IV. Application of what we have learned.
I will now speak a word or two of application, and so conclude with, First, A word of wisdom; Second, A word of encouragement; Third, A word of rebuke.
Application #1 - A word of wisdom.
First be wise and know; that prayer is the duty of every one of the children of God, and carried on by the Spirit of Christ in the soul; so every one that prays to the Lord, needs to be very careful, and be sure to pray in his heart with a fear of God, as well as with hopes of the mercy of God through Jesus Christ.
Prayer is a command of God, in which a man draws very near to God; and therefore it especially calls for the assistance of the grace of God to help the soul to pray as is fitting for one that is in the very presence of the Almighty God. It is a shame for a man to behave irreverently before a king, but it is a sin to do so before God. And just as an earthly king is not pleased with an speech made up with inappropriate words and gestures, so God takes no pleasure in the sacrifice of fools (Ecclesiastes 5:1, 4). It is not long discourses, nor eloquent tongues, that are the things which are pleasing to the ears of the Lord; rather it is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, that is pleasing to the heavenly Majesty (Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 57:15). Therefore, be wise and know that there are four things that are obstructions to prayer, and even make void the requests of the creature:
First Obstruction to Prayer - When we cherish sin in our hearts.
"When men cherish sin in their hearts," at the time of their prayers before God, "then the Lord will not listen" to their prayer (Psalm 66:18). The Lord will not listen to the prayer when there is a secret love for that very thing which you with your deceitful lips ask for strength against. For this is the wickedness of man's heart, that it will even love, and hold tightly to that which the mouth is praying against! And when we do this, then we become the same as those who honor God with their mouths, but whose hearts are far from him (Isaiah 29:13; Ezekiel 33:31).
Second Obstruction to Prayer - When we pray only to be heard by others.
When men pray with the sole purpose to be heard by others, so as to be considered someone very religious, then these prayers will fall far short of God's approval, and will never be answered.
There are two sorts of men that pray this way:
(1.) Private chaplains, that thrust themselves into great men's families, pretending the worship of God, when in truth their motive is their own stomachs; and are clearly pictured by Ahab's prophets, and also Nebuchadnezzar's wise men, who, though they pretended great devotion, yet their lusts and their stomachs were the great things aimed at by them in all their devotions.
(2.) Those that seek honor and applause for their eloquent terms, and seek more to tickle the ears and heads of their hearers than anything else. These are they that pray to be heard of men, and have received all their reward already (Matthew 6:5). These persons are easily discovered because:
(a.) They focus only on the eloquence of their expressions.
(b.) They look for commendation when they are done.
(c.) Their hearts either rise or fall according to their praise received.
(d.) The length of their prayer pleases them; and to make it long, they will vainly repeat things over and over (Matthew 6:7).
Third Obstruction to Prayer - When we pray for the wrong things.
A prayer that will not be accepted by God, is when men either pray for wrong things, or if for the right things, yet that the thing prayed for might be spent on their lusts. "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (James 4:2-4). When we pray for something contrary to God's will then God will frustrate the petitions presented before him. Therefore, many pray for this and that, and yet do not receive it. God answers them only with silence; they have their words for their labor; and that is all.
Objection - But God hears some persons, though their hearts are not right with him, as he did Israel, in giving quails, though they spent them on their lusts (Psalm 106:14).
Answer - If he does, it is in judgment, not in mercy. Indeed, he gave them what they asked for, but they would have been better off without it, for he also "sent a wasting disease upon them." (Psalm 106:15). Woe be to that man that God answers in this manner.
Fourth Obstruction to Prayer - Not asking in the Name of Christ.
Another type of prayers that are not answered, are those that are made by men, and presented to God in their own persons, without asking in the name of Christ. It is true that God has ordained prayer, and promised to hear the prayers of men and women, yet not the prayer that fails to come through Christ. Jesus said "I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father" (John 14:13). The Apostle Paul said, "Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:17). Even though you may be devout, zealous, earnest and constant in prayer, yet it is only in Christ that you will be heard and accepted. But, I am sorry to say, that most men do not know what it means to come to God in the name of the Lord Jesus, which is because they live wicked, pray wicked, and also die wicked.
Application #2 - A word of encouragement.
I want to encourage the poor, tempted, and discouraged soul, to pray to God through Christ. Though all prayer that is acceptable to God must be in the Spirit-for only the Spirit makes intercession for us according to the will of God, (Rom 8:27)-yet because many poor souls may have the Holy Spirit working on them, and stirring them to cry out to the Lord for mercy, though through unbelief they do not, nor, for the present, cannot believe that they are the people of God, yet I encourage them to pray. Note carefully the following three encouragements to pray:
Encouragement #1 - God answers persistent prayers.
