If you have a Bible or a copy of the New Testament, I want you to turn with me to Matthew's Gospel, the first Gospel, and chapter 8. If you don't have a Bible, don't worry about it, just listen very carefully to the reading of the Scriptures, and remembering of course that this is the word of God, and specifically in the Gospels we have the account of the Lord Jesus' life and many of His sayings. In verse 23 of Matthew 8 we have a great miracle that the Lord Jesus performed as He stills the tempest, but also He stills the hearts of His fearful disciples.
Chapter 8 verse 23: "And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!".
Let us bow just in a moment's prayer: Father, we want to get such a glimpse of Your Son tonight that we will marvel with the disciples at the manner of Man He is, and that someone in this place who has never seen Him in all His wonder of His worth and of His work, would cry out from the depths of their soul: 'Lord, save me, I perish!'. For Christ's sake we pray, Amen.
I want to speak to you this evening on 'The Prayer of the Perishing'. I don't know whether you value it this way, but Christians believe that prayer is a mighty gift from God. Someone has described prayer as the greatest exercise that a human being can engage in. If you imagine, for a moment, what a great privilege it would be to have an audience with Her Majesty the Queen, or with the President of the United States, or another President or potentate of a nation of our world - well, prayer surpasses and transcends all of that because when we pray, we are given an intimate one-to-one audience with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. The miracle of prayer for the Christian is that we don't need to wait, as it were, for a personal invitation or a specific time and appointment, but we're invited to come at all times to the throne of grace, and to obtain grace and mercy to help us in time of need. So, effectively, we can go in and out of the throne room of God any time, wherever we are, and for anything. We find that we have, through the blood of Jesus, an access to God in prayer.
I know that some folk think you have to be in church to pray, or you have to be on your knees to pray, or you have to pray through a priest, or through a saint, or through a prayer book - that's not the case. God's word says very clearly that all of us can avail of this gift of prayer. Not only is prayer a mighty gift from God, but there have been thousands upon thousands of amazing answers to prayer. Many Christians have proven the text Matthew 7 and verse 7, where Jesus said: 'Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened unto you'. I could ask this congregation tonight, and they would keep you here the rest of the evening, perhaps the rest of the month, recounting to you stories of how God has answered prayer in their life. It was Alfred Lord Tennyson who wrote in poetry form: 'More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of'. Prayer is a mighty gift from God, and prayer in the life of many many believers has been testified and proved to be real through the answers that it has brought.
Let me say by word of warning this evening - because I'm sure all of us at some stage in our life, no matter how religious we might think ourselves to be, have prayed - that prayer is not a foolproof way of getting our wishes granted. Sometimes that's the way it is perceived. It's like some kind of magic. You pray like a spell, like 'Abracadabra', and something materialises before you - if not now, in a number of days - that you have desired. That is not what prayer is, and God is not a performing genie who just gives people their requests at the moment they ask Him. We should never ever make the mistake of thinking that in some way we can test God through prayer. God is faithful, and as I've said God has answered prayer many, many times. But we should never think that we can in some way subject God to, if you like, the scientific conditions of a laboratory in order to prove God. Never do that!
Maybe I'm speaking to someone tonight, and that's the way you have behaved towards this gift of prayer. It must be almost a year ago, or just under it, I watched a documentary on Channel 4 and it was entitled 'The Exorcism'. It was the title of this documentary that caught my attention, because they were actually claiming to perform, in the midst of a television studio, a live exorcism of a person who they reputed was possessed of a demon. They put this person, who they considered was understood to be possessed, in laboratory conditions, as it were. They wired him up to computers and monitors and so on. There were psychologists and scientists, doctors and religionists from all sorts of denominations and religious backgrounds. There they had a pastor - who, I would have to say, was very misled to even try this - and they claimed to perform this exorcism. Now I don't know what was more pathetic: the naivete of the pastor who actually believed this man was possessed, or the stupidity of the producers thinking that the Almighty God could be experimented with under laboratory conditions. The man wasn't possessed at all, and the way the pastor was exorcising him wasn't valid - but yet it betrayed this mentality that you can get God, and I say it reverently, like a monkey out of a scientific lab and you can poke Him, and you can inject Him, and you can test Him, and He has to perform through scientific means.
This is why many people are disappointed even in this realm of prayer. Christian or non-Christian, it doesn't matter, they get down on their knees and they ask God for something specific, and God doesn't answer them - and what do they conclude? 'It's all a farce, it's a fairytale! God doesn't work! He's not there! Or at least if He's there, He's not listening to me!'. What people like that, perhaps you, fail to understand is that there are principles to prayer, there are rules and laws like there are in all of life and all of nature and even science. You see, those rules, principles and laws of prayer have to be acknowledged and submitted to and practised, before God can be assured and guaranteed to answer you.
