The following is a sermon transcription that will hopefully help you to find confidence in the True God that answers prayer.
(adapted from a sermon by Pr Hsieh Shi Hai)
“Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.” (Rev 8:3-4)
This is a record of a vision seen by Apostle John in which an angel with a golden censor came before the Lord to worship Him. He was given much incense to offer together with the prayers of all the saints before God. This means our Lord God esteems our prayers highly. This incense can also mean Jesus’s intercessory prayers for us, that through His grace, our petitions can come before God. The sheer fact that we can all come before God and ask of Him is a grace. And when we come before God to pray, it would definitely benefit us more if we have a clearer understanding of the God whom we worship.
What kind of God do we worship?
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (Jas 1:5)
We are urged by James to ask from God for the things we lack
and it speaks to us the kind of God we worship:
1. Our God is one of abundant grace
In God, we can say that we are all abundant. He is the creator of the universe and there is nothing beyond His means. This is illustrated by many examples in the bible, where those who ask of God receive responses from Him that are often beyond their expectations or understanding. For example, when God sent Moses to lead the Israelites in the wilderness, there were many times when they were weak. Once, they wanted to have meat and Moses asked from God, to which God replied that the Israelites would be given meat to eat till they were sick of it. Moses did not understand how God was going to make it happen and thought it an impossible feat, but the hand of God is not shortened.
Today, the Lord God wants to give us abundant grace and as James 1:17 says, every good gift and every perfect gift is from above. What we ask of God, He gives in abundance, and they are beautiful and perfect gifts. Similarly, the grace we receive from Him is given to us without woes. So as we enjoy the grace from God, we see His abundant grace and we are greatly encouraged spiritually.
2. God gives liberally and without reproach.
Our God is able to understand our weaknesses as well as our needs. Those of us who know our God well may ask of Him according to His will. But every man has shortcomings, so sometimes in our weakness or out of ignorance, we ask of God according to our own needs. The Lord will provide according to our request and in the process, He lets us understand our weaknesses; by the grace of God, we come to understand His love for us.
“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Rom 8:26)
Sometimes our prayers do not benefit us or we find ourselves in a loss as to how to pray. We may have personally had or heard of such experiences where one who had been away from church for some time, returns with the encouragement from fellow brethren. This person may be at a loss as to how to pray but the Holy Spirit of God makes intercessions during the prayer. This is because God does not want to reproach us; He wants to edify us and change us so that we can all come before Him in courage.
3. Our God does not tempt, nor is He tempted by evil
“Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.” (Jas 1:13)
Our God does not tempt us or others. Knowing this, we understand that to test and to tempt are two different matters; our God will not deliberately make things difficult for us. 1 Corinthians describes how we are tested according to our abilities. He comes to our aid and grants us power to overcome tests that we would otherwise not be able to bear. Hence, when we are tested by God, we should not be afraid because He means for us to succeed since He has chosen us to be saved, not fail.
4. Our God is impartial
“For there is no partiality with God.” (Rom 2:11)
Our God does not show partiality so whoever comes before Him with a sincere heart need not be afraid or worried. Some of us may feel worried because we do not know how to make eloquent prayers. While some of us are able to say poetic prayers, the rest of us who only know to pray in a few words need not worry. God overlooks these and sees the inner heart.
This is great encouragement to everyone and if we understand this of God, we are able to come before Him with greater courage and boldness.
So now that we know more about our God, how can we pray?
Just as James encouraged us to, we can ask of the Lord for help with things we lack such as wisdom.
In the book of James, he discusses some principles on prayers for us to consider:
“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.” (Jas 1:6)
We should ask from God in faith. Most of us would know this but we may doubt the extent of our faith. There is no standard for faith but Elijah’s example helps understand a little more. James 5:17 describes Elijah as a man with a nature like ours. God had instructed him to rebuke Ahab, the King of Israel then, and to pray for no rain. The drought was a punishment from God and Elijah’s prayers spoke of the communion between him and God. When the time of the Lord came to pass, he was to pray again for rain. This was a great miracle that God performed through the hands of Elijah, a man with a nature like ours.
Like the rest of us, he was just a man, no matter how powerful his prayers may have been. We see how he was at times strong and able to courageously point out King Ahab’s mistakes and take up the challenge of beating the false prophets. We also see how he was weak when others sought to take his life and he fled to hide in the caves, refusing to come out even when the Lord told him to. His example resounds with our own and helps us see that we should not worry about our lack of faith because of a setback. Our God is willing to help us as long as we are willing to pray to Him. As the examples of many great characters of great faith attest and encourage, God fulfils our prayers according to His will. This is how we can come before God with courage; this is our faith.
James 1:5 also tells us that when we pray to Him, God will not reproach us. We are able to come before Him with ease because our God is one without reproach. There may have been times when we were weak, stopped coming for service or found ourselves lacking in our livelihood. We doubt and question whether God would listen to our prayers.
Hebrews 4:15-16 tells us that our Lord Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses. He came in flesh to this world so that He would be like us and sympathize with our needs because He has overcome all kinds of tests and temptations. We are encouraged to come boldly before God, to obtain mercy from Him, so that we may find help in our times of need. This boldness may require a breakthrough in our mindset; sometimes when we are strong in our faith, we feel that our prayers are powerful but when we are weak, we feel our prayers lack strength. With the help and encouragement among fellow brethren, we can come boldly before God even in our weaknesses and receive true help from God.
James 4:2 tells us that we should ask from God boldly because we do not receive when we do not ask. In a seemingly contradictory manner, he tells us in verse 3 of times when we ask but do not receive. How is this possible?
James reminded believers then and reminds us today that there will be times when we ask for things from God but do not receive because we spend it on pleasures. This means that when we ask, we come before Him with a heart to make good use of His grace. When we ask from God and He grants us the things that we need, we need to come before Him, to know how to use His grace in the right way.
King Hezekiah’s example serves as a good reminder of how sometimes, even when God grants us our prayers, not knowing how to put His grace to good use serves us little benefit. Isaiah 38:1 records how the Lord had sent the prophet to inform King Hezekiah of his impending death and the need to set his house in order. Hezekiah was considered a good king then and after he heard the news, he must have prayed zealously to God. God immediately heeded Hezekiah’s prayer and before Isaiah had left the palace gates, God told him to return to inform Hezekiah that the Lord had added fifteen years to his life. Did this great grace from God do Hezekiah or the nation of Judah any good?
After his recovery from the sickness, Hezekiah received envoys from other nations and the King of Babylon who had travelled to congratulate him on his recovery. He was rebuked by the prophet for being arrogant and showing off things that he should not have. Despite the grace from God and the extension of his life for fifteen years, he did not use it to contribute more for his country. His example illustrates how we take God’s grace in vain if we do not know how to use it in the right way or be humble and repay this grace. It will also not benefit us in the very least. For Hezekiah, it caused great damage. After an extended fifteen years to his life, he passed away and was succeeded by his son, Manasseh, who turned out to be the worst king in the history of Judah. Manasseh was twelve when he became king and there are two explanations for how Hezekiah’s extended lifespan was damaging: He either bore Manasseh during his last fifteen years or co-reigned with Manessah when he was sick. If it were the latter, it would suggest that Hezekiah failed to nurture his son in the right way despite having fifteen more years with his son.
Let us know how to make good use of gifts from God and let it be good testimonies for God. In the process of our life of faith, we should “confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (Jas 5:16)
We can pray for each other. There are times when we are strong and times when we are ignorant or weak. Weaknesses do not mean just missing out on services; perhaps there are times when we are unable to understand or see things in the right perspective. Since we belong in the household of God, we ought to care for one another and pray for each other.