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Let's Experience The Power Of Prayer

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | February 13, 2000

Selected highlights from this sermon

God has always fought for His people, and when Joshua called upon Him, He came to the rescue. Staying the sun in the sky, the Lord won the victory and Joshua was able to uphold his treaty with the Gibeonites. 

When we pray like Joshua with authority, power, and faith, we too can find victory as we rely upon God and His promises to us. We can’t assume that every promise in Scripture is intended for us, but we have more than enough promises to win the battle. 

Have you ever thought of how wonderful it would be if God were to fight for you? What a statement. The Lord fighting for you. Can you just imagine it? Trampled down by people, misunderstood, circumstances that are very difficult, and God comes along and takes up your cause and says, “I will fight in your behalf,” and basically all you have to do is to kind of stand by and watch God do it, watch God do all the things you always thought He should but didn’t, and now He takes up your cause and He fights in your behalf. Of course, in one sense God is always doing that, isn’t He? If He were not fighting for His people we’d have been devoured by the devil long ago. Sin would have corroded our character in such a way that we would never recover, were it not for the fact that God is for us. How wonderful it would be, though, if God did more than that, if He just came from heaven and just said, “I am here to fight on your behalf.” 
Israel had that experience in the tenth chapter of the book of Joshua. If you’d turn there for a moment, I want you to notice the text for the day. Joshua 10. They’d gone through a difficult experience, as we’ll mention in a moment, and now we come to one of the most dramatic passages in the entire Bible. You’ll notice I’m going to pick up the text in verse 12 of chapter ten. 
“On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel (And I love this, and I think you do too.): ‘O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.’ So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, [as] it is written in the book of Jashar (a book we don’t have today, but there were other books that were written during the time of Joshua). The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since (I love this even more.), [a day] when the Lord listened to a man. (And now we have the text for today, folks.) Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!” I’d say, “Yeah, I think so. The Lord was fighting for Israel.” 
What I’d like to do is to paint the context, and then we’re going to, of course, relate it to ourselves. But the context is Joshua made a treaty with the Gibeonites, which he should never have made. If you were with us last time you know he made an unwise decision, and we spoke on the topic of making the best of a bad decision. But nevertheless, he made it and so he kept it. 
Now you have a coalition of five kings that are gathering together to fight against the Gibeonites, and Joshua has no choice. His integrity is at stake. He has no choice but to make sure he defends the Gibeonites and fights on their behalf. 
These five kings gathered. Chapter ten, verse one says, “Now Adoni-Zedek...” If I remember my Hebrew correctly Adoni, of course, is the Lord, and Zedek is king. He’s taking the name of the Lord as such, but of course, he’s a pagan king, and he gets four other kings to go with him, making a total of five, and they said, “We’re going to go up and we’re going to fight against the Gibeonites.” And so Joshua, painted into a corner, has to fight on the behalf of those with whom he made the treaty. So that’s the context. 
Now, what I’d like us to do is to look at this passage and ask this question. What kind of a prayer did Joshua pray that made God come and fight for Israel, because isn’t it true that you want God to fight for you? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Lord came and took over your cause, and held your side of the argument and the bargain? What kind of a prayer did Joshua pray to get this kind of a response from God, the kind of response that says the Lord listened to the voice of a man? 
First of all, I want you to know Joshua prayed with a promise. He prayed with a promise. You’ll notice it says in verse seven, “Joshua marched up from Gilgal with his entire army, including all the best fighting men. The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you.’” Now there’s something to hang onto. 
In chapter 1, God had said, “All the place where the sole of your foot treads, I have given that to you.” And here God reiterates the promise and says, “Don’t be afraid, Joshua, I have given them into your hand. If you have the faith to believe it, it is a done deal. It is over with. I am the Lord and I’m doing as I will in this battle, and I want you to know they are going to be yours.” 
Now, Joshua had this promise, you see, just as you and I, as we shall see. We need need some promises to hang onto. The question is which promises can we hang onto for what? And that’s a big study in Scripture (one that really, really should necessitate a series of messages), because oftentimes we want to take promises out of context that don’t even apply to us. For example, this promise does not apply to us. This was a specific promise, given to Joshua in that context. It doesn’t mean we, as the United States of America, can claim this promise if we were in a war. It doesn’t mean you and I can necessarily claim this promise and say this is ours. We have other promises we can claim. This one is for Joshua, and once he heard it he began to apply it. 
Now there’s a parenthesis here. I want to say not only was it necessary for Joshua to have this promise, but he needed to pray with a pure heart. Remember earlier in the case of Achan, when he took something and hid it in his tent, thirty-six men died on the battlefield.  
