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THE KIND OF PRAYER GOD ANSWERS
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Turn with me to Luke 11:5. I spoke on these verses this morning. But I want to show you something else that Christ taught us here, something I did not emphasize in the sermon this morning. Please stand as I read the passage.
“And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:5-13).
You may be seated.
Jesus taught us to be definite when we pray. By “definite” I mean “clear” and “exact.” My long-time pastor at the Chinese church, Dr. Timothy Lin, said, “Sometimes our prayers are not answered [because] they are too sketchy. The prayers that God wants are those abundant in detail...God desires us to cast upon Him every aspect and concern for each prayer item, instead of merely naming our need” (Timothy Lin, Ph.D., The Secret of Church Growth, First Chinese Baptist Church, 1992, p. 107).
In his great book, Prayer: Asking and Receiving, Dr. John R. Rice said,
In the matter of daily living, we make our requests definite. We never go to a restaurant and say, “Bring me some food.” We carefully select from the menu just what we want and think we can pay for. Perhaps we say, “I want the small steak, cooked medium; some French fried potatoes, and a salad. I want black tea, hot, with cream; and orange Jello for dessert.” When you buy a meal, you are definite in what you ask for (John R. Rice., D.D., Prayer: Asking and Receiving, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1970, p. 146).
Again, Dr. Rice said,
No woman ever goes into a grocery store and says, “Please give me a basket of groceries.” Rather, she selects a certain brand of whole wheat bread, the best-looking head of lettuce, three grapefruit, and [selects] two pounds of her favorite bacon. We are very definite in making our requests known about other matters. Then why do we not pray definitely also...
The modern idea and the modern practice about praying is so indefinite that it is silly and wicked. Prayer is very definitely asking God for something. It ought to be as specific...as an unemployed man asking for a job, as a child asking for an ice-cream cone (Rice, ibid.).
Notice how definite and precise the request of the importunate friend was in our text. He said, “lend me three loaves” (Luke 11:5). He didn’t say, “Give me something for my friend to eat.” No, he asked for bread, and he specifically asked for three loaves of bread. And he was given what “he needeth” (v. 8). He was given exactly what he asked for. He wasn’t given something else. And in the explanation of the parable, Jesus made it very clear that we get exactly what we pray for, not something else,
“If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?” (Luke 11:11-12).
According to Jesus we must tell God exactly what we want Him to give us when we pray. And, Jesus said, God will give us the very thing we ask for.
In the Bible we are given many examples of men who asked definitely for certain things. And they got exactly what they prayed for. Gideon prayed for his fleece to be wet. He got exactly what he prayed for. The fleece was soaking wet the next morning. Then he prayed that the fleece would be dry, and the ground around it to be wet. The next morning the fleece was dry and the ground around it was wet. He prayed for a definite thing, and he got exactly what he prayed for (Judges 6:36-39). Elijah prayed for a drought, and he got a drought. Then he prayed for rain, and he got rain. He prayed for fire from Heaven, and he got fire from Heaven. He prayed very definitely for these things, and he got exactly what he prayed for.
In the New Testament Jairus asked Jesus to lay His hand on his dead daughter, “and she shall live” (Matthew 9:18). Jesus came to his house, “and took her by the hand, and the maid arose” (Matthew 9:25). Jairus prayed a definite prayer, and he got exactly what he asked for! The Syrophenician woman asked Jesus to deliver her demon possessed daughter, “And her daughter was made whole from that very hour” (Matthew 15:28). She didn’t ask Him to bless her daughter in a general way. She specifically asked Christ to deliver her daughter from a demon. And she got exactly what she prayed for. In Ephesians 6:18, the Apostle Paul said,
“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Ephesians 6:18).
This shows that the prayers God wants are those that are full of details. Dr. Lin said,
God desires us to cast upon Him every aspect and concern for each prayer item, instead of merely naming our need. [We need to pray] for each aspect in detail...If we merely name our prayer items absentmindedly, how can we expect our Father in heaven to listen attentively? (Lin, ibid., page 107).
I had prayed for six young people in our church to be saved. But my prayers were so indefinite that God did not answer them. Then I decided to pray in more detail. I specifically prayed for God to show me what was keeping each one of them from trusting Christ. I prayed for each one very definitely, for God to show me, in each individual case, what was blocking them from trusting Christ. God answered me by showing me that three of them had Buddhist idols in their homes. I had never thought of that. But when I specifically prayed for Him to show me what was wrong, He did exactly that. Two young women and one young man were quickly converted, once God answered me, and showed me exactly what was wrong, what was keeping them from being saved. The same was true of the other three. When I prayed definitely for God to show me what was keeping them from trusting Jesus, He gave me exactly what I prayed for. Soon those three were also converted.
