Pastor Chris Timm
And it’s great when we do that, and that’s the great thing about being in communities. That’s why really— I appreciated Jacob’s challenge and his message last week about being in community, because we can come to church, but that’s not necessarily being in community. It’s when we share our lives with one another. To know somebody enough that you can give them a book like that and that would float their boat. And I’d say, “What the heck is this?!” you know what I mean? That takes knowledge, that takes relationship, and that’s what community is about. And that’s why we should be here as a church. It’s amazing because in this world of social media and all these ways that we have to connect, you read study after study, and report after report, and people are feeling more alone and isolated than ever. And why is that? Because we don’t enter into community anymore, and so that’s where the church, I think, can let its light shine- because we can be an alternative to a cold, sometimes cruel world out there.
Community, that’s encouragement. But what about from God, where can we draw encouragement from God? Well, God works in miracles. He works in interventions, but sometimes in the more subtle ways, through prayer and the idea of aligning our will with His.
So today I want to look at the idea of encouragement through prayer using Psalm 54 as our guide. There’s a story of a preacher of a charismatic church where they, at the end of the message, invite people to come up for prayer. Kind of like we do it in our open alter time in the end of the year. This guy came in, this great big guy, they called him big Ed. Big guy, with a, you know, great testimony, kind of a bit of a checkered past. The people would like to have shared their testimony, but when it was big Ed’s turn, he got up and the preacher said to him, “Big Ed, what do you want me to pray about?” and big Ed. said, “Well, you know, I want you to pray for my hearing. I need prayer for my hearing”. And the preacher put the hand on his ear and put the other hand in the air. And he started to pray and he was praying out loud. It was a fervent prayer, a prayer of intervention. And he really was into it, I mean, the spirit was moving. And at the end, you know, he said, “So, Big Ed, how is, how is your hearing now?” and he said, “Well I really don’t know, my hearing’s on Wednesday at the Wellington County house”.
The need to not just do it, but to understand the right intent is critical with prayer, because I would think all of who are here pray in one form or another. But do we understand why we’re praying and what we’re praying? Because sometimes we can be asked for prayer and be totally out in left field. And that’s where being in community is important as well. Understanding- when somebody says, “I need you to pray for me”- what we are even really praying about. And so, often times—I’ve taught this in youth ministry or in Sunday school, or with kids. And probably some of you know, this is called the ACTS:
It’s like the Lord’s Prayer. When you read the disciple’s prayer- the Lord’s Prayer, as it’s called- Jesus takes us through this criteria of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication. And what that does is it balances priorities in the right place. Adoration is praising the Lord and glorifying Him. And we see that in the Psalms. In Psalm 103:
Praise the Lord, O my soul; all that is in me praise His holy name
Next we have Confession. When we mess up, when we screw up- which we all do- we need to confess our sins. He’s faithful and just, He’ll forgive our sins, as the Scriptures say. David, in Psalm 51, said this, “I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me. Confession, create in me a pure heart, renew a steadfast spirit”. As David prayed, in Psalm 51, confession is meaning you admit what you’ve done. Then you repent and turn from it. And what that does is help to restore a renewed fellowship with God and fellowship with others. And if you have unconfessed sin in your life, that is a barrier between you and God. Because God is a perfect God and yes, Jesus died for our sins. According to Scripture, sins are forgiven, but if you are holding on to sin, if you’re not confessing it, that creates a barrier. So that barrier with God—you are putting a barrier in the way of God and His intervention. It’s kind of like stacking pews between where me and Anna are. When it’s unconfessed, it just keeps stacking and stacking and stacking and you get further and further away from God. And God, as we’ll learn this week in camp, speaks in whispers. As the prophet Elijah experienced, not in storms, though He’s there, not in thunder, though He’s there, He speaks in whispers so He knows that He has our attention. And so confession is very important for that.
After adoration and confession we have Thanksgiving- that’s an attitude of gratitude. Psalm 100, “Enter His gates with Thanksgiving. Give thanks to Him and praise His name”. Yes, know God. Yes, Experience God. But also thank Him for his goodness in good times, and yes, even in bad times. “In all things give thanks” the Scriptures say. And we do that because “thanks” is based on His character, on his goodness as King and Creator. And that’s how even in terrible circumstances we can give thanks to God and be thankful because it’s not based on we or what we’re doing or our situations. It’s based on Him and who He is, and what He is doing. And what He did, when Jesus died on the cross. And so thanksgiving should be part of our regular prayer as well.
