10 Mar 3/10/19 “Preparing the Heart to Pray”
The message this morning is on prayer: “Preparing the Heart to Pray.” I shared with the first service that song we sang was so profound. Maybe it just moved my heart. Sometimes it does that, but it doesn’t really touch other hearts. But when we sing those lyrics, “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Wake me from my slumber, from my sleep,” what can happen in the lives of all Christians, if we’re not careful, is we can go from passion and having a fire for God and wanting to do things for God, into sleep mode—rock-a-bye, lullaby, shhhh, go back to sleep, church. That’s what the devil loves to do—tell us to go back to sleep. It’s wonderful for a three-month-old, but it’s terrible by the time we’re in our thirties—to sleep when God has called us to awaken.
I want to encourage you this morning to think about that. Has the Spirit of the living God fallen afresh on you, waking you from your sleep? We can often see that in worship. I know I mention this sometimes, but those who are awake and want to worship God and have this vibrant relationship versus those who are bored to death. The Spirit of the living God has not fallen upon them. Because when that happens, you’re filled with God’s Spirit. In the same way that Paul talks about being filled with alcohol or being filled with God’s Spirit, either one of those spirits is controlling you. When you give over to alcohol, that spirit is controlling you, and your speech is controlled, your actions are influenced. What’s controlling you?
But Paul says, “Be filled with the Spirit of God.” Your speech is controlled by the Spirit of God, your actions are controlled by the Spirit of God, and I would submit to you that most people walking within our churches in America are not filled with the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God has not fallen afresh on them, there’s not a vibrant prayer life, there’s not a heart of worship, and I’m hoping we can help this morning.
The title is “Preparing the Heart to Pray,” and as you know, we’ve been in a series called “The Bible Doesn’t Say That.” Do you ever come across Scriptures, or you hear people quote Scripture, and you say, “The Bible doesn’t say that”? One that’s been in the news lately is a doctor who performs abortions and thinks he’s doing God a favor, and he uses the text of the Good Samaritan—a good Samaritan will go around doing good things. He uses that text to support his agenda. What they’re also doing in America is they’ll use Scriptures such as “Do not judge,” and they want to pass every type of ungodly law under the banner of “God is love.” Isn’t it interesting, they say, “God is love,” but they forget that God is holy, God is righteous, God is a judge, a just judge. We can’t look at just certain attributes or certain Scriptures. We look at the whole Scripture of God.
What comes on this area of prayer, I was going to use this title (but I changed my mind): “Ask and You Will Receive—Sometimes” because one of the Scriptures people take out of context is “Ask, and you will receive.” Come on, brother, just believe it and you will receive it. That’s where the “name and claim it” comes from. Just name it and claim it—ask, and you will receive. Oh, that Lamborghini is just months away, I can feel it. And we start to have a wrong view of God because it’s not about what I want, it’s really about lining up your prayer life with the heart of God. What does God want? And then as God’s heart lines up with your heart, and you begin to pray, that prayer takes on power because now it’s infused by the Spirit of God because now you’re praying according to God’s will. Yes, you can ask, and you will receive, but there are conditions that often need to be met.
The pattern of history and the Bible is this: “Before God moves in an outward, visible power in the world, He also moves in inward purity in the hearts of His people. To say it a different way, before God moves outwardly and brings revival, brings awakening—God change my home (Do you ever pray that?), change my work environment, change this, change that—often He’s going to change you first. From that fire within, that’s how the fire goes without. John Wesley said, “Do you want to see the pew burn? Set the pulpit on fire, and people will come to watch you burn.” It’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. Burn with the Holy Spirit of God.
We should talk about that more often. John the Baptist even said of Jesus, “He will come, and He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” There should be a burning, a passion, a desire, an unction, an anointing to do things for God. But that only comes from the prayer closet. Actually, preaching really comes from the prayer closet. People picture people on computers preparing sermons or sitting in their study writing down things. It really is developed in the prayer closet, where God loads the weapon, and then the hammer is released, and the bullet goes out. Because what was loaded in the prayer closet comes out in the sermon. At least, it should in the lives of most pastors.
So think about that. We’re wanting God to move in our state. Do you know the numbers of how many people are leaving California weekly? It’s way up there. God, move in our state. I want to remind people, if it’s happening in California, it’s coming. It’s coming all across the United States. As California goes, so goes the nation. So you can’t go run and hide somewhere. We have to stand up and fight and hold our ground. God, change our state, change our nation. Lord, look at what’s going on. Is not the culture divide getting worse? Folks, we’re talking about murdering children at nine months, killing elderly people, those with down syndrome, anti-Israel statements, those who hate the Jewish nation. Gay marriage is being promoted and pushed, and if you don’t believe in it, you are a homophobe and a hater. It’s actually that the opposite is true.
If you have our electronic bulletin, I was on Fox News Thursday, and we shared it on there. I had two minutes to answer thousands of questions. But my point was people cannot shift on this issue. Morality doesn’t shift. Morality stays solid. People shift, morality doesn’t. It has nothing to do with a hater; it has to do with a lover. We love people. Nobody has taken me up on this, but I want to offer them a lie detector test. You say I’m a hater, let’s take a lie detector test. I’ll ask you questions, you ask me questions. You’ll find out. They smokescreen all of this.
