Man's ultimate quest of the ages is peace with God. Truly there is no greater objective. Today, as in Jeremiah's day, we cry, "Peace peace, when there is no peace." Prayer, the greatest resource for good in our midst, lies relatively untapped. Prayers are so often meaningless and powerless, while some are unanswered altogether. How desperately we need to develop prayer potential, individually and universally.
It is generally agreed that everyone has some concern in his soul about the great beyond. Most people pray in some fashion to someone or something, or even to themselves; but, in praying, there is a true Source of blessing to whom we all should look. Jesus often spent entire nights praying to His Father in heaven. His communication and desire were so intense that at Gethsemane He even sweat "as it were great drops of blood."
Let us turn to Isaiah 46:9, 10. Wise are they who have faith in the God of these texts: "Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure."
God sits calmly enthroned today guiding the affairs of a universe. It is man who is upset. Our sin-stained race is mad. Rebellion breaks out here and there. Force must step in and put it down. Thinking people ask, "What does this all mean?" Others say, "Well, I'll pray, but God will have to accept my terms." Does He?
Even in this do-it-yourself age, no one can be justified by his own works. He must seek a Source higher than himself. Interviews must be arranged. Duty must be understood. In short, everyone must pray and effect the necessary changes in himself that he might come into a right relationship with God. When a sinner is pardoned and received into divine favor, it is only through the merits of Christ's righteousness that he is justified. God hears and responds to the sinner's willingness for change. When God pardons a sinner, He remits the punishment the penitent deserves, and the Lord treats him as though he had not sinned. This is heavens greatest miracle. It can only be realized by faith in the fact that God is able to do this for all who seek Him.
It is the prayer of faith alone that saves. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." Ephesians 2:8.
Justification means that a person is made acceptable to God and worthy of salvation. Every soul must pray his life and heart into harmony with the will of God. Let us here note a few of the sinner's steps along the "miracle mile" to God's favor. Every praying sinner who comes to Christ is a miracle indeed. To find peace with God, all must come.
Praying for repentance is the very first step. Only a broken and contrite heart is acceptable to the Almighty, but even this step is accomplished through the drawing power of God. As man responds to this drawing, he advances toward Christ in order that he may repent. This is a wonderful step Godward. It is effected by prayer and asking in faith.
Confession, step number two, is an important condition in obtaining the Lord's mercy. God does not require some grievous thing of the penitent in order to receive forgiveness. The Lord is merciful. He lived amid the trials and hardships of this world. He "Was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." Hebrews 4:15.
He alone forgives sin. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." I John 1:9. It is often necessary to confess to wronged individuals, also.
True confession frees the soul. It will acknowledge particular sins. David said, "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit." Psalm 34:18.
Would you have greater victory in your prayer life? Then consecration, the third step, is imperative. Consecration is yielding the whole heart. By nature we are alienated from God. The Lord desires to unite us. It is His purpose to reinstate every soul who will come to Him in faith. For this to be possible an entire transformation of the whole nature is necessary.
Warfare with self is man's greatest battle. Surrender and yielding the entire will to God, is a dramatic struggle. All that would separate us from Him must go. Let us turn to the Lord's word in Luke 14:33. Here is drawn the line of demarcation between the eternally saved and the eternally lost. "Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple."
God said through Jeremiah, â€˜Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.' Jeremiah 29:13.
In reality, anything which draws the heart away from God must be given up. Unless this takes place in the soul, prayers will be selfish, loaded with pride and centered in idolatry.
Prayer is not a mystic prescription to be abused by the self-righteous, the vile or the greedy. These conditions in the soul become impenetrable obstacles. First let us consider the obstacle of self-righteousness. Listen while I read a dramatic account of two worshipers and two prayers as told by Jesus in a parable. "Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." Luke 18:10-14.
