Calvary Road Baptist Church

“A CAUTION ABOUT PRAYER AT THANKSGIVING”

Philippians 4.6

 

Let me suggest that you commandeer your family’s Thanksgiving celebration next Thursday, by insisting in a very nice way that each person present express in some way his or her thanks for the blessings in life that have been or are being enjoyed. Then, once you persuade the gathered to express their gratitude, point out to them that thanks can only properly be expressed to someone, since thankfulness is more than just being happy. Thanksgiving has to do with expressing appreciation, vocalizing your gratitude, to that someone who is responsible for the blessing.

Though we certainly should express our thanks to individuals who have blessed our souls in one way or another, our ultimate thanks should be expressed to God. Four times in his Corinthian letters, the Apostle Paul expressed his thanks to God:

 

1Co 15.57:   But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

2Co 2.14:     Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.

 

2Co 8.16:     But thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you.

 

2Co 9.15:     Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.

 

Obviously, God wants His people to be thankful, and to offer up to Him expressions of our gratitude, to give voice to our thanks.

Is there a time of the year when those in our country are more self-consciously prone to giving thanks than Thanksgiving? I do not think so. However, there is always a connection between the giving of thanks, thanksgiving, and the offering up of prayers. After all, so many of the blessings we enjoy are the direct result from God of prayer to God.

That understood, and with Thanksgiving only days away, I would like you to turn to Philippians chapter 4, where we see the connection made by the Apostle Paul to the Philippian church members between the giving of thanks and the offering up of prayers. When you find that passage in God’s Word, stand, and read silently while I read aloud:

 

1      Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.

2      I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.

3      And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.

4      Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.

5      Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.

6      Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

7      And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

8      Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

9      Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

 

Notice some of the factors that tie your prayer life and your expressions of thanksgiving intimately together.

First, in verses 1-3, take note of the rapport that Paul strives for. Two women in the church were not of the same mind in the Lord. They needed to be. As well, Clement and whoever else in the congregation could lend a hand to being these two women together needed to pitch in and help make it happen.

 

1      Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.

2      I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.

3      And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.

 

Do not think that the ability of two women to get along with each other in the church is not vital. Life would have been so much easier in that church had those young women listened to the instructions of a godly aged woman. Predicated on the rapport that church enjoyed was the rejoicing they were directed to give voice to.

 

“Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.”

 

Rapport is so preliminary to rejoicing. However, since everyone has elbows and the ability to irritate and offend others even under the best of circumstances, Paul calls upon us to also give evidence of sweet reasonableness, which is the essence of this word “moderation,” in verse 5.

 

“Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.”

 

Rapport, rejoicing, sweet reasonableness (because the Lord is at hand), Paul now comes to our requests. As we read verse 6, please take note of how intertwined prayer and thanksgiving are with each other.

 

“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”

 

If prayer is asking, supplication is pleading with God. The thanksgiving Paul refers to is the Christian’s thanks, not only for prayers and supplications that have already been answered, but also the thanks that are offered to God for the prayers and supplications you are offering up that have not yet been answered. In other words, this thanksgiving includes gratitude in advance. This is faith in action, is it not? Notice the return for such a prayer and thanksgiving life.

 

“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

 

Not that you have no problems once you commence to praying, supplicating, and thanking God for answers received as well as answers anticipated. However, once you commit a matter to God, it becomes His problem to deal with, and He always solves His problems. No wonder the praying and thankful Christian enjoys such peace that passes understanding. However, it is not prayer and thanks alone that is responsible for such peace of mind. Restraint is also required. In verse 8, Paul calls upon his readers to exercise restraint with respect to thinking. Do not allow your mind to wander. Exercise control over your thoughts.

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

 

Rapport, rejoicing, reasonableness, requests (which includes thanksgiving), return (peace of mind), restraint (of your thoughts), and now your overall response to directions from Paul.

 

“Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”

 

Not that Christians are not faced with trouble. We are faced with trouble. However, the Apostle Paul now comes full circle in verse 9 to the issue he was addressing in verses 1-3, those two women who did not always get along.

Life would be so much easier, everyone would enjoy so much more peace of mind, prayers and giving of thanks would be in such abundant supply, if only they would follow the spiritual counsel given to them by their pastor. But no, they will not listen to anyone. They sniff and snit and focus selfishly on themselves, robbing the entire church of peace and harmony, and affecting the prayers and giving of thanks of everyone. If only they would display some moderation, some sweet reasonableness, and just do what they were asked to do.

