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BUT DO WE BELIEVE IF GOD ANSWERS?

A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS

27 FEBRUARY 1994

By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

Genesis 15:6
        17:15-21
Psalm 22:19-31
Matthew 5:9
Mark 8:38
        9:24

Everyone seems to want to have their prayers answered, but do we believe the results of our prayers? Do we believe when God answers?

The most probable response is, "Of course we do."

But is that really the case? Don't most people try to explain away something of God as having come from some natural source, or that it's a coincidence, instead of rejoicing over the miracles He performs?

Probably the most honest person was the man who cried out to Jesus for help in Mark 9:24, when he said, ďI do believe; help my unbelief.Ē

We are told in Genesis 15:6 that God equated Abram's belief with righteousness, for his belief covered his unrighteousness:

6. Then he [Abram] believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Yet in Genesis 17:15-21, we see that he fails to believe the same promise. Note what we are told:

15. Then God said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.

16. "And I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her."

As part of God's reinforcement of His promise to make a nation come from Abraham, He changes the name of his wife from Sarai, which means God's princess, to Sarah, which means princess of all; for she was to have a child of her own through whom the Hebrew nation would develop.

But note how Abraham responds to this promise:

17. Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, "Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?"

18. And Abraham said to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee!"

What happened to that wonderful belief and faith that caused God to say that his belief was reckoned as righteousness?

Abraham stopped exercising his belief.

He had lost most, if not all, of his faith in the promise of a child through Sarah, as a prayer to be answered from God.

Now his belief was in the work of his own body, in the child born to Hagar, Sarah's maidservant, and not in the promise of God.

19. But God said, "No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.

God doesn't become angry with Abraham, but simply and firmly corrects his words and doubts, which stem from his disbelief.

Additionally, God realizes that Abraham is bonded to his son Ishmael, even though this child is outside His will and promise; and thus grants Abraham's prayer for Ishmael also, even if such an answer would in the future be a thorn in Israel's side as a perpetual reminder of the results of unbelief.

20. "And as for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.

21. "But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year."

God doesn't change His promises in midstream.

His intent always remains intact, even when He grants a concession such as the blessing upon Ishmael.

His promise, given 15 years earlier, concerned Abraham and Sarah and their child, and not a child born to some other woman.

It wasn't God who told Abraham to have a child by Hagar, Sarah's maidservant.

And even to this very day, Moslems believe that the real promise was the one that went to Ishmael, from whom they descended, and not to Isaac.

Because we don't wholly believe God when He answers, or don't have the patience to wait for His answer, we all too often go off on our own, trying to fulfill our own prayer in a manner counter to God's plan, and thus we suffer the consequences instead of the blessings.

Or, as with Abraham, we end up with both, instead of all joy.

Sometimes our problem is that our pride gets in the way of our belief; and because of peer pressure, we all too often discount, or even deny, our relationship with God.

We want to be part of the physical world, instead of the spiritual world that has been opened to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We want the acceptance of other people above that of God.

Thus, we go along with the people who try to explain away God's answers as just being a coincidence.

Or, sometimes we just don't want to believe God's answers, because we want Him to answer in a different way.

Like little children, we don't like to hear the answer "No!" to our petition.

Thus, the Lord tells us in Mark 8:38,

38. "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels."

Try to feel as God feels when we don't believe Him. Think of how we feel when someone doesn't believe us.

In Psalm 22:19-31, there is a cry or prayer for deliverance, and the answer is pointing us to Jesus. In fact, the whole Psalm points to Jesus.

But even after the 3,000 years since this Psalm was written, most people still don't believe in the answer. Listen to the words, beginning at verse 19:

19. But Thou, O Lord, be not far off;
O Thou my help, hasten to my assistance.

20. Deliver my soul from the sword,
My only life from the power [or paw] of the dog.

21. Save me from the lion's mouth;
And from the horns of the wild oxen Thou dost answer me.

God does indeed answer such prayers of believers.

And as the horns of wild oxen can protect them from the mouths of lions, so does God protect us.

But we must remember that most often the oxen are told to run from the lion, and not to attack.

The oxen usually only resort to the attack when they have no other option.

Our best protection is not to be in harmís way.

Remember that harm most often comes from and to the nonbelievers; so, as Christians we are not to be among them, or go along with their way of life.

As an example, Christians are called upon to be peacemaking children of God (Matthew 5:9), and wars are not started by peacemakers.

Thus, our answer from God for deliverance can be, "Get away from these people."

Are we going to believe such an answer?

I pray so!

Listen to what David tells us next:

22. I will tell of Thy name to my brethren;
In the midst of the assembly I will praise Thee.

David did this, and then tells us to do the same.

23. You who fear the Lord, praise Him;
All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him,
And stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel.

24. For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;
Neither has He hidden His face from him;
But when he cried to Him for help, He heard.

But if we don't recognize that our help and deliverance comes from the Lord, how are we going to praise Him, as David tells us to do?

The answer is that we can't.

In fact, our unbelief might even be considered a curse, for we are ascribing the deeds of God to someone else.

We all say that we want to go to heaven when we die; but if we deny that there is a hell also, and live as if there is no such place, then aren't we, in reality, saying that we don't believe in heaven either? For part of God's promise of heaven is to separate the believers and non-believers into these two places.

As David says,

25. From Thee comes my praise in the great assembly;
I shall pay my vows before those who fear Him.

Could this be why so few people come to church regularly?

Could it be that because they don't believe in the things God has done, they don't come to praise Him in the assembly of believers?

Or, could it be that the hardness of heart that has crept into Christianity has been chasing sensitive and peacemaking Christians out of the church?

People say a lot of things about why they don't come to church; but if they truly believed, their actions would speak louder than words.

26. The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek Him will praise the Lord.
Let your heart live forever!

And the only place your heart can live forever is in heaven.

27. All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations will worship before Thee.

If only this could become a reality now.

We have been given all the promises, all the spiritual tools, and all the love necessary to accomplish this; but far too few people accept these gifts of God, or even believe that they are from God.

So, our life is as it is in this world, for the world has turned from God.

But we have no excuse for doing so, for we know the truth.

28. For the kingdom is the Lord's,
And He rules over the nations.

29. All the prosperous of the earth will eat and worship,
All those who go down to the dust will bow before Him,
Even he who cannot keep his soul alive.

This may mean either that praise will continue even after the death of a believer, or that even the unbelievers will acknowledge the Lord after their death; or perhaps, this verse means both.

So, why wait until itís too late? The joy of the Lord is here for us all.

30. Posterity [or a seed] will serve Him;
It will be told of the Lord to the coming generation.

31. They will come and will declare His righteousness
To a people who will be born, that He has performed it.

The seed of our generation has grown up, and their seed is following.

The task and responsibility of declaring the glories of God to the next generation fall to the preceding generation.

But how will the next generation come to believe, if the present generation fails to believe even when God answers our prayers?

The answer is they won't.

And if we look around the church, at the average age of those who are here, we can well understand the problem.

There are too few believers, and of those who believe, most hold back because of peer pressure and misdirected priorities.

We can't force someone to believe; but if we live our own faith before others, they will come to recognize the truth of our life and, hopefully, come to believe.

We just need to be consistent in our faith, as God is consistent in His faithfulness to answer us.

Amen.

Your Comments are welcome

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