We often pray for a lost relative or friend to be saved in a very general way, “Oh, God, save them.” But nothing happens. We need to think deeply about the person we are praying for. And we need to ask God specifically, in detail, to show us what is holding them back. Once He shows us that, we will be able to pray for them definitely, because then we will know exactly what to ask God for.
What is wrong with indefinite prayer? Dr. Rice said,
Indefinite prayer is often mere formality, and is insincere. Many people pray day after day for things that they do not really desire. But Mark 11:24 stipulates that “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray...” How could God answer prayers that do not represent a sincere desire? Some people pray to be heard of men. Think how many of our public prayers are indefinite, not [really] asking anything of God, and not getting anything!...We may say such prayers to please others. Or we may say them out of a sense of duty, feeling that there is some merit in praying, whether we ask for anything or get anything, or not. Or we may pray such prayers simply as a matter of habit. Many Christians say the same words day after day...Prayer that is not sincere, the mere formal saying of prayers, surely is an abomination to God. And indefinite prayer is often just that, an insincere formality (Rice, ibid., pp. 149-150).
I used to drive to the Biola Hotel, next to the Church of the Open Door when it was in downtown L.A., every Wednesday night to pick up an elderly European gentleman. I would always pick him up and take him to the Chinese church for Wednesday night prayer meeting. I did that for two or three years. He was a very nice old man, dressed immaculately in a suit and tie, with a hat and overcoat. Then, when we broke up to pray in small groups, I would always go with him and one or two others, to pray. He always prayed a very lovely prayer, though he had a heavy accent. It was always a beautiful prayer, but it was always exactly the same – almost word for word. And it was a very general prayer. He never asked God for anything specific or definite. After a while I knew exactly what he would pray. So did God. And since he never asked for anything definitely, needless to say he never got any definite answers. Remember, you only get what you ask for! If your prayer is too general, you will not get anything specific!
Years ago I heard a European pastor give a long “pastoral prayer” for about fifteen minutes every Sunday morning. But, after a while, I knew exactly what he was going to say. He said the same thing every single Sunday morning. His prayers were very beautiful, but he only prayed for things in general. He never prayed for anything definite. I am sure he would have been shocked if any of those “pastoral prayers” were answered. He didn’t really expect them to be answered. So, of course, that fifteen minutes was wasted every Sunday morning. Worse than that, his “prayer” was a bad example to us young people. It made it seem to us that prayer was really worthless, just something we had to do to fill in the time. How shocked I was when I went to the Chinese church and heard Dr. Lin’s pastoral prayer. He asked for specific things. He often literally shouted when he prayed. Sometimes tears prevented him from continuing. Dr. Lin prayed real prayers, and he got real answers to prayer!
Real, definite prayer shows that you really care about the person you are praying for. A half-hearted prayer will not do if you really mean business. The man in the parable cared enough for his friend that he went at midnight, out into the night, to get what his friend needed. Dr. Rice told of a woman who had a 16-year-old son who was not saved. She told Dr. Rice, “I’m sure he will get saved some of these days.” But one night he was bitten by a poisonous black widow spider. Some other young people had recently died from such a bite. She called in a doctor. And as soon as the boy was cared for, she drove across town at 11:00 at night to Dr. Rice’s house and told him, “I’ll never sleep until I know he is saved. I have just waked up to see he might die and go to Hell at any moment!” Dr. Rice said, “With his distressed mother standing by his bedside pleading with him, the boy quickly was convicted of his sins and was soon led to trust Christ.” Dr. Rice said, “Where there is no definiteness in prayer, it is because there is no urgency, no real burden, no heart desire…Indefinite prayer is prayer with no burden” (Rice, ibid., p. 151).
I have told you that I prayed for many years for my mother to be saved. But I also moved Heaven and earth to get my mother to church every Sunday to hear the Gospel. I worked at that with all my strength. I don’t believe my mother would ever have been saved if I had not also worked with all my might to get her under the sound of the Gospel every Sunday. There is little use in praying for a lost relative or friend if you don’t “compel them to come in,” as Jesus told us we must do (Luke 14:23) - not just ask them, but compel them to come in!
Now, if you are still lost tonight, we are pleading with God to bring you under conviction of sin, and to draw you to Jesus for cleansing from sin by His precious Blood. Dr. Chan, please come now and pray for those who are lost here tonight (prayer). “For you I am praying.” Sing it!
For you I am praying, For you I am praying,
For you I am praying,
I’m praying for you.
(“I Am Praying For You” by S. O’Malley Clough, 1837-1910).
(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Kyu Dong Lee: Mark 14:32-40.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Teach Me to Pray” (by Albert S. Reitz, 1879-1966).