If God is going to move in our culture, if He’s going to move in our nation, if He’s going to move in your home, in your community, He’s going to move in you first. But then we want God to do things without us: Lord, you change it; I just want to stay comfortable. You deal with it; I just want to stay here. Comfortable Christianity. You won’t find that concept taught in the Bible. Comfortable Christianity. Relaxed Christianity. Lazy Christianity. You’ll find lukewarm. Is it a good thing? Jesus said, “Be hot or cold. If you’re lukewarm, I will vomit you out of my mouth.”
This battle is really fought in the prayer closet. If you want to have a passion for God, prayer has got to become a priority. A priority. That’s something we put on the calendar, something that is important to us. We must prepare the heart to pray. An athlete prepares, correct? Look up what an Olympic athlete does before the Olympics. It’s a crazy schedule. They prepare for a medal that fades away and is gone. The farmer prepares, the student prepares at school, soldiers prepare. How much more should Christians prepare their heart? And for me, I agree with what Robert Murray M’Cheyne said many years ago: “I spend most of my time praying preparing to pray.” So do you, I’m sure. You spend most of your time preparing to pray.
What I’m borrowing here are some notes from Al Whittinghill. He’s going to speak next weekend. I think you have it as a handout. I grabbed some of the Scriptures, and I think it’s a wonderful way to get our hearts ready for this. Here are keys to preparation: you need a willing mind, an open heart, and an obedient will. Are those not difficult? A willing mind. What does a willing mind say? Lord, I am willing to do this. An open heart: Lord, whatever you want to do. And an obedient will.
Now I wish I could do the whole sermon on this topic of obedience because there’s power in simple obedience. I think the reason many prayers are not answered is because we’re not obeying God in certain areas. God says, “Do this,” I say no, but I’m going to keep praying. God says, “Do this.” Nope, but I’m going to keep praying. Lord, why aren’t you opening doors? Why isn’t this happening? Why aren’t you doing this? “Go back to what I told you first.” Simple obedience. Moses obeyed God. David obeyed. Elisha obeyed. Kings obeyed. Priests obeyed. Prophets obeyed. God will move on their behalf. What happened when there was disobedience? God would not move. He said, “Is my ear not heavy that I cannot hear you? Of course I can hear you. Is my hand not short that I cannot save you? But your sins, your iniquities, have hid my eyes from you. So I cannot see you. I cannot turn to you and help you” (Isaiah 59:1–2, paraphrased). Of course He could, but see, there’s something called sin and disobedience that prevents many prayers from being answered.
We think God will still answer my prayers even though I’m not obeying Him. I know it’s convicting, but it’s meant to be because without this initial first step it’s hard to get prayers answered. It’s hard to get into a deep, abiding prayer life without obedience taking place. First John 5:14–15:
And this is the confidence that we have in Him…
So where is your confidence at? In your friends, in social media, your checkbook, retirement, all these things? No, this confidence we have in God that if we ask anything—anything—He hears us. Did I forget something? Anything according to His will.
that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us:
See, what obedience does is line you up with God’s will. When I obey Him, I’m lined up with His will, so as I’m lined up with His will, now my prayers change from self-focused to others-focused. Now it changes from what I want to what I need. Your prayer life lines up with obedience. Does that make sense? The more you obey Him, the more you’re filled with the Spirit, the more your prayers will shift.
And then of course it goes on to say:
And if we know that He hears us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.
He yearns for us to lay hold of His promises and to fully trust Him. This is remarkable because God yearns for us to lay hold of His promises. Do you know faith pleases God? The Bible says it’s impossible to please God without faith. Faith lays hold of God’s promises and believes in God. “Lord, your Word says this. Your Word says this. I trust you. Your Word says this. It says, ‘I will not leave you or forsake you.’ I know you won’t. Your Word says this. God, your Word says you will hear me, even if it’s two in the morning, I’m crying out to you. Lord, your Word says this.”
And you hold God to that. You hold His promises: I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. I am the Good Shepherd. Though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you will fear no evil because I hold you up with my hand. I will put a table in the front of your enemies. I will give you comfort and joy even when your enemies mock you and laugh at you and ridicule you. “God, I’m holding you to those promises.” That’s trust.
And what happens when doubt comes in? Uh oh. I’m doubting what God’s going to do. I’m fearful. Fearful and anxious. That’s why the Bible says that God has not even given you, as a believer, a spirit of fear. That’s not of God. Fearing what’s going to happen, and “I can’t believe this. What am I going to do, Lord? I can’t bear this any longer.” So trust Him.
If you abide in Me, and my Words abide in you, you shall ask what you will and it shall be done unto you.
If I’m abiding in Christ, I’m not going to ask for that Lamborghini. If I’m abiding in Christ and His Word, I don’t want the eight-thousand-square-foot house in the hills. If I’m abiding in Christ, I don’t want my enemies to die. Right? That’s the prayer of some people: “Lord, just kill that person. They’ve upset me. Just kill them. Just take them.”
