May 7, 2000; No. 2992
God has given to us a precious and wonderful gift. It is called prayer.
As children of God, also as young people, there is nothing more important than to develop a regular life of prayer. The most important thing in your life is not your studies, work, business, rushing here and there. But the most important thing is to live truly a life of prayer. Without prayer, we would soon be off the path of obedience and life, and running madly down the dead-end trails of this world. How heavy our burdens become, how dim our eye of faith grows. How we are left only with ourselves if we forsake prayer. Prayer is communion with God. It is thus no luxury for us but something that is essential for our life. Prayer is not simply for super-pious people, or for old people. Prayer is spiritual bread and water. Men ought always to pray and not to faint, said the Lord Himself ( Luke 18).
One of the verses of Scripture that I would choose in order to show to you the rich and comforting truths of prayer is Jeremiah 33:3. We read: "Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not."
In this verse Jeremiah is being counseled by God Himself. For forty years the prophet Jeremiah had warned that Judah and Jerusalem would be destroyed for their sins, and now the armies of Babylon were at the very walls of the city. It would be very difficult to conceive of a situation more painful than the situation that confronted Jeremiah. Forty years he has faithfully preached the Word of God, only to see God's Word rejected and all signs of godliness among the people of God gone and replaced by nothing but coldness, darkness, and corruptions.
Further, Jeremiah, when he is counseled by God to pray, is in prison. Zedekiah the king does not want him prophesying the ruin of Judah. Jeremiah has been cast into a pit in a prison. To the human eye it was beyond any doubt that God's promises to Israel were all going to fail. It was exactly in that dark time that God comes to His servant with words of encouragement.
The first word of encouragement that God brought to Jeremiah is found in Jeremiah 32. You should read the whole chapter. It was the word of encouragement that was brought to him through his uncle's son. This cousin told him that he must purchase a field and make sure that it was properly recorded. He must do that because the Word of the Lord was that although all that he could see right now was the coming judgments of God and the fact that God's people were going to be destroyed and led away captive, nevertheless, God was going to bring His people back. By telling Jeremiah to purchase this land, God was swearing an oath to him that He would remember His promises and that He would restore His people in the way of the chastisement of their sins.
But perhaps this is not enough to lift the prophet's heart. Yes, Jeremiah had prayed about the purchase. He went about to make the purchase. But perhaps Jeremiah in the prison believes that this promise that God was yet to bring good out of all the evil that was happening was too hard for the Lord. What shall God now do for him? The answer that God gives is this encouragement: Pray. The Word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah the second time. And that Word of the Lord was: "Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not." Prayer then is given to the hopeless, to the spiritual prisoner. Prayer is given as the instrument to confirm in your heart God's promises even in the darkest of times. To you who are shut up in the heaviness of prison, the heaviness of your own heart, and you cannot come out, and your eyes fail to see how God's promises can be fulfilled, God says to you, "Call upon me."
If the Scriptures make anything clear, it is this: we are called to pray. Old or young, male or female, child or parent: God says, Call upon Me. It would be a very good exercise for you to take out your Bible and study how many times these words are given: Psalm 50:15; Psalm 62:8; Isaiah 55:6; Matthew 7:7; Mark 14 in the words of the Lord unto the disciples; I Thessalonians 5; Hebrews 4; James 4. I cannot exhaust all the passages in Scripture today which summon us to pray, but certainly when you hear simply the ones that I have quoted to you, you ought never to ask, "Should I pray?" God has filled the Bible with so many commands to pray that the child of God need never doubt whether or not he should pray.
No doubt Jeremiah had prayed and had prayed intensely. Being in prison, after all, inflames one's ardor and yearning to lay hold of God. So when God says to him, "Call upon Me," God is not reproving Jeremiah for some negligence in prayer. Yet, God would still say, "Jeremiah, though you have prayed and prayed intensely, this is still My encouragement to you: Pray. Call upon Me." We say, I have prayed; now what? And God responds: Pray on. Whether you feel the heaven is as brass above you, whether your spirits fail, even then the Scriptures say to us in James 5: Call upon the elders that they may pray for you.
This command, then, is essential. Always we are to pray. This command is not only written in the Bible but it is also given to us by the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Do you not, child of God, sometimes in the middle of your day, in the middle of some pressing problem, in the middle even of a conversation, say to yourself: I must pray?
