We’ve talked a lot about the mystery of prayer. Why are some prayers answered and others not, why do we have to wait why, why, why. With all the whys there are a couple of things that we can count on. God loves us and He is faithful.
“I pray and I breathe - because I can’t help it. Prayer is hardly a perfect form of communication, for I, an imperfect, material being who lives on an imperfect, material planet am reaching out for a perfect, spiritual Being.
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Before we start this week’s session. Here is something that I read.
Matthew 26:36-46 CEV Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane. When they got there, he told them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” Jesus took along Peter and the two brothers, James and John. He was very sad and troubled, and he said to them, “I am so sad that I feel as if I am dying. Stay here and keep awake with me.” Jesus walked on a little way. Then he knelt with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, don't make me suffer by drinking from this cup. But do what you want, and not what I want.” He came back and found his disciples sleeping. So he said to Peter, “Can't any of you stay awake with me for just one hour? Stay awake and pray that you won't be tested. You want to do what is right, but you are weak.” Again Jesus went to pray and said, “My Father, if there is no other way, and I must suffer, I will still do what you want.” Jesus came back and found them sleeping again. They simply could not keep their eyes open. He left them and prayed the same prayer once more. Finally, Jesus returned to his disciples and said, “Are you still sleeping and resting? The time has come for the Son of Man to be handed over to sinners. Get up! Let's go. The one who will betray me is already here.”
“Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Jesus says, “Pray that you’re not led into temptation, Peter.” This was the warning. This was the moment that would have prepared Peter’s lips with a resounding ‘yes!’ when, in just a few hours, he would find himself sitting around a campfire and being asked the question, “Are you with Jesus?” This was the moment—the moment that would have prepared him for the greatest battle he’d ever fight within his soul. It was a moment that no one would celebrate. It was a moment that no one would like on Instagram. It was a moment that he’d get no credit for. It was a moment that no one would ever see. I wonder if it even would’ve been written in the Bible at all if Peter had just prayed with Jesus; surely they had all prayed together before, but we don’t see it in Scripture.
Peter decided to sleep rather than to pray, and he left his spirit unguarded. Prayer is the protective force around our lives. It positions us in a place of power. We should never underestimate the power of prayer in our own lives. Yes, we pray for the needs of others. Yes, we pray for the needs of the world, but this was the moment for Peter not to pray for the world but to pray for himself and to take inventory in his own heart—to follow the example of Jesus, who was in a garden praying so hard that his body was producing blood out of his sweat glands—and yet all the while, Peter is asleep with his spirit unguarded. We have to get into that place of prayer. We’ve got to fight for that place of prayer and connection with Jesus.
I’m not saying this in a religious way. I’m not saying this legalistically. Prayer is a relational imperative in the life of the believer. Sometimes we view prayer as a test for our discipline, but prayer is more than that. It is an indicator of the health of our relationship with God. Any relationship that exists without communication is unhealthy. Prayer guards our spirit. Prayer is a secret place, an uncelebrated place, at times a painful place, but it is a crucial place.
Ask yourself this question: What does my prayer life look like right now and what does that say about the condition of my relationship with Jesus? Am I putting myself in a place of power through prayer or am I, through my lack of connection to God, putting myself in a place of vulnerability to the attack and the weapons of the enemy?
by Mark Batterson, from Draw The Circle
“Well done, good and faithful servant!”— Matthew 25:23
One of the defining moments in my prayer life happened a decade ago. I was in a small group with a friend who worked for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Georgetown University. Jeremy was working on a shoestring budget, and their campus ministry needed a computer. He shared the request at the end of our meeting, and I agreed to pray for it, but when I started praying for it, I felt that the Lord wanted me to stop praying. It was like the Holy Spirit said, “Why are you asking Me? You’re the one with the extra computer!” I quit praying in mid-sentence. I told Jeremy we didn't need to pray about it because I had an extra computer he could have.
I wonder how many of our prayer requests are within our own power to answer? Yet we ask God to do what we can do ourselves. And then we wonder why God doesn't respond. Maybe it’s because God won’t do for us what we can do for ourselves. God isn't honored by prayers that are within the realm of human possibility; God is honored when we ask Him to do what is humanly impossible. That way, God gets all the glory!