The two men went up to the temple to pray. Certainly we do not condemn this activity, but the prayers were vastly different. The first offered a prayer of self-praise. The other a petition of self-surrender. One judged his own character, not by Christ's righteous life, but in comparison to the lives of other men. He was full of self-esteem. He looked it, he walked it, he prayed it. The other saw his own insufficiency and found hope only in the virtues of Christ. He knew himself to be a sinner.
A self-righteous man judges himself by others. The worse they are, the more righteous he seems to himself. With this attitude it's easy to find fault. Remember, when you point the finger of judgment at another, there are three fingers of your hand pointing right back at you.
Publicans, the tax collectors, were not popular and were often dishonest. This publican saw himself as he was and cried out, "God be merciful to me a sinner." No one can pray this prayer saw himself as he was and cried out, "God be merciful to me a sinner." No one can pray this prayer until he sees himself as God sees him. He was repentant and humble. This man's prayer was answered. He went away to his house justified. Could the same be said for the Pharisee?
Cain considered himself righteous and presented to God a thank offering, but made no confession of sin. Abel came with the blood pointing to the Lamb of God. He confessed his lost condition and his hope in the God of love. Friend, which one are you today? Is your life and your prayer reaching through to God?
The experience of the Apostle Peter illustrates the changeable nature of the self-righteous. Peter's fall was not instantaneous, but gradual. Peter considered himself strong. "All these may deny you, Lord, but not I!" In a few short hours, the test came. What a spectacle. Peter, the braggart, denying his Lord with cursing and swearing. The pride and self-sufficiency that shut Peter and the Pharisee out from communion with God is ruining thousands today.
No sin is so hopeless, so incurable as self-righteousness. No man can of himself understand his errors. The Lord was merciful in Peter's restoration. No one is beyond help if he will come humbly to Christ. By beholding Him we can know ourselves. The self-righteous person is so enamored with the facade of his own excellence that he forgets his need for God. Even his prayers are offensive to God.
Another obstacle to prayer is the love of riches. It is hard for a selfish man to pray to a God who gave all. Often the rich do not think of God from whom all their mercies have come. In the following parable the rich man had a grand chance to bless many, but he thought only of himself. He loved his possessions. Let us turn to Luke 12:16-21.
"And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall these things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
The greedy, covetous soul prayed with himself, "What shall I do?" He answered his own query, "I will build greater barns. I will take my ease, and I will live it up." This proud man felt that he owed man nothing, neither was he obligated to his fellow men. His benevolence could have blessed widows and children. A portion of his goods shared would have made many hearts glad. He closed his heart to the cry of the needy.
The Psalmist wrote, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." Psalm 14:1. In his mind the rich man saw a blueprint for greater barns, more storage, honor above his neighbors, and a life of ease.
Every person would do well to ponder David's words, "Man that is in honor, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish." Psalm 49:20.
"So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." Luke 12:21. To live for self is to perish. A11 the money the rich, covetous landowner possessed could not buy his reprieve.
There are exceptions where those who have been blessed with wealth share abundantly in beneficent acts and in promoting God's work on earth. In so doing, they become blessed with more. However, far too often the opportunity to bless others is lost because greed intercepts the impulse to do good. The prayers of this type of individual do not ascend to God.
Consider next the obstacle of vileness or sin in the life. Open your Bibles to James 4:3. Some prayers are not answered because the petitioner would only abuse the blessing. Note James 4:3 on this point: "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts." For instance, in prayer for healing, should a righteous God be bound by His holy promises and bless wickedness?
"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." I John 1:9. David experienced God's frown upon his evil conduct. The psalmist even felt the panic of being cut off from mercy. For he said, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." Psalm 66:18.
When one openly and flagrantly violates the principles of health and morality, his prayers are an abomination before the Lord. "For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity." Psalm 5:4, 5.
An individual who cherishes wickedness in his life, like corrosion in a communication circuit, receives no response from God. The line is dead. This is not to say that sinners cannot come to God and be heard. It is to say that those who are unwilling to take the steps necessary to receive God's grace will not find it.