There are times when all that you know about prayer come clearly into focus. Sometimes it is because you have seen marvellous answers to the prayers you have been presenting before the Lord for years. You almost gave up. You wondered if God would answer, but then the response comes. And you are filled with gratitude, wonder and amazement. You cannot wait to tell people. You are amaxed that anyone could doubt that God exists and is real.
At other times it is because you have got into a situation that requires immediate answers to prayer. You do not know what to do. You implement your own schemes, but also shoot up to heaven desperate prayers for deliverance. Perhaps you are even to blame for the problems, but you turn to the Lord to deliver you. Perhaps, like David in the incident where he was so discouraged that he decided to find a little relief from being friends with unbelievers who were sworn enemies of God’s people. In that situation he was suddenly in difficulty. He had to use craft and deceit to get out. And it is recorded here in the title of the psalm 1 ¶ « A Psalm of David when he pretended madness before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed. »
When he returns home, he takes stock of his life. He has lived with a daily walk with the Lord. He has often prayed and praised, and the Lord has never failed him. His actions in going to Abimelech were a deviation and a decline.
How would he respond? He would give his testimony and his teaching about prayer. He would call young people especially to listen to him. He would tell them his own testimony, and he would give them vital teaching on prayer so that they would learn to live in the answers to their own prayers. Though he had failed, it gave him the opportunity to tell what he had learned throughout his life up to that point.
It is something that every young believer needs to learn. Older believers have so much they can teach. Every person can say, “11 ¶ Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.”
Parents can say it. They gather their children each day for family worship, and though they pray simply, they are not childish, because they are teaching their children that God is real. He is great and to be feared and held in awe. He is not like Father Christmas. Ours prayers are not ‘wishes’. They are not things we hope for, but can do no more about. We are teaching our own children to look to the Lord and expect answers in His mercy.
Pastors can say. They, of all believers, should be able to give testimony to answered prayer because theirs is a calling to a life of prayer. Their times alone with the Lord should be above the average. They should be exemplary. Their knees should be bent and pressed into the carpet often, and their voices should be very familiar sounds in heaven. When someone is converted, they should be able to return to the Lord with a hearty, “Thank You!” because it is an answer to their specific requests. When someone is raised up from sickness, they should be full of gratitude for mercies granted in response to their fervent prayer. When persecuted believers are delivered, churches reunited, sins defeated, graces flourish, pastors and evangelists provided, sin in the community restrained and so on, these men above all should be heard offering their thanks. They are like the fathers of the congregation.
Every saved person can say it. Have you been saved 40 years or more? Then those who are saved a mere 20 years are like children compared with you. You should be giving testimony to them that encourages them in prayer. Have you been saved 20 years? Insignificant as you may feel in the church, some have not yet been saved 20 months. Speak of your experiences of answered prayer and see them redouble their energy in seeking the Lord. Have you not yet been saved 20 months? Some have barely been saved 20 weeks! Yes! Even you have something to say about answered prayer. For each of us there are those who are younger in the faith and we can say, “11 ¶ Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.”
But have you been saved only 20 weeks? There are those who are still unborn. It is as if they are being carried in the womb of the church and have yet to come to birth. Mothers are told to speak to their babies in the womb, and to sing to them. Well you can speak and sing praises to God that he heard your own prayer, “God save me.” “God be merciful to me.” “Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, Come in today, come in to stay, Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.”
This is a special type of psalm. It has 22 verses and this time the verses are in the right place! There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. You know and I know that if someone wrote a poem that had the first line beginning with a word like At, and the second line began Bring and the third, Christ and the forth Deliver, you would find it easier to remember and memorize. That is what this psalm is. It is a psalm for children to memorize, and it is about prayer.
So, Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Your pastor is speaking to you. He is saying come and learn how wonderful God is. David is that pastor today. He is a shepherd and father of believers. He is one who has been justified by faith. He has trusted Christ and is accepted, not because he is good, but because Christ’s death has been applied to him. And in that spiritual life, and having been accepted through Christ he has been praying.
Now before we hear what he has to say I must describe this poem.
It has 22 verses.
It is in two parts of 11 verses each. But there is something else that is clear.
There are 5 verses that tell us one thing and then there is a summary of the whole section then there are 5 verses that tell us something else about that. In other words verse 6 sits half way through the first part of the psalm and sums up that part.
