Two men were talking together. The first challenged the other, “If you are so religious, let’s hear you quote the Lord’s Prayer. I bet you $10.00 you can’t.” The second responded, “Now I lay my down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” The first pulled out his wallet and fished out a ten dollar bill, muttering, “I didn’t think you could do it!” (Source Unknown.)
Funny, but sad that prayer is probably very under developed in the lives of many Christians. How well do we know the prayers of the Bible? How much do we understand the importance and power of prayer? How often are we exercising this great privilege?
Do you have a prayer partner? Are you in the habit of regularly praying? Do you pray together as a family? Are you a part of our church email or phone prayer chain? What about attending our 8:45 prayer time every Sunday morning, even if it’s just a few times this year? Moms and grandma’s, consider joining our every other Wednesday prayer group to pray for the needs of your children and grandchildren. Maybe you’ve never even shared a prayer request on the back of your blue communication card. Step out on faith and let others carry your burdens this year by sharing your needs. We will be offering weekly suggestions on how to incorporate prayer into your daily life and I will be teaching on Wednesdays for quite some time on prayer. During the 40 days leading up to Easter, we’ll be encouraging fasting along with your praying, and I believe this will be an unprecedented, historical and miraculous year in your personal life and in the life of this church.
Jesus prayed. He loved to pray. His regular habit was to pray. Prayer was a natural part of His life. Examples:
Mark 1: 35-We see Him praying in the morning.
Luke 5: 15-16-He often slipped away to the wilderness to pray even when He was busy.
Luke 6: 12-13-He spent the entire night in prayer.
The night before the crucifixion was spent in prayer.
Luke 22: 32. John 17: 6-19-He prayed for others by name.
Luke 9: 29-He prayed with others.
The disciples never asked Jesus how to walk on water or how to raise the dead but they begged Him to “Teach us to pray.” They knew there was a relationship between the power His life manifested and the hours He spent conversing with God the Father.
Prayer is such a privilege. To think that the God of the Universe wants to hear from us and wants to speak to us is so powerful, yet we often don’t make the time we should or want to in order to practice this discipline.
That’s why 2011 is the Year of Prayer where we will be:
When we pray, (1) we are preparing for battle.
You will gain strength, strength that you will need, in many dimensions as you pray. Jesus knew what He had to endure as He had already predicted, “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed” (Mark 8:31). “They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him” (Luke 18:33). He knew He would be accused by false witnesses (predicted in Psalm 35:11), be struck and spat upon (predicted in Isaiah 50:6), be betrayed by a friend (predicted in Psalm 41:9), have his clothes taken and watch lots being cast for them (predicted in Psalm 22:18). He knew the disciples would desert Him (predicted in Zechariah 13:7) and that Peter would disown Him (predicted by Jesus in Mathew 26:34). He knew He’d be mocked and insulted (predicted in Psalm 22:7 – 8), put to death with thieves (predicted in Isaiah 53:12), betrayed by His own people (Isaiah 53:3), hated without a cause (predicted in Psalm 69:4) and be crucified (predicted in Psalm 22:16). But in spite of the pain, torture and horror that awaited Him, Jesus left the garden filled with the strength that flows from prayer and was fully prepared for what awaited Him.
The truth is, we don’t know what tomorrow holds. We don’t know what we’ll face next week or during the course of this year. But prayer will get us ready for whatever we must face.
Our family took the winter Taekwondo camp that David Chairez taught, and we’ll be taking his formal classes beginning February 1. I’m thinking after I start testing for some belts, my ministry through the laying on of hands could take on a whole new dimension! J One thing that has continued to sit in my thoughts that David told our class is that “before you ever learn how to fight, you have to learn how to stand.” You have to learn how to stand in ways that will keep you from being easily pushed or kicked over. You have to equally distribute your weight, be balanced, and be focused on standing and that standing precedes any other form of defense. If you go to throw a kick or a punch and you aren’t standing correctly, you’ll miss your target. You’ll fall on your “blessed assurance.” You’ll likely get clobbered. Isn’t that what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 6?
Ephesians 610 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Part of that full armor of God-the final piece-is prayer.
Ephesians 6:18 “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.”
