Becoming Agents of Holiness-Pt 3 (10/2/16)

Posted by on Nov 20, 2016 in Sermons | 0 comments

Watch Out for those Prayer Whammies

Why didn’t God answer my prayer?!? This is a struggle Christians always run into. Maybe God just hasn’t answered it YET. Maybe He did answer it and it wasn’t the answer you were looking for so you didn’t recognize the answer. Or, sometimes it’s because the connection between you and God has been blocked. Blocked by a Prayer Whammy! Read on to find out more…

The following recording is from the 11:00 service. Click on the play button, then scroll down to follow along…


Our scripture reading was from James 4:1-11. Open the below drop down box to follow along. The New Living Translation is shown below…

Scripture Reading

James 4:1-11
1. What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?
2 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.
3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
4 You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.
5 What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy?
6 But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.”
7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.
9 Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy.
10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.
11 Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.


Press Your Luck!

How many of you remember or at least have seen the game show called “Press Your Luck”?  On this game show, contestants answer a series of questions and with each correct answer earn spins on the board where they can earn large sums of money, trips, and prizes. After these questions, contestants then have to gamble those winnings on a light-board that flashes in a seemingly random fashion and hit a button to stop it at a hopefully desirable spot. The results can range from increased winning to hitting the “Whammy” which causes a cartoon character to appear and the player loses all the winnings.

It’s a fun show and even now when I am able, I try to catch it on the Game Show Network which features the original series now in reruns.

James: The First NT Book

James, the half-brother of Jesus (same mother different father), wrote this small but powerful letter. Early Church Fathers credited it to him. Origen (185-253AD), Eusebius (265-340), and Jerome (340-420) all state, without a doubt, that James, the half brother of Jesus, wrote this epistle. Also, the textual criticism (examining the recorded speech pattern from the grammar and vocabulary in the writings of Acts 15:13-29) to the Epistle clearly shows author agreement.

James is primarily speaking to Jews living in Jerusalem who are starting to face persecution. Given the period; it has only been a decade since Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Pharisees had started to persecute the early Christians. They Killed James the brother of John, then Steven, and Paul was on the prowl to destroy the Church (Acts 6-9). The Israelites, of whom most of the Early Church was made up, had a history of difficult circumstances, from greedy fellow Israelites taking advantage of them, to famine, and then to the Romans coming and taking most of the rich people’s land away; and then, things got worse. Many of the new Christians, after having a honeymoon period of the faith and enjoying the freedom from the Law, suddenly scattered because they feared the persecution. Their faith was in circumstances and not really in the substance of our Lord. Many put their faith in the shallow end of the Christianity pool and had not developed the maturity, depth, or character to endure. Because faith was weak, the ways of the flesh sprang up; the gossip, slander, and strife, as well as spiritual warfare, abounded. Thus, James was addressing the social tensions of the time and pointing people to take responsibility for their faith development by seeking Christ and not their circumstances. 

Prayer in the First Century

During the first century there were many differing views of prayer. Certainly the Jewish religious leaders thought one could impress God and appease God to do whatever one wanted. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, describes three major Jewish groups of the middle-to-late 1st century, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. Each had it’s own view of spiritual matters including prayer.

There was another school of thought which taught prayer was really pointless, that we made our own breaks in life apart from any divine help; there was a superstitious element to prayer which was fostered from many of the pagan groups of that day, including a large Greco-Roman religious influence. Many of the prayers within what we would call orthodox Judaism were memorized prayers which were more repetitive in nature. (ALTHOUGH we have words from Jesus in Matthew 6:5-8 about how if used inappropriately these type of prayers can be pointless.)

5  “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.  But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

7 “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.

8 Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!

Matt 6:5-8, NLT


Why Doesn’t Prayer Work???

Given these hazy views of prayer, is it any wonder that there was no power in their prayers?

James asks the Christians why there is so much unrest, so many quarrels, so much internal fighting taking place. He says that much of it is coming from the external influences and circumstances of the culture around them.