I guess what I want to say is the promises of God are not automatic. Even implied in this promise and the other promises God gave to Joshua, there are conditions, even when they’re not spelled out. The Lord is saying, “I have given you the land, but you must possess it.” You must fight for it, and I want you to know that applying the promise is always a struggle. And sometimes we fail in applying a promise even though it is rightfully ours. What is the first step if we want God to fight for us? We must lay hold of a promise that relates to us, and hang onto it no matter what. 
Let’s look at a second step, and that is we must pray, not only with a promise, but we must pray with authority. Another word for authority here might be faith. Listen to what Joshua prayed. I already read it but I’m going to reread it because I love the words. “O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” Wow. You can’t say Joshua was asking for something trivial. It wasn’t a case, you know, where he was saying, “Just give me something small.” I mean he was asking for something big. What he was saying is, “I want all of the forces of nature to fight on my side in this because I want to be able to win, and it’s important that I have more time to win.” 
Now, there is controversy as to what really happened in this chapter. For example, there are some fine evangelical theologians who believe when it says the sun stood still, it means the sun stopped shining. And the argument is that Joshua who came from Gilgal that night—in fact, I’m picking it up at verse 9. “After an all-night march from Gilgal, Joshua took them by surprise. The Lord threw them into confusion before Israel, who defeated them in a great victory at Gibeon. Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon and cut them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah. As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the Lord hurled large hailstones down on them from the sky, and more of them died from the hailstones than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.” On that day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel and God fought for them. 
So there are many people who say that what it means is Joshua needed some cover because the sun was too bright. His men who had marched all night were weary and tired. And so God used a hailstorm and gave Joshua the shade and gave the enemy the hailstones, and that’s really what happened. The sun just stopped shining so the people were able to be refreshed. Well, I can see that possibility. In fact, those of us who were to Israel many years ago (and Darrell, I think you were along at that time), we actually stood on the hill where Joshua stood. And we looked at Gibeon, and we saw the Valley of Aijalon, and that was the view our tour guide took as to what happened.  
But you know, you look at the text here and you say, “Well, I don’t think that’s all that happened.” It almost seems as if there was an extension of light because it says, “The sun stopped in the middle of the sky, and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before [or since], a day when the Lord listened to a man. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!”  
There’s something else going on here in the text. It almost seemed as if the day was prolonged and there were more hours of sunlight. Now that, of course, creates great problems for scientists because, first of all, Joshua said, “Sun, stand thou still.” Well, if you know anything about astronomy, we are told the sun is always standing still. It is the world that is turning at about a thousand miles an hour at the equator. But, of course, the Bible is written in the language of appearances just like your almanac is written in the [language] of appearances. Or if you’re listening on the news and you’re listening to the weather, they do not say, “Now, tomorrow morning Earth is going to rotate in such a way that we hope to be able to see the sun at 7:45.” No, they talk about a sunrise, and a sunset, and that’s what the Bible is talking about too, so that’s really not a problem. 
The other problem, which is more difficult scientifically is if this world were to actually slow after going a thousand miles an hour, if it were to slow down, you could imagine what would happen. Tremendous catastrophes, as lakes and rivers and oceans would be thrown helter-skelter because of the slowing down of Earth. 
So some people say that it was a miracle, but it was a very local miracle, and maybe we don’t know what happened. Bottom line: Look, if God is the Creator, if He spoke the sun and moon into existence, if He said, “Stars, exist” and they already began to twinkle, it is not difficult for the Almighty to cause the earth’s rotation to slow and also to make sure the damage throughout the world is not catastrophic. I mean, God can do all that. In fact, there are some scientists who say there is actually a day missing in the calendar of the universe. I’m not sure whether that is the case but I did read recently a report about that. 
But notice this. God was fighting, and God did a miracle, and could even cause a day to be longer if necessary in order for Joshua to win this battle. But what authority he had. “Sun, stand thou still,” and the day was prolonged. 
Now, I have to ask the question. You have, of course, on the one hand, the promise of God. Joshua held that in one hand. And in the other hand, therefore, he had authority and he had faith even to have nature fight on his behalf and to see this tremendous miracle. How does that apply to you? How does it apply to me? Does this mean we can stand and say, “Sun, stand thou still?” or we can say, “Snow today. Stop snowing today”? I don’t think so. 
