen to. But, here there is a promise made to those who bear the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ. If you bear the name of Jesus, then God has granted to you a power through prayer that other people do not have access to.
What’s in a name, though?
The Apostle Peter said of Jesus,
The Apostle Paul wrote,
The Apostle John said,
There’s power in a name. Those who bear the name of Jesus have access to that power.
We say as Christians that we believe in the power of prayer. But, be certain of this, there is no power in prayer except for those who bear the name of Jesus.
To say that plainly, prayer is for Christians.
And like many things, this is a Kingdom issue. The people of the Kingdom of the World don’t have the privilege to enter the Kingdom of God and enter the throne room of the King to make petitions to Him. Only citizens of God’s Kingdom get to enter His throne room to make petitions. Prayer is for Christians.
So, the first criteria is that you bear the name of Jesus Christ. The second criteria for prayer is that you pray in…
To be humble is to make yourself low. We see the idea of humility brought to life when people pray on their knees or laying prostrate on the floor. That’s a physical lowliness. But, the physical lowliness is just a glimpse of the lowliness that first must be present in your heart.
We must never pray as though we deserve God’s response. The person who works very hard to live a good and righteous life, lives a commendable life.
But, in your righteousness, if you come to prayer with the sense that God ought to reward your good behavior, then you have prayed arrogantly, not humbly. And God will not listen to that prayer.
Instead we pray in humility. The humble heart agrees with God on His assessment of the human condition. The humble heart does not feel deserving or entitled to God’s blessing or privilege.
The Psalmist knew this. He confessed,
You know, people want to argue about what age a child becomes responsible for their sin as if their sin is any less sin, because they are children.
I believe that God has mercy on those who are unable to comprehend the consequences of their sins. But, that does not make the sin any less sin. The Psalmist believed that children are sinners before they are even born, even from the moment of conception.
The reality is, you are not a sinner, because you sin. You weren’t born righteous and then decided to sin and became a sinner later on. You sin because you are a sinner from birth.
It’s like this. Dogs bark because they are dogs. They aren’t dogs because they bark. They bark because they are dogs. Likewise you sin because you were born a sinner. You were a sinner before you ever sinned. It’s your natural identity.
Now, you might say, “Yeah, I was a sinner, but now I’m a Christian! I have a new identity!” And that would be somewhat true.
But, that’s not the full picture. I’d like you to consider this saying. You’ve heard it.
Author Unknown — You can take the animal out of the wild, but you can’t take the wild out of the animal.
See, Christ does give us a new identity.
And the Spirit of God in us does move us to righteousness. But, an animal is still an animal and a sinner is still a sinner…at least for now.
The Reformation preacher Martin Luther explained this tension with the Latin phrase Simul Justus et Peccator, which means “simultaneously righteous yet still a sinner.”
That’s who you are, even as a Christian. You were born a sinner and you will die a sinner and you will be a sinner until Christ returns for His church and makes you ‘Not a sinner anymore.’
So, when you come to God in prayer you come as one unworthy, not as one deserving. You come as a beggar not a prince. You come as one depraved and not deprived. We pray to God as depraved people, begging for mercy from a righteous King. And that is what it means to pray in humility.
We pray in Christ, we pray in humility, and closely related, the third criteria is that we must be…
Notice what the Lord said,
When I say our prayers should be seeking, I don’t mean that we should be seeking something we want or need for ourselves from God. Rather, we are to seek God’s face.
That sounds kind of weird, actually. You hear it in songs, “God we seek your face,” but what does that really mean? Oddly enough, I think the 1560 Geneva Bible does a better job of translating this verse than most contemporary English translations. It says,
See, when we pray, we are to seek the presence of God.
Prayer is not about getting stuff. It’s about experiencing the presence of a merciful, loving God. Prayer that is only ‘fix this,’ ‘give this,’ ‘make this happen’ is arrogant prayer focused on the self. Prayer is supposed to take the spotlight off of us as sinful humans and place the spotlight on Jesus Christ.
