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If My People…Seek My Face

January 17, 2010 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: If My People...

Topic: Prayer Passage: 2 Chronicles 7:11–7:14

If My People…Seek My Face

Intro:

As you know we are beginning the year by focusing our attention on the subject of prayer. Someone has rightly said that there is a lot of work the church can do after we pray, but no work we can do before we pray. Before we can evangelize or disciple or love or help the needy we need to pray. Spurgeon considered prayer the “power plant” of the church and Andrew Murray recognized that a prayerless church is a powerless church. Historically for many churches the prayer meeting is the worst attended meeting on the calendar and that explains why the church finds itself lacking the kind of spiritual power and manifest presence of God that was the norm in the first century church. I have confessed our own neglect of this area over the past year and my prayer is that as a church we get a vision for the power of prayer.

There are many things stirring in my heart for this year – things I would like to see the Lord do. I want us to have testimonies as a church at the end of the year of what God has done – not just testimonies of what man can do. Prayer is essential to that. Jesus said, apart from Me you can do nothing and he wasn’t exaggerating. In terms of anything that has eternal worth, we are unable to do the smallest thing apart from Christ – and that should drive us to God in prayer if we want our lives to count for anything eternal. We are that desperate for His empowering. Prayer is calling upon God to do what only He can do.

In 2 Chron. we find a call from God to God’s people to pray. It’s a call as relevant to the church today as it was to Israel on the day it was first given.

2 Chron. 7:11-14

Envisioning apostasy

2 Chron. 7 finds Israel in a time of great spiritual renewal. Israel had its ups and downs and this was an up time. Under King Solomon’s leadership they have built the temple, and at the completion of the temple Solomon assembles Israel to dedicate it to the Lord. Climbing onto a platform in front of all Israel Solomon kneels before the Lord and spreads out his hands to heaven and prays a heartfelt prayer of dedication to the God of Israel. It is an incredibly holy moment and everybody feels a sense of awe and wonder in the presence of God and to top it all off, fire comes out of heaven and consumes their sacrifice right in front of them! Israel is spiritually alive and feeling very close to God.

But in his prayer, Solomon envisions a day when Israel will depart from the Lord and things won’t be so good. The heavens are shut up and there’s no rain, land is barren, what they do have is getting eaten up by pestilence and their enemies are wiping up the floor with them. For an agricultural state like Israel surrounded by enemies who hated them, this is about as bad as it can get. But all this is simply an external symbol of their spiritual condition. And the surprising thing is not only is all this not outside of God’s control, He actually takes responsibility for all this mishap. It is God who is shutting up the heavens, allowing the enemies to have victory, allowing the locusts to eat the remaining crops.

When our hearts drift away from God, our lives will begin to show it. It may not happen right away, it may happen slowly, imperceptibly, but our lives will begin to reflect our internal spiritual condition.

The heavens shut up and there is no rain – we feel spiritually dry and barren. Instead of joy and peace and love, there is anxiety and stress and conflict. Maybe we begin to see things in our life begin to fall apart – more and more there’s conflict in our marriage. We see our kids wanting less and less to do with God. You try to get ahead in life but it feels like for every step you take ahead you get kicked back two.

I’ve seen people fight so hard on their own to get ahead of this destructive, life is falling apart curve, as if it was just a series of bad luck and if they work hard enough their luck will change. In that place what we need to see is that the root of our problem is our relationship with God. When that is off, everything else is off. And the first step to getting it all back on track is getting things right with God.

Solomon asks, in that day, if Your people turn back to you and pray, will You hear? Will You heal? Will You forgive? And God comes to Solomon in the night and makes this conditional promise: if My people humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways I will hear from heaven. The conditions aren’t conditions of earning – if you do so much for me, then I’ll do this for you. God doesn’t need anything we can give Him so He’s not looking to barter with us. These conditions simply put us in a place where God can pour out His blessings on us and not have it harden us in a sinful and harmful direction. The troubles are gifts from God to drive us to God and these conditions of humility and seeking God simply indicate a heart that is softened towards God and aware of their desperate need for God and God can answer that.

