Dear Radio Friends,
Today we are going to answer the questions that you have been sending in to the Reformed Witness Hour. Because there are so many of them, we are going to get right at it.
We have the following letter that was sent to us from a brother who lives in Grand Rapids. He writes: “Today I was thinking about Samuel’s mother, Hannah. We read in the first chapter of I Samuel that Hannah was not able to bear children. In verses 10 and 11 we read that if the Lord would give her a man-child she would give him to the Lord all the days of his life. Are these verses telling us that it is possible to negotiate with God through prayer? Prayer has been on my mind and has been a bigger part of my life than usual lately. I wonder sometimes if I am praying right. After reading I Samuel, chapter 1 today I felt the need to send in this question.”
That is a very good question. I am sure that your struggle with the question is not unique. The question that you are asking is, “Is it possible to negotiate with God through prayer?” There are many who think so in a very crass and carnal way. Many portray Christian prayer today as a way to get things from God, get things that we would want or which we think would make us happy, or that we think we need.
What is the Bible’s answer to this?
First of all, we have to remember that prayer, as to its heart, is worship. Prayer is that gift of God’s grace whereby, through the blood of Christ (read Heb. 10), we may come into God’s presence and draw near to God (Heb. 10:19). So we read in Psalm 100:4, “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.” Prayer, first of all, is the soul of a child of God washed in the blood of Jesus, entering into the heavenly courts of God to worship.
And the blessing of prayer is found, first of all, right there. That we may come to God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may come into His sanctuary where all is peace, where He sits upon His throne. We may come before Him, and in the light of His face, the Scriptures say, we will be satisfied. Psalm 16:11, “In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” That first. Prayer is first of all worship. Prayer is to come before God and to fall down before Him with praise and thanksgiving that of His love and mercy He has washed away my sins and given me the promise that I may come to Him.
But now, what about our needs? The Scriptures make plain to us that prayer is also the gift of God whereby we bring to God all of our needs. One passage that I like especially, in that connection, is Psalm 62:8. There we read, “Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us.” The psalmist says, our hearts are often like a cup filled to the brim with worries and questions and concerns and fears and troubles. Pour it all out before God in prayer. Empty it right out. All that is in your heart, bring to the living God.
What does that mean? What does it mean to bring all of our needs to God? As we bring those needs and desires to God, we do not come to negotiate with the Almighty. But we come to bring to Him our heart’s desires in order that He might hear them and grant to us what we desire according to His grace, and according to His will. Turn to the book of Romans, chapter 8:26, 27. We have there some very important words on the question of bringing our needs to God in prayer. “Likewise the Spirit (that is the Holy Spirit) also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought (note those words: we know not what we should pray for as we ought): but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” Now circle that passage in your Bible on the whole question of bringing our needs to God in prayer. The Bible is very plain. Bring all of your needs to Him. But now, as you do so, remember first of all that we know not what we should pray for as we ought. That is, as we evaluate our needs and what would be best for us, we are but men and women, boys and girls. Our perspective is only of the earth. He sits in the heavens supreme over all things to see the eternal best for us. But then, we are told that it is the Holy Spirit who knows the mind of God, searches our hearts, and makes intercession for us according to the will of God. The Holy Spirit says, “Father, answer them. Here are their needs, the expressions of their hearts. Answer them according to the will of God.”
So we bring all of our needs to God. We bring them in the consciousness that we do so as fallible, sinful people. Yet we bring those needs to God and we pray, “Father, Thou knowest my heart. Now answer me according to Thy good and holy will.”
Then we read in Psalm 37:4, “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” You see, the will of God, as that will of God is worked out for us in prayer, is not a hard, harsh thing against us. But that will of God is always a will for us His children in love. God delights to give us the desires of our hearts when those things conform to His holy will.
So we bring all of our needs before God. We pray according to His will. And God is pleased to grant us our needs through prayer. He is pleased to execute His will through prayer.
There is another passage I want you to turn to: Ezekiel 36:37. On your own you will have to read the whole chapter because the whole chapter is just beautiful. It brings out the truth that our salvation, and all that God does for us, is based not in us but in Him. Repeatedly in that chapter God says, Not for your sakes will I do this; but for My own holy name’s sake. And He speaks of all the promises that He will give to us of full salvation. He speaks there in verse 26 of a new heart that He will give to us and of a right spirit that He will create within us. He will cause us to walk in His ways and to love His statutes. All the promises of God to work out our salvation – that is in that chapter. And the reason that God will do it: for His own name’s sake. But then He says this in verse 37: “Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.” I am going to do it. I am going to do it freely of My own grace, not because of their worthiness. I will do this. But I will be pleased to do it in the way of being inquired of, in the way of prayer. God gives to us prayer in order that we might come to Him with our hearts. And in that way of coming to Him and submitting all of our requests according to His will, we might be assured that it is God who works all things for us according to His perfect and holy will.
I hope that helps a little bit on that question. If you have a follow-up, send it in. Or, perhaps we could meet some day and talk about it.
We have another question from a listener who writes to us and says, “Dear Pastor Haak, I have been greatly blessed in listening to your radio messages from Lord’s day to Lord’s day. I have several questions that are not related to your sermon, but I will appreciate it very much if you will explain them to me. 1) How can one be sure that he has been born again and is a child of God?”