And then finally we come to the last part of the ACTS, which is Supplication or, as I like to say, “stuff”. Finally we get to the point where we get to ask things! Woohoo! That’s great! But it’s more than just that. Some of you may be saying, “I was afraid you were going to say that”. Definitely because supplication is just to ask for, earnestly and humbly -often translated as petition. Since supplication is not a word we use very much anymore. But it means an earnest request for things, for stuff. And it’s like the idea of presenting a petition. There were some congregation members who were concerned with their Pastor and some of the teaching. And they went to his office, and with earnest and imploring eyes they presented him with a clipboard filled with sheets of signatures. “This petition”, said the spokesperson of the group, “is a request to change the term sinner, to person who is morally challenged.” Hopefully he rejected it, because sin is more than that. But that idea of, you are bringing your requests to the King of kings and the Lord of lords, you do it humbly, you do it reverently and respectfully. So it’s more than just asking for stuff. It speaks of an attitude. It speaks of an approach to God. And with that in mind, I want us to read Psalm 54:
Save me, O God, by your name; vindicate me by your might. Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth. Arrogant foes are attacking me; ruthless people are trying to kill me -people without regard for God. Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me. Let evil recoil on those who slander me; in your faithfulness destroy them. I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you; I will praise your name, Lord, for it is good. You have delivered me from all my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes
And so encouragement through prayer, it’s all about asking the right way. We say to kids, “say please- it’s the way of asking”, teaching kids. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Though being polite is good, the point is: why are you asking for what you’re asking for? And what’s the purpose of your request? It should be based on genuine concern. Do we do that? Do we know why we’re praying? Why do we pray for our families? Why do we pray for missionaries? Why do we pray for world events? You may say, “Duh, it’s obvious”, but is it? Because are you broken for them? Do you love them? “Well it’s polite. It’s a nice thing to do”. Yes, that’s true. But it should be more when we’re looking for encouragement. It’s the same for our prayers for ourselves. Why are we asking, when we pray for ourselves? We don’t ask anything of God that He doesn’t know already. We’re reading Psalm 139, “before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, O Lord”. So we’re not telling Him anything that God doesn’t know already. He’s not saying, “Wow, I didn’t realize it. That’s very profound, Chris.” He knows it, so why are we doing it? Let’s see where David goes with this and learn from that.
So first of all, there needs to be a starting point in his prayer for deliverance. This covers what David is asking and why. So when you pray prayers of supplication and prayers for stuff, you’re seeking deliverance for something or for someone. You’re praying for a certain action. So the key thing here is to be specific.
In verse 1, David says, “Save me”. How? By your name, “Save me by your name”, it shows the source of where our help is going to come from, right over the gate. He needs help and he knows his help is going to come from God. “Save me by your name”, verse 1, “vindicate me- or deliver me- free me from blame” How? “by Your might”. That shows the nature of our deliverance. So we see the source of it and we also see the nature of that. In verse 2, David says, “Hear me; listen to me”. David then articulates the why he’s asking these things. Verse 3, “Strangers are attacking”, that’s the why, “ruthless men, they seek my life, men with no regard for God”. That’s the why. Clear articulation is what’s being asked for, it’s not vague. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I pray and it’s like, “O Lord, would you bless this person?” What does that mean? Bless them. You know, can I be more specific? We should be more specific if we are praying prayers of supplication. If we’re just doing it to check it off our list and be polite Christians, well then, just carry on. But if you’re truly broken and you truly love this person, and you’re taking the time to be praying for them, because they’ve asked, or you felt led, what blessing? Bless them—fill in the blank. Take the time to be a little more specific as David is. David is very specific here about what his needs are. And we can learn from that. That’s the starting point of his prayer for deliverance- focused on the Lord and specific.