Let me say categorically to you this evening if you're not a Christian: though you have prayed many times, and perhaps even seen some answers to prayer, there is no guarantee whatsoever that God will ever hear the prayer of the impenitent, that means the prayer of a person who has never repented from their sins and embraced Christ as He is freely offered in the Gospel. Now here's why I know that's the case, Hebrews 11 verse 6 tells us: 'Without faith it is impossible to please God. Whoever comes unto God must believe that He is, He exists, and He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him'.
Now He might hear your prayer, and I know all the stories of many unbelievers who have had their prayers answered, but let me say to you tonight: if you're a person who is not a Christian, yet you're praying and expecting an answer to your prayer - answers to unbelievers are exceptions rather than the rule. Whatever you do, my friend, never take the attitude: 'If God answers my prayer, I'll believe in Him' - that's not the way God works! Do not test the Lord your God, rather say: 'I believe in Him', first, and then see what answers God can bring to your prayers in your personal situation.
Praise God, prayer is a mighty gift, and there have been thousands of accounts of how God has answered prayer - but He is not obliged to answer the prayers of those who have not repented of their sins and trusted in the Gospel. Yet let me say tonight, this is where I'm getting to, there is one prayer, there is one prayer prayed sincerely and with penitent faith that God has promised to answer, and that is the perishing prayer. We find it in verse 25 of our text: 'Lord, we perish: save us!'. Some time ago I preached to you from Matthew 14 verse 30, which was the account of where Peter got out of the boat at the invitation of the Lord Jesus. He took his eyes off the Christ, and he put his eyes on the storm and the boisterous waves around him, and he began to sink! He cried: 'Lord, save me!', and that was Peter's perishing prayer - but here's a prayer that all of us can own, because it's attributed to the disciples at large. They cried out: 'Lord, save us: we perish!', and the Lord heard them.
Now I'll tell you: I could finish my sermon here and now, and say to you that where you are at this very moment, if you realise you're a sinner, you know that Christ died to bear your sins and carry them away, you know He's the only way to get to heaven and home, if you cry unto God where you are and where you sit, He'll hear you and He'll save you. I need do no more work. Romans 10:13 says that: 'Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved'. The Lord Jesus Himself said in John 6 and 37: 'All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out'. Even now, if you will cry to Him, He'll hear you.
Maybe you're not convinced. Well, let us examine this perishing prayer tonight. First of all I want you to see that it was a desperate prayer. Verse 24: 'There arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves'. It was a desperate prayer. Leonard Ravenhill, a preacher of bygone days, I once heard saying: 'I don't think God answers prayer, He answers desperate prayers'. I think there's a measure of truth in that - why? Because until we feel that God is our only hope, and if we think that there's hope elsewhere - whether in ourselves, our own goodness, our own ability to save ourselves, or in the ability of another, a person or a system, to save us - God will not hear that prayer. The reason why God heard the disciples' prayer was that the Lord Jesus heard them saying that they were perishing, and more or less that He was their only hope. It was a desperate prayer! If He didn't hear them and help them, they were lost.
That's why the Lord sometimes has to get us into desperate situations in life, to get out of us desperate prayers. Maybe your back is to the wall this evening, I don't know whether you find yourself in a desperate situation - but do you know, my friend, that God could be manoeuvering and manipulating in His sovereignty and providence to get you into a desperate situation to get out of you a desperate prayer? These disciples were in a storm, and maybe that's the desperate situation you find yourself in. Maybe it's a storm of sickness, or a storm of sadness, you've been bereaved or a marriage has broken or you've been betrayed. Maybe it's a storm of tragedy, one whom you love has died, maybe a child, maybe a partner, in tragic circumstances. Maybe your storm is failure, failure morally, failure academically, failure in your business, failure in your marriage or in your home life as a father or a mother, or a son or daughter. Maybe your storm is addiction, addiction to drugs, addiction to drink, addiction to gambling, addiction to pornography, addiction to sex - we could go on, and on, and on; there are so many addictions.
Whatever it is: you find yourself in a storm; and if it is the storm of sin you have found that, as the Bible says, the way of the transgressor is hard. You're miserable - oh what a tangled web we weave when we sin, it causes storms because the wages of sin is death. The reason why you're so miserable tonight, whether you want to admit it or not to yourself or others, is because you're living a life without God, and that is a life of sin and its wages is death. The devil gives out those wages, in John 10:10 he is a thief who has come to steal, to kill and destroy. Are you in a storm tonight?
