It is my intention to preach for a decision from each one of you who is reading this. We are talking here about prayer and by prayer we mean the approach to God to petition Him or to praise or to worship Him or confess sins to Him. But this approach to God is done in prayer and a communion with God, a conversation with God and it is done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. That means it is done in His merit and because of who Jesus Christ is and as we claim Him as our Savior personally, we have a right then to approach God as our Father just as Jesus is related to the Father. Our God loves us because we have believed and love the Lord Jesus Christ His Son.
The text before us is Psalm 74 and it is introduced to us by a little superscription as the contemplation of Asaph. Whatever this original word means it is talking about some kind of a rendition that the leading musician Asaph brought. Now if it is a writing by the original Asaph who was of the leading musicians under King David then it was written as a prophecy of a terrible destruction of Israel the nation. You will see in reading this that a national calamity has taken place and this tragedy of great proportions is distressing the whole nation. The nation is in fact in ruins and particularly the holy worship center is destroyed and naturally the musician is grieved over this. He is then going through the experience, the writer of this or he is projecting it way into the future. If it is a personal experience and he’s an eyewitness of what is going on and has somehow experienced it then it might be the descendants of the grand fore-bearer Asaph the musician, for example, who came from the captive period under the Babylonians and were released later by the Persians and 120 of the singers of Asaph’s clan came back under Ezra and Nehemiah. We know that from later Scripture. But it might well simply be a prophetic view of what is to come and it is given in rather dramatic terms as you will see as we go along.
Now the great question here, in the first verse gives us some sort of insight and instruction in inspired intercession. That’s what we’re going to be talking about — instructions in inspired intercession. Praying with power. Does something happen when we pray? Is there a way that you and I can actually so get hold of God in prayer that it causes something to happen? Do things occur when you pray? Is something out there taking place or is it just a matter that we feel better when we have our daily devotions, so to speak? We need to be taught how to do this important ministry before God.
I. Now the first of these instructions I’ll look at right in the first couple of verses, it tells that–I see this certainly implied here–that we should relate our prayers to the glory of God. Notice how everything centers on God Himself. “O God why have you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against (now notice) the sheep of your pasture? The believing people are your sheep, they belong to your pasture O Lord. Your congregation which you purchased (see it). Your inheritance redeemed by You, Mount Zion, your temple area, Your city here, this nation it is Your home, You live there Lord.” So he isn’t just saying well “woe is me” and “woe is us” or should I say “woe is we.” He is not saying that, but he is saying “Lord we are Yours, it is Your household that is fallen here.”
II. And then I see next the dramatic way He takes up the details of it, another bit of instruction here. If we want to pray inspired prayer, powerful praying, then here is an instruction for us. In the third verse down through eight he is telling us that we should pray very specifically. Be definite and be clear in your petitions. Even graphic if necessary. He spreads a dramatic picture before God when He prays here. He says “Lord come over here Lord, step this way, look out for the rubble, You’ll have to lift Your foot way up, Come over here Lord, just look at all of it” arid he goes on a tour with God right at His elbow. Take Him for a walk over the terrain of your problem. Discuss the detailed need. That’s real praying. This is realistic. Then he says “the enemy (verse three at the end) has damaged everything in your sanctuary, Lord this is irrefutable. Nothing can ever recoup this great loss. It will take a miraculous transformation from You. Heaven is going to have to come down here or we will never get up again from this rubble.” You know when you read this, in fact there are certain terms here that definitely remind us of the condition today–of God’s household today–we in plural make the temple of God and we have fallen on hard times. No longer are Christian standards guiding our nation. No longer are Christian voices the leading voices. No, no, it’s long ago gone and actually there are churches that are closing and even those that have not closed are fallen literally into disrepair or sold out. Their congregations are scattered or greatly weakened or ineffectual. So we have a need in our day to see God come back to His people. Lets make our prayers definite and lets claim help from Him. Asaph says, “Your enemies roar in the midst of Your meeting place. I hear this evil roaring Lord, don’t just look but listen Lord, don’t You hear that? hear the worldly songs? hear the godless ways? hear the scurrilous ribaldry and the bilious bellowing (you can even translate it that way) the bellows that are going out from the crowds that know not God. And many of these songs, these evil messages have taken over right in the meeting place of God. And you are hearing from so called church people terrible things that ought never to be said in God’s name. And look Lord, you see that right at the end of verse four, look at it there, the banner of the cross of Christ is descending down toward the dirt and up goes the pagan emblem of evil. They set their banners up. The insignia of the evil one is hanging over our heads. We’re not citizens of a Christian nation anymore–humanism has taken over and it’s over our heads and we have to look up at that. It’s time for God’s people to pray for God to arise. They put their banner over our heads and listen! Do you hear that? Chop! Chop! They’ve taken the axe to things that are dear to us. Now this is put in biblical language from the Old Testament day of the the temple. It was so ornate and gorgeous in Jesus’ time that people would stand in awe of this building. The disciples looked at that temple and they just thought it was something — 40 years in the making! And here the old priestly prophet says do you hear that chopping? They are like people cutting down a forest and scattering the wood chips everywhere and look, down comes the beautiful ornate carvings that were so sacred to our worship and they are chopping hem all to pieces with axes and hammers. And friends, a lot of the dear things that were close to the heart of people during the phases when Christianity was strong and robust during revival phases — these are lost to us now. We no longer have a hold on these precious things. There are truths that used to be on the lips of little children — songs they clung to at their mother’s knee. Now the families are scattered around TV or out into worldly ways, the Bibles are closed and our little ones are not taught at home and we are not taught as we aught and many of the great doctrines have gone from us. We’re asleep and we don’t know how far we’ve lost and the chopping goes on.
