Please turn in your Bible to Matthew, chapter 7. Once you get that, then turn to our text in Jeremiah 33. I’m going to preach an old-fashioned sermon on prayer. Someone said, “He that stands best kneels most.” There’s a lot of truth in that. God does answer prayer. Prayer does move mountains, and in Matthew 7, starting in verse 7, Jesus says in this well-known passage, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”
Notice the phrase, “…how much more…” In verses 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11, it says, “Ask.” This is something I’d like to challenge you with right now. How much do you ask? Now Jeremiah 33, starting in verse 3, says, “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” I hope you believe what you just read.
The Babylonians were coming. The Babylonians were coming, and when they arrive, King Zedekiah is going to be carried away into captivity. You understand that our nation doesn’t like preaching on sin either, and if I were walking up and down the streets of Porter and saying that the Porter town board is going to be put into jail, I think they would try to put me in there also. That is just the reaction. The people of Israel were mad, and that is why Jeremiah was in jail. Now remember he was not the only man of God who was ever put in jail. Remember Joseph? Times don’t change much and sin doesn’t change too much. Thousands of years ago Joseph was working for a man, and the man’s wife made a play for Joseph. Joseph refused her, she got mad and said that he tried to attack or rape her. What happened to Joseph? He was put in prison. Things don’t change.
John the Baptist—why was he put in prison? Because he preached against the king who was living in adultery. That is what happens. Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, the king put him in prison and cut off his head. Peter went to jail because he spread the gospel. Paul and Silas were “jailbirds” among others.
One of my heroes was Lester Roloff. He preached in this pulpit many times before he died. He was put in prison because they told him he needed a license, and he wouldn’t take a license. And, by the way, I wouldn’t take a license either. There is to be nothing between God and us; and once the government gets in there, believe me, you’re in trouble. Lester Roloff had the finest boys and girls homes through his church in the state of Texas, and they said, “Take a license.” He said, “I got mine from God.” They said, “Take a license.” He said, “Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar‘s and to God the things that are God’s.” And so Lester Roloff became a jailbird. Now today, so many would bend. “We’ve got to stay open.” No, determine that you’re not going to bend. I’m not going to bend. God doesn’t have to have me.
People say, “We have to change because my church needs me. Let’s not go crazy.” So many standards are changing. I was in a church recently—an independent fundamental Baptist church with a graduate of an independent fundamental Baptist college—and he preached just like these neo-evangelicals. He had on a sports coat, open collar, and not sandals, but flip-flops. No church on Sunday night, no invitation. You say, “What are you getting at?” Times are changing people. Independent Baptists aren’t what they ought to be and what they used to be. Because of that, they want us to change also, and we’re not going to change.
Jeremiah was in jail for the Lord because he stood. The more I get into God’s Word and the longer I’m in the ministry, I believe the greatest sufferers are also the greatest producers. You might think that those who go from conference to conference and shout, “Glory,” are the greatest producers. We just finished a conference for teenagers, and we have a preaching conference every spring. I really believe in having preaching meetings when you get together with those of like beliefs. But I find that those who work with God, who get the blessings from God, are also the ones who suffer. So if you are wanting something from God, get ready to suffer for Him and go through the baptism of fire. That is why we try to charge our students to be really strong for God, and, again, we get criticism for that also. We’re not just trying to train numbers, we’re trying to train soldiers. We’re trying to make soldiers for God because this world is not getting any softer—it’s getting really hard.
Fanny Crosby suffered. She served God totally blind for seventy years. But out of that darkness came a hymnbook of light. Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine. I like our hymnbook because it has the names and dates of authors. She wrote Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior, Draw me Nearer, Tell me the Story of Jesus. Sufferers are the greatest producers. They lean on Him. They go to Him. Our problem is that we have had it too easy. We were born into a Christian nation, a nation that had freedom of religion. That is changing now, and we start feeling sorry for ourselves. But I’ll tell you something, you young guys who are going to be preachers, or anybody else, when it stops costing, it’s dead. Let it sink in. When it stops costing, it’s dead.
What people think of suffering today is nothing. Typical Christians today, if their car broke down and they were a mile or more from church, would stay home, and they would think they were justified. Yet in the good old days, people would literally walk ten miles one way to church—and love it. Through good weather and bad weather. Are you hearing me? If we didn’t have heat on this winter and it was cold, I guarantee that a bunch of you would stay home because it’s cold. And yet you read stories of Christians in Russia who were left naked out in the cold to freeze to death, and they sang songs of praise to Jesus. We’d better get some strength. Our church has always been the healthiest when we’ve been attacked. When a powerful man in northwest Indiana said, “I’m going to bleed that church to death,” we became stronger and he’s been dead for decades. He didn’t bleed us to death.
