The Key To Answered Prayer
THE KEY TO ANSWERED PRAYER
I have often mentioned that my sister has a chronic pain condition in her legs. My journey to find healing for my sister came to a head three years ago, in January, 2014. Then I begged my sister to go with me to a healing ministry in Canada. It was a mistake. She didn’t want to go. She didn’t get healed. And because of that she walked away from the church for a while.
I have this physical sense of when the Holy Spirit fills a place. When he wants to do something he fills a place. It is not in my head it is in my body. And it is not something I can control. For me it is like taking a bath. I long for God as a deer longs for flowing water. I don’t understand this sense but I have learned to trust it. Because I believe it is from the Lord. And the last night of our time in Toronto I sensed the Holy Spirit in a way I haven’t in years. He was like a river flowing above my head. He was so thick I felt like I could reach out and grab Him. And the greater His presence was the greater my sister’s pain became. And afterwards many people gave testimony to being healed though who was and who was not seemed random. I became desperate. I realized if ever was there a time for my sister to be healed it was right then and there. I was like the persistent widow. I was empty and desperate. And if I had to punch God in the face to shame him and get what I wanted then that is what I would do.
I don’t remember all of what happened in those next moments. I just remember getting up from my seat, raising my hands, and crying out to God with all my strength. I lost my mind. And I basically halted the entire service in front of thousands of people. And I didn’t care. I was empty. I felt like a widow, empty with nothing left to lose. I cried out till snot was coming out of my nose and my face was surrounded by a great tingling, a fire of the Holy Spirit. The service stopped as I ran to the front with my hands raised ,totally debased and unashamed at what people thought. I had come to the end of the line in my journey to find a way to heal my sister. I had to beg my sister to come. And I had raised expectations absurdly high. I wasn’t going home empty handed. They had to get staff members to restrain me and calm me down. I don’t remember much. I just remember the minister leading the service saying,
“Sir you don’t have to beg.”
And at the end of all that, after I had regained my sanity, after I had started to breathe again, I found that my sister hadn’t been healed.
But the Holy Spirit convicted me that minister was right. For that minister’s intent was not to silence me. He did not tell me to shut up. He only told me that I didn’t have to beg. And he was right. Because the point of the parable of the persistent widow is that we as Christians are not like the widow. We are not empty, we are not widows and orphans, we do not have to beg for justice. And God is not the unjust judge, nor is he a guy who is sleeping and doesn’t want to be disturbed. In the first part of this story Jesus is illustrating how most people think about God. In the second part of these stories he tells us how the children of God should think about God. We are all made in the image of God. He made us all. But somehow the world got broken and we ran away from God. We prefer to be orphans and widows rather than to trust Him. We must be adopted by Him to be His children. And we cannot be adopted till we hear His voice. And he is calling to us if we know how to listen. The disciple’s question, “Lord teach us how to pray,” suggests that they saw in Jesus a way of praying that was more effective. That there is a right and wrong way to pray. That God answers the prayers of some more than he answers the prayers of others. If it was not true they would not have asked Jesus to teach them. If all praying was equal, Jesus would not have taught on prayer at all. And in these passages Jesus shows us the key to answered prayer. And it is this.
To have our prayers answered we must be willing to change.
The key to answered prayer is being willing to change who we are. We must become children of God. We must embrace who we are called to be in Christ for we are no longer slaves to fear but we are children of God and we have an inheritance. We are not orphans for Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be our comforter. We must live into the calling of the elect and be changed by our calling. To live a different life requires that we be changed from the inside out.
Richard Foster, in Celebration of Discipline says this about prayer, “ To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives.” (pg,33). I have taught on this book for many years. But only now have come to see the truth of these words because I have changed. God answers the prayers of a certain type of person. And He wants to change us into the type of person whom He answers prayers for. He answer the prayers of those who accept His Son Jesus Christ more than those that don’t know Him. And the more we become like Jesus the more he can trust us with answers to our prayers. He changes our desires so we desire what he does. He matures us so he can give us our good desires and not become arrogant. He fills our heart with Divine love so that we flow through this world with a power that is not our own and doors that were once closed to us open to us. And even when the answer is not yet, he says a day is coming. A mighty day. A day of glory where Jesus shall return where He will right every wrong, wipe away every tear. He sees not our faces but he sees our heart. We shall stand before him and have to give an account of every wrong we have done and every careless word we have said to hurt people. Jesus is our judge and he is the only fair judge. The question is will he also be our Lord? Will he also be our friend?
The prophet Jeremiah tells us that we are like clay in the hands of God who is our potter. He reshapes the vessel as He wills. But the vessel spoiled because it was not willing to be shaped because of sin and brokenness. Clay spoils when it is filled with evil things hate, jealously, bitterness, rage, and unforgiveness. The clay has to be willing to keep its shape. It has to be willing to be soft and flexible to respond to the potter’s hands. This scripture of the potter came to me Sunday as I was walking to church. I had a conversation with Suzi Williams reflecting on her testimony and it affirmed my theory. Suzi Williams who gave her testimony in the Sermon Filled With the Spirit, which can be found online, is humble, and admitting that would not make her any less so. She does not tell people what she does. But when I arrived at this church other people told me rumors of glory. They told me about the amazing ways that God uses Suzi. They have told me how the Holy Spirit told her to be a two member’s bedsides before they died. She told us how the Holy Spirit had her intervene when her sons were in danger of death and when a foreign exchange student was about to kill himself. It troubled me deeply. Why did God speak to Suzi like that and not to others? Why have I seen so many fakes in the healing ministry but every once in a while I see the real deal? I realize it isn’t about techniques, or saying words. All the people who I have seen who have been used powerfully by the Lord are fundamentally different people but they live ordinary lives. Their hearts are full of a love that is not their own. Their hearts have become soft like clay. They don’t only speak of love as an ideal they speak with love in their voice. And love compels them and guides them through the world.