Prayer keeps us standing firm. It keeps us in a state of readiness for whatever Satan might try to pull or whatever life may bring to us. Prayer keeps us standing tall at the front lines ready for the battle. It is the basis for all other defensive and offensive moves.
When we pray, (2) we are preparing for miracles.
James 5:16-18 “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a man just like us. (Turn to your neighbor and say, “Just like you!”) 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.”
I’d say no rain for three and a half years in response to a prayer qualifies as a miracle, wouldn’t you? Miracles can happen when we pray.
It has been said, “When we work, we work; when we pray, God works.” Prayer is the means God has ordained by which he will work on earth and meet the needs of His people.
Ephesians 3:20 is a powerful verse. It begins with “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 . . .”
It’s one thing to imagine something, to dream something or to hope for something, but the possibility increases that whatever you imagine or dream about will come to fruition if you will ASK for it. Prayer connects our thoughts with God’s power!
We need to stop wishing and hoping and longing and start praying and seeking and asking!
When we pray, we are (3) preparing to be used of God.
Prayer was one of the most distinguishing features of the apostles’ lives. After Jesus ascended into heaven the disciples were instructed to wait (Acts 1). While they waited, what did they do? They prayed. (Acts 2). And in the midst of their first prayer meeting the Spirit of God visited them in such a dramatic way that they were not only changed, but 3,000 additional souls where brought into God’s kingdom (Acts 2:41). The early disciples “Devoted themselves . . . to prayer” (Acts 2:42 NIV) and the church continued to expand and advance. “And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). The opposition “. . . ordered them not to preach or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18) but they couldn’t “. . . stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
What gave them the boldness to speak in the face of opposition? What gave them the power to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders? It was prayer.
“When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness” (Acts 4:31). Prayer prepared them to receive the Holy Spirit’s power.
And, the result? “So the preaching about God flourished, the number of the disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). Even the most hostile of opponents, the priests, were converted to Christ.
The early disciples prayed, “. . . Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak Your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4:29). Notice the result, “When they had prayed, . . . they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness” (Acts 4:31). This was not a second Pentecost. This was a fresh filling, a renewed awareness of the Spirit’s power and presence in their life and witness. This endowment of power for witness would continue as they prayed. The idea of “filling” means to be controlled by. Boldness was the outward sign of the Holy Spirit’s control of their lives.
Oh that we would be prepared for battles, prepared for miracles and be prepared to be used of God in any instance! We can be through prayer.
It’s not just about our needs, but it’s really about our need to pray. God knows it’s good for us to talk to Him. Do you have a good friend that you just enjoy chatting with? You feel uplifted, focused and refreshed after you’ve spent time talking with them? Is there someone you rely on to listen and give you good, godly advice? Is there someone in your life who has said, “Lean on me? I’ll be there for you?” How much more is God that for all of us?
God created prayer so that we would rely on Him. Bible reading is a one-way conversation. It is God speaking to us. When we pray, however, we get to speak and listen and acknowledge our dependence on Him. We need to rely on God as our Source so we don’t get off track.
When we rely on God in prayer, the waiting time between our request and our answer is focused and purposeful rather than empty, meaningless and full of anxiety and worry. It keeps the devil from robbing us of our peace. It enables us to wait on God’s perfect timing.
When we rely on God in prayer, it allows us to focus on the truth that God has a plan. Our job is to seek and find it. His ways are higher than ours. Prayer puts us on the path to finding those “highways!”
Relying on God through prayer changes us. Real prayer is not only soul satisfying; it is life changing. When you and I spend time with Jesus, he changes us.
Richard Foster wrote, “To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives. The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ.”
You’ve heard the acronym “FROG” “Fully rely on God?” Prayer enables us to do just that. Look at the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer of reliance.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”-Here Jesus is showing us that we are to rely on God to provide for us every day. We rely on Him for the physical pieces of life.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Here Jesus shows us we need to rely on God for forgiveness and for help to forgive others. We rely on Him for the relational things of life.
“And lead us not into temptation”-Here Jesus reminds us that God doesn’t tempt us. If we rely on Him, we won’t be led astray by the tempter, Satan. We rely on Him for the spiritual things of life.
