James Merritt - Breaking the Prayer Barrier
Are you satisfied with your prayer life? If you would answer the way I would answer, I want to tell you right now, I'm not. The most frustrating thing about my life as a believer is my prayer life. Prayer is hard work to me. I don't make any bones about it. I don't try to hide it. It's hard work to me. And if you're like me there's times you get very discouraged in your praying because you say, "I pray but it doesn't seem to work. I pray but nothing seems to happen". And you wonder is there some kind of barrier up there that I just can't break? I've never been satisfied with my prayer life. I don't think I'll ever be totally satisfied with my prayer life.
And if you're sitting there saying, "Man, that's me and I'm so glad to hear you admit that," if you're like me, there's also still this desire in you that says, "But I want to know how to do it". I want to know how to consistently and constantly and confidently break that prayer barrier. To pray in such a way that I know God is hearing it, answering my prayer. Let me tell you why this is such a big deal. If what we believe about God is true and most of us in this room believe that God is all-powerful, God is all-knowing, there's nothing God can't do, if we believe what we believe about God is true and if what we believe God says about prayer is true, then you and I would have to agree that probably the greatest source of untapped power in your life and my life and the church's life is prayer.
If we believe what God says and we believe who God is and if all the things the Bible says about prayer, and the Bible says a lot, I want to show you something this morning that I read a long time ago. When I read it, I thought, "That is the most simple, the most succinct, but I believe the most stupendous thing said about prayer in the entire Bible".
If you brought a copy of God's word of an iPad or a smart phone, whatever you might use, I want you to turn to a book called Jeremiah. It's in the Old Testament, oh, probably about, I don't know, thirty books in, thirty-five books in to the Old Testament, you'll find a book called Jeremiah. Jeremiah 33. While you're trying to find that let me just kind of give you the background of the story. Jeremiah was a prophet, one of the greatest prophets who ever lived and he was a prophet in the nation of Judah.
And you may say, "Well, what does that mean"? Let me just give you a quick Bible history lesson. The nation of Israel had become what was one nation and at one time was the most powerful nation in the world. It was the United States of the world at one time. Tremendous kingdom. They had two great kings. You know who they were. David and Solomon. Well, after Solomon died his son Rehoboam came to the throne but because of reasons I don't have time to go into, a lot of the people did not want Rehoboam to be their king so there was a civil war. In effect, there was a split. The northern kingdom, ten tribes, said we're going this way. They became known as the nation of Israel. Two tribes, they went south. They became known as the nation of Judah.
Later on Israel was taken captive by the Assyrians. They were led off into exile because they rebelled against God. They began to call right what God called wrong. They began to call wrong what God called right. They began to say, "We don't really need God to be the nation that we are, we don't really need to be talking about God much in the public square anymore". By the way, does that sound familiar? And so they began to disobey. They began to say, "You know, we don't really need God around anymore". And so God said, "We'll just see how much you need me". And he takes them into captivity. Well, unfortunately, Judah didn't learn their lesson. They repeated the same thing. Went through the same cycle that Israel did so the prophet Jeremiah had to come along and basically tell them, "You're going down the same road that Israel did and you're going to have the same results. You are going to be taken captive by the Babylonians".
Now we pick up the story in Jeremiah 33:1, "The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah a second time while he was still shut up in the court of the guard". You say, "Wait a minute. Why was Jeremiah in prison"? Because he told them what I just told you. He told them. He just told the truth. He said, "I told you to repent. You didn't repent. I told you to turn back to God. You didn't turn back to God so I'm just letting you know the die has been cast. You're going to face the wrath of God. You're going to face the judgment of God. The Babylonians are coming. You're going to lose. They're going to raze the city of Jerusalem to the ground. They're going to take you captive and they're going to take you into exile".
And they didn't like what they heard because they didn't fear Jeremiah and they no longer feared God and they didn't want to hear anything that he had to say and they were about to suffer the consequences of their disobedience. So here you've got Jeremiah. He got so depressed his nickname is the weeping prophet. He cried all the time because God called him to preach a message and he preached then the people got mad at him because he preached it so they threw him into prison. Despair is absolutely everywhere and then God says this to Jeremiah: "Thus, says the Lord, who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it. The Lord is his name".
Now listen to this next statement: "Call to me and I will answer you and I will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known". I think that's one of the most incredible statements in the entire Bible . In fact, to me it is so powerful and so incredible if that's the only thing God ever said about prayer, that ought to fire us up to pray. If that's the only thing God ever said about prayer we ought to say, "I'm all in. Sign me up". Because listen to what God says. He says, "Call to me and I will answer you". You may sit there and you may say, "Man, my prayer life's hitting on all these cylinders. I am a great prayer warrior".
