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What We Can Expect from Prayer
Sermon Excerpt: Psalm 5
Let’s look more deeply at the central THEMES of Psalm 5, in v. 7-8. First, how is it that ANYONE may come into God’s presence, as confidently, and expectantly - we might even say, PRESUMPTUOUSLY, as David does? Ask it another way, how do we GET INTO this Psalm?
This IS a problem, for in our default state, we are all guilty of the things David lists in v. 4-6. We all delight in wickedness sometimes; we all have evils within us; we boast; we DO evil things; we all speak lies; we are all bloodthirsty. Bloodthirsty you say? Oh sure - our generation slanders, because killing in public would be too un-subtle, so we kill the reputation, but we are bloodthirsty. Full of deceit we are.
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We lie, lie, lie, and pay people to lie to us, v. 9. Our best ideas are just to tear things down, hoping by insane faith that something better will grow up in its place. Our generation loves to teach, teach, teach things with our mouths that lead people to the grave. We flatter each other - oh, you’re great just the way you are - and that only leads to eternal destruction.
Now, someone might say, there you go, being negative. Guilt, guilt, guilt. That’s all you preachers got. If we were to just take away the GUILT part, we would all be fine - then we could just leave each other be - you do you, I’ll do me, and we’re good. Guilt, guilt, guilt.
Well, OK, thank you for expressing that feedback. And thank you for proving my point.
What? You say. Yeah, thanks for proving my point. Because in saying that I’m all about guilt, don’t YOU want ME to feel guilty about that? Aren’t you implying that I’m guilty of focusing too much on guilt?
You and I, dear hypothetical person, we BOTH are about guilt. That’s not the question. The question is by what standard do you determine guilt? It seems you too believe in a higher standard, a giver of law - a GOD. The question is which God are each of us appealing to?
And then we must ask, do you have any good news for covering, cleansing that guilt?
The standard that I appeal to is the one David does - the God of the Bible. But we are immediately confronted with a paradox with this God. This is a God that welcomes David with an ABUNDANCE of STEADFAST LOVE, v. 7, despite all the bad David has done. And yet this same God not only does not delight in wickedness, but doesn’t even allow evil in his presence, v. 4. More than that, David says, this God straight out HATES ALL evildoers.
And again someone might say, see, that’s evil - you don’t HATE. What kind of God is that? And again I ask, by what standard do you judge this God? Is there another Bible? Or another God, above this God? Or no God? But if there is no God, then by what higher standard are you appealing to, to say that this God is bad? If we are all just the products of time and chance and dust, what standard is there? Who’s your God? Could it be you?
But consider that the God of the Bible is GOD, and thus He sees and feels EVERY aspect of reality, FULLY, ALL the time. We humans, however, don’t. But sometimes we do come close. Brian Chappel, a preacher in Illinois, tells of the time he came into the kitchen, only to see his young son on the counter, leaning on a cabinet, fully extended for the proverbial cookie jar. Just before he lunged, Chappel said don’t do it. His son looked at him, looked at the cookie jar, and reached . . . And slipped, and hit everything on the way down.
And Chappel says, in that moment, I felt such LOVE and ANGER at the same time, burning affection and burning wrath, for my child, in his rebellion against me. He felt that for a moment; God feels 100% of every aspect of our condition - ALL the time. God knows our suffering. And he knows how we might flourish, in His Word. And yet He also knows our rebellion that separates us from Him.
This is why he sent His own Son, Jesus - BECAUSE He hates evildoers, AND so loves the world. He hates evildoers, and so he sent Jesus, v. 10, to become US, and bear OUR guilt, FOR us. HE fell, for OUR counsels; because of the abundance of OUR transgressions, HE was cast out of the city, to the barren hill called Calvary. WE have all rebelled against God, so God prepared a sacrifice, that we might be welcomed into His presence. It is no coincidence that when Jesus died, the veil separating the people from the holy place in the temple was torn in two.
This is why, when Psalm 5 is quoted in the NT, the context changes. Here, David, in v. 9, speaks of his enemies’ throats being an open grave. And so does Paul, in Romans 3, applying it to all of us. We should identify as much with David’s enemies as with David. But while David then asks God that his enemies would bear their OWN guilt, Paul goes on to explain how JESUS bore our guilt instead:
Romans 3:22–26 (ESV): For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified (made to stand righteous . . .) by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation (a sacrifice that makes God favorable) by his blood, to be received by faith.
God displayed and gave His righteousness to us, as a gift, when Jesus bore our sins for us, on the cross. Our sins were accounted to HIM, and His righteousness were accounted TO us . . .
Us . . . Who is “us”? The “us” here is ANYONE who believes in Jesus. And the reason why it’s FAITH is that God does not allow us to smuggle in any self-effort of our own. HE does it all, and thus HE gets all the glory.
Back to Psalm 5, v. 3. On that Good Friday morning, the greater David prepared a sacrifice - a sacrifice of HIMSELF, for God, that God might be JUSTIFIED in showing FAVOR to evildoers, and be the justifier of sinners - that is, to make us stand RIGHTEOUS before Him. Jesus prepared himself as a sacrifice, and watched, from the cross . . . As God turned His back on Him, and became propitious, favorable towards us, we who believe.
The first application of this Psalm is, quite simply, believe the gospel. Believe the good news that your guilt IS covered, or it CAN be - IF you would believe and become a Christian if you’re not. Because if you are NOT a Christian, none of the blessings that I’m going to speak about apply to you. But you CAN be - I exhort you, believe on Christ.
But Christians too must believe the gospel, because sometimes Satan does his “finest” work not IN our sin, but AFTER our sin - saying that you’re not good enough to go to God. Too many failures. God is scowling at you. God HATES you - look at you!
