Prayer Day Service:
Praying for the Impossible
Scripture: Hebrews 4:14-16
Text: Hebrews 4:16b
(Note: All Scripture citations from the New King James Version)
Sermon by Rev. Donald Van Dyken
Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Sunnyside, Washington, 2003
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 18, No. 8
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ,
We set this day and time aside just before spring, to call upon the Lord and ask for His blessings as the crops are planted. The return of spring has perhaps become so normal for us, that we assume that everything will naturally happen. Very few of us know by experience what famine or hunger really is. So, whether we pray or not, we expect the farmer to plant, the rain to fall, the wheat to grow, the mature grain to be harvested, the wheat ground into flour, baked into bread, and stacked on the grocery store shelves. Although seeds and germination, rain and growth, are truly wonders of grace, we usually find them natural and ordinary.
So today I want to turn your attention to the unnatural, the extraordinary. There is one phrase in our text that should draw our attention: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace.” Boldness. With that in mind, I want to speak about “Praying for the Impossible.”
Now by “impossible” I do not mean that we should pray that God will do what He has said He would not do. We may never pray for God to deny Himself, or to be untrue to Himself, or to go back on what He said.
When we think of ourselves and our desires, there are also matters God will clearly deny us.
If we think of asking God for our life to be easy street, He stops our request by reminding us what Paul said to the churches in Acts 14:22, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
We may not ask God to keep discipline away from us, for He has said in Hebrews 12:7-8, “If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.”
We may not boldly ask that God exempt us from testing, for He has said in James 1:2-4, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
We may not ask to be entirely free from suffering, for God has told us in 1 Peter 2:20-21, “When you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.”
There are many things, however, that we perhaps would not dream of asking God because we consider them simply impossible. Christ reminds us though, that what is impossible with man is possible with God. He commands us then to ask in faith, not doubting. What are some of these impossible things?
I want to review from scripture a few of the many impossible things God did that may put blood in our boldness and nerve us to venture into a whole area that perhaps our prayers have never explored.
The first area is one of personal offense. This is often an area of impossibility for man. For, as Solomon truly said, “A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city (Proverbs 18:19). In the situation I am relating here, several people got together and injured another. These people sinned horribly against this man. Over the years the consequences of their sin grew and this person suffered even more. At the same time, those people who had sinned covered it up with more sin, and it festered for years and years.
The impossibilities of the situation are obvious. How could the injured person ever forgive them for the awful way they had treated him and forgive them for the further suffering he went through? How could those hardened men, who added sin to sin, ever come to repentance? How could they ever find forgiveness? After all these years, thirteen actually, it would be impossible to resolve. Impossible?
Yet hear these words from Genesis 50:15-21: “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.’ So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, ‘Before your father died, he commanded, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.’ Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.’ And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”
God worked out the impossible—repentance, forgiveness, favor, restoration, life and joy.
Consider a similar situation, about 2000 years later in Jerusalem. Peter is addressing the Jews who killed Christ. Acts 3:14,15: “But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.” The murderers of Christ surrounded Peter, and yet the offended, murdered Christ commissioned Peter to say, as Joseph before him had said, that although they meant evil, God meant good—Acts 3:18,26 “But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. You meant evil, you did evil, God meant good.” Then Peter sounded the wonderful, impossible words of comfort to those murdering hordes: “To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.”
With that background, we turn again to look at normal impossibilities in strained personal relationships. In Matthew 18:21 Peter came to Christ and asked, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Peter thought he had gone beyond the limit. Jesus then placed upon him the limitless impossible when he said in the verse, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
When Jesus, in a similar discussion said in Luke 17:3,4, “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” The apostles responded saying, “Lord, increase our faith.” So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
Ask with boldness, for faith means that when we ask of God these impossibilities, He will grant them.
From the many impossibilities we face in our relationships with others in the household of faith, we turn to the task of overcoming the great enemies of the church.
There was a day, many years ago, when Hezekiah ascended the throne of Judah. He was king after the sinful Ahaz and began his reign by instituting a reformation of worship and morals, calling Judah to repentance. About this time, Assyria, who had already devastated Israel and led them into captivity, came up against Hezekiah, captured many walled cities in Judah, and finally besieged Jerusalem.
They came with a huge army against the small number of Judah holed up in Jerusalem. Rabshakeh the general hurled his insults against Hezekiah and the men of Jerusalem, bragging that no army or city had ever stood up against his king Sennacherib. He boasted that no one's gods could stand up against Assyria. He mocked by offering 2000 horses if Hezekiah could put riders on them.
Hezekiah didn’t answer, but he prayed to the Lord. He went to the temple and laid these words before God. He prayed for deliverance. He prayed that God would hear the taunts Sennacherib had hurled at the God of Israel.
So God heard, and even before He acted, He gave Hezekiah and Israel a victory song before the victory had been won, for God had spoken: (Isaiah 37:21-23) “Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel, Because you have prayed to Me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word which the LORD has spoken concerning him: The virgin, the daughter of Zion, has despised you, laughed you to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem has shaken her head behind your back! Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice, and lifted up your eyes on high? Against the Holy One of Israel.’”
Then God acted. The Angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Christ, flashing sword in hand, raised it in the defense of His beloved church as we read in Isaiah 37:36: “Then the angel of the LORD went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses—all dead.”
Praying for the impossible, yet possible with God. Yet we must not forget that God through Hezekiah prepared for that impossible through Hezekiah’s reform and Israel’s repentance.