Okay, then just pray for me as I preach this 'cause I need to hear this and if you don't need to hear it, you just kind of hang around while I talk to me 'cause I really do need to hear this message and if you're one of those people that are sitting there saying, "Man, do I ever need to break the prayer barrier in my life," let me tell you three things Jeremiah says. We're going to be real quick today. Three things Jeremiah said about how to do that very thing. Listen to what he says. He says, "Number one, talk to God. He hears prayer. Talk to God. He hears prayer". Now, listen to those three words again: "Call to me".
Now that tells me something. If you believe in any kind of a God that's worth believing in, God would never tell you to call him if he's not going to answer you. I mean, what kind of a person would it be that said to you, "Hey, here's my personal number. Call me anytime you want to". But he already knows in his mind if you call I'm not going to answer. What kind of person would do that? No, but the very fact God says, "Call to me," I know he's going to answer me. And by the way, this is a command. That verse, "Call to me," that's a command. That's not a request, that's not a suggestion. God is commanding and God is demanding that we pray to him.
See, when you don't pray you don't just mess up, you miss out. I mean, you really blow it. Someone once said this. I thought it was so good. They said, "The great tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer, it is unoffered prayer". You know, can I give you a thought? God never answers a prayer you don't pray. So if you don't want God to answer a prayer, just don't pray. But God says, "If you call to me I will answer to you". Let's flip that. "If you don't call to me, I won't". So God never answers a prayer that we don't pray. Jesus's brother, James, he said this in his epistle. He said, "You do not have because you do not," what's that word? "Ask". That's why you don't have it. You don't ask.
I wonder how many of us when we get to heaven, I wonder how many of us God's going to take aside and say something like this, "James, let me show you all the things I would have done for you if you'd just asked me. Let me show you all the things I would have given to you if you'd just asked me. Let me show you how things would have changed in your life if you had just prayed". As a matter of fact, it amazes me that God has to command us to pray. I mean, it just, it blows my mind that God has to command us to pray. As a matter of fact, the psalmist said this, "Oh you who hears prayer to you all flesh will come". You'd better remember this.
About thirty years ago we sent a space ship into outer space. It was called Voyager 2. And we sent that spaceship all the way to Neptune so it could take pictures of the little planet Neptune and send them back to Planet Earth. It took that spacecraft ten years to get from Planet Earth to Neptune. It traveled 4.4 billion miles. Now here's the thing that amazes me. Whenever that spacecraft began to take pictures of the Planet Neptune and send them back to Planet Earth, it took 4 hours and 6 minutes for the signals to come from Neptune all the way to Planet Earth. That was traveling at the speed of light.
So traveling 186,000 miles a second it took 4 hours and 6 minutes for us to get that picture. It's even better than that. All the data that was sent back from that spacecraft was received through a radio signal that was so weak it took 38 giant radio antennas on 4 different continents to catch that data and to see that picture. And yet God says, "Every time you open your mouth and just say anything to me, instantaneously, just like that, it goes from one end of the universe to the other. When you talk to me, you are immediately ushered into my presence". Think about it. When can you talk to God? Anytime. Where can you talk to God? Anywhere. What can you talk to God about? Anything. Talk to God. He hears prayer, alright?
Number two, trust God, he heeds prayer. Trust God. He heeds prayer. Now God says there are two parts to prayer and you've already figured that out, right? There's our part and God's part. Now we've already heard what our part is. Our part is to call. God says, "Okay, my part is to answer". Here's what he says. He says, "Call to me and", what is that word right there? "I will answer you". He didn't say, "I may answer you. I might answer you. I could answer you". He said, "I will answer you". Well, there are actually four ways that God can answer prayer. And I promise you we've all experienced in this room every single one of them. Matter of fact, I'm going to do something. I've always liked new toys so I'm going to use a whiteboard, okay? You're making history. I've never done this in my life. Pray for me. Pray I don't mess it up.
Alright. How does God answer prayer? Four ways, alright? Number one, now this is our favorite way. Sometimes God's answers are direct. Sometimes we pray and God says, "Yep". Right, man, I just want to be able to say, "Okay, God, would you give it to me"? "Sure, do you need it right now? Yeah, no problem. Be right there". Okay? Sometimes God does that. We pray for something and God gives us what we want pretty much when we want it. Here's the bad news. Not bad, it's just news. That's not always the way God works, right? 'Cause if it is, we'd all pray a lot more, right? So sometimes God's prayers are not direct. This is what we don't like.
Sometimes God's answers are delayed. Sometimes God says, "Yeah, I'll do that but not now. Not now". You say, "Well, why is that"? Because God not only wants to give us what's best for us, God's even better than that. He says, "I'll give it to you when it's best for you". When I was in the sixth grade, no, I was nine years old, when I was nine years old I asked my dad for one thing for Christmas, a shotgun. He said, "No, not going to get you a shotgun". I got a plastic machine gun. That's not funny. I need a cue card for Teresa, "Now Laugh".
