Last week we looked at a tremendously important practical question, "How can we live in such a way as to please a holy God?" What can we think or do that would bring God pleasure? We know that this is a legitimate biblical question, because Paul said pleasing God was his aim:
2 Corinthians 5:9 (NKJV) Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.
And Paul admonished other believers to live in a way that was pleasing to God:
Colossians 1:10 (NKJV) that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
1 Thessalonians 4:1 (NKJV) Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God;
How you view God will determine your idea of how you can please God. And how a person decides to try to please God is a very important decision. What if you discovered (like the Pharisees discovered), that you had devoted your whole life to trying to please God, but all the while had been doing things that in God's sight were abominations?
Luke 16:14-15 (NKJV) Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. 15 And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
We base our convictions about what God would be pleased by on our idea of what God is like. So, if we are going to live to please God, we must first understand what He is like, and we can only find this out from Scripture.
As we study the Bible, we find that God has no needs that I could ever be required to satisfy. God has no deficiencies that I might be required to supply. He is complete in himself. He is overflowing with happiness in the fellowship of the Trinity.
Psalms 135:6 (NKJV) Whatever the LORD pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places.
This verse teaches us that God is not constrained by anything outside himself to do anything he does not want to do. If God were unhappy, if he were in some way deficient, then he might indeed be constrained from outside in some way to do what he does not want to do in order to make up his deficiency and finally to be happy.
God is not like us. We come into the world knowing nothing and have to spend years and years going to classes or learning in the school of hard knocks. Parents and teachers tell us to do things that we don't like to do because we need to do them to overcome some deficiency in ourselves - to increase our knowledge or strengthen our bodies or refine our manners. We have an immense void inside that craves satisfaction from powers and persons and pleasures outside ourselves. Yearning and longing and desire are the very stuff of our nature. We are born deficient, needy and dissatisfied.
But God is not like that. He has been complete and overflowing with satisfaction from all eternity. He needs no education. No one can offer anything to him that doesn't already come from him.
Acts 17:24-25 (NKJV) "God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 "Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.
Romans 11:34-36 (NKJV) "For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?" 35 "Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?" 36 For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.
And so no one can bribe him or coerce him in any way. Therefore, God does what he does not begrudgingly or under external constraint as though he were boxed in or trapped by some unforeseen or unplanned situation.
Isaiah 46:9-10 (NKJV) Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, 'My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,'
God is self-sufficient! He has no needs. Since that is the way God, is we're not surprised to learn from Scripture that the way to please God is to come to him to get and not to give. From the Scriptures I learn that God is the kind of God who will be pleased with the one thing I have to offer - my need. God is delighted, not by the things I have to offer Him, but by the acknowledging of my need of Him in every area of my life.
Psalms 147:10-11 (NKJV) He does not delight in the strength of the horse; He takes no pleasure in the legs of a man. 11 The LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him, In those who hope in His mercy.
In other words, God delights not when we offer him our strength, but when we hope in his. This good news is based firmly on a vision of God as sovereign, self-sufficient and free. If we do not have this foundational knowledge of God in place when we ask how we can please him, our efforts to please him will become subtle means of self-exaltation and legalistic striving.
Last week was saw that God is pleased by our: Faith - trusting in God and not in our selves pleases God. Worship - which is ascribing worth to God. Service - giving of ourselves to Him. Obedience - God delights in our obedience, because everything God commands us is for our own good. And so what God is really delighting in when he delights in our obedience is our joy. This morning I want us to look at a text that expands the idea of what pleases God.
Proverbs 15:8 (NKJV) The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight.
"The prayer of the upright is His delight" - Please hear this believer, God delights in our prayers. My hope is that the effect of this message will not only be that you feel encouraged to pray, but mainly that the nature of God as a God of grace will be affirmed - that God is the kind of God who delights most deeply not in making demands but in meeting needs. Prayer is his delight because prayer shows the reaches of our poverty and the riches of his grace. Prayer is that wonderful transaction where the wealth of God's glory is magnified and the wants of our soul are satisfied. Therefore God delights in the prayers of the upright.
I want us to focus this morning on the last half of this verse, "... the prayer of the upright is His delight." The first thing that we need to understand here is what the Bible means by "upright"? The word "upright" is the Hebrew word yashar, which means: "to be straight or even." It does not mean perfect.
As we look at the Word of God, we see that a mark of the upright heart is that it trembles at the word of the Lord. We see this in:
Isaiah 66:1-2 (NKJV) Thus says the LORD: "Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest? 2 For all those things My hand has made, And all those things exist," Says the LORD. "But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word.