As you are abiding in Christ, that word abide means “to live with and to stand with.” So he’s saying when you stand with Christ, when you live with Christ, when the Word of God is deep down, penetrating your heart, and you live on that Word, and you obey that Word, your thoughts actually change. You want God thoughts. Here’s an interesting thing. You’re going to have the world’s thoughts, or you’re going to have God’s thoughts, depending on what you feed the most. You will think like the world if you’re feeding your mind with the things of the world. If you have the world’s music, the world’s entertainment, the world’s news, the world’s outlet. Whatever it is, if you’re constantly feeding on the things of the world, that’s where your thoughts are going to be.
That’s why you’ll see many people who are getting divorced, many times it’s because they were feeding their mind with the things of the world, and they think, “Oh, the grass is greener on this side of the fence. That’s what the world tells me.” But guess what’s on the other side of the fence? Destruction. Exactly right. The grass is not greener. It’s greener wherever you water it.
You have this battle inside, so if you’re abiding with Christ, and the Word of God is in your heart, living your heart, and you’re quoting Scripture, and you’re reminding yourself when you’re tempted, “Hey, I know I’m tempted, but no temptation can overtake me, Lord. This is all common to man. God, you’re faithful. You’re not going to give me more than I can bear, and I’m going to hold on to your promise. I’m going to seek you.” And that Word begins to penetrate your heart, and your prayer life changes: “Oh, God, would you save my children? God, strengthen my family. When the enemy comes in, when the devourer comes in like a flood, you’re going to lift up a standard against him. God, I’m trusting in you. Your Word is my weapon. Your Word is my shield.”
And when the devil comes in and talks with half-truths—you know that, right? You know that the devil knows the Scripture a lot better than we do—he’ll come in with half the truth. He told Eve, “Did God really say…?” You begin to justify things. Half the truth. But if you have the whole truth in your heart, your prayer life changes. You begin to pray for people. You’re not in a hurry. If you find yourself saying, “I don’t know what to pray for,” it’s because you’re filled with the world a lot more than the things of God. We can talk about the world all day long. I know Christians that say, “I can’t pray. It’s boring. I don’t know what to pray for.” But they can quote all the basketball stats you’ve ever heard. “Oh, did you hear about this and this person…?” I haven’t even heard of these names, and you know their batting average, you know their earned run average, you know how many games they’ve missed. How do you know all this and have such an interest for this and such a passion for these things? How do you have it? Because that’s what you’re filled with. No wonder the Word of God is boring. No wonder you have no prayer life.
God’s says feed on the Word. Something I’ve noticed about God’s Word—you know this is true too—the more you feed on it, the hungrier you become. Any chocolate lovers in here? Okay, what happens if you just get a little piece? That’s all you get. Oh, you just opened the lion’s cage on that one, right? I want more, I want more, I want more. Same thing. The more you get into God with worship and prayer and reading His Word, the hungrier you become. The more you remove yourself from that, you’ll begin to starve to death, spiritually speaking.
One of the Old Testament prophets said that God said a famine is coming. Not a famine of food or water but of hearing of the Word of God. That’s a true famine. It’s a truth. We have elected officials, we have pastors all across our nation, but there’s a famine. They’re not hearing from the Word of God. They’re hearing from their own ingenuity and their own pride and arrogance. Think about this, like Al said, what possibilities, what a privilege, what a pressing need to simply obey God, abide in him, and watch your prayer life turn from boring to dynamic, turn from unanswered to answered, turn from irrelevant to very relevant. Because when you’re filled with the Spirit of God, prayer is the priority. It’s the engine that pushes the vehicle down the street—that being your spiritual vehicle. It’s what pushes you. It’s your engine.
Mark 11 talks about “have faith in God. . . . Do not doubt in your heart, and your prayers will be answered.” See, that is a biblical truth as well. If you have faith in God, and you do not doubt in your heart, your prayers will be answered.
Now it does come up, “But, Shane, how do I know to pray according to God’s will?” Well, I figured this out the hard way. I’m going to share it with you this morning. You ready for this? Pen and paper, you’re going to take this down? It’s a long paragraph. No, it’s actually very short. Ask Him. Ask Him, “Lord, is this your will?” And what will begin to happen is that desire you had for it will begin to fade. The more you seek Him, the more you ask Him, “Lord, is this your will,” what you thought you needed or wanted, it’s not even an issue anymore. But if there’s something that’s a pressing need, God keeps bringing it back, pray for this. “Lord, is this your will?”
There’s something now, like I told you I was praying about the radio stations a year ago, and I told you, “There’s something I’m praying for, but I can’t tell you,” and then I finally told you once it happened. There’s something else I’m praying for that would be even bigger than that, to help people, and it’s something I’ve been praying about. It’s logged in my Bible, it’s in my journal, but I’m still praying, “Lord, I don’t know if this is your will,” but the desire doesn’t go away. It keeps kind of coming back and coming back. The Scripture jumped out, “Just have faith. Do not doubt in your heart and your prayers will be answered,” but I still ask God, “Is this your will? Is this your will? Show me.” And God says, “I love that heart. I will answer the prayers of that person.”
So if you don’t know, ask. We see couples and you know people who are dating who ask, “Should we get married? God, is this your will? Should we get married?” Ask Him. Ask Him. But start with what you do know. If there’s not purity, living together, sleeping together, whatever it is, you’ve got to start there before God reveals His other will. Get it right in the first place, build on the right foundation of purity and holiness. Now the lifestyle is lining up with God’s Word. Now you can ask. Because so many people say, “Lord, I don’t know if this is your will.” Well, get out of sin and disobedience, then you can hear better.