Then in verse 4 comes kind of the turning point of it, because he’s cried out to the Lord. He’s prayed for him, he’s laid out what he wants, and in verse 4 we see that affirmation of trust. “Surely God is my help. The Lord is the One who sustains me”. And this is the central verse, or really the turning point of the Psalm. And David has- despite the challenge that’s going on- a real sense of confidence here. Still in the realm of asking, but he shifts from worry to confidence. You can almost hear a change in his tone of voice from desperation to confidence. Can you hear that? “Save me, O God; hear me, vindicate me. But surely God is my help“. And that to me is a real neat transition that we have here. There’s an assertion that God is going to act. And that He is the One who is looking after him. And that speaks to hope. My daughter was wearing a shirt—Esther was wearing a shirt yesterday with a sparkly word and it had “hope” on it. It was kind of a neat little catch phrase, but I was like, “What are you hoping?” I really hope it’s not going to be 32° next week. Is your hope in the Lord, who will be with us during this camp? Do you see the difference? In the one, hope has a question mark behind it, and the other one has an exclamation mark behind it. Hope versus hope, an affirmation of trust there.
When we ask, do we believe? Do we really trust? And that’s why sometimes- for me anyways- some of my prayers are so small. Because it’s scary to ask big prayers, because God may not act, and if He doesn’t act, what does that mean? Is this real? So we ask small prayers. “Lord, please heal me from this cold that I have”. Well the reality is, not to be cynical, but the fact is that even if you don’t pray you are going to get over your cold. And that’s a big prayer of some people. And that’s so small, because we’re afraid. Because we’re afraid to make that affirmation of trust that David had. David was on the run, he puts his trust, “Surely God is my help". The Lord is the One who’s going to sustain me. Well how can He sustain us? Because sometimes we just think, “Ok, well He’s just going to deliver us from it”. But sometimes He sends other believers to help us. And I’ve had that situation of late and it lasted a while, where just walking with some different people and different circumstances, and they’re looking for a different answer. And I believe the answer is that He sent me or someone else to walk with Him through this. It’s an affirmation of trust. And it’s only when you get in those situations that the challenge really comes. But with David, that becomes a turning point for him. That question mark becomes an exclamation mark.
And so afterwards then he can finish this great prayer with praise. Praise for deliverance. And it’s almost like he’s putting his fist in the face of these people, “Let evil recoil from all who slander me, and Your faithfulness destroy them”. That’s a good prayer. Would you pray that? Lord, destroy my enemy? Probably not, because we’re too polite for that; we’re Canadians and Christians. Oh my, double whammy there! We’re too polite to ask for stuff like that. But then he says, “I will sacrifice a freewill offering to You. I’ll praise Your name, for it is good. For He has delivered me from all my troubles”. This is in the present tense. It’s still happening. He’s still on the run, and yet he is confident that he will be delivered. And we know from History that he was. We see the results in assurance here. Verse 5 is a conviction, because conviction is a state; it’s an affirmation. God’s faithfulness is a basis of his petition.
In verse 6-7 we see a resolution or an anticipation of that, the real sense of that. And this takes me back to when we were studying that series on 1 John 5, where John wrote, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God. That if we ask anything according to His will he hears us”, and if you know that He hears us, whatever we ask, you know that we have what we asked of him. There’s a note of promise here in these verses also. He’s making a pledge to God to acknowledge and thank for the [ask] for deliverance. And it’s a good thing for us to remember as well. When God has acted in our lives, do we take the time to stop and praise Him? I think of the story where Jesus healed a whole bunch of lepers and only one of them came back to thank him. They were all ecstatic they had been healed. They had had to tell their friends, they had to tell priests, they had to tell the whole world, they had to tell CNN, and the Jerusalem Times and all this stuff- this great miracle. Tell all but Jesus, but they forgot to go back and thank the one who’d given it to them. And that’s really important for us as well. If we’re going to seek encouragement from prayer is to remember to thank Him for his answers to prayers as well and it’s an easy thing to remember.
But the point, I think, that we can take from this is that—the question really is: where do we see our prayers and our petitions going? And then what are we going to do as part of it? Because supplication or asking for stuff focuses on it and it shows us our heart. Really shows our heart to us, what our priorities are, who we care about, our wants versus our needs, and that’s an important thing when you look at your prayers. What are you praying for and what’s your motivation for it? It’s a sobering exercise maybe, but hopefully it’s one that’s encouraging as well. So with that in mind, how do we find that encouragement from prayer that we’re looking for? Bill Hybels, a pastor at Willow Creek Church, said this:
You don’t have to pester God to get His attention. You don’t have to grovel; you don’t have to flail yourself. You don’t have to bite your lip and groan and moan, and all these kinds of things that people do to show God they really mean business. If one of my kids every called me and said, “Daddy, please, please, please, I beg you, I petition you, I’m pleading you to listen to my need”, I’d say, “Time out! I don’t like the underlying assumption here. You don’t have to go through all those gymnastics. What can I do for you? Nothing in my life is more important than you. What gives me greater pleasure in life than meeting the needs of my children? Nothing in my life is more important than you.
