Today, we are concluding our message series “Prayer That God Answers.” In this series, we are seeking to learn how to better communicate with God, that’s what prayer is all about.
Today, my message is entitled “Honest Prayer.” What’s the opposite of being honest, it’s being dishonest. Rather than being honest with God, we tend to try to hide from God, even in our prayers. Hiding from God began in the garden of Eden.
Genesis 3:8 (ESV) And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
People try to hide from God in a number of ways. Many people try to hide from God by not going to church. Others try to hide from God by not getting involved in a small group Bible study. Still others try to hide by not praying or by not being honest in their prayers. Why do people try to hide from God? The root of the issue is sin. Sin separates us from God and makes us want to hide from Him.
Psalm 66:18 (ESV) If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.
Sin breaks our relationship with God and makes us not want to face Him. Not only does sin separate us from God, but sin bring God’s judgement.
Deuteronomy 31:16-17 (ESV) And the LORD said to Moses, “… This people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured.
How should we pray when God seems distant? How should we pray if we are facing God’s judgement in our lives? How should we pray when God doesn’t seem to answer our prayers and we’re not sure that He is listening? The first thing we should do is repent of any and all sin in our lives. Yet repentance does not immediately bring an end to the consequences of sin. Our sin may be things we have knowingly done or unknowingly done. Many people today unknowingly sin and come under God’s judgement because they don’t know their Bibles well enough to know what sin is.
Whatever you’re going through that has caused God to be distant, God wants you to be real, to be honest with Him. Don’t try to cover up or hide anything from God, He sees through everything and desires for you to reestablish your relationship with Him.
Today, we’re going to look at Psalm 74. The Psalms are a treasury of 150 chapters of prayers that can teach us how to pray, how to reconnect to God in different seasons of life. Psalm 74 was written after the Babylonian invasion of Judah in 586 BC. In this invasion, the temple of God, built by King Solomon, was destroyed. Many of the Jews were killed and yet others were taken captive in exile in Babylon. Why did this tragedy happen? We’ve already read the reason, found in Deuteronomy 31. The people of Judah had sinned with their idolatry and breaking the covenant that God had made with them. How can we pray and be real with God when He doesn’t seem to be speaking?
Psalm 74:1 (ESV) O God, why do you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?
This psalm, which is a prayer, begins with the psalmist in exile in Babylon. He understands why God’s judgement has come on Judah. Yet, he begins by asking why does this judgment seem to go on forever? Why is God still angry with those who are following Him as their shepherd? The psalmist is honest and real about his feelings and questions. He knows that God sees his thoughts, so he opens up to God.
Psalm 74:2 (ESV) Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old, which you have redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage! Remember Mount Zion, where you have dwelt.
As the psalmist calls on God to remember their past relationship, he is remembering that past relationship. God had redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt, just as God has redeemed us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God’s people were His inheritance and He dwelt among them with His presence.
Psalm 74:3, 7 (ESV) Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins; the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary! They set your sanctuary on fire; they profaned the dwelling place of your name, bringing it down to the ground.
The psalmist prays and calls on God to look at the ruins that the enemy, the Babylonian army had left of the temple. Not only had they burned it, they had purposely defiled the place where the presence of God had dwelt. In the verses we didn’t read, the psalmist describes how the invaders had come into the temple with their axes and destroyed everything that Solomon had built.
Psalm 74:9-10 (ESV) We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, and there is none among us who knows how long. How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever?
Next the psalmist moves into the present. God seems distant, there are no signs or miracles from God. There are no prophets with the word of the Lord and no one seems to know how long God’s judgement will last. This section closes with heartfelt questions of How long will the enemy mock God by persecuting His people? Will this continue forever?
To apply the principles of this prayer to our own prayer life, we must understand that God put this Psalm into the Bible, not just to tell us what someone prayed thousands of years ago. He put it into our Bibles to teach us how to pray today, in 2022, when we’re going through a similar experience. If you’re like me, there have been times in your life when God seemed distant. Times when you couldn’t seem to hear God speak. Times when you knew you were suffering for your own sin and times when you had no idea why you were suffering.
Whatever your situation is today or what it may be in the future, just talk to God about it. Tell Him what’s going on. Even though He knows everything, He wants you to talk to Him about it. Remember what things were like when your relationship with God was better. Tell God you want to hear Him speak to you again. Be honest with God in your prayers, each and every day. Then …
Psalm 74:12 (ESV) Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth.