Do you ever buy those good earplugs? I’m going to get some when the baby is born. On Saturday nights, right? I can’t hear anything. Nothing. But that’s what sin does hearing God’s voice: “I can’t hear anything, Lord. Where are you?”
“Would you take care of this issue, then you can hear me.”
“No, but would you still answer me?”
“No, take care of this issue.”
Let me not give you the wrong impression here. God still hears us when we’re in sin. Actually, one of the prayers of the Bible that God always hears is “God, save me, a sinner.” So, if you don’t know Christ, all you have to say is, “God, save me, a sinner. I repent of my sin.” But as a believer, you’re struggling, saying, “God, I want to hear you. This is a stronghold in my life. I can’t break free of this God. Would you help me? Would you give me the strength? Would you show me something? Show me what your will is.” I’ve never seen God let you down. When has God ever let you down when you truly petition Him and were sincere and asked Him? We sing that song, “God, you will never fail me. You’ve never let me down. Though the enemy comes at me, though my enemies taunt me, God, you are standing like a rock. You will never let me down.”
Jesus actually said, “If you hear my words and do them, you will be like a man who built his house on the rock.” And when the rains came, and the floods came, and that storm beat upon that house, it did not fall. Why? Because the foundation, the footing, the grounding, the strength, was in the Rock. That’s how powerful obeying God’s Word is.
Every great revival or spiritual awakening in history has come in answer to sincere prayers from believers who have broken, humble, cleansed, and believing hearts. I want to clarify this for a minute. This is why this is so important. Most of us see the handwriting on the wall with where the nation’s going, unless you’ve been in a coma for thirty years. We see that apart from a national awakening, where God is reviving His people, restoring morality—and I’m not talking about a perfect government. You’re not going to have them all singing worship songs in the capital. I’m not naïve. But there is a point where the judgment hand of God must fall upon a disobedient nation, upon a disobedient people.
Apart from a national awakening where God revives His people, like He did in Welsh in the 1700s, with people like <Howell Griffins?> and Daniel Rowland and Howell Harris. Unless He awakens America like He did in the First Great Awakening, with George Whitefield and John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards, or the Second Great Awakening, with Billy Sunday and D. L. Moody, or the New Hebrides Islands off Scotland, when God’s bringing awakening, when things get to their bottom point. Or in the nation of Israel, God brings Josiah and brings a revival and an awakening, and you see God awakening His people. That’s the only hope. I’m not counting on 2020. You get that when you get home. Oh, if such-and-such just wins in 2020. No. Only God can keep North Korea at bay, or China or Russia. All hell is breaking loose, and apart from a national awakening of God reviving His people, the Titanic has been hit.
But there’s great confidence in that because God brings revival at important points in history. He brings spiritual awakening, where bars are closed down, where people are worshiping God in their neighborhoods, and God transforms entire communities, and that flows into other areas of national life. So I have a heart for that. He’s given me a heart for that. I know not everybody shares that, and that’s okay. They can do what God’s called them to do. I’ll do what He’s called me to do. So it has to come from believers who are broken, humbled, cleansed, and believe in their hearts.
Let me go through these quickly. I use these words sometimes, maybe you don’t know what they mean. Broken. What is broken? It has to do with the heart. Does God say, “I will look for a haughty and arrogant heart, then I’ll answer their prayers”? No, God says, “I look for a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” So when God sees men and women on their faces at home or on their faces at the altar and crying out to God saying, “God, I’m broken, I’m broken. God, would you hear me?” He says, “Is that the cry of a broken and contrite heart? I can’t cast it away. I can’t remove it from my sight. I hear it like a magnet to metal. I go to the broken and contrite heart, and I lift them up, and I restore them because that is a sweet-smelling aroma and a sacrifice to me,” thus saith the Lord. Where do the eyes of the Lord go? They go across the whole earth. What? Looking for those whose hearts are loyal to Him and broken before Him and humbled before Him. “I look for that broken heart.” David said, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.”
And then we must have humility. Well, Shane, what’s the difference? Oh, there’s quite a difference. Brokenness is the heart, humility is the actions. You’ve got so many people saying, “I’m broken, I’m humble.” No, you’re not. You’re arrogant. How do you know? In your actions. Always being right, not loving people. Isn’t it amazing how unloving we can become? Let’s be honest. When we are unloving, the Spirit of God cannot move through you because part of brokenness is loving, and you feel the pain of others. You weep with others, you feel that brokenness, like Jesus felt. “O Jerusalem, my people.” Can you imagine the Messiah coming, and His people rejecting Him? “O, my people, Jerusalem. I wanted to gather you like a mother picks up her little children and holds them, but you were not willing. You stiff-necked and rebellious people. Yes, you have the letter of the law, but you don’t have the Spirit of Christ in your heart.” Love—love with the Word of God is powerful. You have to have both through humility.