There are some things we don’t need to pray about:
- We don't need to pray about loving our neighbors
- We don’t need to pray about giving generously or serving sacrificially.
- We don’t need to pray about blessing someone when it is in our power to do so.
- We don’t have to pray about turning the other cheek or going the extra mile.
- God has already spoken on those subjects.
There comes a moment when praying becomes a form of spiritual procrastination. It’s time to stop praying and start acting.
Quit praying about the program and fill out an application. Quit praying for the friend you hurt and make a phone call. Don’t just complain to God about your coworker; circle them in prayer. Don’t just pray for missionaries; write a check.
One of my heroes is Peter Marshall, the former chaplain of the United States Senate. His prayers at the opening of Senate sessions are timeless. Peter Marshall believed in an action-oriented approach to Scripture.
I wonder what would happen if we all agreed to read one of the Gospels, until we came to a place that told us to do something, then went out to do it, and only after we had done it... began reading again?
There are aspects of the Gospel that are puzzling and difficult to understand. But our problems are not centered around the things we don’t understand, but rather in the things we do understand, the things we could not possibly misunderstand. This, after all, is but an illustration of the fact that our problem is not so much that we don’t know what we should do.
We know perfectly well... but we don’t want to do it.
Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. Pray about everything. Then pray some more. But at some point, we have to quit praying and start acting.
One of the great mistakes we make is asking God to do for us what God wants us to do for Him. We confuse roles. For example, we try to convict those around us of sin. But that is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility, not ours. In the same sense, God won’t do for us what we can do ourselves. And many of us get stuck spiritually right there.
We are called to pray about everything, but there comes a time when praying can be a form of disobedience, laziness, or negligence. We can’t just pray like it depends on God; we also must work like it depends on us.
When Christianity turns into a noun, it becomes a turnoff. Christianity was always intended to be a verb — more specifically, an action verb. The title of the book of Acts says it all, doesn’t it? It’s not the book of Ideas or Words. It’s the book of Acts. And if we said less and did more, I believe we would have the same kind of impact the first-century church had. And while we’re on the subject, we should be more known for what we’re for than what we’re against.
When everything is said and done, God won’t say, “Well said, good and faithful servant.” He won’t say, “Well thought,” “well planned,” or even “well prayed.” There is only one commendation He will give: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
This week, our final one in this study is Prayer and God.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NKJV)16 Rejoice always,17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
We need to know the difference between saying prayers, which is an activity, and praying, which is a soul attitude, a “ lifting up of the mind to God.” Praying in that sense can transform every task into prayer.
We are always talking about praying without ceasing and there are many definitions of it. Most of them are applicable. It’s really a lifestyle. It’s really, as Philip describes it, keeping company with God who is always present with us. He makes a great point on page 316 and that is that we have the potential to do more than one thing at a time (walk and chew gum at the same time). It’s possible to give God attention even while doing something else; to pray simultaneously as other things are going on. We can pray while standing in line at the grocery store and it can even help us deal with what’s going on around us. Prayer allows us to take ordinary things and convert them to acknowledgements of God’s presence. With prayer everything is realigned; revenge is realigned as grace, greed to generosity, hate to love, fear to faith.
Jesus cautioned us about using vain repetitions as praying without ceasing so we have to be careful that our prayer doesn’t become empty phrases
Matthew 6:7 (NKJV)7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
What Jesus is really talking about here is public displays of prayer or vain displays for the approval of others or to show off in front of others.
Heart felt repetitions are not what He meant when in conversing with Him one-on-one. There is an example on page 317.
This is something done by a novelist that Philip knows and talked with in writing this book. She had become familiar with a prayer called the Jesus Prayer in a book The Way of the Pilgrim. There was a little line in that prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” she started praying that prayer over and over even when she was doing other things. You have probably done the same thing. It may not be “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”, it may just be “Lord and mercy on me”. My default thing is “Thank you Jesus” I say it at times not even realizing that I’ve said it. It becomes second nature. When you don’t know what to pray it will come out.
Although most of our prayers are for ourselves, or our friends and family, we sometimes become very pious and refuse to ask God for things for us. Sometimes it’s because we don’t think that we are worthy because of sin, or what we are asking is nothing when looking at the needs of others. I think that’s a good thing because we are urged to think of others more than ourselves.