As believers there should be peace, a heavenly peace if-you-will, but just the opposite is taking place.  He says that much of the unrest is a result of the personal ideas which he calls “lusts” here in v1, or more literally, “pleasures,” that is, the lusts which prompt you to “desire” whence you seek self at the cost of your neighbor, and hence flow “fightings.”

This is resulting in a warring against members of the church and people outside of the Church. This is moving them farther away from God’s walk of holiness and in reality quenching the Holy Spirit.

James here in v2 with the Greek word translated “lust” (which is a different Greek word from that in James 4:1) tells them that they have “set their desire, their minds and their purpose on” something which is not of God.

In other words, when they prayed they prayed for things born out of their own selfish ideas, thoughts, and opinion. AND at the same time, were praying against others.

This kind of warning was nothing new. We read of the same corrective warning in Zechariah 11:1-3.  There’s nothing cute about sin.

1 Open your doors, Lebanon, so that fire may devour your cedar forests.

2 Weep, you cypress trees, for all the ruined cedars; the most majestic ones have fallen.
Weep, you oaks of Bashan, for the thick forests have been cut down.

3 Listen to the wailing of the shepherds, for their rich pastures are destroyed.
Hear the young lions roaring, for their thickets in the Jordan Valley are ruined.

Ditch your own selfish ideas and desires. Your “cedar forests”, “Oaks of Bashan”, “rich pastures” are things that you think make you strong on your own power.  They all work together to rob you of the power of prayer.  Stay focused on prayer.

In v4 James says, “ye have not, because ye ask not.” NOW, God promises are to those who pray, not to those who fight. The petition of the lustful, murderous, and contentious is not recognized by God as prayer and thus becomes a payer whammy.

It’s as if James is telling believers that if they prayed in the Spirit, as God desires, there would be no “wars and fightings.” Hence why he asks in James 4:1, “Whence come wars and fightings?”


Prayer Whammies

Below is a video showing an endless string of “Whammies”.  Contestants are “praying” for “Big Bucks”, but the Whammies keep getting in the way.  Instead of getting “Big Bucks”, they are left with nothing.

This video goes on and on.  Just watch a few cycles and you’ll get the idea.

Does this picture our prayer life?  Is something robbing us of the power of prayer?

As the 1st century Church realized, as our ancestors in the Old Testament learned, there are real “prayer whammies.” Those things which render our prayers ineffective. While I have uncovered numerous in the pages of Scripture, the Spirit has led me to lift up these few for our consideration this morning.


1:  Unconfessed Sin

John Wesley said that our #1 priority is to let God save ourselves and others from sin.  God will not hear our prayers if we try to cover up our own sin…

Psalm 66:18 If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.
John 9:31 Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him.
Proverbs 28:9 One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.
Isaiah 1:15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.
Proverbs 15:8 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.
Proverbs 21:3 To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

When the Scripture talks about “regarding wickedness” it referring to unconfessed sin, which is sin that we are aware of in our lives and yet we refuse to confess it to God.

If my sinfulness appears to me in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all.

   – Dietrch Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

The GOOD NEWS is that when we do confess and all sin to God, God forgives it. Take a look at these passages…

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Jeremiah 31:34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Jeremiah 33:8 I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned and by which they have transgressed against Me.
Isaiah 43:25 even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.
Micah 7:18 Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?
Hebrews 10:17 then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

And here are a few more…

Romans 11:26-27 and so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;  For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.”
Isaiah 33:24 And the inhabitant will not say, “I am sick”; The people who dwell in it will be forgiven their iniquity.
Hebrews 8:12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
2 Corinthians 2:10-11 Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ,
Ephesians 1:7-8 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace
Isaiah 44:22 I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, And like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.”

God will forgive every sin that is confessed and then God chooses to forget those sins. AT THIS POINT, our once fractured relationship is restored and our prayers have power.

“Sin demands to have a [person] by [them]self. It withdraws him (sic) from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more disastrous is the isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (from Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community)

This is why James was so urgent with his words. Sin is destructive. We must take every opportunity to do spiritual evaluations to be sure there is no unconfessed sin in our lives. We practice Holy Communion each month so all of us together can do a spiritual gut-check, and then be restored to God and one another, AND IN THE CASE of World Communion Sunday, be stored to all believers around the world.