Not only were they in a storm, but their vessel was overwhelmed. We read in verse 24: 'insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves' - and this is the consequences of being in life's storm. Whether it's the storms of life through sickness and bereavement and all the rest, or the storms of sin, there comes a point in your life when you feel that you're at the end of your tether, you're overwhelmed, you can't take any more, you've reached the bottom of the barrel! Are you at that point tonight? You just can't imagine things getting any worse. Now come on: open your heart to God, you know that I'm touching on sore points, and God the Holy Spirit is speaking to your heart, not me. This is the consequence, your little sailboat is starting to fill, and it's starting to sink, and you know it's only going down, and you're despairing because you don't know what to do, you don't know how to get out, you don't know where to turn.
The worst tragedy and consequence of the storms of life is that many people think that to get out of it they should despair of life itself, and choose death rather than life. Many young men in our land are doing that, there's an epidemic of it. The tragedy of that is that the greatest consequence and the greatest storm and overwhelming experience is yet to be, for the book of Hebrews tells us: 'It is appointed unto men once to die' - you can only die once in the physical realm - 'but after this the judgment'. Don't think for one moment that you can get out of your problems by taking your life, the easy way out! No! Indeed in this very chapter, Matthew chapter 8 and verse 12, the Lord Jesus speaking to another man said that there is a place of outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. The Bible calls it 'hell'. My friend, if you think you're overwhelmed now in the storms of life, what will the storms of judgment be like in eternity? There's a hell!
I'm asking you: how will it be for you on that day? You see, the Christian can say: 'With Christ in the vessel we can smile at the storm, as we go sailing home' - but you need to ask the question: will your anchor hold in the storms of life, when the clouds unfold their wings of strife? What will happen? Will you be overwhelmed? If you're being overwhelmed now, you will surely be overwhelmed then!
Here's the third thing that caused them to pray desperately: God seemed to be at a distance. In the middle of all this, a storm, and an overwhelming storm at that, God seemed to be as far away as possible. You see, some people think that God's obliged to save them, they don't need to do anything. But you find the characters in this passage, I don't have time to show you them, in chapter 8, at least three of them all came to the Lord Jesus and asked help - even the man that was demon possessed was led to Christ. We find it in these disciples, verse 25, they called unto Christ: 'Lord, save us: we perish'.
You say: 'Well, what's the Lord doing? Is He playing a game of cat and mouse here? He's wanting them to seek Him out, yet He's not being available, He's lying asleep in the boat, He's distant'. My friend, I think the Lord was testing them, He was pushing them into a desperate situation, a desperate position. He wanted them to see and He wanted them to ask for the meeting of their need in Him alone. I'm just wondering tonight where you find yourself? Could it be in your storm, in your overwhelming situation, that the Lord Jesus is taking away His gracious influences from your life to show you what you're like without Him, and how much you need Him? How helpless you are, and how helpless you are without Him - is that maybe why God seems far away to you at the moment? Is that why your life seems pointless?
Can I ask you what you're going to do? Are you going to do what a lot of people do, in your desperation you're going to throw your hands up and say: 'I give up, I'm not going to look for God. There's no hope in prayer or in religion or anything like that, I'm giving up on life and all!'? Or will you turn to the Lord Jesus? Let me show you, this is what the disciples did: they sought the Lord. Even though they couldn't understand or make sense why He seemed distant and ignored their need, they still cried out: 'Lord, save us: we perish'. You see, Christ wanted them to see their need without Him, and seek Him to find their need. Oh, that you could see that tonight. Do you see your need of Him?
But the big question is not only will you see it, but will you search for Him? Joseph Scriven was born near Banbridge, and after he graduated from Trinity College in Dublin, he seemed to be set for a brilliant career and a happy life. He was engaged to be married, but tragedy struck - a storm overwhelmed him. His fiancee was drowned the eve of their wedding, and Joseph, after that moment, was plunged into sorrow. But this tragedy brought him to a personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus - in the midst of his tragedy he sought the Saviour, even though, I'm sure, He seemed to be far away from him. The story of his life goes on: in 1845 he sailed for Canada to start a new life and leave behind him his sorrows, but it was not to be. Ill-health struck him, it dogged him so much it forced him to return home after a couple of months to Ireland. Eventually, after a year or two, he returned to Canada to take up a teaching post. Then he met another young girl, 23 years of age, but that happiness still wasn't to be. He got engaged, and before they could take their marriage vows she was struck down by a deadly illness and passed away. Twice Joseph was plunged into deep depression, but twice Joseph sought the Saviour. When his mother was dying back in Banbridge here in Ireland, it had been 10 years since he'd seen her face, and he wasn't going to see her before she died because he was too ill to travel. He wrote her a poem, and we've just sung it:
'What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!'.