Philippians 2:3 (NKJV)3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.
However the Bible has many “selfish prayers”.
1 Samuel 1:9-11 (NKJV)9 So Hannah arose after they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the LORD.10 And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish.11 Then she made a vow and said, "O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head."
David often asked for victory over his enemies:
Psalm 109:1-31 (NKJV)1 Do not keep silent, O God of my praise!2 For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful Have opened against me; They have spoken against me with a lying tongue.3 They have also surrounded me with words of hatred, And fought against me without a cause.4 In return for my love they are my accusers, But I give myself to prayer.5 Thus they have rewarded me evil for good, And hatred for my love.6 Set a wicked man over him, And let an accuser stand at his right hand.7 When he is judged, let him be found guilty, And let his prayer become sin.8 Let his days be few, And let another take his office.9 Let his children be fatherless, And his wife a widow.10 Let his children continually be vagabonds, and beg; Let them seek their bread also from their desolate places.11 Let the creditor seize all that he has, And let strangers plunder his labor.12 Let there be none to extend mercy to him, Nor let there be any to favor his fatherless children.13 Let his posterity be cut off, And in the generation following let their name be blotted out.14 Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD, And let not the sin of his mother be blotted out.15 Let them be continually before the LORD, That He may cut off the memory of them from the earth;16 Because he did not remember to show mercy, But persecuted the poor and needy man, That he might even slay the broken in heart.17 As he loved cursing, so let it come to him; As he did not delight in blessing, so let it be far from him.18 As he clothed himself with cursing as with his garment, So let it enter his body like water, And like oil into his bones.19 Let it be to him like the garment which covers him, And for a belt with which he girds himself continually.20 Let this be the LORD'S reward to my accusers, And to those who speak evil against my person.21 But You, O GOD the Lord, Deal with me for Your name's sake; Because Your mercy is good, deliver me.22 For I am poor and needy, And my heart is wounded within me.23 I am gone like a shadow when it lengthens; I am shaken off like a locust.24 My knees are weak through fasting, And my flesh is feeble from lack of fatness.25 I also have become a reproach to them; When they look at me, they shake their heads.26 Help me, O LORD my God! Oh, save me according to Your mercy,27 That they may know that this is Your hand-- That You, LORD, have done it!28 Let them curse, but You bless; When they arise, let them be ashamed, But let Your servant rejoice.29 Let my accusers be clothed with shame, And let them cover themselves with their own disgrace as with a mantle.30 I will greatly praise the LORD with my mouth; Yes, I will praise Him among the multitude.31 For He shall stand at the right hand of the poor, To save him from those who condemn him.
Even in the Lord’s prayer we are asking for something for ourselves;
Matthew 6:11-13 (NKJV)11 Give us this day our daily bread.12 And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.13 And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Paul prays for safe travels, prosperous work, relief from a physical ailment, and boldness in preaching.
2 Corinthians 12:8-9 (NKJV)8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.9 And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Ephesians 6:19 (NKJV)19 and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel,
James says that we should pray for wisdom;
James 1:5 (NKJV)5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
And physical healing;
James 5:14-15 (NKJV)14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Paul says that we should pray about everything no matter how trivial. We laugh at praying for a parking space but it fits the description of praying about everything :)
Philippians 4:6 (NKJV)6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
Nothing is too trivial to talk to a friend about because they will listen while others may not. It’s a characteristic of friends to talk about anything even nonsense. Like a child talking to a parent. A child has no filter in what to ask a parent for. They will ask for anything we should do the same. Now as a child grows and matures they learn of what things they are more likely to get a yes on. As we mature and study and learn more about God’s will we will start asking for things that we know are in His will. We will start seeking God’s view on things through prayer.
Since this chapter and session is on prayer and God we need to consider Him, and not just ourselves. The way that we can do that is through praise. Praise is defined as the expression of approval or admiration for someone or something. So when we praise God we are showing our admiration for Him for who He is and what He has done.
Man was actually created to glorify and praise God.
Isaiah 43:7 (NKJV)7 Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him."
Psalm 102:18 (NKJV)18 This will be written for the generation to come, That a people yet to be created may praise the LORD.