As a young man, I would visit someone in the hospital. Can you imagine being a brand-new pastor and going to visit somebody that the doctor says has no hope? I can remember as a young man thinking, “Wow, what am I going to say to comfort these people?” But, you know, if they were good Christians, what I found was that they were always a comfort to me. They knew their situation, they would be prayed up, and I would always leave with a blessing. Hard times make good Christians.
See John Bunyan rotting in that old sleazy Bedford jail, but out of it comes Pilgrim’s Progress. Sufferers are producers. See great men—not only Baptists, but Luther. The Catholics tried to kill him. People who were used to build great ministries for God were sufferers, believe me, and that is what makes great people. Sufferers are the people who see the blessings of God, who feel the nearness of God.
So we see Jeremiah suffering in Zedekiah’s prison, and out of it comes one of the greatest verses in all the Bible. I’m sure many of you, when you were having real problems, put your finger on Jeremiah 33:3 as a promise from God. “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” This verse was penned in affliction. It is one of those passages clothed in blood. Don’t be afraid of problems if you’re right with God. Don’t be afraid of sacrifice if you’re right with God. Now I know some of you wonder, “What is he saying?” Don’t be afraid of suffering. Don’t bend. Don’t question God. He promises this. We’ve just had it too easy. You’ll never know prayer the way you should until all your worldly options are gone.
You trust God, and that’s how you see miracles. If you’re always trying to get yourself out of trouble in the wrong way, you’re never going to see miracles. “Call unto me,…” but you will never call like you should until you give in to God and you stop fighting some of the hard times.
Marriages are not what they ought to be because people compromise. Finances are not what they ought to be because people compromise instead of depending on God. The same thing could be said for children and churches and bus ministries and Sunday school classes. We never give in to God and let Him mold us His way. We’ve always got our way. We have the Pentecostal idea that if it hurts, it can’t be from God. We never allow ourselves to get into a fix in order for God to perform miracles.
Let me use just a simple illustration. Let’s say you’re having a hard time financially, and God really lays upon your heart to give $500 to Him. You say, “I can’t. I can’t make ends meet as it is. You know, I just can’t do it.” Why don’t we just get on praying ground with God? Why don’t we just believe him? I’m not asking anyone to give $500, but why not let Him send it from Heaven? Why not let Him perform a miracle? Why not trust Him with your wife and your children instead of playing games? You play games so long, and you’re going to lose them. You’re going to lose everything you’re trying to keep together. Why not allow Him to build a great ministry? George Müller prayed in millions of dollars for his orphans without asking one person. He said that, more than for the kids, he wanted to see God bring in the money to stop the mouths of the scoffers. Why don’t you try God? I believe God needs this today. We don’t need seminars on finances. We don’t need psychology books on the home. We need to trust God.
Now, Jeremiah 33:3, first of all, makes prayer a direct command of God. It’s an order. “Call unto me.” He’s not counseling us to call. He’s not recommending us to call, or hoping, or begging. He’s not leaving the choice up to us. He’s not giving you an alternative. He orders us call. Have you called today? It’s Sunday—if ever you should have called, it’s today. Now put it down. You may never have missed a church service, you may put in your offering every week, you may be a faithful Sunday School teacher, but God is not pleased with you if you don’t really pray, and I think you know what I mean by really pray.
Prayer is not a luxury—it is a necessity. Prayer is not “if we have time.” Prayer is not Coca-Cola—it’s water. We’ve got to pray when we want to and when we don’t want to. We are ordered to pray if we feel like it or if we don’t feel like it—whether the circumstances are right or wrong. Why? Because we’re disobedient if we don’t. Your life will be a mess if you don’t really know how to pray.
“Pray without ceasing.” Now, of course that doesn’t mean you’re on your knees 24 hours a day, but you walk through life praying. Whenever there is a need, you’re praying. We either pray, or we die spiritually. We either pray, or we go back on God. “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.”
Now, it seems that we as His children would want to pray—that we would want to talk to Him. He shed His blood for us. He created us, if you know your Bible, for fellowship. My kids don’t live in my house now, but I really love talking to them. It’s a natural thing. Yet God has to order us to pray, and most disobey. Why?
I think, first of all, because we are creatures with a tendency toward worldliness. It’s because our flesh doesn’t like to pray, and the wicked Adamic nature inside of us wants us to do anything but pray. It doesn’t like the Bible, it doesn’t want you to win souls; but more than anything else, the devil tries to keep us from really praying. You’re going to have to really fight it. You don’t have to fight to eat. I don’t think most of us do. We don’t have to fight to sleep. We don’t have to be reminded of a game we like, but it is strange we forget to pray.
