Thursday, May 7, 2009

National day of Prayer Message May 7th, 2009

Message Delivered on the National Day of Prayer in Palmetto Historical District
Isaiah 1:10-18

I have been asked to bring the homily today for our community’s observance of the National Day of Prayer. I count it an honor to do so. When the Mayor’s office asked me to bring the homily I jokingly replied that, “I was not sure what a homily was but that I would be glad to preach.” They agreed; and that is what I intend to do: to preach in the allotted time God’s eternal truths for our day and need.
Truly we are living in times when answers to prayers are desperately needed. I suppose that throughout the generations people have felt that their times and their troubles were the worst and signaled the end. I cannot answer for their part, but for our part I can say without caution or qualification that we are desperate times: times that our nation has never seen before. We are, today, in need of the intervention and power of a holy God. Abortion has stained the hands of our nation with the blood of innocents that can never be washed away nationally; Sexual sins (homosexuality, fornication & adultery) are rampant and there are few if any to blush at the foul and vulgar images laid bare for all to see; Violence like an acrimonious stench is permeating the air that we breathe; Materialism has made us financial vagabonds and slaves while our homes have become storage vaults for “stuff” rather than havens of love. Our once great Nation is being led, for the greater part, by men who are moral jackals roaming the halls of our once great government. Religion is making little difference as a whole on our nation; the sanctuaries are larger, the programs are more relevant, the use of technology is more accessible – yet – for all these things are land is void of prophets who stand without fear or favor and declare the goodness and severity of God in august passion. We need God to rend the heavens and come down among if ever we are to see more glorious and righteous days. We need God to answer Prayer
Yet just because we gather to pray is no guarantee that God will answer. God is not an automated being forced into action by the mystic energy of prayer; nor is God inconsistent with Himself so that His love and mercy trumps and lays aside His holiness and justice. Prayer is only answered when God’s Conditions are met. One may pray a thousand prayers, gather in all the prayer days one can hold in a year, weep and lament- yet never hear from God or see the hand of God move. Prayer is never answered unless the conditions for God to answer prayer are met. What are those conditions? What and how are we to adjust to God and relate to God so that we can with assurance and trust and know that God both hears and acts upon the prayers that we offer Him this day?
First, God only hears our prayers when we come to Him on the grounds of Jesus Christ the Son of God. It is the cross of Calvary that grants one access to the Throne of God. You can be religious, ethical, moral, charitable and sincere yet none of these things will grant you access to the ear and heart of God. Mankind is sinful: sinful by nature and sinful by the standard of God’s law. Sinful man cannot have access or fellowship with a Holy God. God’s word states that God will not “look on sin” and we are separated by our own sin and His holiness. The only mediation, the only way sinful man can have access to a holy God is through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus Christ. Christ died for sins; Christ died to appease the ire of God; Christ died to satisfy the demands of the law. It is only when you have a saving encounter with Christ that you have right and access to God. Today, regardless of your religious affiliation, regardless of your own assessment of your righteousness – if you do not have Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord – you are eternally lost and God will not hear your prayers however noble and sincere they may be. Today – the one great prayer that should be uttered from a broken and repentant heart is: “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Mercy is available through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Second, God only hears the prayers of those repentant of sins. The Bible says: “if I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear.” Far too many Christians are far too quick to ask God to do something without acknowledging our sins and failure before Him. I have two children whom I love dearly. I love to see them happy, blessed and fulfilled. But though they are my children and though I do indeed want to bless them they are required to be obedient in order to have full access to those blessings and joys a father has prepared. So it is with us as Christians. As Christians today we have embraced convenience, relevance, worldliness, selfness and indifference- rather than embracing a life lived and dedicated to God. We all fail as Christians. But we are not to ignore or shrug our failures off as if they were pesky annoyances. We are to come to God and ask for his forgiveness; we are to be humbled and sorrowful for our sins; we are to recognize that God is not be trifled and that holiness is a key and vital component to relationship and blessings from God.
Third, God only hears prayers when the lips praying match the heart. Matthew’s gospel states: “this people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” Another passage states: “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things I say.” Yet again Christ states: “If ye love me keep my commandments.” It is not one day of prayer but a life of prayer that captures the ear of God; it is not one worship service Sunday morning but a life of worship that moves the heart of God; it is not words gloriously spoken that stirs God to move on our behalf. It is our heart – passionately in love and willingly obedient – that rouses the jealously of God for His people’s behalf. We say a great deal and say it well, but do we live great and live it as well? The question before us today is what will our heart and motives and lives be like after this ceremony is over? Have we no shame? Are we not embarrassed by our own hypocrisy? We pray and feel religious, but ignore the one thing God demands: “thou shalt have no other gods before.” From Mt. Sinai’s thunderous peaks, across the expanse of time, down through the valleys of the Grand Canyon and across the tree gilded edges of the Blue Ridge – God’s warning echoes to us from sea to shining sea: “thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
Do we not realize that man may look upon these proceedings today as religious and noble, but God looks upon the heart? Obedience is better than sacrifice; prayer without the corresponding action is a futile enterprise. I declare unto you as a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that if we are to secure the ear of God this day we can only do so on the conditions God has set: sinners finding salvation in Christ alone, Christian’s repenting and dealing with sin and God’s people living what they claim they believe. Please allow me to close in prayer.