Prayer prevents us from sin, and sin prevents us from prayer.

John C. Maxwell, in his book Partners in Prayer

2: Unholy Living

By this I am referring to open disobedience to God. The people whom James was writing knew what they had been taught by Jesus, the were taught and perhaps understood from oral traditions how God wanted them to live, yet the “fightings and selfish ambitions in and outside of the Church continued” as we see in v1,2,4.

Isaiah 59:1-2 says so clearly, “Indeed, the Lord’s hand is not too short to save, and His ear is not too deaf to hear. But your iniquities have built barriers between you and your God, and your sins have made Him hide His face from you so that He does not listen.”

Maybe James was thinking of Isaiah 58:4 when he wrote this was the prophet says, “Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.”

Jeremiah 5:25 cautions, “Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have kept good from you.”

  Norman Vincent Peale was speaking about his childhood once gained insight into how unholy, disobedient living, hinders prayer.

As a young boy he once got hold of a big cigar. He went out into a back alley where he figured no one would see him, and then he lit the cigar. As he began smoking it he quickly realized that it didn’t taste good, but boy it sure made him feel all grown up. As he puffed away he noticed a man walking down the alley in his direction. As the man got closer, Norman realized—to his horror–that it was his father! It was too late to thrown the cigar away, so he put it behind his back and tried to act as casual as possible.

They greeted each other, and to young Norman’s dismay, his father began to chat with him. Desperate to divert his father’s attention, Norman spotted a billboard advertising the circus. Norman said, “Dad, can I go to the circus? Please dad, can I go to the circus when it comes to town?” The father answered quietly but firmly, Son, never make a petition while at the same time trying to hold smoldering disobedience behind your back.” Peale learned that God cannot ignore unholy disobedience even when we try to distract Him.


3: Unforgiveness

The impression from James 4:1-4 and v10, is that there was a great deal of unforgiveness within the Christian community. It could be argued that there was an unforgiving spirit against the Roman government, against the religious system especially the Pharisees, but also unforgiveness among the Christians.

“ “I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer (from Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community)

We read in Isaiah 59:1-2, “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.”

An unforgiving spirit in our hearts or our lives will hinder our prayers from being answered. If we are praying and not receiving, let’s not assume that God does not answer prayer today as He did in days gone by. It could be there is something in our live acting as a “whammy” preventing the blessing.

James says in v10, “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.” If we are withholding unforgiveness, we must humble ourselves and offer that “whammy” to God.

In Matthew 18:21 Peter asked Jesus about forgiveness. He asks, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Hebrew law at the time required a person to forgive a person three times for an offense. Peter by suggesting seven, thought he was going above and beyond. He was probably shocked when Jesus said in Matthew 18:22, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Jesus was trying to teach Peter that forgiveness is not a matter of math. Nor is it a choice of words. Forgiveness is a matter of the heart, it’s an attitude which drives our choices in life. Jesus wants Peter to understand that it as our relationship with God grows it will be the presence of the Holy Spirit who actually empowers us to forgive.
If there’s anyone who doesn’t think that forgiveness is important to God and important for our spiritual growth in holiness, then hear Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (NIV).

Forgiving and being forgiven and inseparable twins. When a person refuses to forgive another person, they are hurting themselves simply because that spirit of unforgiveness can take a hold of us, develop roots which grow deep, and make us bitter.

A PERSON CANNOT enter a season of prayer with God and come away with blessings. It is a whammy which steals all blessings.


4:  Untrue Motives

This is what was happening specifically here in James 4. The people were praying with motives which were selfish. There was no thought of “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

In James 4:15 he says, “Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Paul understood this in his prayer life as he taught in 1 Corinthians 4:19, “But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have.”