That scripture in Luke 11:8 is very encouraging to any poor soul that hungers after Christ Jesus. In verses 5-7, he speaks a parable of a man that went to his friend to borrow three loaves of bread, but because his friend was in bed he denied his request. Yet the man who needed the bread kept knocking, and finally his friend did arise and give him what he wanted, clearly signifying that though poor souls, through the weakness of their faith, cannot see that they are the friends of God, yet they should never stop asking, seeking, and knocking at God's door for mercy. Note, what Christ said, "I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness," or persistence, "he will get up and give him as much as he needs" (Luke 11:8)
Poor heart! you feel that God will not pay attention to you, you are not his friend, but rather his enemy in your heart because of your wicked deeds (Colossians 1:21). And you claim that you can hear the Lord saying to you, "Don't bother me. I can't give you anything"; yet I say, continue knocking, crying, and moaning. I tell you, "though he will not get up and give you what you want because you are his friend, yet because of your boldness [in your persistence] he will get up and give you as much as you need." And truly, my own experience tells me, that there is nothing that prevails more with God than persistence.
Encouragement #2 - That God is sitting on a "Throne of Grace"
Another encouragement for a poor trembling soul is to consider the place, throne, or seat, on which the great God has placed himself to hear the petitions and prayers of poor creatures; and that is a "throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16). Which signifies that in these days of gospel grace, God has taken up his seat, his abiding-place, in mercy and forgiveness; and from there he listens to the sinner, and communes with him, as he said (Exodus 25:22),-speaking before his place of mercy-"I will meet with you."
Often, poor troubled souls are very apt to entertain strange thoughts of God, and his attitude towards them: and suddenly they conclude that God will not care for them, when in fact, he is sitting on a throne of mercy, and has taken that place on purpose, so that he may hear and answer the prayers of poor creatures. If he had said, I will commune with you from my throne of judgment, then indeed you might have trembled and fled from the face of the great and glorious Majesty. But when he said he will hear and commune with souls from the throne of grace, this should encourage you, and cause you to hope, yes, to "approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that you may receive mercy and find grace to help you in your time of need" (Hebrews 4:16)
Encouragement #3 - God's "Throne of Grace" is sprinked with the "Blood of Christ"
Just as there is a "Throne of Grace" from where God is willing to commune with poor sinners; so there is also next to his throne, Jesus Christ, who continually sprinkles it with his blood. Therefore it is called "the sprinkled blood" (Hebrews 12:24). When the high-priest under the law was to go into the Most Holy Place, where the seat of God's mercy was, he could not go in "without blood" (Hebrews 9:7).
Why? Because, though God was on sitting on a seat of mercy, yet he was perfectly just as well as merciful. Now the blood was to stop justice from being poured out upon the persons needing the intercession of the high-priest, (as in Leviticus 16:13-17), to signify that all your unworthiness that you fear, should not hinder you from coming to God in Christ for mercy. You cry out that you are wicked, and therefore God will not listen to your prayers; it is true, if you delight in your wickedness, and come to God out of a mere pretence.
But if from a sense of your wickedness you pour out your heart to God, desiring to be saved from the guilt, and cleansed from the filth, with all your heart; then do not fear, your wickedness will not cause the Lord to stop listening to you. The value of the blood of Christ which is sprinkled on the place of God's mercy stops the course of justice, and opens a floodgate for the mercy of the Lord to be extended to you. You therefore have, the "confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us" (Hebrews 10:20).
Besides, Jesus is there, not only to sprinkle the place of mercy with his blood, but he speaks, and his blood speaks; and God has said, "When I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you" (Exodus 12:13).
Be earnest and humble; go to the Father in the name of the Son, and tell him your case, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, and you will then feel the benefit of praying with your spirit and also with your mind.
Application #3 - A word of reproof
I sadly speak to you who never pray at all. You are not a Christian if you are not a praying person. The promise is that every one that is godly will pray (Psa 32:6). You then are a wicked miserable creature that does not pray. People that forget prayer, that do not call on the name of the Lord, they have a prayer prayed against them, Jeremiah prayed, "Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the peoples who do not call on your name" (Jeremiah 10:25).
Must the holy, harmless, and undefiled Spirit of grace, the very nature of God, the promise of Christ, the Counselor of his children, that without which no man can do any service acceptable to the Father-must this Holy Spirit, be taunted and mocked by you? Do you think that you can mock the Spirit of Christ and escape unpunished? (Numbers 16; Hebrews 10:29). Did you never read what God did to Ananias and Sapphira for telling just one lie against the Holy Spirit? (Acts 5:1-8). Also, are you aware what happen to Simon Magus for undervaluing the Holy Spirit? (Acts 8:18-22). It is a fearful thing to defy the Spirit of grace (Compare Matthew 12:31, with Mark 3:28-30).
I will conclude this message with some words of advice to all God's people:
1. Believe that if you seek to walk in a way pleasing to God, then you will meet with many temptations from the evil one.
2. The first day that you enter into Christ's congregation, watch out for the temptations.
3. When the temptations come, beg God to carry you through them.
4. Be suspicious of your own heart, that it does not deceive you into thinking that you are more holy than you are.
5. Beware of the flatteries of false brethren.
6. Walk continually in the Word-the life and power of truth.
7. Fix your eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
8. Watch out for the "little" sins.
9. Keep the promise of eternal life warm in your heart.
10. Renew your faith in the blood of Christ.
11. Honor those who are doing the blessed work of God in your generation.
12. Follow after and emulate the godly Christians of your generation.
Grace be with you. Amen.
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