But if we believe the devil’s gospel, we’ll commit another sin - that is, the sin of SILENCE. I get this from Hosea 7:14. Despite ALL that Israel had done wrong - and it was a lot - God says in v. 13,
I would redeem them
But, they speak LIES against me. They slandered God in their hearts. He hates you. He doesn’t love you. His love is NOT steadfast. So the people, believing those lies, Hosea 7:14:
They do not cry to me from the heart,
But they wail upon their beds.
They cried to their pillows, instead of to God, because they did not believe the gospel.
But God says, cry out to me, and I WILL redeem you. But that requires stepping past the shame and regret. And that requires believing the gospel afresh, and answering the question, just HOW STEADFAST is God’s LOVE for me. “Do I love God?” is not near as important a question as whether GOD loves me or you.
How steadfast is God’s love, in the face of our failings and weakness? The cross is our proof. As Paul writes in Romans 8:
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all,
how will he not also WITH Him, graciously give us ALL things?
And by all things there, I believe Paul means something of what he said earlier, that
for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
All things - even the consequences of our sin - even our sin itself.
Or, as David puts it, in the last verse of Psalm 5,
For you bless the righteous, O LORD;
you COVER him with FAVOR - which is another word for GRACE -
as with a shield .
And again, who are the righteous? Those God has GIFTED righteousness TO, having removed their guilt, and placed it on His Son, in hatred and love. These ones God covers with FAVOR, grace, like a shield. It all depends not on the steadfastness of OUR faith, but of HIS love, proven to us on the cross.
So what does this FAVOR like a shield look like? Because we too have enemies.
Some Christians today think this is too hard a word - “enemies.” But the reality is that Christians have MANY enemies today. Now, we need to understand the difference between deceived people and those that deceive them - that’s important. The teacher that imparts doctrines to her students that are patently anti-Christian may just feel she’s doing her job. But that curriculum came from someone.
For instance, it was just brought to light this week that in 2012, a program was introduced in Sacramento City schools that introduced doctrines of humanity that are the opposite of the biblical doctrines, and sought for those doctrines to be taught at every grade level, in every subject. And that’s been going on for the last decade. For eight hours a day, the work of Christian parents has been systematically undermined in Sacramento schools, in every grade, and every subject. In other words, the mouths of those teachers are an open grave, leading kids to perdition. That’s what I call an enemy.
And David says, in your displeasure about that, PRAY about that, specifically.
OK, but once I pray, you ask, what might I expect God to do, once I pray? What action is God predisposed to do?
There are seven expectations that you should have, in faith:
You can expect, when you complain to God, about what THEY are doing, that God will hear you. Especially if your attitude is one of, there go I, but for YOUR steadfast love, and YOUR grace. Now, having acknowledged our own sinfulness, that does not mean that we have no right to complain to God. When we come to Christ, we slowly see our world more accurately, with hearts of love to God and neighbor, and so we will naturally find ourselves displeased with deception and sin and abuse. But God hears us in our complaint NOT by OUR righteousness, but according to the righteousness of Christ. That’s #1 - you can expect to be HEARD by God.
You can expect God to give you wisdom and clarity in YOUR personal response to it, which will vary from person to person, depending on many things. You can EXPECT God to make HIS way straight for you - to clear a path for you, for constructive action.
You can expect God to protect you, as you endeavor to love Him and your neighbor. Verse 12 means you and I bulletproof until we’re not. As Psalm 84 will put it later, God is a sun and a shield about His people.
You can expect, at the judgment at the end of time, that EVERY sin that you see today - your own included - will either be hung around theirOWN neck, or the neck of Christ. They WILL, v. 10, bear their OWN guilt, or Christ will have born it, on himself. And there is no third option. Either way, you WILL see justice done. And thus we take every opportunity, as God did with us while we were yet still His enemies, to preach the gospel to OUR enemies.
You can also expect that sin carries with it its own destruction. I get this from the 2nd phrase of v. 10: You can expect people to become exhausted with the futility of living life by doctrines that do not correspond with the created realities of humankind and this world. Pride inflates us up big, but to be bloated is not the same things as being STRONG and HARDY. You eventually pop. This world is very hard on fools, by God’s design. Bet on it.
You can expect God to sometimes cast out evildoers - the 3rd phrase of v. 10. Sometimes God does intervene, in the here and now, and expose sin and root it out. Perhaps by your actions, perhaps by another. For instance, the amount of sexual abuse in our nation’s schools is being exposed, and it seems that it makes the Catholic sexual abuse scandals look small in comparison.
Lastly, you can expect, as you see and experience God’s favor upon you, to live a life of increasing JOY, even while you WAIT for God’s answers. You can expect to increasingly have a heart that SINGS to God, even while THEIR transgressions do NOT change, and continue to overflow. You can expect, v. 11, as God extends His protection over you, that you will LOVE HIM more and more, and you will EXULT in him. You can expect your HOME, your WORK, your BEDROOM, your COMMUTE, to be places of JOY.
And it all begins with FAITH, in the STEADFAST LOVE of God . . . For . . . YOU.
This is why, in conclusion, why Paul, when he’s wrapping up the first half of his letter to the Ephesians, he’s like, OK, let me know pray for you, for the ONE thing, THE most important thing:
Ephesians 4, v. 14-19:
V. 11: Ephesians 3:11–12 (ESV): according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.
And then Paul prays:
Ephesians 3:14–19 (ESV): For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
The most important thing to Paul, it seems, is that we would be filled with the knowledge of God’s love, and then possessing that confidence, act boldly in it, beginning with prayer, even in our sin.
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