And then I had an amazing, wonderful, weighty, and dreadful thought. What if all of creation is like clay? And what if God changes things and changes His mind not because he is imperfect but because creation has been spoiled by sin? It is like a dry clay map spread out before us with cracks spreading out from the Fall of Man. It was perfect but somehow it got broken. Our paths have been laid out on the map. But sometimes we get stuck in the cracks. We can’t see more than a few steps ahead. There is a wall around us . The harder our hearts the harder the clay wall. And we can’t find a way through the wall. But as the Lord begins to transform us from glory to glory when we are willing to accept His hand our hearts soften and are filled with Divine love. And that love softens the map. It softens the wall. Love tells us where the wall is soft and things can be changed. The Lord does as he pleases. And God’s love has been directing my life this week in strange ways.
Last week you guys found out that my car had gotten broken into. And without me even asking you stuffed an envelop full of cash and gave it to me because that is the type of people you are.
Monday I realized that you guys had given me enough money for two windows and two windows had been broken. And a strange thought came into my mind that maybe the Lord wanted me to give my new friends the rest of the money! And I tried to knock on their door at 6pm on Monday and they weren’t there. And I went back to church just in time for a meeting that I didn’t think was happening. And then I stayed for another meeting. And I didn’t get out of the building till 10pm that night. And I thought it was too late to knock so I would try another day. But then as I was walking to my apartment my friends they pulled up right next to me. And I rejoiced and I was like I want you to have this money to pay for your window and I also asked them if there was anything they needed prayer for and I prayed for them right there on the street at 10pm
Liturgy means the work of the people. True liturgy is not prayers on Sunday it is going out into the world and praying for people in the world for the world needs our prayers. And the only way our financial problems will be solved is if we share our faith with our friends and with complete strangers. And if we do our churches will grow even if we bar people who are not Christians from coming to worship until they have confessed and been baptized. I know this is true because that is what the early church did.
In 312 A.D when Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire 10% of the Roman Empire was Christian. One scholar I read suggests statistically during the previous three decades the church grew 40% a decade despite the fact that they did not let people who had not gone through a long preparation process into worship. The early Christians should not have bared people from worship. All are welcomed. But still we must ask how did this happen?
They associated with those no one else would, the outcast and the rejected. Our Lord Jesus saw the hurting masses and he had compassion on them and healed them for they were like sheep without a shepherd, helpless and afraid. They gathered together in fellowship in their homes and invited strangers into their homes. The Lord says, “Let us make man in our image after our likeness.” When plagues broke out and everyone fled they went into plague ridden areas to care for the sick. And the Lord says, “ they have conquered him by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony for they loved not their lives even unto death.” They were filled with great spiritual power, and thus they worshiped a God, more powerful than false gods. They prayed for people and they were healed. The Lord says we are to bless the Lord with all our souls, with all that is within us and forget not all his benefits. He forgives our iniquity. Heals all our diseases. And he redeems our lives from the pit. Divine love that was not their own compelled early Christians into the clay. The Lord says, “ I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. (Jeremiah 31). Early Christians were compelled by a Divine Love. We too are called to be compelled by Divine Love.
When Tom dropped me off after worship last week I was exhausted. I was alone cleaning out my car. There was one woman in the balcony of my building but no one else around. I did not need to buy gloves to clean up the glass for I had a pair in my back seat for months. It was a beautiful day. And as I looked at another car with a broken window like mine I heard the sound of sheer silence. And I knew the Lord was in the sheer silence. For in the stillness love speaks. And God is love and all love is of God. He was asking me a question without words. The broken glass was an invitation and I have learned to always accept invitations if I am able. For when you give the Lord your time and let Him change your plans He will use you in profound and unpredictable ways.
I looked around there were five buildings around the parking lot with eight rooms each for a total of 40 rooms. I did not know my neighbor’s names but the LORD knew their names for he knit all of us together in our mother’s womb, he calls us by name, and whatever the circumstance of our birth we are not a mistake. For He has loved us with an undying love. And His love compelled me into the clay. I found them after knocking on five doors but I would have knocked on all of them if I needed to. For the Lord is gracious. Our prayers are not answered not because God is asleep behind a door that remains shut. Instead there are many doors and the Lord must tell us which one will open. Thus says the Lord, “Write this letter to the angel of the church of Philadelphia. This message from the only one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David. What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open.” (Revelation 3:7)
We beg because we are not willing to follow him to the next open door. For He is a good Father and we do not have to beg. Thus sayeth the Lord, “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be open; For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, you who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
In The Name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.