Joseph Scriven brought everything: his sins, his sorrows, his sadness to Jesus - and he found in Him a help and a strength. That's what you need to do, that's your problem. I want you to see that it was not only a desperate prayer, it was an urgent prayer - verse 25 - because it was desperate it was urgent, that's the reason why. I want to ask you tonight how urgent you feel your soul's salvation is? How concerned are you about your eternal soul? The measure of your concern will be your urgency to get saved. If you're not dying to get saved tonight, it's a sure sign that you don't see your sin and the Saviour the way they are. I know God may be distant, and you don't understand a lot about Him - but my friend if you get lost in the midst of a bleak forest in the dead of night, and the darkness seems to be inches away from your nose, and your friends have left you all around the vicinity - what do you do? Do you whisper, or do you cry all the louder for help? You mightn't see God tonight, you mightn't be able to touch Him, you mightn't even feel His presence or His leading in your life, and there are many things you don't understand - my friend, that's all the more cause for you to cry out to Him with urgency!
Their prayer was urgent - why? Because their condition was fatal: 'We perish!'. My friend, you're perishing, you're lost, you're undone! You're without hope because you're without Christ, and if you were to die tonight or the Saviour was to come, you'd be lost forever! Oh to God that you could see it, I can see it, but Christ can see it greater than all of us! Oh, that He would give you a vision of your lostness!
Not only was it urgent because they knew their condition was fatal, but because they knew their only hope was in Christ: 'Lord, save us!'. They didn't turn to the church or Judaism. You see, they hadn't time for that. It was so urgent they went to the One who had the answer. My friend, you can go all you like, but I'll save you a lot of time: go to every religious establishment, denomination, church, religious faith you like, cult, sect; but Christ is the only One who can save your soul forever! He's the only One who is the Son of God, and the only One who has died for sinners.
But I want you to see for your encouragement tonight: not only was it a desperate prayer and an urgent prayer, it wasn't a perfect prayer. They cried out, and the Lord said in verse 26: 'Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?'. Do you know why it wasn't perfect? Because it was a sinner's prayer. You see a lot of people get confused, they think they have to come up to a certain standard before they can reach the Lord, and before the Lord will receive them. They even think that praying a certain way, or a certain amount, or to a certain person, or through a certain church will gain them credit with God - but we see here that the ones that prayed were sinners. The Lord says: 'Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?', and the reason why that is, is because in verse 13 of chapter 9 the Lord Jesus said: 'I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance'. He didn't come and tell you how you could come up to speed with His standards and get yourself squeakyclean to get in through the gate of heaven. He came to save people who knew they were helpless and hopeless without Him, sinners! That's why tonight, my friend, you mightn't feel worthy, you mightn't feel that you can pray the prayers that should be prayed or could be prayed - come as you are! That's what Christ wants!
These disciples were in a desperate situation, they had no time! They couldn't better themselves, they couldn't sit and contemplate what kind of language they were going to speak to Almighty Saviour, they just cried in their desperation their need to God: 'Lord, save us: we perish!'. They're just like the thief on the cross, they hadn't time to get down and clean themselves up morally, and that's why one of them cried out: 'Lord, remember me when you come into Your kingdom', and the Saviour said, 'Today you'll be with me in Paradise'. That's where you need to get this evening, you need to get to Calvary, the cross where Jesus was uplifted and Jesus bled and died for your sins because He loved you, because He wants to make a way back to God through Him for you - so that you might cry out like the thief, seeing your sin on Him...
But my friend, not just seeing your sin on Him, because a lot of people see their sin and they do one of two things: they get dejected because they don't know what to do about it, or they get deluded and they think they can save themselves through religion. Don't you look at your sin, my friend, your sin is on Christ! Look at your sin on Him, not in your heart! If you look down at your boots your head will stay there, but lift your head high to Calvary, and see that your sin and all of its deep dyed immoral depravity was laid on Him - but He is able to save you, that's what you need to see!
Look to the Saviour and see your sin, and the One who can save you from it at the same time. Pray the sinner's prayer - don't come to God and say: 'Now I haven't been a bad church attender, and I've kept some of the commandments, and I pray at night the Lord's Prayer, and I read the odd Psalm, sometimes the Gospel of John now and again a wee chapter here and there'. My friend, don't you come like that to God. Say: 'Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling'.
