Prayer Series I
The Channel to Heaven
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 4 November 2000
Continued from Part 1
I wonder if you have ever been impressed by a language which is not your own whether you can speak it or not. Only two languages have ever been what one might call international languages, namely French and English. Roman came pretty close once but its influence never extended beyond the Mediterranean. Chinese, Persian and no doubt other languages have had their influence owing to military conquest and Empire.
French was once the language of the nobility and of the diplomatic corps and was so for many centuries. But by the 20th century it had become eclipsed by English. Today English may be said to be the first truly world-wide language.
As you have gathered, I want to today to talk about language. A language may be said to be any medium by which two people can communicate with one another. People have even invented their own, such as Esperanto which was once very popular..
But there is more to language than words. People are able to communicate, albeit in not such a precise manner, through facial expressions, gestures, inflections, nuances, and even the look in their eyes. There is, if you like, a "language within languages", one which is universally understood that involves no words. It is simply a way of being. However, on its own it is not enough, as anyone who had tried to communicate with someone in a language they don't speak or understand. I remember in the Ukraine having enormous problems communicating because in Eastern Europe Russian was the second language, not English.
The language I wish to discuss today is the language called prayer. It's rules are very different because prayer involves conversation with the Creator of the Universe, who is not human, even though he has revealed Himself as a human being through incarnating as Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). And whilst prayer involves human language like English or Norwegian, the words are really a secondary activity. The substance of prayer lies in a different dimension.
Learning to pray is not, I venture to suggest, easy. It is not just a matter of speaking in the air in English or Norwegian - God does not actually hear our physical voice because He does not exist in space and time as we do. The only reason we pray in words is so that we can (a) be understood by other human beings when we are praying with them, and (b) so that we can focus our thoughts clearly. The actual activity of prayer - that which allows us to talk to God and to hear Him - occurs in another dimension and in a totally different way.
Most people pray, even if it is to false gods and even though it may not be very often. Their reasons are varied but usually they do when they want to need something that they can't seem to obtain my ordinary means. Many people stop praying usually because of one of three reasons:
(a) They are disappointed with God because they believe their prayers haven't been heard;
(b) They are disappointed with other people who make them angry and this somehow acts as a blockage to prayer; or
(c) They are disappointed with themselves, for various reasons.
But I would suggest that there is, in addition, a fourth reason, and it is that:
Many people view prayer as a means to a personal end. They perceive a need, ask the Lord to fulfil the need, and expect a rapid response. They can get disappointed if the prayer takes time getting through, as they suppose, and confused if the very opposite of what they wanted happens.
Our heavenly Father, Yahweh-Elohim, is not a machine that dispenses sweets or candy. He does not exist to be prayed to simply to ask for whatever we think we need. If you read the Scriptures carefully you will find that there is a very well-defined prayer FORMULA.
It is not use going up to a policeman on the street and asking him to put you in prison. First you have to commit a serious crime and even then you may have to wait a bit while the legal system decides exactly what to do with you.
It is no use going up to a tax man and demanding a reduction in tax if you're not entitled to it. You can yell at him and thump his desk as much as you want but it won't make a blind bit of difference.
And you cannot approach God in prayer and demand something you are not entitled to.
Mature Christians, who understand how prayer works, will tell you the same thing. Francis Schaeffer wrote: "When I am in the presence of God, its seems profoundly unbecoming to demand anything." In other words, once you have made actual contact with Yahweh, you soon understand what it is, and what it is not, that you should be praying for.
Let me tell you what prayer is not: prayer is not projecting our desires upon God. It is not presenting Him with a list of things we want, whether the list contains one item or many hundreds. Before we even start thinking of our personal needs - and we always have these - we must first understand what sort of a Person Yahweh is and how it is we should approach Him.
I've already suggested how not to approach a policeman or a tax officer. It's hard enough getting money out of a tax man as we all know! You do not approach the King of a country yelling at him, especially if he has the power over life and death. You approach him rather differently than you would your best friend, father or brother. God isn't just "anybody" - He isn't a human being in the sky whose just a little bit bigger than us. He is the all-powerful creator of everything and by comparison we are but grains of sand. In spite of this huge difference, though, He loves us deeply. He is, in many ways, incomprehensible to us, just as a one year old child cannot possibly understand a mature adult. Because of this problem of scale, power, and holiness, He arranged to reveal Himself as a human being by incarnating as the Lord Yah'shua haMashiach (Jesus Christ). God became a man and taught us about Himself so that we could understand.
