John Wooden is probably the greatest college basketball coach to ever wear the whistle.  Wooden was the coach for UCLA from 1948-1975 and still holds the most unbeatable records in sports history.  It took him 16 years to win his first national championship but wound up winning 10 national championships in 12 years. His teams won 37 straight NCAA tournament games, four of his teams finished the season 30-0, and his teams won a record 88 consecutive games.

He shared that the secret to his success was coaching the fundamentals of the game of basketball.  He taught his players the right way to put on their socks, tie their shoes, and then eventually moved into the basics of the game.  He didn’t scout his opponent to see how they were going to play.  He was more concerned with how HIS team prepared than what the other team was going to do.  He was convinced that if his players understood and executed the fundamentals of the game of basketball it would not matter WHAT the other team was doing.  Knowing & executing the fundamentals, he believed, would bring them success on the court & in life.

By winning 10 NCAA championships in 12 years, Wooden was right about what it takes to succeed.

Prayer is one of THE fundamentals of Christian discipleship.  Jesus Himself stated “My house shall be called a house of prayer…” (Matthew 21:13).  Jesus taught His disciples how to pray and even went so far as to teach “them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).  Prayer is not an option in the eyes of God.  It is the lifeblood of the church and the life preserver of God’s children.

In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God gives HIS people specific guidelines to insure their prayers are heard and answered.  God gives four specific prescriptions for effective prayer and they are as follows:

If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

HUMILITY: Isaiah 66:2 tells us—“this is the one to whom I will look: He who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. Humility causes us to realize that we are not in control but that God is ultimately in control of all things.  As a result, humility causes us to realize that God wants us to receive from Him, not give to Him.  God longs to bless His children, and when we realize that He has all the heavenly resources we need, then we will humble ourselves before Him and receive His strength rather than fight against Him and try to impress Him with our strength.  Consequently, humility causes us to realize that we cannot fix other people.  It makes us realize that God can, and when we submit to His Lordship, “He is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

PRAYER: Prayer is partly an act of ascribing worth to God for who He is, for what He has done, and for what He promises to do in the future.  If you read the Psalms, you will see that the Psalm-writers are constantly praising God through their prayers for who He is.  A natural consequence then of prayer is to call down the resources of God for His aid in our own lives.  Prayer involves trusting in God to act rather than rushing out in our own strength to try to make things happen.  Therefore, prayer is uniquely tied to humility.

SEEK HIS FACE: Seeking God’s face is different than seeking God’s hand.  Psalm 42:1-2 states: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”  The Psalmist is not asking God for anything other than God Himself.  Do you long for more of God in your own life?  Do you desire to know God more intimately?  Often, we just want what God can give us, but we really don’t desire to know Him much more deeply.  Don’t desire God? Tell him.  Pray to Him & ask Him to create that desire within you. Ask Him for a hunger for God.

REPENTANCE:  This is the act of turning away from sin to the living God.  Repentance is the key that opens the lock of true faith.  Repentance is difficult because it requires humility, prayer, and seeking the face of God.  Repentance is sometimes arduous, bloody work.  Yet, we often have “besetting” sins that we keep falling back into that haunt us for years.  You may be thinking, “I can’t turn from my sin! It is riveted to my soul.  I can’t tear it away!  I can’t lay it down; I keep picking it up again.  I KEEP SINNING!!!  Therefore, God surely won’t answer my prayers.”

The apostle Paul certainly could relate to this mindset.  He stated in Romans 7:

…I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…  For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,  but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:15-24

Paul still struggled with his sinful nature, though he was used mightily by God and probably reached a level of personal holiness that is unmatched (apart from Christ).

A former seminary professor of mine, Dr. Eric Johnson, said this about our spiritual struggles:

“While your present struggles and sins are very important to God, He has promised that if we seek, we will find.  We cannot, however, expect to (always) find him after a week of Bible reading or at the end of a one-day fast.  God is trying to develop people who persevere in seeking him.  As we patiently seek his face, not giving up (especially when we don’t feel or seem very different), over the years, he will increasingly manifest himself to us.  It’s no different in any love relationship.  Real love takes time to develop and grow.”

Satan would have you believe that UNTIL you get everything smoothed out in your life then you shouldn’t even pray to God.  But I don’t think that is what repentance is.  Repentance is turning away from sin to the living God.  Repentance is humbly confessing your sins to God and asking for His forgiveness and healing.  1 John 1:9 states that “if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Forgiveness happens in a moment; actual cleansing may take a long time—just like trying to get stubborn stains out of a piece of fabric.

Therefore, repent!  Turn from your sin and confess it to God.  Don’t try to minimize it.  Don’t try to hide it.  Confess it to Him.  Admit that you are wrong.  Shed light on the fact that you fall miserably short.  Turn from your sin to God again & again & again—even if it takes 10,000 “repentances” to bring about your liberation.

God can handle reality.  What He detests is hypocrisy.

All of this is to say, don’t let 2 Chronicles 7:14 be a discouragement to you.  Rather let it be an encouragement to you to continually storm the gates of heaven for your lives, your families, and for the church in 2013.  You have NO idea how God might surprise you this coming year!!

Happy New Year!!