Alright. Three years later, I think it's a shotgun, I got a BB gun. Two years later I got a 22 rifle. When I was fifteen Dad let me shoot the shotgun for the first time. See, it wasn't that God... Dad didn't want me to have the shotgun, that wasn't the issue. It was, "I'll do it when you are ready". Let me tell you this: God always answers prayer on schedule, okay? Always answers prayer on schedule. The problem is, it's not your schedule, it's his schedule. It's not your time, it's his time. Sometimes it's delayed, okay?
Now this is why some of you raised your hands and said, "No, I don't think God always answers prayer". Okay. Because sometimes God's answer is denied. Now here's where we get messed up. We think that if God says, "No," he didn't answer our prayer. Alright, let me tell you something you parents have to teach your kids. "No" is an answer. Okay? "No" is answer. "What is it about the word 'no' you don't understand"? So sometimes God says, "I'm not going to do that". You say, "But that's what I don't like". That's what you ought to love because one of the reasons why we can pray to God with confidence... you know why I'm so confident when I pray to God? 'Cause I know he's not going to give me everything I ask for. 'Cause God's wise enough to know if I gave you everything you asked for you'd get a lot of stuff you wish you didn't have.
Listen, if God had answered my prayer, I'm just being honest here, if God had answered my prayer, I would not be married today to the greatest wife a man could ever have. If God had answered my prayer I wouldn't have been married to her. If God had answered my prayer I wouldn't be standing up here preaching to you right now. If God had answered my prayer I would never have the privilege of pastoring the most wonderful church in the world. If God had answered my prayer I would have never traveled the world and seen what I've seen and been able to do what I've done. See, sometimes God's answers are direct. Sometimes they're delayed. Sometimes they're denied but then sometimes they are different. In other words, God says, "I'm going to answer your prayer but I'm not going to do it the way you think".
I was pastoring in Mississippi. It was my first full-time church out of seminary and I don't make any bones about it. I wanted to come to Georgia, okay? Georgia's on my mind, okay? I mean, Ray Charles is my adopted Dad, alright? He doesn't sing New York's on my mind, he sings Georgia's on my mind. And I just wanted to come back to Georgia and I couldn't get that desire out of my heart. I told the Lord, I said, "Lord, if you don't want me to come back to Georgia, take that desire out of my heart". But he wouldn't and I began to pray. If you delight yourself in the Lord he'll give you the desires of your heart. I couldn't get it out of my heart.
There was a church that came open, north of Atlanta, about 20 miles north, maybe 25 miles north here. I used to serve in that church. I was a student pastor in that church and I made up my mind, "Okay, God, I can take it from here, okay? That's where I want to go. That's where I want to be". I did something that I've never done before or since. I kind of manipulated and got my resume put into that church. They didn't even call me. They didn't even write me. I didn't even get a "Dear John". I got nothing. But then, six months later, I got a call from another church which turned out to be a far better opportunity where God allowed me to pastor for 18 wonderful years and that church, when I left, was four times the size of that church today.
See, God said, "I'm going to get you back. This is what I want for you but you're not going there, you're going here". It's just different but it's better. So why should we pray? Because God answers every prayer. No, it may not be when you want him to answer. It may not be the way you want him to answer, but God always answers prayer. Talk to God. He hears prayer. Trust God, he heeds prayer. Here's the last thing. We'll be finished. Thank God he honors prayer. Thank God he honors prayer. Listen to what he goes on to say. He says, "I will tell you when you pray, I will tell you great and hidden things you have not known". Now, in another translation, The Message, it puts it this way: "I'll tell you marvelous and wondrous things you could never figure out on your own".
That word "tell" means to expose. It means to unveil. It means to reveal. It means to unwrap. Here's what I want you to hear. This is where we miss it a lot of times. Prayer's never meant to be a one-way conversation. Prayer's not a monologue. Prayer's a dialogue. In prayer you talk to God but, hey, you know what? Sometimes in prayer talks, God will talk to you if you'll just shut up. If you'll just be still. "Be still and know I'm God," he says. "Just be still. Let me talk to you".
Let me give you an example. That's one of the reasons why it's so important when you read your Bible before you pray because so many times you'll read your Bible and this is what happens. So many times God will say, you'll read it and you'll say, "That's what I need to do in my marriage. That's what I need to do with my children. That's why I need to fix that relationship. That's how I need to spend my money". It's amazing how God will take his word and even in your prayer time, when you're praying over what you just read, God will speak to you. Sometimes one of the best things you can do when you go to pray is just don't say anything. Just listen. That's when God speaks the loudest and you'll notice what he says. Listen to it again. "I'll tell you great," and this is a very important word, "hidden things that you have not known".
