Picture of Pastor Carlson

Sermon delivered August 15, 2009 by Pastor Paul Carlson

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version, ESV, unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

How to Get Answers to Prayer

1 Peter 4:7,8

(RealAudio available)

Is there a proven method for making sure that your prayers are answered by God?

Well, the members of a certain religious organization claim that if you send them written prayer requests to their Temple, they will put those written prayer requests into their Crystal Prayer Bowl.  And then the Crystal Prayer Bowl will be placed under the Blue-White Healing Light at the beginning of healing sessions in their sanctuary, in order to receive all of the energy and prayers of those present.  They claim that the bowl has great powers, and that many prayers have been answered through this process. -- John Beukema, Stories from God’s Heart (Chicago: Moody Press, 2000), pp. 177-178.

But wait a minute! Is the secret to prayer that mystical? I mean, where is God in the picture?  There’s got to be something better than that. And there is.

Let’s go to the Bible for clues as to how to get those answers to prayer. I invite you to find First Peter, chapter 3, where the author of that book gives us some incredible principles for understanding how to get answers to your prayers.  And we’ll be looking at three different parts within this letter of Peter that comprise a general lesson on the subject of prayer.

And first off, we’ll look at First Peter, chapter 3 and then verse 7.

It says.  “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”  Perhaps you’ve noticed that I’m not starting with verse 1 of this chapter.  As you can see, that’s the verse that begins with the words, “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands . . .” or something like it. That’s probably gotten a lot of attention already.  But, in any case, the full text of that, verses 1 and 2 says, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct” (1 Peter 3:1-2 ESV).  The context is all about how to act so as to win over an unbelieving spouse.

But then, verse 7 takes us off on a different direction, and I really like some other translations of that.

Let me share with you the Phillips translation.  It says, “Similarly, you husbands should try to understand the wives you live with, honouring them as physically weaker yet equally heirs with you of the grace of life.”

I also like the Contemporary English Version.  It says, “If you are a husband, you should be thoughtful of your wife. Treat her with honor, because she isn’t as strong as you are, and she shares with you in the gift of life. Then nothing will stand in the way of your prayers.”

I’d like for us to see in this a general principal that applies not just to how husbands treat their wives, but also, can we look at it in the other direction, how wives treat their husband, or to how husbands and wives together treat their children.

What would that principle be?

I think the principle would be this.  Guard the quality of your family relationships. Why?  Why would we want to guard the quality of our family relationships?  Because God doesn’t answer the prayers of those who mistreat family members.  Okay, so then in families that want God to answer their prayers, what qualities should be present? According to First Peter 3, verse 7, those qualities are, understanding, consideration, respect, a sense of equality. Fair treatment.  These qualities imply by their very nature the absence of abuse or force, whether physical or emotional, or any other kind of manipulation.  They imply a lack of belittling or putdowns.  They imply a decision to never make unreasonable demands upon someone else in the family.  They also imply a conscious decision to be unselfish with each other.  It’s really all about an atmosphere of loving respect.  So we must guard the quality of our family relationships, because a family that is full of bitterness and disrespect interferes with the dynamic of prayer.  The husband or wife, for that matter, that is abusing anyone else in the family on any level, emotionally or physically, cannot expect answered prayers.

Now the text says that wives should be treated as co-heirs of God’s grace. God is not just your God, but your partner’s as well. And God takes everything into consideration, and He cares about the hurt ones and the victimized ones, too.

What’s interesting is the literal meaning of the original language for what’s translated in our English Bibles as “hinder” is “to cut off.”  The word is only used 11 times in the New Testament and then usually used for the action of cutting off something, like, say a branch or cutting down a tree.  Only one time is the word used in the context of prayer. So it means that prayers can be, in a very real sense, cut off. They won’t get very far.  In other words, God doesn’t take seriously those prayers.

So if you want God to answer your prayers, treat your family members with respect and decency and consideration.

So that’s the first principle: Guard the quality of your family relationships.

Let’s continue reading on in this passage to see even broader implications for the quality of relationships among believers in general.