Prayer gives direction. Prayer gives power. It’s not accidental. The old flesh will give you any excuse. “Well, you got up too late. You have to go to work, you have to eat, you have to mow the grass.” The flesh will get you to do anything to keep you from praying.
But also God orders us to pray because of the discouragement that Satan brings. Revelation 12:1 calls Satan the accuser of the brethren. Satan fights me about prayer, I think, more than anything else. “Well, I’m going to pray,” and Satan will whisper, “He’s not going to answer that prayer. Who do you think you are? Remember you prayed yesterday, and you didn’t see the answer yet.” So God has to order us, and what I’m encouraging you to do is obey. If you really obey, it will change your life. You’ll never be the Christian you should be without a real prayer life. It will change your life.
Now, thirdly, I believe God orders prayer throughout His Word in order to stop the natural spiritual decline among Christians. Prayer will keep you from backsliding. As you pray and ask, the Holy Spirit will deal with you. The Bible uses terms like supplication and meditation. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert, but when you get alone with God, you read the Bible, you pray, you meditate—supplication, time. You allow God to deal with your heart. Now we can’t expect an answer when we’re cheating or robbing God; but when we’re praying, God molds us and deals with our lives through meditation and supplication. He’ll deal with our lives and say, “This is wrong, and this is right.”
“Men ought always to pray, and not to faint,” the Bible says. In Matthew 26:41, Jesus says, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation...” Now you know this is true, “...the flesh is weak.” Can anybody here say your flesh isn’t weak? You would be a fool to think that. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The day you fall will be the day you’re not having regular prayer. The day you “go back” is the day you don’t have regular prayer. If you start drinking again, it will be the day you didn’t pray, I guarantee you. In Luke 22:32 Jesus said, “I’m praying for you, Peter, that your flesh fail not.” The flesh is weak. That is why we need to pray. That is one of the reasons. Behind every backslider is a prayerless Christian. You better pray or you’re a “goner.” You better pray or you’re going to be “put on the shelf.” Jeremiah 33:3 makes prayer a definite command, and we’re in sin if we don’t obey. It’s not just, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” It’s talking about a prayer life.
Now, secondly, the purpose for this verse is to build our confidence in prayer. I’m not saying you will have great answers to prayer all the time. I certainly don’t—not every day, not every week. You don’t have to have great prayer answers all of the time. But when you have your prayers answered, it sure does give you confidence. I think back to when we were starting our Christian school, and, of course, we had prayed about it. God led us to hire seven schoolteachers, six of them coming from outside our church. I felt a great responsibility—seven teachers coming for a job here. I don’t have it right in front of me, but it was only two or three weeks before school was going to start, and we had ten students. I said, “I’d better call some of the teachers and tell them not to come.” But when I prayed, God said, “No, let them come. I’ll take care of it.” And we started with ten times ten. We started with plenty to pay the teachers.
Now, I give these true illustrations to encourage you not to just do what you think you ought to do, but to walk with God, and to know His will, and to do what He wants you to do. That’s the way you raise good kids, that’s the way your finances are right, and I could go right down the line. It builds our confidence. It’s abnormal, it’s unnatural for a child of God not to see his or her prayers answered. But I think we cut corners. Again Jeremiah 33:3, “…and I will answer thee…” Not perhaps, not I might, but I will. That’s a direct promise from God. “Ask and ye shall receive.”
The Bible talks about meditation, supplication—it gives this idea of time. You will be praying, and God will say, “You know, you’re wrong here. You need to change this.” That’s how He can answer your prayers. You say, “I prayed for a fifth of whiskey, and I didn’t get it.” No, and I don’t think you will. You’re praying for the wrong thing. That’s why we need prayer and meditation and supplication. Because as we
really pray, God molds us, God teaches us, God shows us, and that’s when we see the prayers answered.
“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avail- eth much.”
“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us.” Anything according to His will, He heareth us.
“And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”
Prayer is not maybe so. It’s not hope so, but shall, know, and will. God must answer the prayer of His faithful child. We look around and see sickness and burdens. God must answer your prayers, first, because of His character. He is a God of love. He is a God of mercy, a God of sympathy. Aren’t you glad for His mercy?
I love my children and I want what’s best for them, just like you do. The Bible teaches that if we want what is best, how much more does God know what is best and want what is best? Matthew 7:9, “Or what man is there of you…how much more?” Basically, He is saying, who do you think you are? If you want the best for your children, God more so wants the best for His children. Sometimes we make mistakes, but God never makes mistakes. God must answer prayer because it literally betrays His nature if He doesn’t.
