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DO YOU WANT WHAT YOU PRAY FOR?

by Dr. Christopher L. Cagan

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, June 23, 2019

“I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me”
(Jonah 2:2).


Jonah cried unto the Lord. When he did, he was in the belly of a great fish (verse 1). At least his body was there. His soul was in Sheol, the place of the Old Testament dead, for Jonah had already died inside the ocean creature. The second half of verse 2 says, “Out of the belly of hell [the Hebrew word is ‘Sheol’] cried I, and thou heardest my voice.” Jonah was dead. The great radio Bible teacher Dr. J. Vernon McGee said,

Sheol is sometimes translated in Scripture by the word “grave” and in other places as “the unseen world,” meaning where the dead go. This is a word that, anyway you look at it, has to do with death. It is a word that always goes to the cemetery, and you cannot take it anywhere else...What Jonah is saying is that the belly of the fish was his grave, and a grave is a place for the dead – you do not put a live man in a grave. (Thru the Bible, vol. 3, p. 749).

Jonah died and was raised from the dead to live again, just as Jesus was centuries later. What happened to Jonah was a type, a picture of what happened to Christ. Jesus said, “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).

But I am not going to preach on Jonah dying in the fish this morning. I will speak on Jonah praying in his affliction. Our text says, “I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me” (Jonah 2:2). A modern translation says it this way, “I called out of my distress to the Lord, And He answered me” (NASB). The Bible commentator Matthew Poole said,

By reason of mine affliction; distress, or straits with which he was encompasseth and close besieged; nor was there ever closer siege laid to any one, his body and mind both shut up, the one by the monstrous dungeon of the fish’s belly, and the other by the terrors of the Almighty (Commentary on Jonah 2:2).

Jonah was in distress. He was inside the fish’s belly and he died there. He was in trouble and he knew it! He felt his distress. He was desperate. He cried to the Lord.

Jonah really wanted to get out of the fish’s belly. Even more, he wanted to come back to life! He couldn’t do this by himself. He needed God to get him out of the fish. He needed God to raise him from the dead.

Jonah needed what he prayed for. He wanted what he prayed for. So he cried unto the Lord. God heard him and gave him what he asked for. God raised him to life and made the fish spit him out alive on dry ground!

Do you want what you’re praying for? You might say, “Of course I do. I pray for it, don’t I?” But do you really want what you’re praying for? Jonah wanted his life back. He wanted it badly. Do you want what you pray for? Some people do and some don’t. This morning I will speak about wanting what you pray for.

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I. First, people who pray for things they don’t want very much.

Some people who don’t care don’t pray at all, or not very much. But others who don’t care still pray. You may ask, “Why would people pray for things if they don’t want them?” Ah, but they do. They don’t pray well, but they do pray. They say words. They pray in a mechanical way, without feeling. There are several reasons why they pray.


1.  Because they’re supposed to pray. It may be something the church is praying for, such as selling our building, but in their heart they don’t care very much.

2.  Because it’s time to pray. It may be time for the prayer meeting in church. It may be time for their private prayer at home. So they pray without thinking or feeling, because it’s time to pray.

3.  Because they want to impress others. I have seen people prepare an eloquent prayer in advance without praying it from the heart.

4.  Because they do need and want it, but not very much. They would like to have it, but it does not weigh upon their heart. They do not see or feel their need.


These people pray without really wanting or needing what they ask for. They say words without thought or feeling. They may work up a human emotion, or make up fancy words, but this does not come from the heart. The Pharisee in the Temple in Luke 18 prayed “with himself” (Luke 18:11). Later Jesus rebuked other Pharisees for making long prayers while they cheated old ladies out of their money. Those were not true prayers.

People talk about trusting Jesus without really wanting it. They even pray “to be saved” like that. But they don’t see and feel their need. They’re lightly interested, but they don’t really want it. So they don’t get converted. The Bible says that Jesus “knew what was in man” (John 2:25). I have seen people pray the “sinner’s prayer,” only saying the words but not trusting Jesus. They do not feel their sin. They do not feel their need for Christ. And so they do not come to Him.

Even Christians sometimes pray out of habit, or because they’re supposed to. Don’t expect God to hear that kind of prayer. Why not? Because it isn’t prayer. You aren’t turning to God, begging Him to give what you need and must have.

Do you pray for our building to be sold, and at a good price? If you do, ask yourself how you pray. Do you feel the need? Do you seriously seek God’s answer? If you do not pray, or just say words without true prayer, it shows you do not want the answer very much. But now I will talk about a better kind of prayer.

II. Second, people who pray for things they do want very much.

People who really want what they pray for don’t just say words. When people are trapped in a fire, they shout, “Get me out of here!” When someone is chased by criminals, he may shout “Somebody help me!” No empty words here. The emergency takes over. They call for help with feeling.

When I was a child I went swimming in a lake. I swam too far out and thought I couldn’t get back. I called for the lifeguard. I didn’t mumble. I shouted “Help!” The lifeguard came and pulled me to the shore. I wasn’t a Christian. I didn’t know anything about prayer. My shout came from my need.

That’s the way it was in Bible times. I’m thinking of people who prayed out of deep desire. They were different kinds of people. One was a king. Two were prophets. One was a layman. Others were lost pagans who knew nothing of God. Yet their prayers had much in common: seriousness, sadness, fasting, humility, confession, persistence.