That is another sermon. For our upcoming week, the thing to see is the connection that necessarily exists between praying and giving thanks. If you pray, you will have reason to give thanks. If you have little to give thanks about this next Thursday, it is likely you have an anemic prayer life.

 

SERMON:

 

Prayer is such an important part of a Christian’s life. As well, prayer tells so much about a person’s walk with God. I so much appreciate the comments I get about one of our deacon’s prayers to open our services on Sundays. As well, I enjoy praying with children. My, how you can tell so much about a mother’s prayer life by listening to the prayers of her children. The ease with which they enter into prayer and the sophistication of their prayers speaks not to their own spirituality, but to the spirituality of their mother whose prayers they hear so much and imitate.

We see something important about thanksgiving in Philippians 4.6. Read it with me again, if you please: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” We see that Christians should be careful for nothing, which is a practice that freaks out so many people with a lousy prayer life, because they think you are supposed to be scared out of your mind all the time.

However, in addition to that, we also see that thanksgiving accompanies prayer and supplication. In other words, prayer and supplication, praying and pleading with God, does not accompany thanksgiving. It is rather the other way around. Thanksgiving accompanies prayer and supplication. Thus, if you are really serious about gratitude and the giving of thanks to God, you must first be serious about your prayer life, and about your supplications to God.

This evening I would like to touch on three things related to prayer, as a way of encouraging you to be cautious about your prayers as we approach Thanksgiving:

 

First, THERE IS A QUESTION THAT OUGHT TO BE ASKED ABOUT YOUR PRAYERS

 

What is the question? The question that I would advise you to ask yourself, and to discover an answer for, is whether your prayers will be answered.

Turn to Job 27.8-9. Before we read the passage, let me point out that the word “hypocrite” is simply a reference to a lost man:

 

8      For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul?

9      Will God hear his cry when trouble cometh upon him?

 

What hope does a lost man have, to paraphrase this passage, even if he enjoys great success in this life, if in the end God takes away his soul? Will God hear his cry when trouble comes upon him? When he gets into trouble and cries out to God in prayer, will God listen?

You might not think prayer is important as we approach Thanksgiving 2008. However, there will come a time of trouble in your life. There will come a time of danger to you or a loved one. There will come a time when you are overwhelmed by circumstances, by disease, by enemies, or by approaching death, and you will cry out for help, for relief, or for salvation.

When you cry out, will God listen? Will God hear you, after you so typically ignore what He has spoken to you through His Word over the years?

 

Next, THE OPINIONS OF THE LOST IN RESPONSE TO THAT QUESTION

 

If you observe people, an increasing number of folks these days are practical atheists, meaning if they claim to believe in God they certainly do not live like there is a God. Despite the routine of their lives, denying the existence of God for all practical purposes, most people are of the opinion that should they pray God will hear them.

Is that not interesting to you? I am fascinated by the notion that a person can ignore God for decades, for all practical purposes pretend like or act like God does not exist, or behave as though no attention needs to be paid to God. Yet, when I decide I need something from God, He will listen.

Though most people hold to such a notion of God, such was not always the case. Setting aside the beliefs of the Gentiles in ancient times as certainly being wrong, why not ask yourself how the people of God would answer such a question as this?

Turn in your Bible to John 9.31, where we read the comments of Pharisees in reaction to the Lord Jesus Christ’s miracle of giving sight to the blind man: “Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.”

Before you entirely discount what the Pharisees said here, keep two things in mind: First, remember that the Pharisees were not wrong about everything. Most of their doctrines were Biblical and went uncriticized by the Lord. As well, keep in mind that the Lord and His disciples made no effort to correct this statement.

Therefore, we know that it was held by some members of the Jewish community that God did not hear sinners when they prayed and pleaded with Him. That means, there were some people in ancient times who did not believe a sinner could always count on God hearing his prayers when he found himself in trouble.