Starting with verse 8.  “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”  And then, verse 10 starts, the very first word with the reason why.  “For.”  “For whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.  Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Do you notice that in this passage it describes the ideal for relationships among the members of God’s church?  And did you also notice that it describes this in the subject of prayer?  Can it be that there is a relationship between the two? Do you see it?  A relationship between prayer and Christian community?  It’s there, isn’t it?

What we have just read tells us that the Lord’s ears are open to the prayers of the righteous, defined as those who refrain from speaking evil or lies and who seek and pursue peace.  Peter is actually quoting from Psalm 34 as a scriptural reinforcement for what he’s been saying in previous verses.  Answered prayer comes in the context of a community of believers that take great care to show compassion for one another, and to be in unity together with this great mission of advancing the truth and salvation.

Are you with me? Do you see the message here?

Here’s the second principle for prayer.

Prayer is something that is larger than all of us individually.  Answers to prayer usually don’t come in a vacuum. It takes a community of believers in unity to experience that.  A community.  So be a part of a praying community, and do what you can to create that community of prayer.

Now, it’s probably not very realistic to expect that all believers should agree on everything and every detail.  But what this text is speaking to is a unity of heart, rather than of the mind. It’s asking for the community of believers to understand and to cooperate with each other.  In fact, Peter is telling us that the more everyone works together to achieve that unity of heart and truth and mission, the more likely God will answer their prayers.

One Christian writer even put it this way:  She said, “The promise is made on condition that the united prayers of the church are offered, and in answer to these prayers there may be expected a power greater than that which comes in answer to private prayer.”  And then she says the next part.  “The power given will be proportionate to the unity of the members and their love for God and for one another.” — Letter 32, 1903, p. 5. (To Brother and Sister Farnsworth, January 28, 1903.) See MR 748   Did you hear that? “The power given will be proportionate to the unity of the members and their love for God and for one another.”  And all I can say to that is, Wow!  I’ll even say it backwards. Wow!

And that’s precisely what Peter is saying. Well, not the ‘wow’ part. But the more we manifest a unity of heart in God’s great mission, the more we can know that God will hear our united prayers.

There’s something I tend to say to Becky that seems to always get her a little irritated. It’s something that she can’t understand, so why should I even say it? Well let me explain.  Usually in the cold-weather season, her feet get cold easily.  And I ask her, “Why did you let your feet get cold?”  She doesn’t understand that.  And so when it comes to bedtime, if there’s not something else there to warm her feet, like a heating pad, my feet become the source of heat.  Now before we got electric heating pads, we used the hot water bottle, an older technology that some of you might be familiar with.  Not that I’m that old, you understand, but...  I mean I do have to whip out these reading glasses now, these days, but I’m not that old.  But anyway, we were using hot water bottles.  Of course, knowing the alternative, filling the hot-water bottle really was an easy choice for me.  In fact, I became an expert at getting it at just the right temperature and filling it up to just the right amount.  I’d learned that if she doesn’t get her feet warmed, she doesn’t go to sleep easily at night, and if she doesn’t get to sleep, guess who else doesn’t get to go sleep until that mission is accomplished?  So I learned that in the end, it doesn’t really matter how her feet got cold.  Or why she let her feet get cold.  The fact is, there’s a problem and the problem has to be solved. The real issue is, “What is the solution?”, so get with the program here.  Just accomplish the mission.  The objective.  Fill the need.

It’s kind of like that in the body of Christ.  If God is going to be attentive to our prayers, we’ve got to do everything in our power to warm the feet, so to speak, to warm the atmosphere, to create a unity of heart.  It’s vital if we’re going to get anywhere as a church, for God. 

Now I hope you realize that I’m not talking about private prayers for forgiveness or salvation.  God always hears those prayers if they’re offered to God sincerely and genuinely.  But if our work as a church is going to be finished, we’ve got to become a community of prayer, all of us equally committed to finding the solution together.

Now let’s go to the third part of First Peter’s description about prayer.  Chapter 4, verses 7 and 8, which is what we read earlier.  Chapter 4, verses 7 and 8.  “The end of all things is at hand;” Peter tells us, “therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.  Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”  Wouldn’t you say that this is telling us that prayer is a choice to begin and continue staying close to God, even in difficult times?

