Perhaps this message on the impact of prayer is best introduced by sharing with you how the removal of prayer from schools in 1962 has proven to have had a negative impact. David Barton of Wall Builders has studied the statistical records for years. In each study you can clearly see a negative impact starting around the year 1962 when School Prayer was removed! Teenage pregnancy rates have gone up 500% since 1962. The divorce Rate is so high that many young children don’t really understand what a family is. Violent Crimes have risen steadily since the early 60’s, and our prison system is bursting at the seams. The SAT scores have steadily declined each year since 1962 and continue to decline or be low. We once had the best school system in the world, and we are now ranked about 15th among the industrialized nations. This is despite us spending more money than any other nation in the world on our school system.
In 1940 the top seven problems among school age children included: Talking out of turn, chewing gum, making noise, running in the halls, cutting in line, dress-code violations and littering. By 1990 the top seven were: drug abuse, alcohol, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery and assault. (http://www.free2pray.info/4impactofcourtdecisions.html)
Recognizing we now live in a post-Christian America, returning prayer to public schools wouldn’t be a good idea because it would no longer be guaranteed to be a Christian prayer or a Christian person that was leading the prayer. That said, we aren’t without the ability to teach our kids to pray and to encourage them to pray while they are at school.
God is calling us to take seriously our opportunity and responsibility to pray as Christian believers because it can have a huge impact on our culture and our own personal circumstances.
Matthew 6:5-13 5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Colossians 4:2 “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”
Do you know that Jesus never taught His disciples how to preach, but He did teach them how to pray? He wanted to make sure they knew how to talk to their Heavenly Father. We see from the verses we just read that part of the DNA of a Christian is that Christians are praying people. The Gospels record it was the regular habit of Jesus to be in prayer. In the Matthew passage we read Jesus didn’t say, “If you pray,” but “When you pray. . .” It is a command of Scripture that we practice it. We are to be devoted to it. What part of this past week showed that we are devoted to prayer? Why was Jesus so adamant that we pray? Why is it prescribed? Jesus told us to pray because of the impact it makes in our lives and in the lives of others.
Prayer Cultivates Intimacy with God
Maxie Dunnam, in Alive in Christ, tells the story of a cowboy who was camping out on the prairie. When it was time to cook breakfast, he decided to light the grass and hold his skillet over the flame. But the wind came up, so he kept moving his skillet to keep it over the flame. All seemed to be going well, but when his eggs were cooked, he was three miles from his coffee.
That’s it exactly. We keep moving with the winds of duty and accommodation until suddenly we realize we have been disconnected from our beginning commitment — to know God intimately. (http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/200403/200403_034_intimacywithGod.cfm)
Prayer keeps us intimately connected with God. Do you know what intimacy is? It is vulnerability and a willingness to share all of who you are with someone. Prayer is the vehicle through which you can express anything to God and know that He will listen and hold your thoughts, ideas, hurts, disappointments and struggles in His heart as He helps you wrestle with life and win. Isn’t that beautiful? You don’t have to be afraid that something you say could put God off. You don’t have to just share a partial story with Him out of fear that if you got real you would somehow blow your relationship with God.
Think of the person you are closest to on this earth. Isn’t there a part of you that still keeps secrets? That still holds back? That still is unknown to that person? There is no fear in getting that close to God. Of course, He already has all knowledge, but when we give voice to our feelings, our longings, our desires and share those dreams and hurts with God, we put Him in a position where He can reveal His character, His tenderness, His support and strength, and His compassion. When we pray with authenticity and vulnerability we get to experience His response. I Peter 5:7 tells us to “Cast all our cares upon Him because He cares for us.” You experience God’s attention to your burdens and pain in the place of prayer. Intimacy is disclosure and vulnerability. It is pouring our hearts out to someone. That is what prayer enables us to do. It allows us to pour our hearts out before God.
But prayer isn’t just about offloading. Intimacy isn’t just about one person’s vulnerability and sharing. Intimacy is about two parties disclosing their hearts with each other. God’s word tells us in Jeremiah 33:3 “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” God wants to share His heart with you as well. Jeremiah 29 tells us He has plans and hopes and dreams for us that will prosper us and be for our good, and that the way we discover those is through prayer. Will you read these verses with me? Jeremiah 29:11-13 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
When we share our hearts with God in prayer, He shares His heart for us and discloses things we could never know any other way. Paul’s desire to “know Christ” that was expressed in Philippians chapter three, was a desire to know Christ intimately. He wanted to know Him so that He could become like Him. Prayer isn’t just about offloading burdens, but it is about talking with Christ in an effort to discover who He is, how He views each one of us and our journeys so that we can become like Him as we move through life. Intimately knowing Christ will enable us to become like Him. Becoming like Him means we get life right and handle the tough times extremely well!
Prayer Provides Knowledge and Strength
Luke 6:12-13 12 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. 13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.
In just this short passage we see that Jesus Himself spent the entire night praying about what to do when it came to the choosing of the twelve disciples. “Yeah, but Judas betrayed Him, right?” He did. That doesn’t mean Jesus got it wrong in inviting Judas to be in His team. He absolutely got it right. John 6:64 tells us Jesus knew from the beginning who would betray Him. He knew Judas would sell Him out for 30 pieces of silver. But He also knew that was all part of God’s plan. It was in the place of prayer, an all-night prayer meeting that Jesus was able to come to terms with what God’s plan was, and it was in the place of prayer where He could submit to that plan even though in His flesh He likely wanted to make a different choice.