I think we see here that the prayer that delights God "on this one will I look" comes from a heart that at first feels precarious in the presence of a God. It trembles like Josiah when he heard the reading of the law of God, because it feels so far from God's ideal and so vulnerable to his judgment and so helpless and so sorry for its failings.
This is just what David said in:
Psalms 51:17 (NKJV) The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart; These, O God, You will not despise.
This is what the Lord said to Solomon in:
2 Chronicles 7:14 (NKJV) "if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
So the first mark of the upright heart whose prayers please the Lord is brokenness, contrition, humility, trembling. In other words, what makes a heart upright and what makes prayers pleasing to God is a felt awareness of our tremendous need for God's mercy and grace. God gives grace to the humble.
1 Peter 5:5-6 (NKJV) Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,
Let me share with you an example of a prayer of humility. This is the kind of prayer that God delights in.
When Gilbert was eight-years-old, he joined the Cub Scouts. He had only been a member a short time, and during one of his first meetings he was handed a sheet of paper, a block of wood and four little tires and told to return home and give it all to "dad".
That was not an easy task for Gilbert to do. There was no "dad" for Gilbert at home. So the block of wood remained untouched for weeks.
Finally, mom stepped in to help figure it all out. The project began. Having no carpentry skills, she simply read the directions and let Gilbert do the work. And he did. They read the measurements, the rules of what could and could not be done. Within days his block of wood turned into a "pinewood derby car." A little lopsided, but looking good (to mom, at least). Gilbert hadn't seen anyone else's car, and he was feeling pretty proud of "Blue Lightening".
Finally, it was the big night. With Blue Lightening in his hand and pride in his heart, he and his mom headed to the race. Once there, it was obvious that Gilbert's car was the only one made entirely on his own. All the other cars were father-son-partnerships, with cool paint jobs and sleek body styles designed for speed.
A few of the kids laughed when they saw Gilbert's crude vehicle. And he was the only boy there without a man at his side.
The race was a process of elimination. You kept racing as long as you were a winner. In the final run, it was "Blue Lightening" and the sleekest, fastest looking car. As the final race was about to begin, it was interrupted; Gilbert asked if he could pray. The race stopped.
With wrinkled brow, clutching his derby car, Gilbert was on his knees, praying to his Father, for a very long minute and a half. Then, he stood up, smiled and announced, "Okay, I'm ready."
The crowd cheered, and the other boy stood with his father, and Gilbert stood with his Father within his heart, watching his block of wood swoosh down the ramp with surprising speed to cross the finish line a fraction of a second before the other car.
Gilbert leaped into the air with a loud "Thank You" and the crowd roared in approval. The Scout Master, with microphone in hand, asked Gilbert, "So, you prayed to win, huh, Gilbert?" To which Gilbert answered, "No, sir. That wouldn't be fair. I just asked God to make it so I don't cry when I lose."
Gilbert needed courage and he went to God in prayer asking for that courage. He didn't ask to win, he humbly asked for the strength to be a good looser. God delights in our humble prayers.
So, the first mark of the "upright" is humility. The other thing that marks the upright heart is trust in the willingness and power of God to show mercy.
Psalms 4:5 (NKJV) Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, And put your trust in the LORD.
This gives us the idea that the essential part of the upright heart is trust. We see this in:
Psalms 32:10-11 (NKJV) Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; But he who trusts in the LORD, mercy shall surround him. 11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous; And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
Verse 10 contrasts the wicked with those who TRUST in the Lord. Then verse 11 calls them righteous and upright in heart. And the word for "upright" is the same word used in Proverbs 15:8.
So there are at least these two essential marks of the upright heart: First, it trembles at the word of God. It feels precarious and helpless and in tremendous need of mercy and grace. Then, second, it trusts in the mercy and grace of God.
Why, then, does God delight in the prayers of the upright? He delights in their prayers, because the heart of the upright magnifies the power and grace of God. The prayer of the upright is a delight to God, because it expresses those affections of the heart which call attention to the all-sufficiency of God. We have a God whose nature is such that what pleases him is not our work for him but our need of him.
The Bible reveals a God who receives joy by answering prayers. God gets satisfaction by magnifying the glory of his riches by filling up the deficiencies of people who pray. This seems to be the point of:
Psalms 50:13-15 (NKJV) Will I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of goats? 14 Offer to God thanksgiving, And pay your vows to the Most High. 15 Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me."
The demonstration of the glory of God in answered prayer brings pleasure to God.
The Importance of Prayer
The Bible teaches us that through prayer the word of the Lord overcomes obstacles and reaches a glorious victory.