You know, there are some people who think—they’ve taken this business of authority, and the reason they’re messed up about it is because they’re taking and they are believing promises that really don’t apply to us. And I need to spend a moment about that. There are those who believe we have absolute total authority over the devil. After all, we’re in Christ. Christ is above the devil. Therefore, we have total, complete authority. And that’s why you have groups meeting, for example, in Washington, D.C. (a prayer group that met) that said, “Oh Lord, we banish Satan from Washington, D.C. He must leave this city and never return.” Well, may I humbly suggest that I think there is empirical evidence to show that Satan has not left Washington, D.C. [laughter] As a matter of fact, there are some people who think they know his address. [laughter] 
Folks, if we had authority to banish the devil from Washington, we would banish the devil from Chicago and Los Angeles, and eventually the whole world. We’d confine him to another planet, and we would do away with him forever so we would never have to mess with him again. We would just take authority, and we would just do what God has not chosen to do. We would put him in the fringes, and that would be it. Of course, we don’t have that kind of authority. 
If you ask the question as to why the devil is still in Washington or Chicago or Los Angeles, it is because the Lord hath need of him. There are things that God is doing. Luther was right when he said, “Even the devil is God’s devil.” Do we have authority over all sickness? Can we simply command the cancer to go? Can we command the arthritis to recede? Can we command God, “You must heal”? No, friends, we don’t. We do not have such a promise because if we could do all that, we could do what some of our friends have done, and they have even believed they could banish death. My parents had some friends like that who believed they would never die because they’d just keep being healed. They’d keep being healed whenever they got sick. They’d just keep their healing going and they actually thought they were going to live until Jesus Christ’s return. Well, about twenty or thirty years ago they died just like the rest of us.  
We do not have that kind of authority.  
Remember Joni Eareckson talking about being number fifteen (I can just see the imagery and I will never forget it.) in the wheelchairs lined up to go onto the elevators to leave a Katherine Kuhlman Crusade, unhealed? No, we don’t have that kind of authority. We don’t have the authority to command wealth. “I command money to come into the coffers. I command thirteen million dollars to be dropped in the offering plate today.” I don’t know why I chose that figure. [laughter] It just happened to come to mind. I want you to know today there are people in different countries of the world who are more godly than we are, and they’re living in poverty and sickness. We don’t have that kind of authority. 
“How then, Pastor Lutzer (I hope you’re asking the question), do we take the Bible, the promise in one hand and the faith in the other to have God come and fight for us and to take up our cause?” Well, I thought you’d never ask. 
There are promises in the Scripture that can be applied directly to us with a promise in one hand and faith in the other, authority in the other, and you can say, “This is mine,” and you can stand there and stand there, even though it’s going to be a battle, as we’re going to see. You can still say, “I stand on this promise.” 
Let me give you a couple of examples.  
“I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say the Lord is my helper (and now notice), and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” 
“Do not be afraid of [those] who kill the body (and then after that [they] run out of anything [they] can do)...but rather fear Him who [is able to] destroy both soul and body in hell.” 
Is it possible for a Christian to live without fear, to insist and to say “I have a promise that God is going to walk with me through the most fearful circumstances and therefore I need not fear”? The answer is yes. With a promise in one hand and faith in another, and you put those two together and there is a promise you can stand on to say, “This is mine; I stand here.” 
What about even such promises as victory over sin? “Knowing this, that our old man (That has nothing to do with the father you had difficulty getting along with—I’m quoting the King James.)” “...knowing this, that our old self (That’s a better translation.) was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” And a couple of verses later, as it continues to talk about this truth, what does it say? “So you too, consider yourselves to be dead to sin.” Is it possible for us to say, “Yes, I will not; I do not have to be propelled by that sin that doth so easily beset me?” The answer is yes. You’re going to be in for a hassle, I’m in for a hassle, whenever we begin to take those promises. Because the devil begins to come to us and the thief begins to want to steal from us, and it’s a struggle, but it is ours, folks, to hang onto because that applies to us. 
I speak today to some of you who are really struggling with guilt. Your conscience is troubled because there are things in your life, and even though you’ve confessed your sin, the regret is there, and the mind keeps going back to things that are troubling you. Your conscience is saying, “Shame on you; look at what you’ve done. You don’t really think you deserve to be in church, do you, and listening to the Word of God, you hypocrite? Look at what you’ve done.” 
So you have this troubled conscience even for sin that has been confessed. Do you have a right to be free from that? Can you point to a text and put your finger on it and say, “On the basis of this text, I do not have to be harassed like that; I can actually have a clean conscience”? Yes, you can. You can even take 1 John 1:9. There are other verses but that one will do. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins (That’s the promise.), and to cleanse us (That’s the application of the promise.) from all unrighteousness,” not only to forgive us but to give us a clean conscience, to give us a clean, non-condemning conscience. That is your right as a child of God if you’ve confessed your sin. So on the one hand you have the promise. On the other hand, you have the faith. And you put the two of them together and you can say, “Conscience, stand thou still at Gibeon, and troubled heart in the Valley of Aijalon,” if I may take Scripture and show you its application, because we do have authority over those kinds of things. 
