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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
Preached At:
Title:The Merciful God Who Hears
Text:LD 45 Psalm 86:1-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

Psalter 71 - The Fearlessness of Faith
TH 91 - Bow Down Thine Ear, O Lord, and Hear
Psalter 152 -  Fear and Faith

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

The Merciful God Who Hears

HC LD 45, Psalm 86:1-11

Prayer. It’s something that’s commonly seen in Singapore. There are people who pray in churches. Some people pray unrehearsed prayers. Others have formulas, like the Lord’s Prayer. In Catholic Churches, they pray the Hail Mary. Charismatic churches practice their mystical praying in tongues. Muslims pray 5 times a day. If you pass by the Sultan Mosque, you may hear the muezzin calling out the azan. You hear in funerals Brahmin priests reciting the vedas and Chinese monks praying the sutras. I bring this up to say we’re not unfamiliar with prayer - whether or not we believe in prayer, whether or not we pray.

Today, we explore the Christian understanding of prayer. In multiracial Singapore, it may be wise to assert my points without prejudice. But dear friends and Christians, there’s nothing confidential about the Christian position. We believe that there’s only one living and true God - that all other gods are false. And therefore, he’s the only God that hear’s prayer. But he doesn’t hear all prayers. Neither does he hear all people who pray to him. And yet, he’s a merciful God. So how can he be a merciful God who hears if he doesn’t hear all people and all kinds of prayers? I would like to explore this theme in 3 ways. Firstly, how we pray to God. Secondly, what we pray to God. And thirdly, why we pray to God.

Firstly, how we pray to God. What kind of prayer pleases God? What kind of prayer will he hear? He hears a personal prayer that acknowledges him alone as the living and true God. In verses 1-2, David cries out to God - “bend down from heaven to hear my prayer, answer me because I need God’s help. You are my God.” He asks God to protect him. This prayer calls on him. He’s an exclusive God. Verse 1 calls him the LORD. Meaning, he’s not just any god, he’s the LORD God, the Christian God, the only living and true God. Verse 8 speaks of this God’s exclusivity - none of the other gods are like you, O Lord - their works can’t be compared to your works. Furthermore verse 10 says he’s God alone! He claims exclusive divinity. When you write an email, you need the right address; one mistake and your message is undelivered. Unless we pray to him, our prayer is unheard. 

But God is not just exclusive, the Bible says that no other gods actually exist. Psalm 115:4-7 speaks about the gods or idols of other nations and peoples. It says, “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: they have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: they have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.” Other gods don’t actually exist. 

But this living and true God is also personal. David calls the Lord in verse 2, “O thou my God” - “you are my God.” The Lord is not just another god, idol, or being. The prayer that God answers is addressed not just to him alone, but it’s addressed personally and intimately. It’s one thing for us to write to our MP and it goes to one of his flunkies or a grass roots leader; but it’s another thing for the MP’s child to speak to him - it’s personal and intimate.

Dear friends, many people might call upon God without knowing who he is and without personally knowing him. And lots of people pray to the living and true God without knowing him, or worse still, having an inaccurate idea of him. They pray for things, wanting him to answer. But God’s not a genie. He doesn’t grant wishes to people who rub him the right way. Many people who believe the prosperity gospel think they’re praying to God - no, they’re praying to a god of their imagination - a genie who grants them their desires. Many of you may also pray in times of desperation. There are times of sickness, accidents; times when you promise God something in return for his help. To be clear, unless you call upon the only living and true God personally, he will not hear you. No one hears you. 

But how else we are to pray is with humility. The living and true God hears a humble prayer that admits our needy and miserable state. Verse 1 - “Bow down thine ear, O LORD, hear me: for I am poor and needy.” We must know our need and misery, so that we may humble ourselves before God. Again, God’s not a genie, he does not grant wishes because he’s beholden to us. Neither can we demand things from God. God’s not an idol - we can’t give him stuff in exchange for good things. He can’t be bribed or placated like some capricious god. We can’t offer him opium or cigarettes or sticky rice cake on Chinese New Year to seal his mouth shut from making judgment. What God wants is something that many people are unwilling to give. God delights in a humble spirit. A person who prays a prayer know his needy state. Hear me - for I am poor and needy. God listens to such people. Psalm 34:18 says, “The LORD is near unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” And it’s not just any kind of neediness - it’s an acknowledgement of sin. 2 Chronicles 7:14 shows how God will answer those who humble themselves - “if My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin.” The spiritually poor and needy are heard by God when they acknowledge their sins.

But why would God hear the prayers of unholy people? They’re not worthy of being heard, right? But dear friends, that’s the mercy of God. The wicked who call out to him for forgiveness, who ask him to save them, who trust in him as savior - he listens to them. Verse 2 says, “Preserve my soul; for I am holy: O thou my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee.” Too often, people are transactional with God. I serve God to get from God. I give to God so he will return to me. But the prayer from a heart that trusts in God and calls to God for salvation, is the kind of prayer God hears. This is the pray of a person who is devoted to God. That’s the meaning of “I am holy!” This is someone who relies wholly on God. Friends, this is a wonderful assurance. God hears us not because we’re perfect, but because we admit we’re severely imperfect. By our sins and misery alone, we can never approach God. But he has given himself as a savior to those who confess their sins. He will take away our sins. He has paid for those sinners who call on him. And so when we acknowledge our sins, when we trust in Christ alone for salvation, our prayers are heard.