“Deliver us from evil.” Jesus wants us to know we can rely on God to be our Deliverer. We rely on Him to keep us safe for eternity. No one else but God can and will deliver us!
This aspect of prayer is a body, mind, and spirit investment. We are not supposed to be bashful in prayer. Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened unto you:” Hebrews 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
We need to make a fervent investment by praying with fierce conviction, by praying with urgency, by praying with faith by and by anticipating that an answer is on its way.
Acts 12:12‐16, “12When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!” 15“You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.” 16But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.
We need to quit being surprised when God answers our prayers! Those who had gathered to prayer weren’t expecting Peter to be at the door. We need to pray with anticipation that God is going to hear and answer us.
(1 Kings 18:41-45) When Elijah began to pray for it to rain again, after being dry for three and a half years, he prayed with anticipation. He put his head between his legs and prayed. He then asked his servant if he saw anything. He said, “There is nothing”. He did this seven times, until after the seventh time the servant said, I see a cloud about the size of a man’s hand. When Elijah heard this, he knew the rain was on its way. Pray and keep praying in faith, looking for and anticipating your answer, until it manifests itself.
Mark 11:24, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it (ANTICIPATE AND LOOK FOR IT), and it will be yours.”
It is the prayer, offered in faith (anticipation) which will make the sick person well. James 5:15
Faith is the foundation of prayer. If we are praying according to God’s will, we should anticipate God’s answer. Clement once said, “Faith is a voluntary anticipation.”
Our children know we will take care of their needs and that we will respond to their requests. Sometimes our answer is “No.” Sometimes it’s “Not now.” Often it is “Yes,” but they’re never shy about asking. One sure way not to receive something is not to ask for it. Another way to limit your ability to receive is to ask without believing you can receive what you are asking for. Prayer without faith, prayer without anticipation won’t get the job done.
When Nehemiah prayed to God in chapter one to allow him, (Nehemiah) to do something about the walls of Jerusalem that were in such disrepair, he ended his prayer by calling himself the Lord’s servant twice in verse 10. Ultimately, it is not about our perceived need, our aspirations, our comfort, or our timeline, but it is about the Lord’s will.
I remember seeing a counselor a few times when I was in seminary to work through some issues. I told the counselor I wanted to be married at 27 and have a baby when I was 29. I had the whole next ten years of my life mapped out, and I was prepared to take the necessary steps to see it all unfold. God had other plans. It wasn’t until I yielded to Him and let Him work in His time that He brought the absolute best husband for my life.
Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart. The Hebrew word for delight in this verse literally means to become soft or pliable. This means that “delighting” in the Lord is assuming a yielded posture before God.
Yielding is when we stop talking, and we wait, and listen and seek to hear from God. Yielding comes after we have poured out our hearts and shared our opinions, plans and dreams then say, “Whatever your will is, that is what I desire,” just like Jesus did in the garden.
When I think of the word “yield” I think of several definitions:
“To give forth or produce by a natural process or in return for cultivation: This farm yields enough fruit to meet all our needs.” When we yield to God we are cultivating a yield, a harvest in our life.
“To give up to superior power or authority.” When we yield to God in prayer we are exercising the reality that He is Lord. At that point, yielding becomes an act of worship.
“To give up or over; relinquish or resign:” to yield the floor to the senator from WV. When we yield to God in prayer, we give it over to Him to care for.
Yielding is for our benefit because we don’t have to carry the weight of the issue. We don’t have to try to manipulate the outcome. When we yield, we know God will answer with perfection. Yielding means that we accept whatever God delivers. As one Confederate Soldier has written:
I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked God for health that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for–but everything I had hoped for…
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed. -An unknown Confederate soldier.
You may not get what you want when you pray, but you will get what you need and you will get what will be a blessing to you.
“Keep praying, but be thankful that God’s answers are wiser than your prayers!” -William Culbertson.
Pray, but then yield to God’s answer in God’s timing. The challenge this morning is simple. I am asking you to consider joining me in making prayer a priority this year by committing to praying at least eleven minutes per day in 2011 and that during that prayer time you will pray for the salvation of the lost and pray to be used by God for His will to be accomplished in and through your life. If you will make that commitment, please sign your name to the card below and prepare to come forward and place it on the communion table as I sing.