I was thinking also this morning about the worldwide missionary impact. And Jesus said this—and this is a verse I would use if I were a missionary in the countries of the world, particularly that were closed and where you had hard hearts. I smile because actually you don’t have to be a missionary to do that. You just have to live in Chicago. You just have to have neighbors that some of us know. 
I think of this verse: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Oh, I love that. I could quote that verse every day. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and [make disciples] of all nations...” When you are involved in a worldwide missionary enterprise there’s a promise you can hang onto, and there is an application to that promise to say, “I will go because though the situation is totally hopeless, humanly speaking, I go under the authority of one who has all things under His feet.” Do you see the connection between the promise and its application? So when you read the Scriptures, look for that. Look for that. 
Now, what I’d like to do in the next few moments as we think about the story that is before us, I’d like to leave with you today three lessons we can learn about the application of God’s promises. 
First of all, I want to remind you, number one, the land of blessing is the land of conflict. The land of blessing is the land of conflict. I’m thinking about Joshua. Remember the Lord says now, “I want you to enter into the Promised Land.” This is Canaan. God says, “This is the place where you’re going to have lots of minerals that will be available. This is the place that’s going to give you some good crops. This is the place where Jesus is going to be born. That’s within the land, Bethlehem. This is the place where Jesus is going to die, Calvary, the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, in the city of Jerusalem. All that is within the Promised Land, and God says, “This is the land where My great acts are going to be performed. This is the land that is going to be visited by My Blessed Son. It is the Promised Land.” And yet you begin in chapter 1, and you go to chapter 2 and chapter 3 of Joshua, and you go all the way through, what do you have? One fight after another. One battle after another. 
I know that all of us want to have a Christian life without struggle. We all want to make sure we get through life with God fighting on our behalf, and we’re standing by and we’re just watching Him zap everybody that should be zapped within the line of fire, finally doing what we think God should do. “Bring them into judgment, oh Lord.” “Hedge up his way with thorns. Paint him into a corner. Teach him a lesson.” Oh, God sometimes does that, but seldom. God allows us to struggle and to say, “This is your inheritance but every single inch is going to be contested by the world, the flesh, and the devil.” But hang in. Hang in. The land of blessing is the land of conflict and warfare. 
Number two, we have as many promises as we need to win the battle. We have as many promises as we need to win the battle. I really do believe what was said at Founder’s Week by Larry Crabb if you were listening one evening when he said, (I’m paraphrasing) “There is really no circumstance that we will ever walk through but through which we can walk successfully (At least spiritually, on that level) because God has promised to be with us.” He will not leave us, and He will not forsake us. God will be there. We can’t promise a bed of roses. We can’t promise health and wealth and all the other things, but we can promise God.” 
Sometime ago a woman wrote a letter to me in which she said, “All of my faith in God has been totally shattered.” And what shattered her faith was a picture of some children in an orphanage in an Eastern European country. They were dirty. They were unfed. Many of them, according to the picture, seemed to be almost (What shall we say?) having all kinds of disabilities because they were not cared for. And the woman took a look at that picture and said, “If God does not help those poor little children, what right do I have to think He’s going to help me?” And her faith was shattered. An incredible letter. 
So what do we say in those circumstances? Does God walk with us or not? Well, I forget exactly all the things I wrote to her, but probably I referred to 2 Corinthians 5, where the Apostle Paul says, “Look, we do not lose hope in this life because,” he says, “for one thing, though the outer man is perishing (and it will all perish someday), the inner man is being renewed day by day. In fact,” he says, “the afflictions we have are light, momentary afflictions that are working within us an eternal weight of glory.” What Paul is saying is even though God may not deliver us from those kinds of situations in this world, even though we cannot claim, “Yes, God, you owe me this or you owe me that,” we do have the promise that He never leaves us or forsakes us. And He has an entire eternity to help us to understand and to make up for the trials we are going through here. So we just keep walking along, believing we have as many promises as we need to face life as representatives of Jesus Christ, to face life successfully. Joshua had his promise, and we have ours. 