How do we pray? We must from the heart call upon the one true God only, who has revealed himself in his Word. We must thoroughly know our need and misery, so that we may humble ourselves before God. We must rest on this firm foundation that, although we do not deserve it, God will certainly hear our prayer for the sake of Christ our Lord, as He has promised us in His Word. This is how we pray.

Secondly, what we are to pray to God. What are the things that God delights to hear and answer? Legitimate things - for soul and body. Question and answer 118 says that we are commanded to ask of God, all the things we need for body and soul. There are things we can’t ask of God. In Greek paganism, Ares was the god of war. Human sacrifices from among the prisoners of war were made to him. People prayed to him for success against their enemies. They prayed for revenge. In Singapore, we had Adrian Lim. In the 80s, he killed and sacrificed young children, offering their blood to Kali - the goddess of death and war - praying she’d protect him from the police. People pray for these things - winning the lottery, luck in gambling, getting away with crime. In Mexico, Santa Muerte, the Death Saint, is the patron saint of criminals. He’s popular with drug cartels who pray to him for protection. So there are illegitimate things. 

But God only listens to things which are legitimate. Question and answer 118 says that we are commanded to ask of God, all the things we need for body and soul, as included in the prayer which Christ our Lord Himself taught us. And in the Lord’s prayer, Jesus taught us a model of prayer. That when we pray, we are to ask for things that please God - to pray for God’s kingdom, that he’d be worshiped, his will be done. There are also legitimate physical things - that God would give us daily bread. Or daily rice for Singaporeans. The French pray for daily baguette - not diamond baguette. So we’re taught to pray for necessities. By so doing we’re declaring that we’re satisfied in him alone. And that’s why the majority of the Lord’s prayer has to do with spiritual things. That our sins would be forgiven, that we’d forgive others, resist temptation, be protected from the devil. Physical things are not unimportant. But spiritual things are more important. 

When we have a right spiritual perspective, other things fall into place. The problem is many of us have no desire for spiritual things. You have conflict with others - friends, family, colleagues, bosses - you wish for vindication; you indulge in your vengeful thoughts, harsh words, sinful actions. You pray against your enemies. You wish for more, not because you’re actually poor, but because you’re envious, desire honor, comfort, because you’re dissatisfied with God’s portion. What irony! We ask God for things which are against his will - when we have no spiritual desire for the very things he wants to give; when those spiritual things grant us perspective to live life.

So the foremost legitimate thing we pray for is salvation. Verse 1 - I am poor and needy. Verse 2 - preserve my soul; save thy servant. Verse 3 - be merciful to me. This was a daily cry. Why did he pray for preservation? Why mercy? Why salvation? Because this holy God is a just God against whom we have sinned. And unless we come to him and receive that offer of mercy, he will judge us. Dear friends, we can’t wheedle God for things. He’s a judge. And the thing he offers is his mercy. Verse 5 - he’s ready to forgive, plenteous in mercy. And not only that, he gives joy. Verse 4 - make my soul joyful. Dear friends, why would you ever expect God to answer any of your prayers if you’re not even at the beginning of his will? If you haven’t confessed your sins, admitted your spiritual neediness, nor cried out for salvation, or sought him, why would he answer any of your other prayers? And what’s a good life here, when you’re not forgiven of your sins? 

And yes, some of you may say that you don’t need to pray; that you’re not interested in spiritual matters; that you don’t need a crutch to help you in life, or you don’t believe in God. Well, even the most ardent atheists pray in times of desperation. In a Reddit thread an atheist answered the question if he ever prayed - “in the back of a taxi with my 2 year old son unconscious in my arms, I prayed to every god I could think of on our way to the hospital.” A World War I idiom says - there are no atheists in foxholes. Indeed! Even the most ardent atheists would cry out for life or death in the trenches. In times of extreme stress or fear, people will hope in a higher power. If you won’t pray for mercy today, you won’t have it. There are no atheists in hell - all there will know a just God exists. But this God offers mercy now. Pray for forgiveness and salvation. If you do not ask for salvation, all the prosperity in this life won’t matter.

Lastly, we consider why we pray to God. Why do we need to pray? There are two reasons. Why did the psalmist pray? Yes, it’s because God could help him. But more than just that, it was out of gratitude for what God had already done. Verse 10 says - “For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone.” He recognized the greatness of God and the wonderful things he had already done. People pray because they want God to give them good things. The believer prays because he has already been given good things. Verse 5 - “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” Prayer, we’re told, is the most important part of thankfulness. Yes, obedience is required of us. We just covered the 10 commandments. But God helps us to live for him when we pray. It’s not enough to know the commandments of God to do them; we’re poor and needy, we’re weak, only God can help us live for him. We can’t do without prayer.

But we also pray because God is gracious to answer our prayers offered to him, the only living and true God. You know what? If you ask God for things which are needful for your body - for food and clothes - he’ll answer your prayer. If you ask him to glorify himself - he will. If you ask him to forgive you, he will. If you ask him for grace to forgive others - he’ll give you that grace. If you ask him to forgive you your sins - he will. If you ask him to keep you from sin - he will. If you’re truly devoted to him in these ways, whatever you ask in his will, he will answer. He doesn’t need to be wheedled, bribed, coerced, or rubbed the right way. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And he doesn’t hear just anyone. He hears those who call upon him personally, with humility, who are forgiven, asking for things that glorify him. May you know this God personally now.

Sermon Outline:

1. How We Pray to God
2. What We Pray to God
3. Why We Pray to God

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Mark Chen

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