You can smell now — we have heard — we have seen and we can smell fire. vs 7. And it’s the destruction of those who antagonize against the pure Gospel way. They set fire to the sanctuary, Lord, the dwelling place of your name to the ground. And they have a determination in their hearts according to verse eight, that what they really want is to silence the Bible believers. They want those who are evangelical in their belief — those who love the Lord — and who would announce the glad tidings — they want them to be silent — they want to zip the lips of the Christian witness and stamp it into the ground: Let’s not hear that, let’s hear our songs — let’s hear our message!
III. The next instruction I see in this text as I learn from the praying Psalmist, to those who would have inspired intercession is to be urgent! It is an urgent time. Be urgent, 9-11. And he looks up on the flag pole, and he stands out perhaps in an open field at a distance and he looks at the banner waving there and it’s not the Gospel banner — it’s not the truth of God he sees — it’s the insignia of paganism, humanism, immorality. We don’t see our signs, verse 9. There is no longer any prophet, nor is there any among us who knows how long. Just for a minute, just in case Satan has done this to us insidiously, without our being aware of all that has happened, let me just ask you a little test question. Right now, do you know of a church in your town or city that is crowded with people (now let me finish, there may be some that have a large attendance) but do you know of a church in your city or town that is crowded as the doors are open Sunday morning or Sunday night or prayer service by people who have come there not because of any program that is being presented on the platform or upfront but who have come to seek the Lord God alone. To hear his word and with a hunger for God. Are there any? Are there many, or are there any? They’ve burned up all the meeting places of God. We don’t see our signs. It’s a time of urgency I think in our praying. Nor is there any among us who knows how long. O God, how long will the adversary reproach — will the enemy blaspheme your name forever? Why have you withdrawn your hand Lord — you’ve taken it off us — you’ve taken it off the affairs of men. There’s no longer a thought of God at work in man.
I remember some years ago in the late 40’s or 50’s that Billy Graham came to Boston. In that day you could not get very much of a spread in the newspaper if you were not Roman Catholic. Boston was a Roman Catholic center and it was hard for a pastor to even get an acknowledgement in the newspaper if they’re having something very large to them and their church. It couldn’t be gotten very well. But when Billy Graham came into Boston those early days he had just had his first public national notice in Hollywood when he had pitched a tent out there that would seat some thousands. And then he came to Boston directly from that. I attended some of those meetings and was exposed to that. There were people there–it was just remarkable–it was just unbelievable for those of us who had tried to preach in cold New England where over a thousand churches had closed and was just remarkable and it was on the front page of the paper. Sometimes I would go in and I’d say, “I want to get a copy of that paper” and I went’to buy it, you could hear people standing there talking about it. Out on the street you could hear them. I remember the Mechanics Hall was so crowded you couldn’t get in. They had a great section all around just for standing. It was all packed, shoulder to shoulder, people standing and so I went on the outside to see what was going to happen out there, because there is another big congregation right there–as I recall it must be at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Huntington Avenue. I used to live out there and go to school, but anyway it was right on a big thoroughfare and the subways would come up–they were surface cars by that time–when they went through that section and they’d stop right on that corner and there he was preaching to people standing thick right up against the stairs of this building (Billy Graham was standing on the stairs,) clear out to the corner and there were people flooded all around the corner just keeping their coat tails out of the traffic which was whizzing by them and then there was an island out in the middle and they were packed on that island, the subways would come and go — they didn’t pay any attention to them. I remember hearing Billy say, “Now is your….(he said just a few words)…..is your heart hungry? The Son of God came into this world — He died for your sins.” He said something along that line. He gave them a little Scripture. He said, “I’ve got to go back inside, but you can be saved right here. Put your hand up if you want to be saved.” And then I could hear him say, “Yes, I see your hand out there on the island.” There with the traffic going back and forth and they’re saying I want to be saved right out there on the island. And all around people were coming to Christ. It was the newspaper editor who said, “Well, why don’t you give up on these little meetings and let’s go to Boston Garden and so he did.