Prayer exalts the sovereign glory of God. Prayer acknowledges the grace and mercy of God. Prayer is grateful for the sacrifices of God through Jesus Christ.
Only when we have established the gloriousness of God can we then come with petitions and say, “In your mercy, Father, give us this day our daily bread.” Even then, we pray like Christ, “Not my will be done, but yours,” so that if God does not grant our requests, we continue to acknowledge His sovereign wisdom.
When you pray self-centered prayers and God does not answer the way you expect Him to answer, you walk away bitter and you feel deceived. But, when you pray God-centered prayers, seeking the presence of God, and God does not answer the way you expect Him to, you trust that God has done all according to His purposes. Chances are, if you are discontent in prayer, it is because you are praying self-centered prayers and not God-centered prayers.
Prayer is for Christ’s people who bear His name and who come humbly before God’s throne. Prayer is for those who seek the presence of the living
God. And, finally, prayer is for those who demonstrate…
Sin demonstrates who really sits on the throne.
I’m less concerned here about moments of failure. When we talk about a failure to repent of sins we are talking about persistent, intentional sin without remorse. Persistent sin is continual or ongoing sin. Intentional sin is when you know the right thing to do, but you choose to do the wrong thing. And sin without remorse is when you sin, and you know it, but you don’t even care.
Persistent sin demonstrates that you are on the throne and not Jesus. Intentional sin demonstrates that you are on the throne and not Jesus. And sin without remorse demonstrates that you are on the throne and not Jesus.
We are told part of prayer is repentance. We are to turn from our evil ways.
• Sin is an experience of this world, but we come to prayer seeking an experience of God.
• Sin speaks to our self-sufficiency, but in prayer we are called to humility, seeking the sufficiency of Christ.
• When we sin, we bear the name of the devil, but in prayer we are called to bear the name of Christ.
In every way sin stands in the way of our prayers. If you feel that your prayers are hindered, it is likely because of persistent, intentional sin without remorse.
Those who turn a deaf ear to the ways of God make their prayer detestable to God.
• In James 4:3, James says that your selfishness stands in the way of your prayers.
• Jesus said in Mark 11.25 that your unforgiveness of others stands in the way of your prayers.
• In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter says that family strife stands in the way of your prayers.
• In Psalm 66:18, the Psalmist says that your hatred of others stands in the way of your prayers.
When we pray, we repent of sin, because our sin stands in the way of our prayers.
We come before God in repentance—still sinners, but desiring to be free from sin. We come before God to seek His face, to experience His presence. We come before God humbly—not feeling as though we deserve anything, but pleading for mercy from a gracious God. And we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, the only one who has the power to forgive sins and the only one deserving of our worship.
Honestly, that makes prayer seem impossible, but the Lord promised that if we pray in this way,
God will hear our prayers. And when God hears our prayers, the reward is great. And that’s the climax of this passage. It’s a passage that teaches much of prayer, but it highlights four promises that God makes for those who pray in this way. Notice:
First God promises…
This is the foundational promise of the scriptures. Remember, you were born a sinner. You were born on the side of the devil. Every sin you committed against other people, against yourself, and against God is a betrayal of the purpose God designed you for. The promise of true prayer is that God will forgive you.
But, notice, forgiveness of sins does not come because of simple belief. Forgiveness of sins is because you claim the name of Christ, you have confessed your sinfulness, you seek the presence of God, and for the promise of the glory of the Kingdom of God, you even repent of sins. And for that you are forgiven.
Forgiveness doesn’t come easy. The way of salvation is the narrow road. It is unpopular and it is difficult to traverse. But, it’s worth it. Prayer results in forgiveness.
The second promise of prayer is…
The Lord told the Israelites that if they were disobedient, he would stop the rains and cause locusts to eat their crops so that they would starve. So, the promise of prayer is providence. The promise is that in Christ you will receive everything you need.