To understand God through human eyes - and that is, after all, the best we can hope to do - is to concentrate on what Christ has to say for us. A lot of people came into contact with Yah'shua (Jesus) and He reacted to them according to the way they were in their true selves. He was not fooled by trickery - He could see through hypocrisy and knew what was actually in men's hearts. If people asked him questions or special favour like healing, He responded. By looking at the way that men and women of the Bible behaved towards Christ we can understand a great deal about how we should behave towards our heavenly Father in prayer.
Before we do this in more detail, let us be clear about one thing: Yahweh has decreed that we cannot approach Him except through His Son, Yah'shua (Jesus). The Son of God is therefore what is called a mediator - someone who represents us before the father. We are, as Christians, to place all our requests to Him. If we ignore this approach, our prayers will never be answered. Yah'shua (Jesus) said quite categorically that no man can approach the Father except through Him. Ignore Christ, and the channels of communication are dead. To understand how to approach the Father, then, is very simple: we have to understand how to approach Christ. And if we approach Christ wrong, then that channel will still remain closed.
One of the problems in approaching God is that it is impossible. That sounds strange, doesn't it? But it's true. Because God is perfectly good and holy, nothing that is not also perfectly good and holy can approach Him, not even in prayer.
Let me try to illustrate it in this way. Let us say that a friend of yours wants to see you. You discover that your friend has a lethal and infectious disease. It is obvious that you would be mad to see that person for you would risk your own life. Such a person should properly be kept in quarantine - they must be isolated.
Human beings are in exactly that position. We carry a fatal disease called death. We have become infected by sin. God is perfectly sinless- God is eternal life. Nothing but life and purity can actually be in His presence. For this reason no human being can approach Him.
The second thing I want to say in this connection is that if you want to talk with someone face to face and be heard you need to be within earshot. It's no use me trying to talk to you sitting in the post office in the village. You wouldn't be able to hear me because I'd be too far away. I need to get close to you - close enough to be heard.
To get close enough to God to be heard, and to be able to hear Him, you have to get into His presence. Remember that God does not exist in our physical space - He is not a human being. Yahweh lives in a spiritual dimension. The only way we are able to enter that dimension is by actually going there, just as would need to actually drive home and come into the room for you to be able to hear me.
So there are, we understand, two things we have to do:
(a) We have to get into God's presence before speaking to him;
(b) We have to be perfectly holy and pure.
We will deal with these two problems in reverse order.
Firstly, we can never do enough to become pure and holy. We are quite simply unable to do it. If we were, then Christ would never have come and we would have continued living the Law of Moses. In those days the only way to approach God was through His appointed angels. In our day it is through His appointed Son, Yah'shua (Jesus).
What, you may ask, is the difference between going through Christ as opposed through angels? A great deal. Getting a message to God viâ an angel would be like me sending someone to speak to you whilst I remained at the post office. That takes time. A messenger must go back and forth. Getting a message to God viâ Christ would be like me picking a telephone up and talking direct - Christ is a direct link.
How, then, do we get that direct link? To answer that question, we have to ask another question, namely: How do I, an impure, unholy sinner, get into the presence of God the Father who is pure and sinless? The answer, the Bible teaches us, is through accepting the work that Christ did for us on the Cross. This is the message of the Gospel of Yah'shua (Jesus) - becoming pure, which is called "being saved", can only be done through accepting His death and resurrection. By dying and being resurrected for us he actually cancels our sin-debt. Through trusting in Him and saying: "Lord, I cannot deal with my sinful nature to be pure and holy, I trust you to deal with this for me," we then ask Christ to be our substitute. We, because we are by nature unholy and sinful, are worthy of death. If we never approach Christ for forgiveness of sins through His blood, we shall remain spiritually dead. And those who are spiritually dead cannot talk with He who is spiritually alive, Yahweh-Elohim, the Creator.
If we wish to talk with God in prayer, we must first be made spiritually alive. To become spiritually alive we must give our lives to Christ who makes us alive spiritually by virtue of what He has done for us.