Then everyone was utterly astounded for all of us had stooped shoulders in those days. We felt very inferior, doubting that God would ever do anything — that people would be stirred up like this. And so there were 15,000 — that place was packed to the rafters when Billy Graham went to the Garden and preached. Just as every place else was packed. And God did work and blessed. And I met pastors who had been converted from some of the liberal churches who had come to Christ. One came to me over at the school to seek some other Bible teaching — he was a middle-aged man — and he told me that he had really been saved during these meetings. A sense of hunger, just sort of an awe of God — that’s what we need today also. It could happen here, in our city if prayer was lifted up as it aught to be. Lord, how long? You know, you speak about being urgent there at verse 11, faith really starts taking hold, and he says down there as God has sort of withdrawn his hand and he’s apparently put it in his bosom. And God’s standing this way and his strong right hand of salvation is no longer of any use on earth — he’s held it back. This man is in respectful prayer. When you pray in Jesus’ name, it’s not brash or rash to be strong and earnest in prayer. He reaches up and he says Lord and by faith he takes hold of the hand of God and he says, “Lord, pull it out, pull it out! Now touch this world in judgment again Lord.”
IV. Now in verses 12-17 we get another instruction in inspired intercession. For powerful praying there has to be this honoring God by strong faith in Him. Honor God by having strong faith in him. And so he gives his testimony and he says, “God is my King from of hold, working salvation in the midst of the earth.” What a testimony! Then he looks back in history in those next two verses. You’ll see they are rather mysterious. There in symbolic language he’s talking about the serpents in the water that opposed Israel’s release from Egypt and it was as if there was a watery grave out there beckoning to Israel and lo there was the lurking symbol of Satan right there waiting — the serpents in the water — waiting to grab the people as they tried to break from Egypt and get to the Promise Land. Now the notable champion of the water in the Old Testament is the Sea Monster or Leviathan as he is called. And so that you’ll realize that this is a notable picture and it turns up even in the book of Revelation where satan is called that old serpent, “The Great Dragon”. Turn to the book of Isaiah and chapter 17. Anyone who wants to pray effectively eventually will have to deal with opposition. And in Isaiah 27 it speaks of a day in which the Lord with his severe sword, great and strong will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent. Leviathan, that twisted serpent and he will slay the reptile that is in the sea. So satan had set himself to be the opposer of God’s great plan of redemption and the moving of Israel from Egypt to the Promise Land is the graphic Old Testament throughout scripture picture of redemption and release from slavery to a land of blessing and promise. The thing then that holds the people in is the great sea. There is a flood, there is a sea that stands between Egypt and the promise land. And if that sea doesn’t yield then nobody can get through. They’ll start out and they’ll get a little way, but they’ll fizzle out and they’ll drown themselves — they won’t get through — there won’t be release unless God opens up the sea and the sea, friends won’t open up unless Leviathan is taken care of.
Now you notice what happened in our text, Leviathan had thought to devour the Israelites so to speak — this graphic language, but notice in verse 14 at the end he ended up as their meat and he was gobbled as it were. The people marched through on dry land. That was the great release that God brought them. Now that the blood of His Son has been shed — is there not more release that God wants to give us? If, during the day when the figurative lamb, the lamb was slain and presented before the door, if God brought a redemption there and release for the people, now that his own Son has fulfilled that type and He has in fact offered the perfect offering. And He has in fact disarmed principalities and powers and made an open display of them — triumphing over them in the blood of the cross, now that that has happened may we not see more release? What is wrong? Do we not see people released from their sins and coming in larger in numbers to Christ? Are we tasting the sweets of the victory over Leviathan? Lets ask God about that? Lets honor Him by a mighty faith in Him. Notice in verses 15, 16 and 17 that the whole creative order is under the hands of God — day and night it is. He prepares the light — He sets the whole world in its positions — He orders all of nature — then He can do something in the hearts of men and women — He can do something about our town — He who involves the whole world in His grasp, He can — He is our God.