Jesus becomes the ultimate model for us about praying with true motives. He shows us in Matthew 26:42 when He prays, “He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done”
There’s a story about a minister who was taking a walk down a row of nice old Victorian homes. As the minister walked along, he spotted a young boy jumping up and down on the front porch of a beautiful old house. He was trying to reach the old-fashioned doorbell that was set high next to the door, but he was too short. Feeling sorry for the youngster, the minister went up the walk and stepped onto the porch, and rang the doorbell vigorously for him. Then he smiled down at the young boy and said, “And now what, young man?” The boy screamed, “Now we run like crazy!”
The minister misjudged the motives of the little boy in the story, but God makes no mistakes about our motives.
Psalm 139:2 says that God knows “when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar”

Psalm 94:11a, “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man…,”
When our motives are not right, our prayers will have no power. James says in James 4:3, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives.”
Catherine Richmond (in her book “Spring for Susannah”) wrote: “God hears your every thought, whether you dress it up with ‘Thee’ and ‘Thou’ or not.”


5: Unsurrendered Will

We’ve stated all through this series that the ultimate purpose of prayer is not to get what we want but to learn to want what God wants. BUT that will never happen to the fullest if all of God’s people don’t surrender their wills, agenda’s, goals, and plans to God’s.

I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God’s creational intentions.” – John Wesley

Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts. – Mother Teresa

There’s a story about a woman from Scotland who earned a modest living selling some homemade objects along the side of country roads. Each day she would travel about and when she came to an intersection, she would toss a stick into the air. Whichever way the stick pointed was the direction she went. On one occasion an older man was standing across the road from the woman as she tossed the stick into the air not once, not twice, but three times! The man just had to ask the woman, Why Are you throwing that stick like that?” The woman said, “I’m letting God show me which way to go by using this stick.” The man said, “Then why did you throw it three times?” The woman said plainly, “Because the first two times God was pointing me in the wrong direction!”
The prayer whammy of an unsurrendered will always leave us going in the wrong direction. It will always result in prayers not being answered.
Jesus said in John 15:7, “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you.”

So true Biblical prayer, must have us in surrendering our wills in everything to the will of God.


Never Whammied Out of the Game!

On the game show Press Your Luck, when 4 whammies got you, you lost and were out of the game. Because we have a God of love, a God of grace, we are never out-of-the-game. TO BE SURE, whammies will come into our prayer lives and we should grow in holiness so we may avoid them.

But if we can avoid the prayer whammies, we might just seeing some amazing answers to prayer and an amazing movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in Pitman, in our country, and around the world.

We have all heard about George Muller starting and running orphanages in England. But we often do not hear what his motive was. In his book, Release the Power of Prayer (pp18-20, he wrote,

“Before I began my orphan work, very rarely did I see someone in business taking a stand for God, showing a holy determination to trust in the living God, or depending on Him in order to maintain a good conscience. Therefore, I desired to show to these people, by a visible proof, that God is unchangeably the same. My spirit longed to be instrumental in strengthening their faith, by not only giving them instances from the Word of God of His willingness and ability to help all those who rely upon Him, but also showing them by visible proofs that God is the same in our day.

I well knew that the Word of God ought to be enough, and it was, by grace, enough for me. Still, I considered that I ought to lend a helping hand to my brothers, if by any means, by this visible proof of the unchangeable faithfulness of the Lord, I might strengthen their faith in God.

The best way to testify to God’s faithfulness seemed to be to establish an orphanage. It needed to be something that could be seen, even by the natural eye. Now if I, a poor man, simply by prayer and faith, obtained the means for establishing and running an orphanage without asking for help from any individual, that would be something that, with the Lord’s blessing, might be instrumental in strengthening the faith of the children of God. Additionally, it would be a testimony to the consciences of the unconverted to the reality of the things of God.

This, then, was the primary reason for establishing an orphanage. Certainly, I desired to be used by God to benefit the poor children… Still, the first and primary objective of the work was, and still is, that God might be magnified by the fact that the orphans under my care are provided with all they need only by prayer and faith… so that God’s faithfulness might be seen. Through His provision, others would see that He still hears and answers prayer.”


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