Although Jeremiah had prayed, God calls him to continue because, so long as we are in the flesh, we need the command to pray or else God would not give it. We are, after all, subject to worldliness, to cares of this present life. We get all caught up in this life, in its worries and cares. We do not forget to eat. We do not forget to go to bed. We do not forget to consult our feelings. Certainly we remember to spend long hours toiling over our business. And we remember to find time for our pleasures. But we often forget to wrestle with God in prayer. Hours we can set aside for self and for the world. Moments for God? That we forget. So often we give the world our best, and the leftover time for prayer. Therefore God says, Call upon Me! Sometimes our hearts are heavy under a load of sin and sadness and we say, "Why should I pray?" And Satan says, "How can you pray? How can you come to face the King of kings when you have been such a traitor in your sins?" Or our heart feels like a heavy sack of stones and we say, "I can't. I can't pray."
Oh, thank God then for this Word, this Word which cuts through all of our fog and says, "If you feel corrupted yet in your sins; if you feel you have no strength; even if you have to crawl and creep: Go, go to the throne of grace. Call upon God!" Though words may fail you, though you must stammer, though you can hardly find the words to express that which is in your soul, no matter what, pray!
That is why, I believe, one of the most realistic and beautiful pictures of prayer in the Bible is the picture of Jacob when he wrestled with God all night and would not let God go. That is prayer: wrestling with God - expenditure of intense spiritual energies.
There stands, so long as we breathe, this command, suitable to every case and every circumstance into which you as a child of God may be cast. God says, Call upon Me.
Are you troubled? Call upon God.
Are you disturbed by men? Call upon God.
Are you at your wits' end and you see now no way out? Call upon God.
Are you lonely? Call upon God.
Do your friends fail you? Pray.
Are your children a burden to you and your soul? Bring that to God in prayer.
Are you, perhaps, angry with God? Are you struggling with the will of God, and your flesh becomes angry with what He is revealing to you or performing in your life? Pray.
Do you feel that God is far from you today? Pray.
Call upon me, says the Word. Cast thy burden upon the Lord, arise and go to your Father. Yet will I pray.
And God promises: "I will answer thee."
When all is said and done, prayer is one of the richest gifts that come to us in Jesus Christ. Oh, I know, we struggle with questions about prayer, and our spiritual life sometimes goes through its valleys and rivers. But God could not make it plainer than in these words.
Notice that the Word of God is very plain when it comes to prayer. There is no long list of instructions. It does not say, "Rub prayer beads. Recite 'Hail Marys.'" No, it simply says, "Call upon God." It does not say, "Come through a saint, come through the virgin Mary, come through some priest." It does not say that. It says, "Call upon God. Direct the eye of faith to God, and I will hear, and I will answer you."
You see, a very profound, spiritual thing is not a complicated thing. No, its very simplicity is its beauty. Prayer is all of grace. It is God working in us to seek Him. And it is God graciously supplying our need which is His grace, grace in our hearts.
As the command to pray is very plain, so the promise of God is also plain: I will answer thee. That promise rests upon the character of God. I will answer thee. A bird, perhaps a sparrow, is chased by a bird of prey, a hawk. In desperation, it flies into a cabin, only to have the man who is in the cabin throw it to the ground and kill it. Would God do that? No. When He calls us to seek His face, and when we, out of this present life, by His grace, fly to Him in all of our fears and toils, will He not have mercy? Will He not hear us? Will He not rush to our side? He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all (Rom. 8:32) - what is the conclusion of that? "How shall he not also with Christ freely give us all things." Would He refuse to listen and to answer? Surely God will answer the prayers of His people.
This Word of God assures us that no circumstance of our life can be of such a nature as to cut us off from the ear of God. Jeremiah is in prison. He is far from human thought. There was nothing the king wanted more than for everyone to forget about the prophet Jeremiah. He wanted the veil of silence and forgetfulness cast over this man. And Jeremiah knew that at this time no one remembered him, really, and there was none to whom his soul was counted dear. And yet, God says, "I will hear and I will answer."
Our own experience confirms this as children of God. God answers us not because of the worthiness of our prayers, but because we have one, Jesus Christ, who ever liveth to make intercession for us at the right hand of God. We may be sure of this: God hears our prayers and God will answer. That means that He will answer what is the deepest need of our hearts. That God hears our prayers does not mean that he always gives us literally what we are asking for. He answers us for sure. But He may not take away the thorn in the flesh that we have asked Him to remove. He may not give us what we think we have to have. He will not allow our puny wisdom to dictate to His perfect wisdom. We would not want that. Would you want your wisdom to determine how God will deal with you? Who would want that? We want the wisdom of God to direct our path. So we pray: "Father, hear me." We unburden our souls. We bring to Him our needs. But we say, "Lord, Thou knowest. And Thou knowest the end from the beginning. Thou knowest what is best for me. Father, Thy will be done. Give me the assurance of Thy grace, that Thou art with me." That is our prayer.