But the second half does exactly the same. Verse 17 is half way through the second part of the psalm and summarises what that second part of the psalm is saying.
So let is then look at the first section of the psalm in verses 1-11:
11 ¶ Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
- Let me give you my testimony about answered prayer
That testimony is summarised in verse 6:
6 This poor man cried out, and the LORD heard him, And saved him out of all his troubles.
This can be your testimony. He didn’t say, “This great man cried out.” The poorest Christian can cry out to the Lord. But what happened next? The Lord heard him. Have you ever seen a nature program where penguins are returning to feed their young? There may be thousands of penguin chicks on the beach or standing as the King penguins does, on the ice. Yet, the parent recognizes one poor squeak among hundreds. All over this world there are thousands, even millions of people praying at any one time, yet it can be said, “This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him.”
However, what matters is not that we are heard, but that we are answered and helped. That is this pastor, this spiritual parent’s experience. He got himself in a mess. He was to blame. He risked the lives of others too. But he prayed and was delivered.
a. “I am praising because God answers prayer”
Look at how answered prayer has affected him.
i. His worship has been transformed by answers to prayer. He sings hymns with fresh vigour. I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
ii. His testimony has been transformed by answers to prayer. 2 My soul shall make its boast in the LORD; The humble shall hear of it and be glad. He speaks with greater confidence. Others may doubt God exists, but he cannot. Others may have given up prayer, but he cannot. He will speak to anyone, but especially to those who are humble believers. They will hear his testimony that even the most insignificant believer is heard in the courts of heaven.
Yesterday our ladies went away for fellowship. When I heard the reports of it last night I was jealous and it made me long that the men’s away day for members of the church would produce a similar fellowship and joy. But they were asked a question at one point. “Who is the most famous man you know?” The answers were quite interesting. I think my answer would have been at first, “Mr Bean.” But I then thought, “I remember my meeting with Roland Atkinson, but would he ever remember meeting me?” This changed my answer. The most famous man I know is Professor Andy McIntosh! He is known all over the world and I know him and speak to him and he speaks to me. You may think yourself quite unknown in the world, but in this church if you went up to Andy he would give you all his attention and concern. I am sure of one other thing. He prays for you.
But David gives his testimony. The most glorious and famous Person in or outside the Universe has time for the most insignificant person in the universe and will hear their prayer.
iii. His fellowship with others had been transformed by answers to prayer. 3 Oh, magnify the LORD with me, And let us exalt His name together. 4 I sought the LORD, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears. When he gathers with other believers his conversation is about spiritual things. He has something to talk about that is real and up to date. He wants the prayer meeting to join with him in praise. He brings an item for others to pray about. He had been anxious and afraid. Something had been a burden to him, but he had spent time before the Lord and the burden was lifted, even if the problem remained. He had learned to experience the peace of God that passes understanding.
iv. The church itself was then transformed by answers to prayer. Others had taken learned already from David’s example. Others had joined him in prayer. Their testimony is added to his: 5 They looked to Him and were radiant, And their faces were not ashamed.
No wonder verse 6 says, “This poor man cried out, and the LORD heard him, And saved him out of all his troubles.”
But the second half of this testimony about answered prayer changes. First he tells us that though he is a poor and insignificant man, he is praising because God answers prayer, but now he tells us:
b. I am protected because God answers prayer
i. He protects us This world is not a playground, it is a battleground. The enemies seeking the hearts of your children are surrounding them. Those enemies are after the affections, will and mind of your children. Their educators are people who love the world. Their politicians promote evil. Their friends may well desire to make them sinful. Satan masses his troops to carry each and every one of your children down to hell with himself. But we have an advocate. We have this testimony: 7 The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him, And delivers them.
And so we are urged to experience the goodness of God in difficult days: 8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Believers are to taste and see how good the Lord is. They are to exercise their faith, and that faith is displayed in prayer. Prayer is an admission that I need outside help. I cannot obtain what I need. Prayer says, “I am helpless, foolish, prone to wander, weak, susceptible to temptation and sin…” So, let us experience His protection in answer to our prayers as we look to Him for help. Is there a sin you have battled and lost against? Go to Christ specifically against that sin. Is there a discouragement that has caused you to find solace in this lost world that is so antagonistic to God? That is what David did. Go to God in prayer and prove how quick He is to send help from Heaven.