Finally, and it’s already been implied, the promises always have a struggle. We have a struggle when we want to apply them, don’t we? You know, in the rest of this chapter, which we do not have time to read, Joshua takes the five kings, they are put into a cave; eventually they are brought out and they are killed. And we look at this and we say, “Joshua, you meanie. Why are you doing it this way?” Of course, God had said that these people (their iniquity) was already full. It was time to give the land to the Israelites and so forth, but when Joshua did this he received a lot of help from his men.  
It’s interesting that the Lord comes and fights for us, but that doesn’t mean we simply sit back and say, “Well now, God, you’re going to do it all.” We have our part in obedience, as I’ve frequently said from this pulpit. We do what is possible, and then God comes along and does the impossible. And God comes and walks with us and takes up our cause. But applying the promises is not automatic. It’s a struggle. 
One day the disciples came to Jesus because they were trying to cast out a demon, and the demon wouldn’t leave. Now it’s interesting. This is Luke, chapter 9, and it says in chapter 9, verse 1—the Lord says, “I give you authority over all demons.” And then you read a few verses down and you read a story over a demon that would not budge when the disciples wanted to cast out the demon. So they, of course, are wondering you know. Here you have the promise over here, and there’s no reality over here: Authority over all demons, chapter 9, verse 1; [and then] about verse 27 and following, no authority at all. The demons do not do anything when you try to cast them out. 
Remember what Jesus said. He said, “First of all, how long shall I put up with you and be with you? Bring him to me.” And that’s where Jesus Christ used those words, talking about their lack of faith. He says, “For one thing, you lacked faith. For another,” he said, “there are some that do not come out except by prayer and fasting.” 
“Lord, I have a promise over here. Why do I have to fast? All that I have to do is to just apply the promise.” God says, “No, there are some that do not come out unless there’s prayer and fasting.” The promises are not applied automatically. See that’s why we have prayer meetings. That’s why we encourage you to come Wednesday evening and gather with the people of God to pray together and to worship together. And that’s why we have an elders’ prayer meeting. That’s why we have prayer meetings in homes. It’s because we know it is when we are yielded before God, and when we deal with sin, and when we struggle in the presence of God, and when we hang on to promises that don’t seem to be fulfilled (but we still hang on anyway because they are ours)—it is during that period of time we are refined and purified and humbled and brought low. And it is then that God begins to take up His cause and fight for our cause. And so, the Lord said to the disciples—First of all, it’s lack of faith, lack of discipline. He said, “You have to fast sometimes.” 
Now, you know, I’ve been around long enough to know when you call a fast, there aren’t nearly as many people who show up as when you call a feast. It’s very interesting. Very interesting. I haven’t done a statistical analysis, but I’m pretty sure that could be proven.  
And then the Lord says, “What about humility?” They were arguing as to which was going to be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. What the Lord is saying in the strongest possible terms is this. You can take all the promises in the world, but if you do not have the ability to apply them through faith, discipline, and humility and brokenness, they don’t happen automatically because there are conditions. 
Now, mind you, there are some promises that have only one condition, and that is that you come to the Lord. Some of you who are here today have never received Christ as your Savior. Here’s a promise for you, and I want you to know how it applies to you. “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” Now there’s a universal promise with a universal invitation. “As many as received Christ, He gave the authority to become the children of God.” Now there’s a promise for you to hang on to, my friend. And I want you to hang on to it and say, “That is for me, and today I receive Christ as Savior.” And then you begin to enter into all the other promises of the New Testament that are given to those who love God, that must be applied, sometimes with a hassle, but in the end they become ours, and God says, “I will fight on your behalf.” 
Surely there has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man, because the Lord fought for Israel. Oh that God would fight for you, for me, for our church, for His cause, but let’s be the people we should be so He can do that. 
Father, we pray that you might take these words to us today, and help us to understand and help us to apply. Those who struggle, Father, we pray that you shall grant them promises and the ability and the faith to believe, and to trust, and to know you are there, and we pray that you’ll make us a praying people so we may someday be able to have the same kind of faith as a Joshua. 
And now before I close this prayer, what is it that you have to say to the Lord today? What do you need to bring before Him and simply say, “God, I claim a promise and I’m going to hang in no matter what”? What has God talked to you about? You talk to Him. 
Receive, oh Lord, our prayers, and for those who struggle, show them yourself. Show them your reliability, that you, oh God, will walk with them. Grant us that we pray today, in Jesus’ name, Amen. 
Editor’s Note: In this transcript, the verbatim intelligent transcription process simplifies and enhances spoken content by eliminating redundant words, unnecessary sounds, fixing grammar errors, and clarifying meaning while preserving the author’s original intent. All Scripture quotes are according to the biblical text, not as they were originally spoken. 

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