 

Will God Hear Your Prayers? The Question Was Asked By Job, Which Suggests The Opinions Of Sinful Men Are Not Always On Target. As Well, We Know The Well-Taught And Studious Pharisees Doubted That God Heard The Prayers Of Sinners. Finally, THE DECLARATIONS OF SCRIPTURE CONCERNING THIS MATTER

 

Proverbs 15.29: “The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous.” This verse does not declare that God does not hear the prayer of the wicked. However, parallelism is common in Hebrew poetry, meaning that a contrast is established with the two halves of this verse that teaches us more than you might first notice. It can be argued that to be far from the wicked is the exact opposite and contrasts with hearing the prayer of the righteous. Thus, some would argue, this verse teaches that God hears the prayer of the righteous man, but does not hear the prayer of the wicked or lost man.

Proverbs 28.9: “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.” Hearing the law was understood by Jewish people as complying with the law, submitting to the law, obeying the law. Therefore, this verse addresses the fate of that person who does not strive to obey God’s Word. What can be said about such a person? Even his prayer is included among those things about him that are an abomination to God. In other words, God does not hear the prayers of such a man as this.

Isaiah 1.15: “And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.” This is a strong indictment of the Jewish people by God through the prophet Isaiah. In this indictment is established the undeniable fact that God will refuse to hear some men’s prayers. Are you included in that group who utter prayers to God that go unheard? After so long a time of refusing to listen to God, are you one who would surprised to learn that God has decided not to listen to you?

Isaiah 59.1-2:

 

1      Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:

2      But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.

 

These two verses make very strong, but different, sets of declarations. Verse 1 makes a positive assertion negatively, while verse 2 makes a negative assertion positively. The first half of verse 1 reads, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save.” In other words, no one is beyond God’s reach, no one’s situation exceeds God’s ability to deliver. The second half of verse 1 reads, “neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear.” This phrase states in so many words that God does not have a hearing problem. He is perfectly capable and competent to both save and to hear pleas for help. Verse 2 speaks not to God’s abilities, as in verse 1, but to man’s wickedness. “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God.” The reason you and God are estranged, the cause of this vast gulf that separates between you and your God are your own iniquities, your own sins, your own wrongdoing, your own stubbornness and pride, your own laziness and lethargy. In other words, the fault for your problem with God is yours, and not God’s. The end of verse 2 states, once again, why God will not listen to you when you cry out to Him: “and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” Again, the problem is yours, and there is nothing whatsoever wrong with God.

The verses that we have looked at so far show us God’s willingness to hear the prayers of the wicked who are unrepentant. What about God’s people? Psalm 66.18: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” What is it to regard iniquity in your heart? The word “regard” refers to cherishing something.[1] Therefore, if you are holding on to known sin, you can mark it down that God will not pay attention to your prayers. Therefore, you see, God’s attitude toward a person’s prayers really is different than most people think it is. He does not have to listen to any lost person’s prayers, and He will not encourage a believer’s sins by answering his prayers so long as he continues to embrace known sins.

 

How should we respond to these things we have learned this evening? First off, we should be profoundly grateful that God answers anyone’s prayers at all. That He answers anyone’s prayers, ever, shows great condescension to such creatures, as we happen to be.

Second, if you are a child of God whose prayers God will listen to and answer, make use of your great privilege while you can. Seize upon your access to the throne room of heaven and exercise your privilege. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need,” Hebrews 4.16.

However, if you are one whose sin is an obstacle to God hearing your prayers, then cast aside your sin! The Christian life is a life of repentance, therefore repent of your sin, Christian, turn away from it and turn to Christ in heartfelt sorrow for your sin, and pray! When you do that, I promise you that thankfulness will soon follow.

Finally, those of you who are lost and whose concerns for God not hearing your prayers trouble you should lend an ear. God has no interest in answering your prayers for things, thereby encouraging you to remain in your sins because you get what you want from Him while remaining lost. What God wants is for you to come to repentance, Second Peter 3.9.

Turn to Jeremiah 31.18, and notice the last phrase of the verse: “turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the LORD my God.” Though you cannot pray, if by prayer you are thinking of asking for God things, or favors. However, since this is what God wants for you anyway, you can plead for this. You can fervently ask God to turn you so that you will be turned; turned from your sins and turned to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Then, my friend, not only will you be able to pray to God, you will also have so much to be thankful for. Moreover, we will thank God along with you. May this be the greatest Thanksgiving you have ever celebrated.



[1] John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, Volume 3, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), page 368.



Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org