It was a sinner's prayer, but it was also a doubter's prayer. They thought the Lord had forgotten them, is that where you are tonight? You don't just think He's distant, you think He doesn't care - don't ever think that, my friend! The book of Romans says that because of Calvary God gave everything, and if He gave His only Son, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? God wants to give you everything you could ever imagine in Christ - what are you going to let your doubts do? You can let them drive you from God, or you can let them, like the disciples, drive you to God. This wasn't just a sinner's prayer, it was a doubter's prayer - but out of their doubt and their fear, they cried: 'Lord, save us: we perish!'. Will you do that tonight?
Here's another thing that should be an encouragement to every person without the Saviour tonight: it was a prayer of little faith. It was a sinner's prayer, it was a doubter's prayer, and it was a prayer of little faith: 'O ye of little faith', He said to them. You might be here tonight, and there's a lot of questions in your mind and heart, and you don't understand everything, you're confused. I'm not trying to dupe you, you think things through reasonably and rationally - but there was a wee girl in the backroom there the other evening, and she was confused, and she didn't understand absolutely everything about Christianity, but she knew she wanted the Lord Jesus. I explained it like this to her: when a wee baby is born, they come out of the womb, the first thing they do is not turn round to Mummy and Daddy and say: 'Hello, how are you doing, I've been longing to see you'. They don't understand a lot, do they? They don't know an awful lot about life, but who would dispute that they're born? Who would dispute that they have it?
My friend tonight, you mightn't know everything about Christianity, all the questions and problems of this universe, and I don't know them either - but I know this: a wonderful Saviour is Jesus my Lord, and with little faith that you have, if you cry unto Christ, He will save you. He accepted even little faith, that's the mighty fact here. It was not the quantity of the faith that was important, but the quality of the One in whom the faith was exercised. In verse 10 we read of a centurion who came to get his servant healed, and he had a different faith. The Lord Jesus said He had not seen such faith in all Israel, his faith was great, and with great faith he came to Jesus. But then we find in verse 25 of the same chapter, the disciples came to Jesus and they had a lot of doubts and very little faith, but they came to Jesus - and here's the point: both of them came, those that had a lot of faith and those that had a lot of doubts, they both came to Jesus and - hallelujah! - He took both of them in. That's why at many a Gospel meeting we sing: 'Just as I am'.
Now I know some of you here tonight perhaps are waiting. I don't know what you're waiting for, but you're a fool because Jesus wants you to come just as you are. Does that not cause you to rejoice tonight? He heard the sinner's prayer, He heard a doubter's prayer, He heard even a prayer of little faith - why should He not hear my prayer tonight? Oh, He'll hear it alright, because this wasn't just a desperate, and an urgent, and an imperfect prayer, but it was an answered prayer: 'Then Christ arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!'.
It was an answered prayer in that the Saviour brought peace to their little boat. Is your home wracked with unrest tonight? Is your heart ripped apart by anxieties and fears and distresses? He can give you the peace that passeth all understanding to rule your heart and mind through Him. He can give you the peace of the past being forgiven, the slate wiped clean, all the sins that you've ever committed, and those you've forgotten, and those you're ignorant of - cleansed in the precious blood of His cross! He can give you the assurance - what peace that brings! - that if you died you'd be with Christ forever. What more could you want, my friend? Cry to Him: 'Lord, save me: I perish!', and He'll bring you peace - and here's the greatest thing: He'll reveal Himself. Men have been striving to know God for centuries, but you can only know God through following the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God and the way to God. But if you come to Him tonight and pray this perishing prayer, you will be standing like those disciples looking into the face of the One who loved you and gave Himself for you, and you'll be saying: 'What manner of Man is this?'.
At one point He's sleeping, because He's a man; at the next point they're calling Him 'Lord' because He's God's Son, and He's stilling the storm! 'The Man of Calvary has won my heart from me, and died to set me free; blessed Man of Calvary' - you'll say that tonight if you cry: 'Lord, save me: I'm perishing!'.
Let us pray: Father, we pray that if You've been moving and striving, as we believe You have, in people's hearts tonight - Lord, make that work complete and bring them into the fold this evening, bring them on the Shepherd's arms out of the mountains wild and bare, from the boisterous storms that they're in, and carry them home Your sheep. For Jesus' sake we pray, Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording, titled "The Prayer Of The Perishing" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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