The Pathways of Prayer
(Mention Trunk or Treat)
Paul Miller, a leading teacher on the subject of prayer has done a poll at his seminars and has found that 90% of evangelical Christians say they don’t have a meaningful daily prayer life. If prayer is to be one of the biggest weapons we have, one of the greatest tools at our disposal and we aren’t using it consistently and effectively how much are we living below our potential, our destiny, and the abundant life in general that God has for us?
To help us understand the reasons why prayer is important, I want to talk to you this morning about the avenues or pathways of prayer that connect us in meaningful ways to God and to our God-given destiny.
Prayer is a pathway to communion with God. “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16 This isn’t just a random verse, but this is one of several verses that tell us Jesus had a habit of getting alone with God for times of prayer.
One evening earlier this week, Thom and I were sitting in the family room, and even though I was really tired, I didn’t want to go to bed. I was enjoying talking with him. It was so refreshing (not that usually talking with him is a drain!). But it was refreshing because our conversation wasn’t focused on the schedule or who was picking up the kids from an event or wasn’t centered on details we needed to figure out while planning for something here at church. We were just talking about culture, politics, and life in general.
I remember thinking, “This is really nice.” Listen, just because you live with someone doesn’t mean you know them. Knowing someone’s heart and what they think about different topics is important for building intimacy and partnership.
Life at our place is probably a lot like life at your place. Busyness can take priority over just enjoying being together. We were made for relationship with God and other people, and it is easy to lose sight of that. It is easy to forget it altogether and go from enjoying each other to just being busy together. I have a birthday coming up next week, and it also happens to be our anniversary on the same day. I told Thom what I wanted was to spend an entire day together, just being together. We gain strength as a couple when we make that investment.
The same is true for our relationship with God. Just because we go to church, own a Bible, and listen to K-love radio doesn’t mean we really know God and His desires for our lives. Jesus took time to get alone with His Heavenly Father, to just be with Him, to talk to Him and to listen to Him. I believe Jesus got more out of His prayer life than just receiving the schedule or agenda for the next ministry stop. He unburdened His soul. He heard the Father share His thoughts about what had been going on in Jesus’ life and ministry and in the culture of the day. I believe prayer was a conversation between them that strengthened, refreshed, and encouraged Jesus in His humanity.
Who would have thought that prayer could lead to refreshment and encouragement? That it could be a confidence builder? That it could leave us with the sense that we know God better? I don’t believe prayer gets God involved in our lives, but it acknowledges that He is involved, and that He has an opinion about everything that is going on. He has words of encouragement to speak over us that will give us perspective and confidence. He has a Divine Will to express to us that draws us closer to who God is, what He desires, and how we can best serve Him.
Prayer is a way that we leave the busyness of life behind and get into the presence of God. We are told to possess the mind of Christ in Philippians 2:5. The mind of Christ was filled with the thoughts of God. We can only possess the same kind of mind Jesus had when we spend time cultivating it and filling it with God’s thoughts and strategies. Those are communicated to us not only in the Word of God, but also from His heart to ours in prayer. There are times when we need to go to God in prayer without any agenda except the agenda to commune with Him and to know Him better. And we need to go with a heart wanting to listen to what He has to say.
I love the way this idea of communing with God through prayer is expressed in a small group study I am doing with some ladies. It tells the story of Dan Rather, former CBS anchorman, who asked Mother Teresa what she said during her prayers. She answered, “I listen.” So Dan Rather turned the question around and asked, “Well then, what does God say?” To that Mother Teresa smiled with confidence and answered, “He listens.” Mr. Rather didn’t know how to continue. He was baffled. Mother Teresa went on to say, “And if you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you. What Mother Teresa was describing was literally heart-to-heart talks with God through prayer.” (Centered, pg. 48)
When we go to God in prayer, we need to go to Him with the attitude of wanting to spend time with Him, getting to know Him, and developing intimacy with Him.