And then you have to have a cleansed heart. What is cleansed? It’s a topic we don’t talk about too much in the church. You’re not going to get a lot of popular sermons on this, but it’s really important. It’s called holiness. As you know, the church likes to go to two extremes. So you have this extreme, which they call the Holiness movement. Women, no pants, no makeup. Better not be going to the movies. We cannot promote movies out there at the Cinemark; that’s of the devil. You can’t watch anything to do with television. It’s this Holiness movement. But see, they had the right concept in that you want to be modest, you want to be careful with what you watch, but when you put a bunch of rules on it, and don’t explain the relational aspect, you just become a Pharisee. So they tell you you can’t go to the movies. And we tell our kids, “You can’t go. Here is why. Here’s what this going to do to you spiritually.” They’re still mad, but they hear why. Right? So you have this Holiness movement. It’s all about rules.
And then you have now, what I think is happening a lot today, where there’s no holiness, watch whatever we want, do whatever we want. I actually preached fifteen years ago to a church I won’t name, at a men’s event, and called people to holiness and called people to being selective with their movie choices. A youth pastor came up to me and said, “I can watch whatever I want as long as my heart is right.” Oh, how do you manage that one? I can do whatever I want as long as my heart’s right. No, what you do affects your heart.
Now what happened? He was convicted. He was prideful. He was arrogant. I still see him on Facebook a little bit now and then. It’s no secret that they’re posting things I probably wouldn’t post, with their favorite beer, their champagne, the movie they watch, this and that. Now, going to do it, wonderful, but don’t post it on Facebook if you’re a leader in the church. And you can see there’s this drift because the heart is deceitful. If you’re trusting your heart and your feelings, it will deceive you.
So He looks at a broken, humble heart and then also a holy heart. The Bible says, “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?” In other words, who may stand in the holy place of God and do God’s work? He who has clean hands and a pure heart and who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor has he sworn deceitfully. He hasn’t lied and manipulated, and he hasn’t been this person who has dirty hands and is sinning. God says, “That’s the person I want to send to my holy mountain. He who has clean hands and a pure heart and has not lifted up his soul to idolatry.”
This is why this is so important. Holiness is really who you are. A. W. Tozer, I think it was about six years ago, was writing to pastors, and he said, “Who the pastor is all week is who he will be when he steps up to that pulpit.” I do encourage pastors now. A lot of pastors reach out to this church because of where the ministry’s gone, and I tell them. They listen to messages along these same lines, and I tell them that who you are all week is going to determine the power of your sermon. Preaching—I’m going to tell you a secret; you’ve got to put some notes together—but preaching is when God unloads the weapon that He loaded in the prayer closet. This is unloading what God has loaded in the prayer closet. You hunters out there, you’ve got your 12-gauge. This is a three-inch Magnum for duck hunting. You put that in there. That was loaded. That’s the prayer closet. Now how much more for parents or spouses or those of you who work or have grandkids? How much more for all of us? We need to load up in the prayer closet.
The prayer closet is where you load up, you suit up, and you get ready, and then you go out. You unload what God has put into you in the prayer closet. That’s where you pull down demonic influences. That’s where you pull down strongholds over your children. Don’t go and cuss at them and give them a sermon they’ve heard a thousand times, but you get in that prayer closet, and you say, “You know what? I’m not coming out of here for a few hours. I’m not even going to eat any breakfast because I’m going to pull down strongholds.” God says, “What? Is that a broken and contrite heart? Has he humbled himself? Is he holy and filled with the Spirit of God?” If you ask, you will receive, because now you’re praying with boldness with the Spirit of God speaking and praying through you. That’s how you prepare the heart to pray. Get your heart ready through holiness and being set apart.
It’s no secret if you been coming here a while, and I’ve told you this many times. It’s a good reminder. The number one attribute given to God is not love. That’s all we hear everywhere, even from all the news pundits, for moral issues. God is love. God is love. God is love. God is love. No, the attribute, if you study it, more than any other attribute that stands way above them all, is holiness. Our God is a holy God. He demands and requires holiness. The angels cry, “Holy, holy, holy is our God.”
Can you imagine angels? I see that scene, I love that scene, in Isaiah where he says he saw the train of God’s robe, which filled the entire temple, and the angels would sit there and cry out, “Holy, holy, holy is our God,” and the temple would shake. The pillars of the temple would shake with that word holy, holy, holy is our God. Why? Because that’s the power. Yes, we need the love of God, but it’s the holiness of God that comes in and uproots evil and conquers sin. It’s when people are holy and set apart for God, God says, “Come out from among them and be loving.” Yes, but “Come out from among them and be holy.” Because if you’re loving without holiness, you are leading people astray. That’s the big problem in our culture. They say, “Just love everybody. Just love them, love them.” Allow them to continue sinning? “Yeah, just love them.” As they’re walking to hell, love them? “Well, I don’t want to say anything. I just want to love them.”
Now there’s a time and place for that. Don’t leave here thinking, Shane just said, “Nail them with holiness. Just don’t even worry about love. Just wreck them with the power of God.” No, you need both. Love without holiness, you’re lukewarm. Holiness without love, you’re a Pharisee. You have to find that middle ground. How? Pray. Pray. Because when you’re filled with the Spirit of God, you don’t go and judge people. You love them. But you also call them to holiness.