But the Lord’s protection is not merely from the Angel of the Lord. His protection involves His provision.
b. He provides for us
The Lord doesn’t intend we should be unprotected or unprovided for. He gives armour, strength, wisdom, friends, guidance, grace, forgiveness, daily food from Christ through His word and His Holy Spirit. That is why we say, 9 Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. 10 The young lions lack and suffer hunger; But those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing.
You have all, I suspect, watched a nature program and seen the lions hunting. But they do not always catch their prey. Their cubs must wait hungrily some days. Despite their speed and skill, their young ones may hunger, but you, despite your weakness and folly, will be provided for if you look to the Lord. He never fails to feed His children and to provide daily strength.
So we come to the last verse of this section. It is the overall call of the psalm 11 ¶ Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
David, as our shepherd, has given his testimony. He is praising and protected because God heard his prayers. But he now turns from experience to exposition; from testimony to teaching. Testimony has its place in a supporting role, but teaching has its place as the foundation. Truth is the test of experience. The word of God is crucial, and the resultant experience is the consequence. Our experiences are capable of various interpretations, but God’s word is the infallible guide.
And so teaching is far more important to us than testimony.
2. Let me give you my teaching about answered prayer
Do you recall that the central idea about experience was verse 6? There were 5 verses before it and 5 after it. It summarised the whole experience or testimony of David. “This poor man cried and the Lord heard him.” The same occurs in regard to David’s teaching. He summarise his teaching about answered prayer in these words, 17 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles.
The righteous cry out. But who are these righteous ones? Notice it does not say, “Anyone can pray and God will hear them.” It is not true. You cannot come to God with your situation until you come to Him with your sins. You must come to God because of Christ, not because of crisis. How many voices are never heard in heaven until there is panic on earth. How many ask forgiveness of some sin in the hope that the punishment or consequences of it will be eased.
And how foolish of those who continue in sin, even as believers, to think that God is hanging on every word of their daily routine and habit of saying a few prayers and hoping their children will be spared and their lives made happier and their neighbours will come to church and the government will stop making evil laws, and that wickedness will be less part of the school curriculum, and so one.
And so David give sus two fundamental principles about answer prayer.
a. It is the righteous who will have their prayers answered.
i. A question: Let me ask what your answer is to these questions: 12 Who is the man who desires life, And loves many days, that he may see good? Do you want God’s blessing in your life? Do you really want a Christian home? Do you want your neighbours saved and the government to be passing godly laws? Do you want persecuted believers delivered and the gospel to go into all the world to reach the 200 people groups in Indonesia that still have never heard of Christ?
You may think that the answer is obvious, but it isn’t. Many people who call themselves believers wish this were true, some pray this may occur, but they do not live as if it is their passion and desire. They may want the whole world saved from sin, except themselves. And shocking as this may sound it is my experience, not from others but within myself. Some believers are critical of other people’s faults. “Oh,” they say, “such and such, doesn’t attend the midweek meeting as they ought.” Yet in a different sense they who never would miss the midweek, nevertheless, do not attend it as they ought. They attend it with an eye to others, with a carping and critical heart, with a pickiness about what is not quite as it should be, or while harbouring a grudge or an issue with someone who is or isn’t there.
So David’s question is very important. Do you want to live life in the light of answers to your prayers?
ii. The condition: Have you never realised that there are conditions attached to many things in the Christian life? Here is one. Blessing and obedience are very much linked. Answers to prayer are not guaranteed by the asking. Remember James’s words, You ask and receive not because you ask amiss that you may consume the answers on your own lusts.” You have a sinful motive in a selfish life. God’s answer to your requests is a definite “No!”
Therefore, David admonishes us: 13 Keep your tongue from evil, And your lips from speaking deceit. 14 Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.
The first thing is your tongue. How can you have a prayerful spirit and a critical spirit? How can you grumble about your brethren in their small and insignificant mistakes while gasping before God for great needs? How can you gossip, slander, whisper, shout in anger, say evil under your breath, and then say, “And please help me in this situation Lord”?
How can you be desperate to escape an unpleasant situation while wanting to remain in an unpleasant sin? How can you want peace in your life, while denying it in other people’s lives by your words, acts and attitudes?