That word, "hidden," in the Hebrew language literally means things that are closed in, things that are fenced in, things that are sealed shut. In other words, here's what he says. "If you'll pray to me, you'll talk to me. I will show you things that you will never figure out with your imagination. I will show you things that you will never figure out with your intelligence. I'll show you things you will never get to by your investigation". Let me give you an illustration. The greatest knowledge you will ever have in your life is the will of God for your life. Do you agree with that? You will never know that apart from prayer. The greatest person you'll ever know in this life is Jesus Christ. Do you agree with that?
You'll never know Jesus Christ apart from prayer. The greatest book you will ever read in your life is the word of God. Do you agree with that? But you'll never understand it apart from prayer. God says, "There are some things you'll never have a clue about if you don't pray". Prayer's not something we have to do. Prayer's something we get to do. Prayer's something we ought to want to do because when you engage prayer, you engage God and God says, "I will answer your prayer".
And let me tell you this: Prayer's like a time capsule. This will help you. Prayer's like a time capsule. You never know when God's going to answer it. You never know where God's going to answer it. You never know how God's going to answer it but he will answer it. Listen. There's no expiration date on prayer. You go read the book of Revelations and you know what you'll find? God says he puts prayers in a bottle. There's no prayer that just kind of floats off into outer space and it's all forgotten. God never forgets a prayer. He answers prayer and I just want to wrap this up. I just want to wrap this up by giving you, I'm living testimony of what I'm talking about.
So I want you to do this. Everybody, put your pens down. Close your iPad. Shut everything off. Just look right up here and just give me just two more minutes and then I'm done. Let me show you how this works. I'm living testimony that what I've told you is true. I'm five years old and I get this idea in my mind I'm going to be a lawyer. That's all I'm going to do. It's all I wanted. I'm going to be an attorney. I planned everything out. Everything I took in college. I majored in accounting. I hated accounting. If you're an accountant God love you, God bless you. You're miserable. I hate accounting.
Say, "Why'd you major in accounting"? I wanted to be a corporate lawyer. I was going to go into mergers. I thought that's where the big money was was corporate law so I'm not going to be a trial, I'm going to be a corporate lawyer. So I majored in accounting and I got accepted to three law schools. I had it all planned out. You've heard my story many times. The last week, one week before I graduated, God changes everything. God changes my heart, God changes my desires, God changes my life and God calls me into the ministry, one week before I graduate. So I call my Mom; I called my Dad. I said, "Look, I've got to tell you I'm not going to law school. I'm going into Ministry".
Dad gave me some advice that's real funny. I'll tell you about it some other time but Mother begins to cry. She just starts weeping over the phone. Just bawling her eyes out. And I'm thinking, "Man, she is so hurt. She's so disappointed I'm not going to be a lawyer". I said, "Mother, I'm sorry if I've disappointed you". And she, I mean she's bubbling, she's bawling. She said, "Oh, you didn't disappoint me. I'm so happy". I said, "Mom, why are you so happy"? She says, "I've never been able to tell this story but now I get to tell it".
Her mother, Clara House, little, petite, little woman; everybody that knew my grandmother said she was the Godliest woman they ever knew in their life. She taught high school, Grayson High School. I actually, one of my sons graduated from Grayson and I went to a father-son dinner. I met a man there that came up to me and he said, "Clara House was your grandmother"? I said, "Yes, sir". He said, "She taught me in high school". I said, "Really"? He said, "I want to tell you one of the Godliest women. Every morning," he said, "when we had class, she'd open up the Bible and she'd pray for us every morning. Just a Godly, Godly woman".
Well, my grandmother, I never knew her. She died in 1946, six years before I was born. My brother, my oldest brother knew her. I never knew her. So mother's telling me this story and I said, "Well, mother, what's Mama House got to do with me"? She said, "Mama prayed out loud every morning". That's just the way she prayed. She got up every morning before anybody else. She'd fix breakfast every morning. Same breakfast, you know, red-eye gravy and biscuits and bacon. I'd better stop that. She'd fix breakfast every morning. And she said, "If you could see it, she'd knead the dough and she'd have the bacon frying or whatever, and she'd be walking the floor and she'd be talking to the Lord out loud, just like I'm talking to you".
And she said, "I heard my mama pray a prayer every day. I thought it was just strange. I thought it was just weird". And she said, "Son," she said, "word for word, this is what your grandmother prayed every morning. 'God would you so favor me and so favor my family that you would call somebody out of my family to be a preacher of the gospel?'" She prayed that prayer in 1946 before she died. And 38 years later, in a dormitory room at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, God heard her prayer and God heeded her prayer and God honored her prayer and I'm standing before you right now because I had a grandmother that broke through the prayer barrier and so can we.