Look at ut this way. I am sure you all know what it is to be in a coma. Someone who is in a coma is physically alive but is quite unable to communicate. They are unconscious. A person who is spiritually dead is in a spiritual coma. He is "alive" but unconscious as far as communicating with God is concerned because he cannot communicate. The prayer channel is quite dead. The only way to communicate with God through prayer is to come out of that coma by regaining that consciousness. Coma patients in hospital often require drastic surgery to bring them around. In the same way we also need drastic spiritual surgery. That drastic surgery on the spiritual level is the atonement of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) - His death for us on the Cross. The Scriptures tell us that the life we need comes through His spilled blood because life is in the blood. To come out of spiritual coma we have to genuinely believe in the saving power of His blood. We need that life that is in it, which was released on our behalf when He died. That power is now available to anyone who trust Him and obeys Him. It awakens us out of spiritual coma so that we can communicate with God through Christ in prayer. But before we do that, the prayer channel is dead. He can't hear us, and we can't hear Him.
That's quite frightening in a way, but the remedy is very simple. Give your life to Christ. Of course, some prayers appear to be heard even without believing in Christ because God has determined beforehand what He is going to do with everyone. If we have not accepted Christ, we remain in spiritual coma and continue along the road that leads to eternity without life - we become trapped, as it were, in an unconscious body, alone, without any means to communicate with anybody. That is hell, being tormented by our own conscience. But we do not need to go that way. Not at all.
To trust in Christ means to have complete confidence in Him no matter in what situation we find ourselves in. That, I would suggest, is the first element and most vital element in prayer.
Let me give you another illustration. We decide that we are going to fly in an aeroplane. To get a plane off the ground and flying smoothly there are many important things you need to do. You have got to make sure the plane is in working order, just as we need to make sure we're doing everything we humanly can to be walking the Christian life. We need to make sure we have fuel on board just as we must be feeding ourselves with the Bible, which is spiritual fuel. We need to start the engines, rev them up so that there is enough power, make sure we are pointing in the right direction by taxiing to the end of the runway, and then letting go the brakes.
To approach the Father we need to rev up too, and the only way to do that is by praising Him with a joyful heart for all that He has done for us and is still doing for us. We must make sure we're pointing in the right direction, and that is Christ, because he is the only way to the Father even as the only way to get off that aerodrome is to get to the end of the runway and point in the right direction. Then we have to let go the brakes - all doubt must vanish in prayer - we must have complete confidence and trust in God.
You cannot threaten God, not can you weep crocodile tears - you might just as well shout at your aeroplane to get it off the ground for all the good it will do. God is not the least bit interested in cheap lies, flattery, ritual praise, insincere words, or just repeating things over and over again. You can't nag Him to do what you want. If you want to be successful in prayer there is only one thing you can do - you must completely yield your will to His. . In other words, you must sacrifice all personal wishes and ambition. If you don't, you will end up opening a second channel or line of communication, that of Satan, who will only too happily step in and pretend to be God and answer prayers using his perverse powers. And believe me he is quite capable of doing that.
The Bible describes what it is like to be in the presence of God. It is like being in a King's throne room. Not a modern constitutional monarch like Queen Elizabeth or King Harald, but the throne room of an absolute ruler. When a common person entered such a throne room he felt inferior and intimidated - which are the very feelings we should have when we approach Yahweh. This the Bible calls fear. It is a terrible thing to be standing in the presence of God.
Not any more. Today Christ stands there for us - we can now approach confidently without feeling like an intruder. But to do that we must first know Christ and discover just what sort of behaviour He expects of us. We can now approach Yahweh at any time and under any circumstances provided we are living a life of discipleship. This means making right any wrongs we have done by approaching Christ for forgiveness and making up with anyone we may have hurt.
Next week I will talk in greater depth about praying. In the meantime, I suggest that you read Yah'shua's (Jesus') model prayer, the Lord's Prayer, which contains all the elements necessary for getting that aeroplane up into the air and heading for its right destination. It's a good exercise to break that prayer down into parts and see if you really are doing what you are saying in that prayer. But first, you need to get right with God by accepting Christ as personal Saviour and obeying Him as your Lord. Without that, all prayer is in vain. Amen.
To Part 2
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