Many years later, the mighty Nebuchadnezzar and his cruel Chaldeans threatened Jerusalem again. God said (Jeremiah 26:2-6), “Thus says the Lord, stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the Lord’s house, all the words that I command you to speak to them. Do not diminish a word. Perhaps everyone will listen and turn from his evil way, that I may relent concerning the calamity which I purpose to bring on them because of the evil of their doings. And you shall say to them, Thus says the Lord, if you will not listen to me, to walk in my law which I have set before you, to heed the words of my servants the prophets whom I sent to you, both rising up early and sending them (but you have not heeded), then I will make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth.”
God called them to repent. Jeremiah begged them to repent. They did not repent, so God said to Jeremiah three times, “Do not pray for this people.” Without repentance there is no hope. John the apostle also hints at this when he says in 1 John 5:16: “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that.” The sin leading to death—refusal to repent.
We too, in this land, unless there is repentance, may look for times of terrible judgment. It will come, either in our days or in the days of our children after us. Unless this nation repents, it will surely come as certain as day follows night. It is not a question of whether it will come, but of when it will come.
So judgment came to Jerusalem the golden, and with it terrible suffering, for the wicked, but also for the righteous. And judgment will come for us. What comfort for the righteous? What joy? Impossible?
What joy then for God’s children? Impossible?
When we hear God speak of judgment, we are afraid as Habakkuk was afraid when he heard of God’s great terror coming from Babylon. In chapter 3:1 he said, “O Lord, I have heard your speech and was afraid.” Yet Habakkuk could do the impossible and compose a song, Habakkuk 3:17-19:
“Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The LORD God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.”
To the Chief Musician. With my stringed instruments. "Make it a song," said Habakkuk, "a song for the righteous to sing, an impossible song, a song of joy in famine."
Praying the for the impossible. So judgment came upon Jerusalem, terror upon terror, death, captivity, Babylon. Any hope of return, of restoration? Consider the words of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36:16-21), “Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying: ‘Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own ways and deeds; to Me their way was like the uncleanness of a woman in her customary impurity. Therefore I poured out My fury on them for the blood they had shed on the land, and for their idols with which they had defiled it. So I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed throughout the countries; I judged them according to their ways and their deeds. When they came to the nations, wherever they went, they profaned My holy name—when they said of them, ‘These are the people of the LORD, and yet they have gone out of His land.’ But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations wherever they went.’”
Yet Daniel prayed the impossible prayer of Daniel 9 for restoration, for God had said in verses 22 and 23 of Ezekiel 36 that He would not allow His holy name to be profaned any longer. So God brought about the great impossible day when the star shone over Bethlehem. God brought to pass the impossible day of Jerusalem’s glory and said, (Isaiah 60:1-3) “Arise, shine; for your light has come. And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people, but the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
The impossible dream, the impossible reality that God would use this powerless, little, despised, remnant of Israel to bring about the great blessing promised to all nations, to the Gentiles, through the seed of Abraham. The impossible dream that this blackened and burnt city, this heap of ruins, would be the joy of the whole earth, Mount Zion, the city of the living God, a heavenly Jerusalem.
So the gospel of Jesus Christ went out. Twelve men, apostles, without money, without military power, without political connection, surrounded on every side by Christ-haters, hostile Jews and Gentiles, mocking Greeks, opposed by all the political and military powers of the day, threatened, beaten, yet praying for the impossibility of boldness to continue to speak the word of the Gospel. Acts 4:24-31: “They raised their voice to God with one accord and said: ‘Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the LORD and against His Christ.’ For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”
This was impossible boldness in the face of impossible hostility and impossible numbers!
Let me conclude: Let us on this day pray to God for a blessing. Let us ask for blessing on our crops, on the labors of our hands. Christ has commanded us to pray saying, “Our Father, give us this day our daily bread.” Christ’s purposes we sum up as we confess in Lord’s Day 50 of our Heidelberg catechism, “Be pleased to provide for all our bodily need, that we may thereby acknowledge thee to be the only fountain of all good, and that without thy blessing neither our care and labor nor thy gifts can profit us, and, therefore, that we may withdraw our trust from all creatures and place it alone in Thee.”
Beloved church of Jesus Christ, let us learn what not to pray for lest we offend God by requesting what He has forbidden us to ask.
Let us learn to pray for the impossible:
- For forgiveness, personal and corporate forgiveness from the holy, righteousness, just and offended God.
- For forgiveness from our fellowmen.
- For the power of the Holy Spirit that we may forgive others.
- For love, harmony, joy, and peace in family, church, and churches.
- For deliverance from and the defeat of all the enemies of the church.
- For realization of the impossible requirement for deliverance: true repentance, beginning in our own hearts, throughout all the churches, and extending into the nation.
- For the impossible prospect of joy during a time of judgment which may seem intolerable in its horror.
- For the restoration of Israel, of the church, to the glory and splendor for which God has designed her.
- Pray for the impossible realization that the church will be a beacon on a hill, a light in darkness, a joy to all the peoples of the earth, that all nations may flow to her, may feed on her.
- Pray for the impossible that the righteousness of the church, of God’s people, may permeate society like leaven, like yeast, like salt, growing, preserving, purifying.
- Pray for the impossible, that righteousness may cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
- Pray for the impossible, that all the enemies of Christ, the abortionists, the perverts, the nice, O-so-tolerant-people in no need of repentance, the heathen, the hordes of Islam, that every one who exalts himself against Christ, may be cast down.
- Pray for the impossible, that Christ shall trample all His enemies under His feet.
- Pray for the impossible, that after 2000 years, Christ will return in glory.
- Pray for boldness in the word, in the face of all opposition.
Therefore: Cultivate your knowledge of the great impossible deeds of God throughout history.
Be filled with desire for the glory of Christ, for He said, “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”
Let us come boldly to the throne of grace.