Come boldly, we read in Hebrews 4, that we might receive what? Our own way? The answer to everything that we want? No. Hebrews 4 says this: "Come boldly that we might receive mercy and grace to help us in time of need."
Jeremiah called again to God. No doubt he obeyed God. But for the time being he stayed in prison. He stayed in prison, not because God could not get him out, but because it was not God's will at this time that he be released. That does not detract from this: God answered him! He asked in his need and God answered him. God answered him with mercy and grace: "Jeremiah, look to Me, trust in Me. I, who know the end from the beginning, am performing My perfect will. I will not fail thee. I shall work all things in a perfect way for the glory of My name and for your salvation." And so we pray, "Lord, I ask in my need. But if what I am asking would detract from Thy majesty, and if Thy judgment in this matter is different, then I leave it in Thy hands."
So God says: "I will answer Thee and I will show Thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not." That is something more, is it not? Prayer is not only communion with God, but prayer is also enlightenment for our souls. You see, without prayer we are blind. We really cannot see anything. Without prayer we see only the earthly. God says, "I will show thee great and fortified things which are hidden from thee." What does that mean? Is God saying, "I am going to give you some extra revelation, something which you will not find in the Bible. I'm going to unlock the key of the future and tell you all about your tomorrows"? So you can use prayer like a horoscope and a necromancer to discover the future? No. It means this: Prayer is the means of God to strengthen our faith in the promises of God's Word. Prayer is the means of God to strengthen us in the promises of God's covenant and of His salvation. Remember Jeremiah. He could not see it. He saw God's judgments falling upon Judah. He saw the people of Judah hardened in their sins and forsaking God. He saw the Babylonians at the city walls. And in the midst of that, he said to himself, "Where are the promises of God to His people to preserve them and to bless them? I don't see this." God said to him, "Jeremiah, even though you don't see it, I promise to do good to My own people. Through all of these things I am chastening them for their sins and I am going to bring them back after seventy years. Now you go buy a field. I tell you, Jeremiah, all My children, My true children, will have a place in My blessing."
But still there was nothing to confirm that promise as far as his own eye could see. All his own eye could see was the army of the Babylonians. His ears heard the war-drums and the smash of the boulders from the catapults thrown against the walls of the city and the crash of the rams against the city doors. And he was in a prison, and everyone wanted to forget about him. Then the Word of the Lord came to him: "Call upon Me, Jeremiah, and I will answer thee and show thee great and fortified things hidden from earthly sight. What are those things? I will show you the greatness of the love of God. I will show you the fortified thing of His faithfulness. I will show you the indestructibleness of His Word. I will show to the eye of faith that everything is serving My purpose." Prayer lifts you up to Calvary. Prayer lifts you up on high, above the swirling tumult of the present, to see the purposes of God in Christ and to know that these purposes shall forever stand. Prayer brings you to know the love of God in Jesus Christ so that by faith, the gift of God, you might say, "I am persuaded that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus." That is the blessing of prayer.
Is there anything so precious as that? That is why God must lead us now, often in the way of trial - to humble us, to teach us to pray, to bring us to that point where we cannot see.
Recently, while I was conducting church work, I had the opportunity to visit with a dear young married couple in the Lord Jesus Christ, one of whom has terminal illness. It was a very rich spiritual visit which ministered to my own soul. They were dear friends in Christ. They said to me that although from the earthly point of view they had wanted at first to ask, "Why?" - when they were told of this disease and illness, and when many others around them also shook their head and could not understand. They went on to tell me that through prayer and through the searching of Scripture, they could now say that they were very thankful. It was through prayer that God had given them to lay hold of things that they had never seen before. Oh, they knew about these things. But now those things of God's promises of salvation in Christ and His presence, now those things were so precious that they simply had to rejoice. They were thankful. And thankful also for the means that God had used to bring them to see these things.
Do you know what those things were? Those things that they saw were: the forgiveness of sins, and the unfailing love of God. They saw it through prayer.
Prayer in a prison was a golden key to unlock those things. Souls arise in liberty. May God Himself speak to you now today these words: "Call upon Me and I will answer thee and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not."
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the holy Word of God. We pray that Thou wilt bless it unto our souls. Amen.
Last modified: 03-Jun-2000