King Hezekiah heard that an Assyrian general threatened Jerusalem and mocked the true God. The Bible says, “When king Hezekiah heard it, that he rent [tore] his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord” (II Kings 19:1). He humbled himself and went into God’s house. He did this in his time of need.

The prophet Daniel did the same thing. When he was moved by the exile of his people in Babylonia the Bible says, “I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplication, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: And I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession” (Daniel 9:3, 4). Why did he humble himself with fasting, sackcloth and ashes? Why did he confess? Because he felt his need.

The layman Nehemiah knew that the people were in affliction and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem was broken down. So he “sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4). Why did he do that? He felt the need. He wanted what he was praying for.

The people of Nineveh were afraid of God’s judgment. The prophet Jonah had preached, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). Then “the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5). The king did the same thing. Those people weren’t Christians. They had no Bible. They didn’t know God. Why did they fast? Because they felt their need! They didn’t want to be destroyed. They wanted what they were praying for.

The fasting, humility, crying, confession, and supplication in prayer didn’t come from a teaching. It came almost automatically. Different people, centuries apart, in different parts of the world, prayed this way. Even the unsaved Ninevites prayed this way without conversion, without the Bible, without God. This kind of prayer comes naturally when people feel the need. They prayed this way because they wanted what they prayed for. As Jonah prayed with his body inside the fish and his soul in the place of the dead,

“I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me”
        (Jonah 2:2).

Jonah cried “by reason of [his] affliction.” His cry came from his affliction, from his need. That’s how Jonah prayed in his desperation. That’s how people pray for things they really want.

Now I will speak to you about what our church needs. We are praying for this building to be sold, so we can buy a new building and start a new church in the San Gabriel Valley. This is the most important thing to pray for in our church.

Do you want it? Do you see and feel the need? Then pray according to your need. Jonah “cried by reason of [his] affliction.” May you pray with crying and fasting. Let me make some remarks about this kind of prayer.


1.  First, you must really want what you pray for. You must need it. You must see and feel your need. Some people pray strongly when they are in trouble. The people of Nineveh were like that. Others pray with energy and passion even if they’re not in trouble, but they are so burdened with the need that they almost can’t go on until God answers. Nehemiah was like that. He could have stayed in Babylonia with the king and lived out his life. But it was a disgrace to him that Israel was in exile and Jerusalem lay in waste. So he prayed with fasting and mourning.

2.  Second, your want will drive you to pray fervently. You won’t sit by and say a few words. You will beg God to answer you. You’ve got to have the answer.

3.  Third, your want will drive you to confession. Known sin will hinder (block) your prayers. The Psalmist said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18). You will want an answer so badly that you will confess and forsake your sin so that God will hear your prayer.

4.  Fourth, your want will drive you to fasting. It was so with Daniel and Nehemiah and the people of Nineveh. It is natural and right to humble yourself and fast when you pray for something you want. If you refuse to fast in prayer for our church’s need, I don’t think you care very much or want it very much. If you don’t feel affliction as Jonah did, you won’t cry to God as he did. May God have mercy on you. May you pray seriously next time.

5.  Fifth, your want will drive you to persistence. You won’t pray once and let it go. You won’t pray once a week in prayer meeting and let it go. You will keep after God, pursuing Him in prayer until He gives the answer. Jesus talked of an unjust judge who finally gave a widow what she wanted, “lest by her continual coming she weary me” (Luke 18:5). Why did she keep on asking? Because she wanted something enough not to let it go. She kept on asking until the answer came – and so will you.

“I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me” (Jonah 2:2).

Now I ask you, Will you fast on Friday for this building to be sold? Will you pray as you fast? Will you pray for this in the Wednesday prayer meeting? Will you pray for this each day in your own prayer time? Will you seek God’s answer? Will you fast? If you don’t pray seriously, sometimes with fasting, you don’t want the answer very much. You don’t see and feel the need. But if you do see and feel the need, if you do want it, then pray and fast for it! Ask God to give you a burden, to show you the weight and seriousness of the need. Then pray and pray and pray. Pray in our meetings. Pray on your own. Fast and pray. Cry to God and beg Him for the answer. And pray until the answer comes. May God help you to do it.

“I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me”
        (Jonah 2:2).

Now I will speak to those who are lost this morning. Though Jesus has died and shed His Blood for your sin, you are not moved. You say you would like to trust Jesus, but that is only what you are supposed to say. There is no heartfelt need, no striving. If you see and feel the guilt of your sin you will desire to be forgiven by Christ. You will seek God in prayer. You will read the sermon manuscripts and seek counseling from the pastors. When you feel your sin, you may cry “by reason of [your] affliction unto the Lord.” If you trust Jesus you will be saved forever. If you would like to speak with us about trusting Christ, please come and sit in the first two rows. Amen.


THE OUTLINE OF

DO YOU WANT WHAT YOU PRAY FOR?

by Dr. Christopher L. Cagan

“I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me”
(Jonah 2:2).

(Jonah 2:1; Matthew 12:40)

I.    First, people who pray for things they don’t want very much,
Luke 18:11; John 2:25.

II.   Second, people who pray for things they do want very much,
II Kings 19:1; Daniel 9:3, 4; Nehemiah 1:4; Jonah 3:4, 5;
Psalm 66:18; Luke 18:5.