I can see Jesus praying about the selection of the disciples. When the Father gave Him the name Simon-Peter He was thinking, “I can see potential in him. I’ve heard he has some passion. Yes, He would be a good disciple in training.” He may have gotten the names “James” and “John” and thought, “It will be nice for them to have family to be able to travel with.” And as each name came and Jesus prayed through that name maybe He got excited about inviting them to be in His entourage. He knew what they would witness, how their lives would change, what they would learn, and how exciting it would be to experience all of those miracles first-hand.
Maybe God the Father saved Judas’ name until last. Maybe God the Father gave Jesus the name “Judas” and explained that Judas would be the one to betray Him in a few years, maybe the tone of Jesus’ prayer changed in a hurry. “Ummm. Judas? Funny, Father. Nice one. That’s a great joke. Why would I invite a traitor to walk through the next three years of life with me? Why not give that spot to someone who would get it? Someone who would be faithful and follow Me all the days of their life?” Why not someone else? Because it was part of God’s plan that Jesus would be betrayed. Maybe that’s why it took all night for Jesus to pray about the selection of the 12. Maybe He wrestled with the plan of God. I don’t know for sure, but I do know that He took those kinds of decisions very seriously, so serious that He stayed up all night praying.
James 1:5 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
Through prayer we receive clarity about how to approach life’s decisions and difficulties. We also gain strength to endure life’s difficulties. Psalm 138:3 “When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted.” Sometimes God doesn’t lift the intensity of our trials or rearrange circumstances to make them easier, but He will give us the strength we need to get through them and oh, the refining that comes into our lives when He does, oh how He draws even closer to us in those deep waters, oh how tender His mercies and grace become as He gives us strength for each new day. How do you think Jesus faced the difficulty of the cross? What was He doing just prior to His arrest and crucifixion? He was praying! In that Garden of Gethsemane, He was strengthened by His Heavenly Father to be able to endure what was just ahead. God didn’t change the plan just because Jesus requested He would, but He did sustain Jesus to enable Him to follow the plan all the way to the end.
1 Chronicles 16:8-118 Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. 9 Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. 10 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. 11 Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. Do you need strength today? Seek the Lord in prayer.
Prayer Wins Battles
Turn quickly to Exodus 17 which is a wonderful story about how prayer won the battle for the Israelites. Have you ever caught yourself saying, “The only thing I can do is pray?” Listen, the most important thing you can do is pray. Prayer is the strategy for winning spiritual, physical, relational and emotional battles. Exodus 17:8-16 8 The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” 10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up–one on one side, one on the other–so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. Skip to verse 15: 15 Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. 16 He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”
When we pray, we invoke the presence of God in our war, whatever it may be. Moses intended to pray the whole time the battle was being waged, but he got tired. When that happened, Aaron and Hur got involved and started helping with the prayer effort. Waging war in prayer isn’t just for what is going on in our lives, but through the ministry of prayer you have an opportunity to intercede for battles being waged in other people’s lives.
I also want you to notice the lasting results of battle praying. Verse 16 tells us that the Lord would war against the Amalekites from generation to generation. There would be a permanent victory the Israelites would enjoy.
In Ephesians 6 the spiritual armor of God is detailed. There is the helmet of salvation. There is the sword of the Spirit. There is the belt of truth. There is the breastplate of righteousness. There are the shoes of peace. Those are the parts of the outfit, the uniform, the armor. That is what we are to wear as we battle against Satan and his demonic forces. But what you wear to the battle and what you do in the battle are two different things.
After Paul details what to wear, he tells us what to do in the battle. He says, Ephesians 6:18 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray, and then pray again and keep praying. Yes, have on your salvation helmet when you pray so that you are praying out of a relationship with Jesus. Yes, use the Sword of the Spirit when you pray because that is the Word of God. It is powerful to pray the Scriptures because when you do you are agreeing with God about His victory in your life. Yes, make sure your breastplate of righteousness is firmly in place and that there is no sin in your life that would make your prayers ineffective which Scripture tells us can happen (Psalm 66:18). Yes, make sure your sneakers of peace are on your feet and that you want God’s solution to your situation and not some kind of vindictive and selfish outcome. But after you check your spiritual armor, pray and don’t stop.
I wonder how many battles are lost because people quit praying? Do we know we have a real enemy? Real enemies don’t give up easily and certainly not without a fight. There will be times when the battle lasts for more than a minute. It doesn’t mean we won’t win, but the way to insure we won’t win is to disengage and withdraw from the battle. And the way we withdraw from the battle is to stop praying! Moses got tired of praying. You may too. That’s ok. Ask some friends to start praying alongside you! Their involvement will bolster your faith and encourage your heart.
Prayer Produces Miracles
Miracles come when we pray in Jesus’ name and authority over situations that are otherwise hopeless. Miracles can and do happen when we pray in faith believing in God’s power to accomplish anything. “For what is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 1:37)
1 John 5:14-15 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.
The video you are about to see is the miraculous story of a boy who was dead for 45 minutes.
Do you need to develop intimacy with God? Do you need knowledge and strength? Do you need to win a battle? Do you need a miracle? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, join me at an altar of prayer this morning.