Elsewhere it says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” How many times have we had to say to our children, “I am not listening while you are complaining”?
iii. The comfort: If you do desire God’s blessing and are more concerned about your sin than your situation, and about your failure than others’ weaknesses, then you have some words of encouragement and comfort. 15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry. The Lord looks down and His eyes are on you. Peter looked into those eyes once and it broke His heart in repentance. Look up to heaven in your repentance and the same loving eyes will be looking straight back; eye to eye.
How different for those who, whether they call themselves saved, Christian or whatever, if they think they can willingly and constantly mix sin and salvation, or Christ and criticism, or the Holy Spirit and an unholy spirit then they need to face up to this: 16 The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. Bunyan was playing a game on the Lord’s Day and suddenly there pricked his heart words so powerful that he immediately stopped his game, “Will you keep your sins and go to hell, or leave your sins and go to heaven?” We may well add, “Will you keep your sins and have God against you, or leave them and find answers to your prayers?” “Will you look again at your worldly ways, love of leisure, carelessness in entertainments, use of money, and of your words, and actions and attitudes, and find blessing or will you keep going on in the same half Christian way to the last and find that it was all make pretend?”
The summary of the section follows. The point he is making is that 17 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles.
It is not only those who are righteous who have their prayers answered. Many of us look at our lives with distress. We see such a mix of sin and sanctification that we sometimes doubt our salvation. Yet we know what it is to sorrow for our sad state.
And so David teaches something else. Not only is it those who are righteous that have protection in answer to their prayers, it is those who are repentant.
b. It is the repentant who have answers to their prayers
David sinned terribly. Did he thereafter live a life of unanswered prayers? Was heaven closed to his desperate needs? No! He was repentant, and was heard.
i. There is repentance. Whatever the sin, the Lord draws near again to those with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Peter swore that he did not know the Lord, but he wept with a broken heart. The Lord came to tea with Zacchaeus, and sat near him as he gave expression to his change of heart towards money and honesty. The Lord was pleased with the tears on his feet as a repentant woman wept. Their righteousness was in the seed, not the flower or even the bud, but they were heard. 18 The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit. Your sins and backsliding may be many and catastrophic, but as you breathe out the first words of repentance saying, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” the heavenly Father is saying, “I have heard, you need say no more. You are my son and I want to provide for you, to protect you and to pour my love out on you.”
ii. There is relief. It is true that 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but it is equally true to say; But the LORD delivers him out of them all. What was true of the Saviour at Calvary will be true of you: 20 He guards all his bones; Not one of them is broken. Whatever our afflictions, even for those who are burned, eaten by wild beasts, sawn asunder and so on, the day will come when ‘in my flesh I shall see God.’ (Job)
But what is being expressed here is that the Lord comes to bring relief and rescue of His people.
But what is the outcome for those who are unrepentant? 21 Evil shall slay the wicked, And those who hate the righteous shall be condemned. Think of it; people begging for mercy when it is too late. People knocking on the door of the ark. The foolish young women knocking for entrance, but it is too late. The evil men saying they had prophesied and done miracles in the Lord’s name, yet being cast out.
Like Cain, they hate their own equivalent of Abel. Their evil ways are shamed by their righteous friends and they resent them. Instead of repenting they are resenting. But their prayers will not avail. The rich man in Hades began praying, but every answer was no.
iii. There is redemption: 22 The LORD redeems the soul of His servants, And none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned. The truth is that all who have come in repentance to the Lord have His eternal protection because He has redeemed them. They are eternally protected from the debt of their sin. Someone has paid the price to deliver them. They are eternally protected from the tyranny of their slave master, Satan. They have been set free from servitude to him and made servants of the living God.
The price of their redemption was never silver or gold. The currency of heaven is the precious blood of the Saviour at Calvary.
So, says David, “Come my children. Let me be your teacher. Learn from my testimony that God answers prayer. Learn from my teaching that God answers prayer. Examine your life and come in obedience. Where there is disobedience come in repentance; but come! Come with your prayers and soon enough you will come with your praises. Come with expectancy. Come with arguments. Come to persuade the Lord of the absolute necessity of the answers you must have.”
Let us sit, as children at the feet of David, but let us remember who the true author of this psalm is. It is great David’s greater Son. He speaks to us by the Spirit in the Scriptures to urge us to listen to His testimony. Even on the cross He could say, “You have answered Me!” (Psalm 22) His testimony is of answered prayer, and it is His teaching that will lead us from problems to prayer, and from prayer to praise as we receive answers.