Prayer is a pathway to partnership with the Holy Spirit. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” Romans 8:26
Let me remind you that God will never call us to something or ask something of us that He also won’t empower us to do. Even in the act of praying, we see how God comes alongside us and to enable our praying. We come with our heart and our vocabulary and our desires and express those, but the Holy Spirit also gets involved in our prayer life to bring direction and power to what we are trying to express.
John 16:13 tells us one of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to guide us into truth. When we are submitted to God in the place of prayer, and the Holy Spirit is engaged with us, we will be able to hear and discern the truth God is trying to share with us.
Look again at that verse on the screen. Why does the Holy Spirit come to us to help us in our prayer life? It is because we are weak. We lack spiritual discernment. Partnering with the Holy Spirit in prayer and acknowledging His presence is possible only when we acknowledge and accept that we ARE weak. We need help.
But the Holy Spirit is a gentleman. He won’t force His way into our lives or times of prayer, but as we express our need for the Holy Spirit to help us, He will enter into our prayer life in a dynamic way. Only when we possess a sense of our own weakness will we see the need to pray often and to seek the Holy Spirit’s help. People who think they can do it all on their own have little need to seek the Holy Spirit’s help.
God doesn’t condemn us or shame us because we are weak. He just gracefully offers to come alongside us. He doesn’t draw attention to our weakness, but to His power and strength. I love that about God. He doesn’t seek to embarrass us, but to empower us.
Our human frailty and weakness is often seen in the part of us that is emotional. We get stressed, frustrated, angry, depressed, disappointed, and sad. Sometimes our emotional selves can get in the way of us praying the way we should or in the way of us wanting to pray at all. The Holy Spirit takes up for us when we are weak emotionally.
“But the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” He laments on our behalf. He cries out to God on our behalf. How precious is that? What a compassionate God we serve! Sometimes we don’t even know why we feel the way we do. In those moments, the Holy Spirit intercedes for our deepest emotional needs and conveys our hurts and disappointments to God. Don’t we all need a friend like that?
When we go to God in prayer, we need to acknowledge the Holy Spirit and welcome Him to be part of the conversation. Prayer isn’t a two-way conversation between you and God the Father alone. It is meant to be a three-way conversation between God and us, with the listening and praying help of the Holy Spirit. Think of it this way: The Holy Spirit is your Prayer Partner!
Prayer is a pathway to an obedient lifestyle. Samuel replied, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” I Samuel 3:10b
When you go to talk with God, you can’t go with the idea that you are going to express your will and expect God to carry it out. You can express your needs. You can ask for what you need. You can share your heart’s desires with God, but biblical prayer, prayer that works is prayer that expresses we want God’s will over our own.
When the young boy Samuel was called by God out of his sleep in I Samuel 3, he got up and went to the priest that he was staying with because he assumed that was who had called him. The priest told him not once, not twice, but three times to go back to bed. After the third time, the priest realized that God was trying to have a conversation with Samuel, and he instructed Samuel to go back to bed and anticipate God’s call again. When the fourth call came, Samuel got up and said, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Samuel had a spirit of obedience; a desire to do whatever it was that God told him to do.
Samuel had put himself in a position to hear from God because he was ministering before the Lord in the tabernacle (I Samuel 3:1). He had cultivated a lifestyle that longed to be connected to the Lord’s presence, and when the Lord spoke and he realized it was the Lord, he obediently was ready to serve in whatever way God had chosen.
When we seek the Lord in prayer, we need to seek with a listening ear and a heart of obedience that we will carry out God’s desires. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray in Matthew 6, He was giving them a pattern for prayer, a strategy for praying. We may not pray the exact same words in the Lord’s Prayer, but the components there ought to be part of our prayer life. One of those components is that we would ask for God’s will to be accomplished in and through our lives. That means we need to pray with a desire to hear and obey whatever it is God speaks to us.