2 Thessalonians 3:1-2 (NKJV) Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, 2 and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith.
This text gives tremendous significance to prayer in God's purposes to spread his glory around the world. Paul says, "...pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified."
God has made the spread of his name hang on the preaching of his Word; and he has made the preaching of his Word hang on the prayers of the saints. Paul indicates that the triumph of the Word will not come without prayer. We see this in the way that Paul pleads for prayer in the ministry of the Word. Three times he appeals for prayer from the churches so that the Word he preaches will succeed in its intended mission.
Ephesians 6:18 (NKJV) praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints; 19 and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel,
Colossians 4:3 (NKJV) meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains,
2 Thessalonians 3:1 (NKJV) Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you,
Believer, if we want to see change in our world, if we want to see a renewed empowering of the Word of God, we must pray. Let me ask a question. What do you consider to be the most important activity in our church: teaching, preaching, worship, caring, mission outreach, social functions? Paul teaches that the triumph of the Word will not come without prayer.
Dwight L. Moody once commented that he would rather learn to pray than preach. "After all," he said, "Jesus never taught his disciples how to preach, but he did teach them how to pray."
Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, because prayer is the most important aspect of our lives. Our relationship with God is more important than any other relationship we have, and that relationship is maintained through prayer. The rest of our relationships, and every other area of our lives revolves around our spiritual health. Prayer teaches us to depend on God. When we fail to pray, we fail--period!
Everything connected with Christianity: growth in our relationship with God; our outreach to others; our love and unity as a church family; our ability to live as a Christian in a secular world; are all dependent upon a disciplined life of prayer.
Believers, we have a great deal to learn about prayer, and even more to learn about the kind of God who has pleasure in prayer. We are made aware of how much we have to learn when we read of those men of God who had learned to pray. For example, we can learn much about perseverance in prayer when we read of George Mueller. Mueller writes,
I am now, in 1864, waiting upon God for certain blessings, for which I have daily besought Him for 19 years and 6 months, without one day's intermission. Still the full answer is not yet given concerning the conversion of certain individuals. In the meantime, I have received many thousands of answers to prayer. I have also prayed daily, without intermission, for the conversion of other individuals about ten years, for others six or seven years, for others four, three, and two years, for others about eighteen months; and still the answer is not yet granted, concerning these persons [whom I have prayed for nineteen-and-a-half-years].... Yet, I am daily continuing in prayer and expecting the answer.... Be encouraged, dear Christian reader, with fresh earnestness to give yourself to prayer, if you can only be sure that you ask for things which are for the glory of God. (Autobiography of George Mueller, compiled by G. Fred Bergin [London: J. Nisbet and Co. 1906], 296.)
Believer, do you understand that God is pleased when we pray for the salvation of sinners, because this kind of praying ascribes to him the right and power to be the sovereign God that he is in salvation? When we pray, "Father, open their hearts so that they may believe the gospel" (Acts 16:14), we are declaring man's dependence and God's sovereignty.
Listen believer, prayer is one of God's appointed means of bringing the elect to faith. Thus, God loves such prayers with the very passion that moved him to choose a people for his glory. Notice how Paul prayed:
Romans 10:1 (NKJV) Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.
Paul's heart's desire was for the salvation of his fellow Jews. And when our hearts ache for something, we pray for it. How much time do you spend praying for people who are lost? How many lost people do you pray for?
The Content of Our Prayers
I heard of a pastor who scolded his congregation about "frivolous prayer." He told them it was silly to pray for parking spaces and toothaches and missing cuff links. He said this tends to "trivialize" prayer, and keeps us from taking it seriously. I had a man tell me that some of the prayer requests that he heard in this church were ridiculous. But the way I see it, we are to pray FOR everything, and ABOUT everything. I don't understand how a pastor or any Christian could discourage someone from praying! You can't trivialize prayer as long as you come to God in faith with a humble heart. As far as God is concerned, there are no unimportant parts of your life:
Matthew 10:30 (NKJV) "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Everything about you matters to God, and the Bible teaches us that God delights in our prayers. I urge you to pray about everything.
Philippians 4:6 (NKJV) Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NKJV) pray without ceasing,
Do you know what prayer comes down to? Prayer is depending on God. When you make every detail of your life a matter of prayer, you learn to depend on him for everything. And God is pleased when we depend on Him. Please remember, We have a God whose nature is such that what pleases him is not our work for him but our need of him.
I close with an appeal: glorify the God who made you! Delight the heart of the God who loves you! How? Draw near to Him in prayer, bow down before Him, and on your knees declare your need and his great power. "The prayer of the upright is his delight." Do you want to please God - pray!
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