Sunday, June 2, 2013

God Answers Prayer. 1 Kings 8:41-43

Introduction:  Cell phones, Text messages, and Email—some of you don’t know what any of that is, but you’ve probably noticed that everyone wants instant response.  Someone will send a text message, and if the reply doesn’t come within 30 seconds, panic ensues.  Did he get the message?  Is he ignoring me?  Is he just busy?  As much as you may laugh at the teenager who does that, this is the way we all tend to treat God.  Where is he?  Did he hear?  Is he listening?  Is he busy?
When Solomon dedicated the temple, he prayed that God would hear their prayers, care, listen, and answer.  We will see that God has answered his prayer, but we will also have to ask ourselves what is wrong when God doesn’t do what Solomon prayed for.

Sermon Text:
1 Kings 8:41–43 (NIV84)
41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— 42 for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when he comes and prays toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.

Theme:  God answers prayer.

Solomon’s Prayer:  The big deal with this temple was that it was a place where you could count on your prayers being heard.  God had promised to dwell there.  When Solomon finished building, God appeared in a dark cloud and filled the temple.  What an impressive sight that must have been, on that day of dedication, to see this cloud fill the temple, a cloud so thick and dark that the priests had to leave for a while.  As they saw this cloud fill the temple, they that it was God.  They knew that at this temple, you could bring your prayers directly to God, and know that he would hear you.
King Solomon saw all of that, and praised God.  As magnificent as the temple was—the inside was all covered in gold, the stone work and wood work was the best of the best; Solomon’s temple is considered one of the 7 great wonders of the ancient world—as magnificent as that temple was, it was nothing to compare with the palace where God really dwells in heaven.  How amazing and wonderful that God would come down to dwell in this temple, so that they could see that he was with them, and know that their prayers were being heard when they came to that place.
King Solomon prayed that other people would get to share this awesome blessing too.  He asked that God would bless Israel, so that other nations would see the great things he was doing for Israel and want to be a part of it.  They would get tired of their false gods who didn’t care and couldn’t help, and come to the temple and pray to Israel’s God, the true God, who does care and does help.  Their prayers would be heard too.  This is what God wanted too, and he answered Solomon’s prayer.  He helps everyone who prays to him.

God answered Solomon’s prayer:
It wasn’t long after Solomon’s prayer that the Queen of Sheba heard about the great things God had done for Israel and King Solomon, and she came to hear more about this.
Another classic example came later, when Naaman, a Syrian general, came down with leprosy.  He had a servant girl who happened to be an Israelite, and that girl told Naaman that he should go to Israel, because there was a prophet of God there who would heal him.  Naaman heard about the great things God would do, and he went to see the prophet.  Elisha, the prophet, told him to go and wash in the Jordan river seven times.  When Naaman did that, God healed him.  Naaman saw the great things God had done for him, and he wanted to keep on praying to God.  He had to go back to Syria, though.  Before he left, he packed as much dirt as two mules could carry so that he could build an altar out of that Israelite dirt where he could bring his prayers and offerings to the true God. 
God answers all kinds of people who pray to him.  We have another example in the Gospel for today.  The Centurion was a Roman soldier, not a Jew, but he lived in Israel.  He had heard about the great things God did for his people, and he heard about Jesus.  He put his faith in God, and he sent messengers to Jesus to say to him, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof…Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”  Jesus heard the centurion’s prayer, and the servant was healed.  God answers prayers.
Do you realize that the reason why we are here is that God answered Solomon’s prayer?  We are the foreigners he was praying for too—I don’t think any of us are Jewish.  But we have heard about the great things God has done—with his mighty hand and outstretched arm he rescues his people, and nowhere has he done that more than in Jesus’ life and death for us.  We have come to worship and pray because this God hears and helps.  While we don’t have a temple to pray toward, we do have Jesus, who is God and has called us members of his family.  He promised that if we pray to him or pray in his name we will be heard, and we will be helped.

We have a problem:
What should we think, when God doesn’t seem to be helping?  We know that he would rather bless than punish.  His Old Testament plan for evangelism was to make Israel great, so that other nations would see that he is the true God.  Today too, he would rather bless than hurt, and he wants others to see how good he is.
When God isn’t helping, it’s a good time to ask yourself what is wrong.  It isn’t God; God is never in the wrong.  We are the sinners, and we are wrong.  
When you have trouble and God isn’t helping, its always a good time to ask if you are really praying sincerely.  Of course you really want to be helped, but are you coming to God as someone who really cares about what he thinks and does, and what he wants you to do?  
I said that God answers prayer; I didn’t say that God answers hypocrites.  I don’t like to help people when they come to me with a lie, no matter how much they need help.  You may think that you’re slipping one past me, but God isn’t fooled.  I may not know about your sexual sins, your greed, or your anger issues, but God does.  He sees if you are confessing your sins to him without any real intention to change.  One area where I do see it is in your attitude towards God.  I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that they need to start coming to church more or praying more or reading their Bibles, but there is no lifestyle change, and no real effort.  Just empty words.  God isn’t fooled.  Don’t expect him to help.
We have to understand that God isn’t always going to treat us like foreigners who know nothing about him, and so he isn’t always going to give us whatever we ask for whenever we demand it.  When Solomon prayed that God would give the foreigner whatever he asked for, he was asking God help this foreigner who had only previously heard of God’s goodness, so that the foreigner would see and believe.  We aren’t foreigners anymore.  We need to have a more mature understanding of our relationship with God.  When he doesn’t help, it isn’t because he is not good.  It’s because we are not good.  Any time we have trouble, it’s always a good time to reflect on our sinfulness and come to him with an honest confession, sincere desire to change, and plead for his mercy.—not for him to treat us better, but to stop giving us what we deserve.

God has the answer:  As I said before, we don’t have a temple to pray toward anymore, but we do have Jesus.  In him, we see God living among us, and in fact even closer than that—he became one of us.  When we are with him, hearing his Word, confessing our sins sincerely, and praying in his name, we are heard.  Our sins are forgiven, and God listens, cares, and helps.   I don’t know when his answer will come; today, tomorrow, or in the resurrection.  I do know that God is good, and he will help.  He wants us to be patient, to clean up our hearts, and know that he will come to the rescue.  We see how God answered Solomon’s prayer, and how he wants to hear all our prayers and help us.  He wants to be known as a God who listens and helps.  Remember that God answers prayer.  Amen.