Prayer is a pathway to increase our spiritual attention and focus. “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” Luke 10:38-39
We see in this story that Mary put herself in a position where she could be quiet and learn from Jesus. Prayer is a posture that can do the same thing for us. Part of our prayer time needs to include focused time on hearing from God. So many things vie for our attention. It may be difficult for us to hear God during the busyness of our daily activities, but this spiritual activity of prayer provides us with an opportunity to focus just on God’s voice. I wonder how many of our prayers are one-sided. Are we doing all of the talking? Do we ever ask God to speak to us, and then be still and wait for Him to respond?
Ecclesiastes 5:1 says, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.”
Yes, you can hear from God when you read His Word or when you hear a sermon, but God wants to have such an intimate relationship with you that you long for time to just have spiritual conversations with Him and to focus on Him. Getting close and focusing attention on the Lord is tougher than ever. We have so many distractions with technology being one of the main distractions. Just think, if we spent as much time focused on God in prayer as we do texting or scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, how would it change us?
Have you ever been out with someone who couldn’t focus on your presence and the conversation at hand? Perhaps you were at a restaurant that had TV’S hanging on every wall, and the person was constantly distracted and looking from TV to TV. Or maybe you were trying to have a conversation with someone who couldn’t put their phone down. It isn’t just annoying, but it can make you feel unimportant.
Prayer time is one time when we put down everything else to seek to give God our focused attention. We need the discipline of prayer to help us get used to spending longer and longer amounts of uninterrupted time in God’s presence.
Prayer is a pathway to miracles. “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:24
How many of you would like to see more miracles than you have seen to date? This past week, Mandy shared with our staff that she prays for six impossible things by breakfast. I loved that! I got excited about that. I thought, “What a great prayer strategy!” The Bible tells us that faith without works is dead (James 2:26). What that verse means is that faith is more than a belief. It is somehow expressed. One way we exercise or express our faith is by praying for impossible things to happen. When we do that, we are expressing faith in the God who said, “With God all things are possible!” (Matthew 19:26)
Sometimes I think we read about the miracles in the Bible and think, “Yeah, but those were performed by Jesus, the Son of God.” True, but remember, when Christ walked on this earth, He walked in His humanity. He had set aside His divinity when He came to earth. Many others in the Bible performed miracles as well in both the Old and New Testaments. Sometimes we read about them and think they were either super spiritual or had an unusual connection with God that we could never experience. That isn’t true. The Bible contains the real stories of real flawed and weak people just like you and me; people who were learning to know God, trust God, and rely on His power.
Think about the Prophet Elijah. God did amazing things through him as he prayed to God to send fire down on a sacrifice at a contest between God and the false Prophets of Baal. Fire fell, and Elijah had all 950 prophets of Baal killed! Right after that experience, Elijah prayed again earnestly with his head between his knees while kneeling on the top of Mt. Carmel. He received supernatural power to outrun a chariot after that!
Elsewhere, Elijah prayed for God to raise a boy from the dead, and God answered his prayer (I Kings 17).
James 5:16-18 tells us something else about Elijah and his prayer life. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 17 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.
18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
What a miracle! Did you catch that Elijah was a human being just like you and me? But miracles flowed from his prayer life.
We had an impossible situation this week when Thom received a call from our bank telling us that in the next 72 hours 1,100.00 would be taken from our checking account by the IRS in KY with more to follow totaling over 4,000.00. I don’t know about you, but when I get news like that, I know I am David up against Goliath in an instant. If you have ever had in issue with any government agency, you know things can be strung out for months and years and that basically what they decide at the end of the day is what you are stuck living with. But God . . .
Well, knowing we weren’t responsible for this debt that had been assigned to us, Thom called and spoke with someone at the IRS to make our case. In the meantime, we both started praying, and I asked someone from church here to pray. It happened to be Mandy, so we were one of her six impossible things by breakfast! Would you believe the very next morning Thom received the call from the IRS in KY to tell us we didn’t owe the money and everything was fine? Does that ever happen in the natural? No! That was a miracle!