One of the things I was hoping they would get to in the interview Thursday was the big thing that’s out there. The LGBT suicide rate is alarming, and the reason is because validating sin won’t lead to hope. Repentance leads to hope. Point them to the cross. But, Shane, they might still struggle. Yeah, we all still struggle with something. Come on. You point them to the hope, to the cross. That’s where the hope is. Forty years ago, they said the church is at fault because they’re making people feel guilty. You can’t say that anymore because now the media is supporting sin, the government is supporting sin, the school districts are supporting sin, Hollywood is supporting sin, Facebook is supporting sin. Everything is supporting sin, and you have this voice over here, the church saying, “Hold on. Turn back to God. You can’t blame us now anymore because everybody is supporting sin, but there’s still hopelessness.” The suicide rate is epidemic. Why? Because you’re running from the answer. Turn people back to the hope, to the answer in Christ. That’s the only answer.
And you know it’s true. I have loved people through their sin. I’m doing it right now with many who don’t come to this church, who struggle with everything from alcohol to homosexuality. Love them; don’t judge them. They’re still miserable. They’re still hopeless, and I’m still loving them. Why? Because my love is not supposed to replace God’s love through forgiveness. Folks, that is so important because this culture is going to hell in a handbasket, and you better know what the priorities are. We hear all these deceiving things, and it’s not deceiving if you look to God’s Word.
Broken, humble, cleansed, and a believing heart. A believing heart trusts in God completely. Do you know why this is important? Because many people trust in God as long as it’s going in their direction: “If He answers the prayer like I’ve been praying, I’ll trust him, but if he decides to throw a curveball, I’m not trusting him anymore.” Trust is “Lord, no matter what you do, I will trust you. No matter what happens, I will trust you.”
Search me, oh God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
How many of you are willing to pray that this morning? Don’t raise your hands, just say it in your heart. Search me, oh God, and know my heart. Most people don’t want to pray that if they’re not willing to give up their sin. Who’s going to pray that prayer if they want to continue in their sin? What do we say? “I’ll pray that in ten years after I have fun.” One the biggest tricks of the enemy is to make people think that following God is not fun. You’re filling the lust of the flesh, as somebody in rebellion, and you’re miserable and you’re hopeless. How is that fun? Sure, the Bible says, “Hard is the way of the transgressor,” but it also says that sin satisfies for a season. There’s a fulfillment as the sin is being gratified, but then when that is over, the negative aspects come in.
Let’s ask a few questions. Just think what would happen if each believer made it his or her priority to spend quality time alone before God? I want you to think about that for minute. What about if God became the priority in your life? When you got up, it wasn’t social media, your phone, texting, emails. It was God. What about when you got up, if it was God, not what’s going on in the news? Same thing in the evening. What if God became the priority in your life? Yes, you still have to work. You pay the bills, you do chores, you get errands done, I know. But He can still be the priority. He can be the priority of your life.
So let’s take time to prepare our hearts. I’m just going to ask a few questions.
- Is there any area in my life which I have not completely given over to Jesus Christ as Lord of my life?
- Is there anyone or anything that I love or desire more than God himself? It’s called idolatry. Is there anything that you love more than God himself?
- How do my relationships stand in the presence of God? Have I forgiven people? Have I forgiven everyone? People don’t realize how much of a hindrance this is to our prayer life. You can’t go in, praying for God and holding bitterness and unforgiveness in your heart. Oh, it gets quiet during that point. This is the hard one, isn’t it? This is where the rubber meets the road. “God, forgive me and all my sins. Thank you for the cross. But I’m not going to forgive them.” That will hinder your prayer life. It’s like cancer to the bones because you’re praying, and you’re not free. You’re still bound to that unforgiveness and that anger and that bitterness. You have to release that.
And remember, releasing this doesn’t mean that the person was right. It means that you’re giving it back to God. I’ve prayed for people many times—it breaks my heart—that have been abused, as a child maybe. My water boils. But releasing forgiveness does not mean that that person was right and off the hook. It means you’ve given it to God, and you’re released of the cancer of unforgiveness. These things— unforgiveness, bitterness—they weigh on you. They’ve even studied how they produce toxic elements in your body. Toxic chemicals that come in and damage the heart, damage your mind. You’re just so mad and intense. The reason is because when you’re angry, you’re upset, you’re tense, and cortisol is released, adrenaline is released. That’s wonderful if you’re running away from a lion (even though you couldn’t get away, but it’s a nice thought), but when it comes to living life, if you’re always in that state of high adrenaline, cortisol, your body is not designed to continually be beat with those high levels of those hormones, which are very beneficial in small dosages, but very destructive in excess.
So what that does, you release that forgiveness. But you don’t know what my dad did. You don’t know what my mom did. You don’t know what they did to me. I don’t know, but God knows. It doesn’t mean they are right. It means, “You know what, Lord, they’re not holding me in prison anymore. I’m giving it over to you.” Your prayer life will explode. Why? Because I’ve been set free. I’ve been set free from these shackles that have held me down.