And I love this promise, because so much of the prayer we do is based on needs: need for food, need for money, need for job, need for housing, need for healing, and so on.
But, the Lord says, stop worrying about what you need when you pray and just focus on me. The things of this world that you need are temporary. They are fading away, but God is an everlasting God. Focus on God in prayer.
And when you do, the promise is, all your needs will be given to you. It’s like the things we need to live are so small compared to God’s power that He doesn’t want us worrying about those things. Instead he just wants us to trust in Him.
A third promise of prayer…
…to our prayers.
Some theologians have suggested that God has bound Himself to listen to our prayers. That’s powerful language, but it depicts well what is happening here. When we who are Christians, humble ourselves, pray and seek the presence of God, and repent of sins, then God promises to listen to our prayers.
I know there is nothing I cannot take before the throne of God that God will not hear and that He will not respond reasonably to according to His wisdom.
Some of you are still wondering if God ever hears your prayers.
How is it that other people can be so confident that God listens to them?
Because we have experienced it. We know the presence of God well and we have seen answers to difficult prayers. So, we know that the Lord hears us. We know that He is attentive to our prayers.
The world would have you to believe that prayer is about you, that it has psychological benefits. And it does. But, that is not why we pray. We don’t pray to feel better or to think clearer. We pray because, in prayer God is attentive to us; He hears our prayers. And that’s a power that the world cannot understand, because they don’t know Christ.
And finally, we’ve talked a lot about seeking God’s presence, but God promises that in prayer we will experience His…
This promise comes by negative inference. God’s presence resided in the temple that Solomon built. Today, as Christians, we are God’s temple, as we said in the beginning. And God dwells in us by His Spirit. God’s presence resides in us.
That’s an amazing promise. The Israelites had to travel to the temple to inquire of God through a priest. They had to drag their sacrifices with them so they could perform sacrifices of worship at the temple. They needed the temple and the priests to get to God, but you have God in you and you have access to God all the time.
I think that’s why Paul said we should pray constantly. Paul knew the frustration of having to travel to the temple and the animal sacrifices and the priests and all that went with it. Paul could only get God’s presence once or twice a year if he was lucky. But, then He came to know Jesus and He was filled with the Holy Spirit and He became alive and He knew that the presence of God was with Him. So he said to pray constantly because it was crazy to Him that anyone would ever want to leave the presence of God.
We compartmentalize and we want to live part of our lives for work, part for family, and part for God. But Paul was all about the presence of God in everything that He did. He wanted to experience God’s presence all the time. And because the Spirit of God lives in you, you can.
Those are the promises of prayer: Forgiveness of sins, God’s provision for every need, God’s attentiveness to your prayers, and God’s real presence in your life.
We talked about…
I’d like you to get your cards and commit to a Next Step now. And I’m just going to be strait with you. There’s only a couple of steps to take. You could write down pray. You could write down pray better. You could write down pray more or pray constantly.
But, maybe you don’t pray because you don’t know Christ. If that’s where you are at there is a box on your card that says, ‘commit to Christ.’ Check that box if you want to know more about what that entails and we will contact you to help you understand that in more detail.
But, you will never experience God apart from Christ. Prayer is pointless without Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the only name that get’s you into the presence of God. You have to know that name or there is no forgiveness, there is no provision, no presence.
And some of you just aren’t praying much. Others of you pray, but for one reason or another, your prayers are hindered. Your step might be to pray humbly. Confess your sinfulness to God, confess that you are unworthy of Him, and then thank Him for His mercy and presence. Make it a point to confess your sinfulness to God every time you pray. And make it a point to acknowledge His glory and mercy every time you pray. Don’t forget the great chasm that lies between you and Christ so that your prayers might not be hindered.
And some of you aren’t praying because your prayers are hindered by sin. And if that’s where you are at, today is the day to leave the past behind. Leave the sin behind and move to righteousness. That might be your next step today.