I. What does it mean to seek God’s face?

God says if My people humble themselves and pray and seek My face…what does it mean to seek God’s face?

a. It means to seek God with our whole heart

The word seek tells us that this is about what we are after – what we pursue – what we

want. What we seek, we want. What we want, we seek. What we seek has tremendous power over the direction of our lives. You could really boil your life down to this: what is it you seek? For one person it might be their goal is money – their family and friends and health end up being sacrificed on the altar of making money. For another person they might be seeking comfort and ease more than anything else. There’s a lot of things that they want to do, and they tell themselves that someday they’re gonna take the risk, but the priority of comfort and ease always seems to win out and so they put off the other things for another day.

Another way to put this is, ultimately what we seek is what we are passionate about. What we want and love and desire most – that’s what we seek. When God says we are to seek His face, He’s talking about a wholehearted, passionate pursuit of God.

But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. Deut. 4:29 (ESV)

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer 29:11)

That’s a wonderful promise and many of us have that memorized, but if we stop there we miss the full promise of this passage, for it goes on to say,

12Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, 14I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes… Jeremiah 29:11-14 (ESV)

The future and hope is bound up with God’s people calling upon God and seeking Him with all our hearts. Those who seek God wholeheartedly find God – every time. But God never promises to bless the halfhearted seeker.

Half-heartedness’ isn’t better than no-heartedness

This brings me to a point where I need to say some challenging things. I was tempted to find ways to soften this, for one because I want everyone to like me and not be mad at me, and also because I don’t want to be challenged in some of the areas this challenges me. But I want to be faithful to God’s word and I believe we need to hear stuff that challenges us, probably more at this time than stuff that comforts us. I know I do.

Do we seek God wholeheartedly? Do we want God more than anything else in the world, more than life itself? Let me get more personal and intrusive: are you seeking God wholeheartedly – I mean with everything inside of you? Do you want God – not what God can give you, not the blessings of God – but God, the holy, infinite, glorious, majestic, loving, life-giving God, more than life itself?

Is everything in life submitted to this one all-consuming passion: your love for Jesus Christ? What you do, where you go, what you say, how you think – is it all for one glorious ambition: to know Christ and see Christ glorified in your life?

Does that sound crazy or radical or extreme to you? I submit that that is the only definition of normal Christianity you will find in the New Testament.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. Philip. 3:7-8

See we can think that seeking God halfheartedly is better than not seeking Him at all. Loving God with some of our heart is better than a lot of people do, so we feel pretty good about it

Let me state that another way: being lukewarm is way better than being cold, right? Actually, no. Jesus said that to be lukewarm was nauseating to him – he’d rather have someone downright cold toward Him. Halfheartedness toward God isn’t better than no-heartedness. It’s a serious spiritual problem and we need to stir up the embers of our first love, we need to seek God’s face with all our heart knowing that if we seek Him with all our hearts, we will surely find Him. There is no such promise for the one who seeks God with half a heart.

Half-heartedness is a big problem. Spiritual complacency is a spiritual disease. And we can all fall into it because sin has made us half-hearted creatures. Church, we need to stir ourselves up and not think it’s ok to be lukewarm about God. The shocking picture of Revelation 3 is that those who remain lukewarm all their lives aren’t saved. That’s hard to say, but there is no way I can reconcile Jesus spitting (literally vomiting) His beloved out of His mouth. You say, well I’m feeling lukewarm and that doesn’t give me very much comfort. Yes! Exactly! Jesus didn’t say this to the Laodicean church to comfort them. He said it to warn them – because that’s the loving thing to do when someone is in mortal danger.

The Christian life isn’t meant to be all comfort – like following Jesus is going from a warm bath to an easy chair and back to the bath. We need challenge!! We need difficulty. We need to lay our lives on the line no matter who else is doing it and follow Jesus. Calls us to a cross, not a Lazyboy.