So a couple of things that I think we can take from Psalm 54 and David’s experience, with just a real struggle in his life, is this: First of all, is check your intentions. Just ask the question, “Why are we asking? Why are we praying this in the first place? Do we really know? Do we really care?” And that’s where things like our prayer prompter, or our updates from our missionaries—You know, it’s great because they send us prayer requests, they let us know specifically what they are looking for. And so we have the opportunity to pray with them in context. So not just pray, “Lord, I pray for the missionaries that we support, though I don’t know any of their names”, but to be able to specifically know what’s going on in their lives. So we need to check our intentions, because sometimes we fall into the habit of doing good Christian things. Doing good Christian things; and they are all good, but again, what’s our intention? Because if we’re just doing it because they’re good Christian things, I really, frankly, don’t believe there’s any empowerment in them. So it’s when you align your will with God’s, and you allow Him to flow in you and flow through you, that your prayers become powerful and encouraging. Check your intentions first of all.
Second, as we see from David- David was a powerful man, he was a warrior, he was a fighter. And yet here is this fighter and he’s not organizing his troops for a counterattack. He’s saying, “Save me, O God, vindicate me, here my prayers, listen to my words”. This mighty warrior, the one who killed Goliath; Saul has killed his hundreds, they’re saying, but David has killed his thousands. This mighty warrior is humbling himself. The great evangelist D. L. Moody said this:
“Spread out your petition before God and then say, ‘Thy will, not mine, be done’”. The sweetest lesson I’ve learned in God’s school is to let the Lord choose for me.
So we check our intentions, we humble ourselves, we also need to be reminded that God answers prayers. And you hear me say this regularly but it also bears repeating because we live in a very distracted, busy world. And God answers prayers. Yes, no or not yet. It may not be what we want, but He does. With that in mind, I think of prayers of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, from the Old Testament, when they were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace and said, “You know what? God is going to act. But if He doesn’t act, He’s still God.” And people say, “What a [cop out]” but, you know, that’s a great sense of faith. The sense he was going to move, but if he didn’t, God was still God. And a lot of times, I found with people, as I journeyed- especially since I’ve become a Pastor, is a lot of people’s relationship with God is conditional. As long as You’re answering my prayers the way that I want, I will walk with you, but as soon as things don’t, I leave. Then I go and find something else that works. Because they’re looking for a formula, they’re not looking for a Savior. And I know that in my own experience, as I journeyed with my dad dying of Cancer last year. Because my prayer was, “Lord, heal him, work miraculously, I can’t take this”, and yet He still allowed him to die. And God said to me, “Are you still with Me?” He’s still on my team. And that was a struggle, because I’d written a very different script. And that was hard to do, but God answered my prayers. He said, “No”. And I don’t understand why, and I may never understand why. But the key was, am I still willing to stay with Him and say that God is good? He is good. He is good. He is just; He is fair. And that is an affirmation. It’s very, very important to have. Because there are times that we have prayer like that, but there are times that are “cry of our heart” prayers, which are prayers that we don’t even know, as I call them, but prayers that God knows already. So you say, “What’s the point of asking then, anyways, if He knows the stuff?” Well really it’s to align ourselves with Him, and to be in the center of His will, and to remove barriers and obstacles. And I’ve seen subsequent to what I went through and with my prayers, and my dad’s situation, and stuff like that. I’ve seen God be able to use that circumstance already in a number of very distinct situations where I say, “Still unhappy about it, still don’t like it”, still sometimes I’m like; “I’m still kind of mad about this”. But I begin to see why He allowed it to happen. Because He’s been able to use it to help others, and that helps me to carry on. But the key is, I have to check my intentions when I pray, humble myself, and to remember that He does answer prayers. It’s not always the way that I want. Paul wrote to the church of Philippi, he said this:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God