Isaiah 38:4-6

Sermon preached on November 5, 2017 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2017. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

On December 2, 2015, a terrorist shooting left 14 people dead in San Bernardino, California. The next day, the New York Daily News reported the shooting on its front page. On the sides of the front page were pictures of four Congressmen along with the some tweets they tweeted after the shooting. Senator Ted Cruz tweeted,

"Our prayers are with the victims, their families, and the first responders in San Bernardino."

The newspaper had the word, 'prayers' highlighted with yellow marker. Senator Rand Paul tweeted,

"My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, families and brave first responders."

Senator Lindsey Graham was the third one quoted. He tweeted,

"Thoughts and prayers are with #SanBernardino"

Again, the word 'prayers' was highlighted in yellow.

The final quote was from Speaker Paul Ryan, who tweeted,

"Please keep the victims of #SanBernardino, California in your prayers."

Again the word 'prayers' was highlighted in yellow.

And in the middle of the front page, in much bigger text than the tweets of the Congressmen, was the headline,


Under the headline was the following caption,

"As latest batch of innocent Americans are left dying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes."

Now, regardless of your stand on gun control, that paper was mocking and ridiculing prayer. It said prayers were,

"meaningless platitudes."

Are they right? Is prayer useless? I remember when I was pastoring in Lisbon a young couple started to come to church. One Wednesday evening they brought their young daughter with them to Prayer Meeting. She must have 4 years old because she was going to pre-school. Surprisingly, during the prayer request time she asked for prayer for a boy who was being bad in her pre-school. She was really concerned that he was disrupting things. So we added the little boy to our prayer list and prayed for him. The next Wednesday during prayer requests I heard a little voice repeating the phrase with increasing loudness,

"It's not working. It's not working."

Sometimes we feel like that little girl. Our faith can waver and like that little girl we start believing that prayer doesn't work.

But we must resist that temptation. Our text is just one of hundreds of texts that show us that prayer changes things. Prayer. What a gift from God! John Frame writes, (Systematic Theology, p. 1054)

"How good it is to be able to talk to the Ruler of the universe. How good that he delights to have this conversation."

That's what prayer is. Consider King Hezekiah here. He knew that prayer changes things. In the previous two chapters we read about when the Assyrians surrounded Jerusalem and boasted that the Lord couldn't deliver them. Hezekiah went up to the temple of the Lord and prayed for the deliverance of Jerusalem. He ended his prayer this way, (Isaiah 37:18–20)

"It is true, O Lord, that
the Assyrian kings have laid waste
all these peoples and their lands.
They have thrown their gods
into the fire and destroyed them,
for they were not gods
but only wood and stone,
fashioned by human hands.
Now, O Lord our God,
deliver us from his hand,
so that all kingdoms on earth
may know that you alone,
O Lord, are God."

Soon after the angel of the Lord put to death 185,000 of the Assyrian soldiers. The remaining Assyrians had to withdraw. God answered Hezekiah's prayer in a way that there could be no doubt that it was God's hand.

We see the same thing in our text. God told Isaiah to go back and tell Hezekiah that he would live another 15 years. He also told him that he would make the shadow of the sun go back 10 steps on the stairway it had gone down. What a fabulous sign!

The great lesson for us here is that

God answers prayer.

The Bible stresses this from the beginning to the end. Indeed our text tells us that prayer is so powerful that

it can change things that are seemingly decreed by God.

God instructed the prophet Isaiah to tell Hezekiah to put his house in order because he was going to die. It seemed to be a decree of God.

Why did God appear to change His mind about Hezekiah's illness? There are many reasons but one of them is to show us

the importance, the power of prayer.

Prayer is one of the greatest blessings that God has given us. Prayer changes things.

It changes things even when it seems that God is against us.

Robert Bruce says of Hezekiah, (Way to True Peace and Rest)

"Hoping against hope, he ran to the very one who was challenging him."

God had said Hezekiah was going to die. The prophet Isaiah had told him that. Yet what does Hezekiah do? He goes to God in prayer. He doesn't think that his cause is hopeless. And he was right. God heard his prayer and healed him.

This shows us that prayer changes things.

Did God really change His mind? From our perspective it seems that way. Indeed, the Bible often describes God as appearing to change His mind.

In Noah's day when God saw how great man's wickedness was on the earth and that the inclination of his heart was only evil all the time, (Genesis 6)

"The LORD was grieved that
he had made man on the earth,
and his heart was filled with pain."

He then caused the flood to come upon the earth. God was grieved that He had made man. In 1 Samuel 15:11 we see the same thing in regard to God making Saul king. God said to Samuel,

"I am grieved that I have made Saul king,
because he has turned away from me
and has not carried out my instructions."

God took the kingdom away from Saul and gave it to David.

In 1 Kings 21:21–29 we have another example. God had had enough of King Ahab's wickedness. He sent the prophet Elijah to King Ahab with a dreadful message of judgment, how Ahab's entire line would be snuffed out and how dogs would devour Jezebel.