- Am I truly surrendered to God in the area of personal disciplines and holiness of life? What is personal disciplines? Praying and reading. We call them disciplines because it’s a discipline, where you have to do it. You discipline your body to do these things. But there is a reward afterward. People think, Oh, it’s discipline; it’s drudgery. No, it’s not. There’s a reward. Have any of you worked out hard and disciplined your body and got some results? Oh, I lost this weight. My blood pressure is normal. I’m no longer type-II diabetes. I feel ten times better. Oh, it wasn’t fun the first couple weeks or couple months. It wasn’t fun getting out there and walking for four miles. But there are disciplines that have rewards later. How much more spiritually?
And holiness of life. Maybe it’s wise to mention this. When I mentioned this Holiness movement about you can’t go the movies and you can’t do this or that, you have to remember something. You are not a neutral being. You are either filled with the Spirit of God, or you’re filled with the world. Or you’re doing this a lot, like most of us: “Oh, I’m so filled with God’s Spirit,” after Sunday, and then here comes Wednesday. You’ve got this filled with God, then filled the world. That’s what happens when you listen to the media.
It’s interesting. In Romans 1, Paul talks about that they suppress the truth and they gave themselves into a lie, and they begin to burn with lust, women for women, men for men. But something at the end he says is interesting. He says the rebuke is also to those who are amused by it, are entertained by it, who allow it. So although we say, “I wouldn’t do that,’ we watch it, we are entertained by it. You just turn on something, and there are sexual things that are drawing us in, there’s envy and there’s pride drawing us in, and the media. Everything is drawing us, and we’re filled with the things of the world, so we begin to think like the world. That’s why we have all these people that can come out.
That’s why I was on Fox with that lady who’s on Sex and the City. (I called it “Sin and the City,” but they didn’t catch that.) But Sex and the City, and she’s going to rebuke the vice president on morality. What?! We’ve lost our moral compass. You have a person promoting sex in the city, promoting all kinds of ungodly, illicit sex—and by the way, sex is great and good and God-given in the proper place, just like a fire is wonderful in the fireplace. You go start that down on the living room floor, you’ve got problems. Same thing. So you have this person lecturing the vice president, calling him a homophobe, because he stands up for Christianity—your values. Holiness is so important.
- Do I tolerate pride? Do I tolerate? What does that mean? Do I put up with? Do you put up with pride? How do I know? Are you always making excuses for it? I’m just passionate. I just know my stuff. I just see things differently. God speaks to me, not you. Do you put up with pride in your heart? What about impurity? What about unbelief? Or is there any other compromise in your heart? Compromising.
- Am I my allowing the Lord to bring me into a life of true worship and obedience to the Holy Spirit of God? Would I call myself a diligent seeker of His face? Let me tell you how real the struggle is between the world and the Spirit. I know we could have a lot more people at 6 a.m. morning worship right here, but what excuses come up? I’m tired. It’s cold. It’s far. I’ve got to go to work. We take off work to go boating. We take off work to drive a friend to LAX airport. We might even take off Black Friday. Shop till you drop. Is that not true though? We’ll take off the whole Friday to go spend on things that are perishing because, see, it’s that struggle. The struggle is real between the flesh and the Spirit of God. So are you going to allow the Lord to bring into your life true worship? If so, say, “Lord, I want that. What does it look like? What does true worship look like? God show me.”
And yes, we do have morning worship this week at 6 a.m., every morning. People say, “You need to have it in the evening,” and then we have it in the evening, and guess what? Same people don’t show up. So fool me once, fool me twice, but… Isn’t it true, though, right? “If you just had it in the evening.” We have it in the evening. They don’t show up. “Well, if you just had it on Saturdays.” Have it Saturday, they don’t show up. Excuses have to die.
Here’s what we do. We allow the flesh to control us. Yes, I’m tired. Yes, it’s cold. But, you know what, flesh? Be quiet. I’m going to drag you along. You’re the ball and chain. My spouse isn’t. You’re the ball and chain, flesh, so let’s go. That’s the Christian walk. You tell the flesh what to do. You have a Scripture for me that says that it pulls you around? Show it to me after the service—because there isn’t anything. You discipline your body. You tell it no. You tell it, “We’re going to praise God even if we don’t feel like it. We’re going to serve Him even if we don’t feel like it. We’re going to worship Him. We’re going to go to church. We’re going to put God on the calendar. Of course, you don’t feel like it, flesh. You’re coming into submission to me. I’m not submitting to your desires or your will.”
And guess what? Here’s the great thing. Eventually he listens. All those trying to eat healthy, you know, after a couple weeks, it finally says, “Oh, right, you’re not having pizza. Get out the salad. Get out the healthy stuff.” Because you’ve taught it. You’ve disciplined it. I think it’s the same concept when the Bible says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee.” You resist the flesh. That’s what Paul said. “I discipline my body.” He didn’t leave it there. He said, “I bring it under subjection,” meaning “I bring my flesh under my control.” Most people have it this way: The flesh is controlling how often they come to church. The flesh is controlling how often they read the Bible. The flesh is controlling because they listen to the defense attorney within: “You don’t need to do that. You’ve read that.” And they just keep letting the flesh control them. But the life of the Christian is this: you bring your flesh under subjection and under control.
- Is there some command or calling that the Lord has given you that you have chosen to pull away from or ignore? Did you catch that? Has God called you to do something, and you just ignore it? You think you’re going to have a vibrant prayer life? That rebellion stops that. I want to ask this question: How many of you has God prompted to do something to serve? Children’s ministry? Ok, I’m bringing this home now. Ushering? We need ushers, we need children’s ministry, we need media, we need sound. We need all these areas. About 10 percent, maybe 15 percent, of the church actually serve. So 85 percent of the people that come here don’t even serve.