Even though disaster had struck the psalmist and his people, he remembers who God is. God is His king from long ago. God is the only who saves and delivers. There is no God like Him.
Psalm 74:13 (ESV) You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.
The next verses in the prayer retell God’s past miracle of delivering Israel from the Egyptians as they passed through the Red Sea. The waters that parted to allow the Israelites to pass through came crashing down on the Egyptian army and broke that monster’s heads. If God brought deliverance in the past, He can do it again in the future.
Psalm 74:16-17 (ESV) Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun. You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter.
No matter how dismal things may look in life, no matter how distant God may seem. Even though He doesn’t seem to be answering your prayers, you can always worship Him as creator. In these two verses, the psalmist worships the God who created day and night, who made the sun and moon, who established the seasons of summer and winter.
In the first section of this prayer, the psalmist spoke to God about the difficult situation that had happened in the past and the present distress. Now in this second section of the prayer, the psalmist turns his gaze from the problem to God, who is the only solution. He reminds God and himself of God’s great power as King of the whole earth. That power has been revealed in past miracles and in the creation of the world.
We can remember the miracles of God in creation and recorded in Scripture. We can also remember God’s miracles in our own lives and in our church. As you pray about God’s power and greatness, your faith will begin to grow and build. You will begin to realize that no situation is hopeless. That with God all things are possible, nothing is impossible.
Psalm 74:18-19 (ESV) Remember this, O LORD, how the enemy scoffs, and a foolish people reviles your name. Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts; do not forget the life of your poor forever.
In the final section of this prayer, the psalmist calls on God to act. When ungodly people persecute believers, they are also mocking God Himself and reviling His name. The psalmist reminds God that His people are like fragile doves in danger of being devoured by wild beasts. He asks God to not forget those afflicted people under His judgment. The psalmist is laying out an argument in prayer for God’s intervention, based on what he knows God is like from His Word.
Psalm 74:20-21 (ESV) Have regard for the covenant, for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence. Let not the downtrodden turn back in shame; let the poor and needy praise your name.
Next, the psalmist reminds God of His past promise, the covenant to give Israel the land of Canaan. But now, the land was filled with violence and darkness. Now the poor and needy were oppressed and in disgrace. Yet, the psalmist looks to a brighter future where the oppressed would once again praise the Lord. Finally …
Psalm 74:22-23 (ESV) Arise, O God, defend your cause; remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day! Do not forget the clamor of your foes, the uproar of those who rise against you, which goes up continually!
Finally, in conclusion, the psalmist calls on God to rise up and defend God’s cause. Notice that throughout the prayer, the psalmist is appealing to God based on God’s character and His interest in bringing glory to Himself. The psalmist says that fools mock God all day long, not fools mock the psalmist himself. You see, fools were mocking the people of God, yet in so doing, they were mocking God Himself. In other words, the psalmist was identifying himself with God. He was asking God to not ignore, not the psalmist’s enemies, but God’s enemies. He was calling on God to act for the glory of God’s own name.
So, the prayer concludes with the psalmist calling on God to act. So, we too must call on God to act, based on who He has revealed Himself to be in His Word and according to His promises. When we identify ourselves as being part of God’s people, when we call on God to act on our behalf for His own glory, we are praying according to God’s will.
Suppose you’ve been struggling with a health issues of one kind or another. You can ask God to heal you because the issue is bothering or painful for you. That’s OK, but how much better to first of all use some promises from God’s Word to build your faith. Then ask God to heal you, not just to eliminate your pain, but so you can serve Him better, give Him glory and lead others to Him.
When our prayers are first and foremost for God’s glory, not ourselves, we will see many more answered. Although, the answer to this prayer is not recorded in the psalm, we know from the rest of the Bible, that God answered this prayer. The exiles began to return to their land 70 years after the exile began as God promised.
God calls on each one of us, not to hide from Him, but to be real and honest with God in our prayers. Tell God what’s going on. Yes, he already knows, but He wants you to tell Him honestly how you feel and what’s happening. As you pray, remember God’s power, His past miracles and worship Him as creator.
It doesn’t matter how desperate your situation is. Even though you can’t think of one thing to thank God for, you can worship Him as creator. And you can thank Him for sending Jesus to save you.
Finally, call on God to act in your situation. Call on God to act, not just for you, but for His glory and to fulfill His promises. As we learn to pray from God’s Word, our prayers will become more powerful and effective and we’ll see wonderful answers.