SHOW JONATHAN HANSON’S PICTURE
I want to tell you Jonathan Hanson’s miracle story. He is a twenty-one year old med student at the University of Charleston. He attends this church. Jonathan told me of a time when God performed a miracle for him that was the result of prayer. He says:
In 2008, when I was 14 years old, I broke my arm at school. My grandmother was helping to take care of me, so I was spending the week at her house to recover. 3 days after breaking my arm, I was sitting home alone at my grandmother’s house playing Xbox when a car pulled up to my grandmother’s house (which was odd, because she lives off the road a bit).
Two older men knocked on the door, but I didn’t answer. I texted my grandmother to ask if she was expecting company, and she told me she wasn’t, so I didn’t answer the door. I saw the men leave the porch. I figured they were going back on their way.
However, a few minutes later, I started hearing a beating noise on the back porch. I realized then that the two men from earlier must have assumed no one was home, and they were breaking in to the house. I started to panic. I started rushing around the room, thinking about what to do.
I was a chubby little 14-year-old with an arm in a cast. How was I going to fend off two grown men by myself? I frantically ran around the bedroom looking for places to hide. At first I went into the bathroom and closed the door, but the dog followed me and was barking like crazy, so I knew I would be found. I ran out of the bathroom and into the bedroom closet with the beatings on the door continuing throughout the entire frantic process.
I finally sat down in the closet and, for some reason, decided to call my great-grandfather, Papa Bud. I don’t know why I called him first; I just did. I had to hang up on him because he kept talking and I had to call 911, so I called 911 and explained what was going on and then called my Uncle Tom who lived a mile down the road.
At this point I was bawling, and honestly feared for my life. I thought this was going to be my last day. Sitting in the closet, I decided to pray to God for protection. I prayed that God would protect me from the two men. Minutes later, the beating on the door stopped. I knew they were in the house. For some reason, I thought ‘I’ll have a better fighting chance in the hallway than I will cornered in a closet.” So I left the closet to meet the men in the hallway.
I took a few steps into the hallway, and suddenly one of the men stepped out from the kitchen into the hallway. He turned and saw me and for a split second just stared at me. I have never been more frightened in my life. It was like my entire body froze with fear. What would happen next?
After a second of staring at me, the man ran out the back door and ran away. He and his friend ran back to the car and drove away. I just remember crying for joy that I was okay. My God had protected me. Once everyone was back at the house with police, we realized that the two men had used a machete that was on the back porch to break open the back door. The men could have easily used that against me, or even threatened me with it. But they didn’t it. I wholeheartedly believe God heard my prayer and protected me from the most frightening moment in my life.
Amazing, right? Through the power of prayer, God gave Jonathan amazing courage in the midst of a dangerous and potentially deadly situation and miraculously two robbers with a machete became overpowered and retreated from a fourteen-year-old in a cast!
(IF POSSIBLE PUT THESE FIVE UNDERLINED COMMENTS ON ONE SLIDE)
Prayer is a pathway to communion with God. How well do you know Him this morning? Could your relationship benefit from some conversation with God?
Prayer is a pathway to partnership with the Holy Spirit. Do you acknowledge the third person in the conversation when you start to pray? Do you ask the Holy Spirit to help you pray and to pray for you?
Prayer is a pathway to an obedient lifestyle. Do you pray with the goal of adjusting your life to the will of God?
Prayer is a pathway to increase our spiritual attention and focus. Do your faith muscles need some work? Does your spiritual attention span need to be increased? Get into the spiritual gym with some regular prayer time.
Prayer is a pathway to miracles. Would you like to see miracles in your life? What impossible thing could you pray for today?
The power of prayer is that it leads us down many paths with God and for His glory. Will you join me today in taking a walk down one or more of those paths this morning?