Now, I know people are busy and have kids. I got it. I’m right there with you. But if God is calling you, if God is prompting you to do something. How many times has He been prompting you to go to help with the hospital homes? Months? Years? Homeless outreach—we have every Sunday evening at 6:30—prompting? Come to the morning worship—prompting? I know I should help those kids, but I really don’t like kids. That’s what I hear most often. People say, “I wish I could help in children’s ministry, but I don’t like those little stinkers. I’m not a ‘kids’ person.” You’ve had kids, didn’t you? Well, you’re a ‘kids’ person then. Often, I’ve noticed that God will use those difficult things to shape us.
When I was first called into ministry, and my wife was called with me—we were both called—how many times I would say, “I’m not speaking to youth.” Well, guess what I did for a year and half? I even wrote a book about it: What Works for Young Adults: Solid Choices in Unstable Times. I was speaking at youth conferences. I was speaking youth events. Why? Because it was uncomfortable. They don’t pay as good attention as you do. They’re on their phone, yawning, “I’m bored.” But often what you’re running from is what God’s calling you to, to chip you away. I don’t want to go on the mission field. Oh, guess what? You need to see what it looks like in third-world countries. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do that. That’s usually the flesh.
So is there an area you’ve been running from to serve? Then grab that card in front of you in the pew and fill it out. Half joking, but half not. If you want to serve, let us know because we need people helping. I think it hinders prayers when we don’t serve. When all this Christian is doing is coming and being fed by the church, their kids are being fed, they’re being encouraged, and they don’t give back, they will become unhealthy spiritually. We’re not supposed to get overweight spiritually We’re supposed to give it back. We receive, and we give it back. Better for you to give than to receive.
Let me close with this. This is both for the person who doesn’t know Christ and the person who does. David said,
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. . . . Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
If you don’t know who Jesus Christ is—you know intellectually, you hear about it, right now, you have a concept of who He is, you know He existed or you think He did—the Bible says you must be forgiven of your sin; you must repent and believe. It’s that simple. I repent of my sin, and I believe, God, and as a result, wash me thoroughly from this iniquity.
But then also the saint who gets trapped in sin. Remember I’ve given you that analogy before? Sin is like mud that a pig and a lamb fall into. The pig enjoys it; the lamb cries out and wants out of that mud. So it’s this image we have here saying, “God, wash me thoroughly from this sin. Cleanse me and purge me, that I will be clean. Wash me and I’ll be whiter than snow.” So a believer can say that as well if they’re trapped in sin, if sin’s got a hold on them. If this message is convicting, <you’re ready for lunch?>. This might be a good time to apply this verse: “God, cleanse me,” like David said. He had somebody murdered. He committed adultery. His child died, and he said:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
That word right means dependable and unwavering. Who wants that this morning? I sure do. God, create a spirit within me that is dependable and unwavering. Though the culture comes against me, though those people come against me, I am unwavering, I am holding tight. Why? Because of me? No, because my shoes are founded, are stuck on the rock of Jesus Christ. I can’t move because I built my life on the rocks of God. You create in me a clean heart. God, you renew a steadfast spirit within me.
I love that old hymn “Rock of Ages.” Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee. It’s this picture of this huge enormous rock—think of Yosemite—and you’re hiding in that cleft, that little opening. You’re just hiding in there, in this massive rock three thousand feet high. Rock of ages, let me hide in thee. Let me find safety in thee.
The Bible often attributes, or actually links, Jesus with things like a rock and a strong tower, a fortress, a buckler, a shield, a Sabbath rest, an Alpha and Omega, a lion, a conquering King who will come back with the sword coming out of His mouth to judge the nations. He will rule the nations with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress and the wrath of Almighty God. It’s strength.
Number one, do you know Him? Not about Him, do you truly know Him? Or number two, for believers, do you need to fully surrender, get your life on track, and get that prayer life blazing again? Before anyone falls into a moral abyss. Many of you watch the news—how may pastors are going down? All these guys we used to look up to. What’s going on? It all started here in the prayer closet. When you become too busy, no time for God, that’s where the fall’s coming. It all starts there. Prayer strengthens you, prayer encourages you, prayer rebuilds you, prayer renews you, it revitalizes your entire life. You are strong in the things of God. The enemy gets you out of that prayer closet, and you are doomed because that’s your strength. Knowing and applying Scripture, yes, but also praying. Praying and pulling down heaven.
A writer, I don’t know who it was, a hundred years ago, maybe a couple hundred years ago. I read it last night. He said something like, “The devil knows that one hour in heartfelt communion with God will pull down what he’s been trying to conceive in your life for the last year.” An hour with God pulls down what Satan is trying to build. Is Satan after your children? Yes. Is he after your marriage? Is he after your personal life? Yes. What pulls that down? What pulls down strongholds? What casts down every argument and high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God? What does that? Prayer, the prayer closet. You see that? The power is prayer. The power that moves the hand of God is prayer. We’ve got to get back to being a praying church.