How can one be sure that he is born again and a child of God? That is an important question. The Scriptures call every believer to take that question seriously and to ask it. Read II Pet. 1:10. There we are admonished to make our calling and election sure. In II Corinthians 13:4, 5 we read that we are to prove our own selves. We are to look for the evidences of the grace of God within our souls. Now, how are we sure that we are born again? We must especially be delivered from all deception and all false security in this sense. We must have a genuine confidence and assurance that we are children of God, born of the grace of God, born not, as we read in John 1, of the will of man, but of the will of God. Now, how do we know that? How do we know that we are truly born of God?
The work of God always leaves marks. That is true in human life. A skillful work leaves the print and the mark of the author. So also the work of being born again leaves with us certain marks (certain fruits, the Bible says, certain evidences) that God has indeed worked in our hearts. What are those evidences? I believe there are especially three. If you want to see all three of them in two verses, turn to Romans 7:24, 25, where the apostle says, “O wretched man that I am! (there is the first mark: the knowledge of sin) who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (There is the second mark: a desire and need for deliverance.) I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord (there is the third mark: a thankfulness to God for salvation). These are the three marks or evidences of regeneration, that is, three ways whereby we know that the Spirit of God has worked His true work in our hearts and has united us to our Savior.
The first. There will be in us a sorrow for sin. That sorrow for sin is not simply a knowledge of what sin is. And it is not simply an ability to spot sin in others. I believe I have said before on this radio program what I am about to say. Sorrow for sin is a knowledge of sin according to which one sees that the biggest letter in the word sin is the middle one. Do you know how to spell sin? Some people spell the word sin s-u-n. That spells sun, the sun in the sky. S-u (over there)-n. But that is not the way the child of God spells sin. He spells it: s-I-n. So, first of all, the Holy Spirit works in us a knowledge of our own sin – not simply a conception of sin generally, but a knowledge of my own personal sin – and that knowledge of my own personal sin as I have sinned before the living God, that God revealed in the Scriptures.
Let me read some Scripture to you. This is characteristic of every child of God. Isaiah 6:5. Listen to Isaiah, when he was given to see the vision of God in His glory: “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” Isaiah was truly brought to see God. What was the evidence of that? The evidence of it was that he saw himself mirrored over against God as a sinner. We read in Luke 5:8, “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Psalm 51:3, 4, David says, “I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” So the first mark of a true work of God’s grace in our hearts, of being born again, is the knowledge of sin and a sorrow for that sin as committed against God. It is a sorrow which brings (II Cor. 7:10) repentance, a turning, an abhorring, a desire to be delivered from those sins that formerly seemed not so great, but now as we see them in the light of God are horrendously large.
There is another evidence. And that evidence is this: there is not only a knowledge of sin, but a knowledge that it is Jesus Christ who alone can take away and deliver me from my sins. It is a knowledge (now listen carefully) that it is only Jesus in His work upon the cross that can remove my sins. II Corinthians 5:21, “For he (God) hath made him (Christ) to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Not our own works. Not our own will. None of these atoned or washed away sin. No, the knowledge of a regenerated believer is that Christ has removed that sin in His one work upon Calvary’s cross. Ephesians 1:7, “In whom (in Christ) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sin, according to the riches of his grace.” Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
The third mark of regeneration is a desire to live a holy life. Knowing his sin, knowing his great deliverance in Jesus Christ, the believer, the regenerated child of God, wants to live a holy life. Philippians 3:13, 14, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul says, I press on. I press on after that calling which is given to me in Jesus Christ, the calling to be conformed to Him in all of my thinking, all of my desiring, all of my longing. Paul there acknowledges that he has not apprehended this. He acknowledges that there still remains much sin in him. That is emphasized repeatedly in the Bible: Ephesians 4:22-24 and other passages. We have that old man of sin in us. But the believer now desires to put that off and to live unto his God with all praise and thanksgiving.
What are the marks of being born again? Sorrow for sin before God. Trust and faith given of God that Jesus Christ alone makes us whole in the sight of God. And, number three, a desire to live the holy life. Are these things, not perfectly, but are these things written upon your heart?
It is Holy Spirit who is the author of that writing. That is the work of regeneration.
Now we have another question here. The questioner writes, “In Romans 8:28 we read, ‘We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to his purpose.’ Will you please explain how chastisements in our life can work for our good.”
That is another question that is asked often and that is a very important question. For this one I would like you to turn to Hebrews 12:6-11. Here we are going to learn that chastisements work for our good because they are sent out of a love of God and they are sent for the purpose to make us holy, to wean us from this world.
So my answer to “How can chastisements work our good?” would be that those chastisements are the way that God teaches us to look away from ourselves and to place our trust alone in God.
Hebrews 12:6-11, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, (now note the words) that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”
There are two things that you should glean from that passage. First of all, the motivation of God in chastising us is His love (for whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth). So chastisement is motivated in love, divine love, mixed with perfect wisdom, knowing what needs to be in our lives. We do not know what we need. Our Father knows that. And when He chastens us, it is out of that perfect love of what we need. We need to be turned away from our own sins. We need to be turned away from placing our trust in this present life. We need to put our trust in Him. He loves us. Therefore He chastens us to teach us to put our trust in Him.
Secondly, glean from that passage that the purpose of those chastisements is always our spiritual good and holiness. The Father desires our holiness. And the only way to holiness is to be exercised unto it. Holiness does not drop out of the sky upon you. Holiness is not put on with your Sunday suit or dress. No, holiness is the profound work of God through Scripture, through the preaching of the Word, through prayer. But also through chastisements whereby God is pleased to correct us, sometimes to take away from us something that we desperately feel we need. Sometimes to give to us something that we do not want. Nevertheless, He is working in such a way that He might work in us a holiness which says this: “Lord, not my will but Thy will be done; for Thou art my God.” Then we take the words of Job: Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.