But then something happened. We read,

"When Ahab heard these words,
he tore his clothes,
put on sackcloth and fasted.
He lay in sackcloth and
went around meekly.
Then the word of the LORD came
to Elijah the Tishbite:
'Have you noticed how Ahab
has humbled himself before me?
Because he has humbled himself,
I will not bring this disaster in his day,
but I will bring it on his house
in the days of his son.' "

Another instance is in Jonah 3:4. Jonah went to Nineveh with God's message, (HCSB).

"In 40 days Nineveh
will be demolished!"

But Nineveh wasn't destroyed. The people repented so God spared them. There was an unspoken condition in Jonah's message—if the people of Nineveh repented, they would be spared. Jonah understood that all along—that's why he didn't want to go there.

In response to all this we can say that sometimes it appears to us that God changes His mind. But there are many passages that tell us quite clearly that God doesn't change His mind. For example, in 1 Samuel 15:28–29, a little later in the chapter where God said He was grieved that He had made Saul King, Samuel said to Saul,

"The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel
from you today and has given it
to one of your neighbors—
to one better than you.
He who is the Glory of Israel
does not lie or change his mind;
for he is not a man,
that he should change his mind."

Samuel says that God does not change His mind. He is not like a man in that regard. Numbers 23:19 confirms this. It says,

"God is not a man,
that he should lie,
nor a son of man,
that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?"

In the Bible God is sometimes described in anthropomorphic terms. He's described with human characteristics. Thus sometimes it appears that God changes His mind, but the reality is that He does not.

But if God doesn't change His mind, it would seem to make prayer superfluous, unnecessary, meaningless. But it is not.

Prayer changes things. It changes things

not because it changes God's mind, but because God uses prayer to bring His purposes to pass.

At times it is through the prayer of His people that God accomplishes His will. All the time God gives us grace—even when we don't ask Him.

Yet sometimes, with some things, we get things only through prayer—either through our prayers or the prayers of other Christians. John Frame summarizes the theology of prayer this way, (Systematic Theology, p. 1054)

"God ordains prayer as a means to change history. There are things that happen because of prayer, and things that do not happen because of no prayer."

We see this in James 4:2 where the apostle admonished Christians for not praying. He said,

"You do not have,
because you do not ask God."

They impoverished themselves by not praying, for not asking for certain things. John Calvin writes, (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2; p. 851)

"It is, therefore, by the benefit of prayer that we reach those riches which are laid up for us with the Heavenly Father."

Prayer changes things. James 5:16–18 reminds us of the prophet Elijah. It says,

"The prayer of a righteous man
is powerful and effective.
Elijah was a man just like us.
He prayed earnestly
that it would not rain,
and it did not rain on the land
for three and a half years.
Again he prayed,
and the heavens gave rain,
and the earth produced its crops."

1 Peter 3:12 quotes Psalm 34:15 and says,

"For the eyes of the Lord
are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive
to their prayer,"

God's ears are attentive to our prayers. He hears them. He does things as a result of them.

In ourselves we are poor and needy. It's only because of God's grace that we are what we are. (1 Corinthians 15:10) John Calvin writes, (Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1541 edition, chapter 9)

"We are taught by faith to know that all the goodness which we need and which we ourselves lack is in God and in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the Father has placed all the bounty of his blessing and grace, so that we may all draw from him as from a most plentiful spring."

"It is therefore thanks to prayer that we have entry into the riches which we have in God."

Prayer is so important. In 1 Thessalonians 5 the apostle Paul told us to pray without ceasing. Yet we so often neglect it!

Christians, realize what you have in prayer. As I said earlier, in prayer we have direct access to the ruler of the universe.

What can the ruler of the universe do for you? In Ephesians 3:20 the apostle Paul wrote,

"Now to him who is able to do
immeasurably more
than all we ask or imagine,
according to his power
that is at work within us,"

Immeasurably more than you can ask or imagine! Wow. Isn't that incredible? How much we should be in prayer. The Father delights to hear us. In Luke 11:9–13 Jesus encouraged us to pray.

"So I say to you:
Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door
will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives;
he who seeks finds;
and to him who knocks,
the door will be opened.
Which of you fathers,
if your son asks for a fish,
will give him a snake instead?
Or if he asks for an egg,
will give him a scorpion?
If you then,
though you are evil,
know how to give good gifts
to your children,
how much more will
your Father in heaven
give the Holy Spirit
to those who ask him!"

In light of that, I ask you,

what are you asking of Him?

What spiritual blessings are you asking for yourself, for your fellow Christians? What are you asking on behalf of the church of Jesus Christ? John Calvin, (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2; p. 851)

"we dig up by prayer the treasures that were pointed out by the Lord's gospel, and which our faith has gazed upon."

Pray. Ask. Plead with God. Pray continually! Dig up the treasures you see in the gospel. The Father delights to bless you. May we never neglect this wonderful tool.

Benediction: Ephesians 3:20

"Now to him who is able to do
immeasurably more
than all we ask or imagine,
according to his power
that is at work within us,
to him be glory in the church
and in Christ Jesus
throughout all generations,
for ever and ever!