Jesus said we are to “seek first” the kingdom of God – that is to be our #1 priority in life. That’s not radical, extremist Christianity. That’s to be the normal Christian life – a life lived flat out, 100% for Jesus Christ. Knowing Jesus and God is what we want more than anything else in the world.

b. It means to seek God, not just what God can give

There are churches that don’t ask much of anything from God – they think it all stopped at the end of the book of Acts. They don’t ask God to do miracles or to heal or provide supernaturally, or save a hardened sinner in an amazing way. They might be very orthodox and sound in their doctrine (and that’s a good thing) but their prayers lack power because they never ask God to do what only God can do. We don’t want to be guilty of that.

But on the other extreme there are churches that focus on stuff from God as if God was a vending machine dispensing blessings when you just pop the coin in and push the right button. Faith becomes the coin that releases the blessings from God. Give ten bucks, you get a hundred. Have enough faith and you get healed.

God is sovereign over all. He is glorious beyond anything we can imagine. God is all we need – Jesus said this is eternal life, knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom God has sent. He is better than His promises. We trust His promises and cherish them, but to seek God’s face is to seek God as our great treasure.

Speaking of the power of God at work in those who believe, John Piper writes,

That power has awakened in us, not just a desire for God to give us a happy future, but for God Himself to be the essence of our happy future. It has produced in us, not just a delight in the promises of God, but in the God of the promises. Faith embraces God in all His promises.

Seeking God’s face means seeking God, not just what God gives.

II. How does God reward those who seek His face?

God promises to reward those who seek His face. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that God is a rewarder of those who seek Him. We can seek God and find Him because God first sought us. Jesus came looking for us – he came to seek and save the lost. God has made us His beloved children through the work of Christ so if we got nothing else from His hand we would be eternally richer than we can imagine.

Our God is incredibly good and when we get Him, we get everything life can possibly be. I mentioned that there are things stirring in my heart for this year. There is faith that if we pray and seek God, He will do great things. Not because we are anything, but because He is good. We want to see so much more. People saved, Christians growing, deeper sense of community. Our own building as a tool for reaching this community and having a presence in the community.

Let’s heat up the power plant. Let’s call on God to fill us with His power. Let’s ask God to do great things for His glory, not ours this year. So that we look back and say, “look what God has done.” Not look what we have done.

Application? Pray!

If you’re a prayer warrior, prayer is a part of your spiritual gift (all are called to pray), let Matt or I know. We want to commission you to pray. If you have a prayer need, let the church know, let your care group know so we can pray.

a. Pray for one another.

When you know of a need in the church, be faithful to lift it to God. Think of the Epp’s and pray – pray with faith and with fervency that God would answer.

b. Pray for your pastors.

I came across this testimony and thought it was pretty inspiring. Dr. Wilbur Chapman often told of his experience when, as a young man, he went to become pastor of a church in Philadelphia. After his first sermon, an old gentleman said to him, "You're pretty young to be pastor of this church. But you preach the Gospel, and I'm going to help you all I can." Dr. Chapman thought, "Here's a crank." But the man continued: "I'm going to pray for you that you may have the Holy Spirit's power upon you. Two others have covenanted to join with me in prayer for you." Dr. Chapman said, "I didn't feel so bad when I learned he was going to pray for me. The 3 became 10, the 10 became 20, and 20 became 50, the 50 became 200 who met before every service to pray that the Holy Spirit might come upon me. I always went into my pulpit feeling that I would have the anointing in answer to the prayers of those who had faithfully prayed for me. It was a joy to preach! The result was that we received 1,100 into our church by conversion in three years, 600 of whom were men. It was the fruit of the Holy spirit in answer to prayer!"

c. Pray for the church and with the church

Pray that God would do God-sized things in this small church. Pray that we would see people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, that our core temperature would rise, that we’d be on our way to having our own building. Come out this Friday and let’s seek God’s face together.

 

 

 

 

 

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January 24, 2010

If My People Turn Away from Their Wicked Ways

January 10, 2010

If My People...Humble