So here’s the third principle.

Don’t give up praying. Stay committed and watchful in prayer.  Commit to prayer even when it’s not easy.  When you don’t feel like praying.  When you feel like your prayers are dry.  When you feel your prayers just don’t “work.”  Of course, if you give up praying, will you experience answers to your prayers?  What’s the answer?  No!

Now, it’s true that God may not answer every prayer according to our expectations.  But how can He answer prayers if we have given up trusting in Him and listening to Him and talking to Him?  He can’t answer those.

And I can think of another question:  What is prayer anyway? Here is one of my favorite quotes on that subject.  Steps to Christ, page 93.  “Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order to enable us to receive Him.”  It’s not merely asking God for things or for His help, although that may be appropriate.  But you know, I’ve come to understand that prayer is really more listening and then responding to what’s written in God’s Word. It’s becoming acquainted with God by reading the pages of scripture and then receiving Him for who He is.

And here’s another question.  How many of us;  no let me rephrase that.  Do you ever struggle with the idea that you’ve got to do a whole lot of internal housekeeping before God will ever condescend to stoop through the shabby doorway of your life?  Do you struggle with that?  And yet, doesn’t the scripture say, from another Psalm that Peter could very well have quoted from?  Psalm 66 says, “If I had cherished evil thoughts, the Lord would not have heard me” (Ps. 66:18, N.E.B.)?

What about that?  Well how do you, I mean, what do you think of it, how do you react to the idea that God won’t hear you as long as you cherish any evil thoughts?  What if you’re currently struggling right now with some evil thought?  It seems to me the only possible way that we could ever overcome our evil thoughts, especially the ones we cherish, would be if we ask God for help, and He hears us!   After all, what hope is there for any of us if the Lord hears us only after we have stopped thinking all evil thoughts?  What hope?

So what is David talking about in Psalm 66?  Perhaps he’s challenging those of us who would be inclined merely to “use” prayer, or more accurately, to “use” God through prayer?  You know, like the person who smokes several packs a day, and yet prays for good health.  Or the one who spends three hours in front of videos for every ten minutes that he spends reading God’s Word, and then prays with deep fervency for rich spiritual blessings.  Or someone who’s actually planning with gleeful desire some kind of revenge, but still expects the Lord to bless him.  I mean, what is with that?  Do we expect the Lord to have blinders on?  Does He have blinders on?  No!  He sees everything, doesn’t He?  As much as God wants us to enter into prayer with Him, He’s too wise to listen to the “want list” on our lips while at the same time see the “self-destruct list” warmly embedded in our hearts.

God’s not the softhearted Santa Claus who’s easily hoodwinked into thinking that we’re not naughty, but rather, actually, quite nice.  That’s because God is totally committed to reality and He’s totally committed to healing us.  Isn’t that right?  Wouldn’t you say amen to that?

And going back to what Peter has been saying, isn’t that really Peter’s point?  Isn’t Peter telling us that far more important than the gifts we wish God would give us is the wisdom that He wishes to give us?  Isn’t being taught the ways of righteousness more important than anything else?  Isn’t that really the best answer to prayer?  Peter is telling us that Christians will want to make the experience of prayer so real and vital, that it makes a difference in their lives. 

So what can we do to have the most effective prayer life? 

Number one, guard the quality of our family relationships.  And since the unity of love for God and for each other is really the atmosphere of prayer, we’ll want to seek unity in the community of Christ.  It’s not just about truth, but how we relate to truth, and because of that truth, how we treat each other.  And thirdly, don’t give up praying. Stay committed and keep listening to God and responding to Him and trusting in Him.

Let’s sing our closing song.  Hymn number 4 hundred 92.

Heavenly Father. We desire for Your will to be done in our lives.  Heal all the areas that need healing, and may You answer these prayers.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

 Hymn of Praise: #10, Come, Christians, Join to Sing
Scripture: 1 Peter 4:7,8
Hymn of Response: #492, Like Jesus

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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 9/9/09