But look over in Romans 8:32. God must answer prayer, secondly, because of His cross. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Go outside the Damascus gate over to Golgotha and think about that death. Think about the spikes, the spear in His side, and so forth. Think about it. If God would do that for us, He will do anything for us. If He wouldn’t spare His Son for us, He will do anything that is right. His wounds are my guarantee that He loves me enough to answer my prayer. He must answer our prayers because of His character and because of His cross.
But, thirdly, God answers prayer because of His contract. Titus says God cannot lie. He cannot lie. That makes Jeremiah 33:3 truth. “Every promise in the Book is mine—every chapter, every verse, every line.” God cannot lie. Now you say, “I believe all this, but I don’t really see any answers.” Then one of three things is wrong in your life. It might be that you’re living with persistent sin. That happens especially in young people’s lives. “I’m not giving it up. I don’t care what the preacher preaches about, I’m not giving it up.” Well, you’re going to go on with that dirty wicked thing and you won’t get answers. An example of this is in I Peter 3:7. When there are problems in the home and the home is not right, the Bible says your prayers will be hindered.
Turn to Mark 11. Others don’t see answers to prayer because they harbor an unforgiving spirit. Starting with verse 24, Jesus says, “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” Look at Stephen. They’re stoning him, a horrible death. He said, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,” and God heard Stephen. Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” and we know God heard Him. It just amazes me how some people get bitter, and usually they’re wrong. They get all bitter about something. “I deserve to be bitter.” Why don’t you just take that bitterness and dig a hole behind your house, throw it in the hole, spit on it, and never look at it again. You don’t help anybody, and you hurt yourself—bitterness. Nobody is more miserable than someone who is carrying around a grudge. You hear about answers to prayer and you say you never get them. You never will as long as you’re bitter.
Neither will God answer the prayer of the stingy Christian. I’m just going to touch on this. See Mom and Dad always fussing about bills. Or, you walk around like you have holes in your pockets. “How can I tithe when I can’t make ends meet now?” Proverbs 21:13 says, “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry [pray] himself, but shall not be heard.” If you’re not a tither, you’re not a giver. You say, “I’m okay.” No, not if you’re not doing exactly what God wants. You’re tight-fisted. “This is mine, and that is His.” No, it’s all His. I’m about through, but turn to James, chapter four. At the end of verse two, James says, “…yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”
One last thing, “...which thou knowest not.” Jeremiah can’t be talking about anything else here except for miracles. Israel saw the Red Sea part. Israel saw the sun stand still. The disciples saw withered hands being made whole and blind men seeing. Jeremiah is saying, “Pray, and see miracles.” When was the last time you ever saw a miracle?
I talk about the things that God has done in our church because I think some of them were miracles. If you think things are bad now, we’re dealing with about one half of one percent of the lies that were going around back when we were a little church of four years old. Of course, we went to court and ended up in jail for a time. You think there are lies now? Back then I would say, “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.” They would quote me as saying, “God loves a bruised and bloody body.” Nobody wanted to come to church. That’s when the old Indiana Supreme Court Justice said, “I’m going to bleed you people to death,” and that’s when he sued us.
What happened? Well, in one year we grew from 200 to 1100. We as a church prayed and prayed. There were different aspects of the case, but we prayed and prayed that our judge would be honest because of the power of this Supreme Court Justice. I don’t know if he was putting on an act, but I saw the young judge who would hear our case fall on his knees in his robes before me and beg, “Pray for me. I don’t want to hurt the cause of God.”
God doesn’t do things like that all the time, but He does it when He needs to do it. He’ll show Himself in a very real way. I wouldn’t be in this pulpit if I didn’t believe in a miracle-producing God. I would be all concerned about what is happening today if I didn’t believe in a miracle-producing God. I don’t know what the end result will be, but I do know we serve a mighty God and He’s real.
In closing, look at chapter 32 of Jeremiah, verse 17. “Ah Lord God! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee...” Jeremiah was in jail when he said that. Look at verse 27. “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?”
Let me ask you, “Is there anything too hard for the Lord?” Respond as you honestly feel. Is there anything too hard? Some of you parents have slipped and slid with your kids, and you’re ready to lose them. And I want to tell you that we’re not going to put up with them. We’re not going to let the kids that you haven’t raised right destroy our younger kids. You say, “God doesn’t work.” No, you don’t work. You. You, Dad, haven’t taken the lead. Again, the Bible says, “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.”
That means your kids can grow up and live for God. That means you can get your finances in shape. I could go on and on. But it won’t happen until you get right with God. You’ve got to be right with God. You’ve got to be sold out and stop using psychology books. Stop using your great wisdom, and follow the Bible. Do you have “smart-mouth” kids? Do you have a troubled marriage? Do you need to be a better soulwinner? Do you want revival in your life? The great need of our day is prayer. More regular prayer, more time in prayer, more faith as we pray—the great need of today is prayer.