There is a scripture that even says that God inhabits praise.
Psalm 22:3 (NKJV)3 But You are holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel.
Now God doesn’t need us to affirm Him because the creation does that.
Psalm 19:1-4 (NKJV)1 The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.2 Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge.3 There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard.4 Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,
Psalm 98:7-8 (NKJV)7 Let the sea roar, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell in it;8 Let the rivers clap their hands; Let the hills be joyful together before the LORD,
Luke 19:37-40 (NKJV)37 Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen,38 saying: "'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!' Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"39 And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples."40 But He answered and said to them, "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out."
We can use instruments to show our admiration
Psalm 150:3-5 (NKJV)3 Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp!4 Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!5 Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals!
Psalm 148 includes almost everything.
Psalm 148:1-14 (NKJV)1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights!2 Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts!3 Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all you stars of light!4 Praise Him, you heavens of heavens, And you waters above the heavens!5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, For He commanded and they were created.6 He also established them forever and ever; He made a decree which shall not pass away.7 Praise the LORD from the earth, You great sea creatures and all the depths;8 Fire and hail, snow and clouds; Stormy wind, fulfilling His word;9 Mountains and all hills; Fruitful trees and all cedars;10 Beasts and all cattle; Creeping things and flying fowl;11 Kings of the earth and all peoples; Princes and all judges of the earth;12 Both young men and maidens; Old men and children.13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, For His name alone is exalted; His glory is above the earth and heaven.14 And He has exalted the horn of His people, The praise of all His saints-- Of the children of Israel, A people near to Him. Praise the LORD!
The only part of God’s creation that can use words is man. Our praise is a form of thanksgiving which is not something that comes natural for us. We have to be taught starting as children to thank others. So we have to be constantly reminded to say think you until it becomes second nature.
We don’t have to do as some devout Jews do and that is to recite at least one hundred blessings every day. The Talmud which is a central text of mainstream Judaism and consists primarily of discussions and commentary on Jewish history, law (especially its practical application to life), customs and culture, spell out blessing for almost everything. There is a list on page 321.
The first rule in this relationship is our loving God and showing it.
As far as God is concerned, love is the most important thing because that’s who He is;
1 John 4:8 (NKJV)8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
And He loves us.
John 3:16 (NKJV)16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
It was so important to Jesus that He asked Peter if he loved Him three times.
John 21:15-17 (NKJV)15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Feed My lambs."16 He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My sheep."17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep.
He said that our love of God is the most important thing of all.
Matthew 22:36-37 (NKJV)36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" 37 Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.'
Jesus actually changed the original commandment which was
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NKJV)4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
Jesus changed strength to mind.
Our most treasured gift to God, that whichever God can never force, is love.
The way that we love God with all our mind is described on page 324
“In other words, you shall love God with everything you have and everything you are. Everything. Every longing, every endowment, each of your intellectual gifts, any athletic talent or computer skill, all capacity for delight, every good thing that has your fingerprints on it - take all this, says Jesus and refer it to God. Take your longing, and long for God, take your creatively riches, and endow God’ take your eye for beauty and appreciate God. With our heart and soul and mind, with all your needs and splendors, make a full turn toward God.
Resuming the Conversation
We’ve talked a lot about the mystery of prayer. Why are some prayers answered and others not, why do we have to wait why, why, why. With all the whys there are a couple of things that we can count on. God loves us and He is faithful.
Here is what Philip writes starting on page 326 “I pray and I breathe - because I can’t help it. Prayer is hardly a perfect form of communication, for I, an imperfect, material being who lives on an imperfect, material planet am reaching out for a perfect, spiritual Being. Some prayers go unanswered, a sense of God’s presence ebbs and flows, and often I sense more mystery than resolution. Nevertheless I keep at it, believing with Paul that “ now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
For a time, Adam and Eve walked with God in perfection, uninhibited, freely communicating with Him, free of fear, no sin, no sickness, no evil and no distractions. The conversation won’t become a perfect form of communication until the return of Jesus and all things are made new. Then there will be no more need for praying of peace, or healing, or resources, or mercy because we will be in God’s presence. On that day we will finally get it like Paul envisioned when he said.
1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (NKJV)12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Yes prayer does make a difference!