V. One last point of instruction for our intercession — be persistent. There is a persistency here that lead to prevailing in prayer. The Psalmist’s persistency prevails. God wants persistence out of us — we have to be persistent if we will prevail with God — He’s taught that so many times. And so this Psalmist here is looking up to God and he says, “Now remember this, that the enemy has reproached O Lord and has blasphemed your name” and he turns it back on the name of God, he says, “Lord it is your name that is at stake here.” And then from looking at God and being concerned for Him he then looks over the people of God and uses this tender beautiful little expression, he says “Lord, Your pet turtledove, are You going to feed that little dove to the wolves?” This expression, the turtledove is used in the Song of Solomon in 6:9 for his beloved, for the people of God, for his bride. The bride of Christ is God’s precious dear innocent virgin girl whom He loves — He shed His blood for His bride — that He might present her faultless to Himself. And so the psalmist says, “Lord, look at us, is Your precious dove to be food for the wild beasts?” The Lord said, “I know my sheep, I lay down my life for the sheep. The hireling runs, but I won’t run.” Well then let us pray, let us say, “Lord, hear this word.” Let us prepare our approach to God and hang in there with Him and ask something of Him. Not, Lord, just give us a bigger church or more money. Let’s see God Himself come and minister among and to us and fill our hearts. Don’t forget your poor forever, Lord.
Then he turns and talks about the covenant. I believe that is something we could do — we could take the Scriptures — even take the communion passage, like that of our Lord Jesus, where he said, “This is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” O God in heaven the blood of your Son has been shed. Lord, remember the covenant. Have mercy on us. Bless my feeble effort to witness today. And then don’t take no for an answer. Continue in prayer. He intends for us to take his covenant, the blood of it, the offering of Christ and stand against (look at it, verse 20), the dark places of the earth that are full of the habitations of cruelty. Don’t only read about organized crime, enter into prayer, that the Lord will stop that, that more of these fellows will be caught, that this drug trafficking, something will happen about it and that men will learn to fear God, that they won’t just be able to go on in their evil and forget it. But that God will trouble them. I remember one Pastor who was praying and preaching God’s Word and a mafia fellow turned up in his study and said he was going to bring down the wrath of the big lords on him and the pastor called and said, “Now what am I going to do?” Well, I’ll tell you, it’s time that Satan got a little rattled and that God let people go free — that even in high places there be a shaking and let not the oppressed return ashamed. Lord, render judgment, we honor you by believing that you can do this — that you can render judgment (look at verse 21) so that those who were crushed and oppressed — there will be a turning and they will be lifted and no longer ashamed and the poor and needy will start praising the name that has been degraded and put down.
And then he concludes with a two-verse sort of summation of the whole thing. And then he says, “Lord, it is your cause, I ask in Your name, for Your glory that You will remember this is going on every day, Lord, and the voice of Your enemies is in tumult rising up and it is constantly increasing. Lord, here’s the moment, work in the name of You Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Now what shall we say about all of this? Do we feel at all? I’m going to read some Scripture and this is going to come from the New Testament, Romans 11, “I say then has God cast away His people? Certainly not! God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.” That applies whether to national Israel or whether to the Gentile believers. Do you not know what the Scripture says concerning Elijah? “Lord, they’ve killed the prophet. They’ve torn down the altars. I’m the only one left.” It goes on to say, “And God answered, I have reserved 7,000 men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” And the apostle’s conclusion is this “So then, at this present time, there is a remnant according to grace.” There is a remnant of God’s gracious working in the world today and there are men and women upon whom He has set His love and the determination to save them if the people of God will unloose the power of God and bring out their witness in the authority of the Holy Spirit. For the gifts and the calling are irrevocable he goes on to say. I took those selections from the great 11th chapter of Romans.
I have a word then of very definite instructions. If you’ll follow with me, I want to read these, there are two verses in the book of Hosea — these verses just suddenly came to my mind as I was thinking about this and for a long time I couldn’t remember where it was in scripture and then here it is. Hosea is, you’ll find Hosea — you go by Psalms to hit the major prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and then you’ll come to Hosea, the first of the minor prophets so called after Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos. The last chapter of Hosea, chapter 14 and here’s the decision that I would like to have you to make, “O Israel return to the Lord your God, You have stumbled because of your iniquity.” Now maybe there are sins that are actually in our lives, things that are offending God, attitudes, secret lusts, ambitions, failures, things not confessed and straightened out or it might be just sort of a deadness, an unbelief, a general coldness toward God and toward His holy word. Here’s what you should determine this day. Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity, receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips.” He is saying prepare your prayers, get yourself, get scripture, get a hold of it now and come to God for a very large important showdown with God and persist there in prayer until God answers with fire on the altar. Take your words and come.
Turn to God, bring words, bring something from Scripture and a claim on the authority of God’s word for the blessing of your life. We are freezing, we’ve been so long in deep freeze, we don’t know what a spring time would be of revival and release of our spirits and then you don’t have to worry — people will flock from the snowbanks of their evil to get where God is, really if He creates a hungering in their hearts. Come with a full heart to minister before God intensely — pour your heart out before God and He will then meet with you in a special way.
Before we close, listen to this word. After one of the Psalms later than the one we were studying mentions all that God had done, it says, “The righteous sit and rejoice and all iniquity stops its mouth. Whoever is wise will observe these things and they will understand the lovingkindness of the Lord.” God has some special loving secrets to share with praying people.