Yancey tackles this and other tough questions and in the process comes up with a fresh new approach to this timeless topic. “I have learned to pray as a privilege, not a duty,” he says, and he invites you to join him on this all-important journey.
Prayers are like gravel flung at the sky's window, hoping to attract the loved one's attention … R. S. THOMAS
To purchase a copy of the book click this LINK or the picture at the end of the notes.
Last week we said that when we take a look at prayer from God’s perspective it is a look from above and we must be willing to expose ourselves. Since we don’t like to do that prayer helps us when we acknowledge, in prayer that we are guilty, and we confess, we humble ourselves and admit that we are helpless. It helps when we consider the cross and the sacrifice that Jesus made on it.
I want to read something by Charles Stanley called “A Believers Journey To The Cross”
We all know that Jesus walked the road to Calvary, but did you know that believers also journey to the cross? We've all been positionally crucified with Christ, but those who hunger for Him participate in a deeper experience of this reality. Jesus lovingly takes their hand and leads them to the cross. Even though this is the last place anyone wants to go, it's the only way to partake of God's best for our lives.
The trip to the cross is not one you take with family and friends. It's a lonely journey with just you and Jesus. He strips away everyone and everything you've depended on so that you'll learn to rely only on Him. While we're at the cross, He uncovers layer after layer of self-deception until we begin to see ourselves as He does. Soon our self-centeredness, inadequacy, and failures are laid bare.
The cross is a place of brokenness, but it's necessary because there's no other way we'll ever bear fruit. If we hang onto our lives and refuse to take this journey, we'll be like a grain of wheat that is never planted and never grows. But those who willingly die to themselves will produce an abundance of spiritual fruit. The only way Christ can live His life through us is if we've allowed ourselves to be crucified.
God doesn't want you to be content with just your salvation. There's so much more He desires to give you and accomplish through you. Are you willing to take the road to the cross with Him? Yes, it's painful, but the rewards in this life and in eternity far outweigh any suffering you will experience.
Now let’s ask ourselves a few questions.
Does God really care about the details of our lives, such as getting a house sold, or finding a lost cat?
If the answer is yes then what about all the tragedies that happen around the world that result in the death of thousands of people?
Prayers of request or supplication fall into one of two categories: trouble or trivia.
Examples of prayers of trouble are a parent for a sick child, our when we perceive some danger. In those instances we don’t usually ask in a formal way it is quite often just “Lord have mercy” or “Lord help me”, Lord heal my child or spouse, or friend”
Example of trivial prayer are “Lord let my favorite sports team win”, “Lord give me the winning lottery numbers”
If God answers trivial prayers then we really have some serious questions don’t we? Here is a statement from our book about that from one of Philip’s philosophy professors.”If God can influence the course of events, then a God who is willing to cure colds and provide parking spaces but is not willing to prevent Auschwitz and Hiroshima is morally repugnant. Since Hiroshima and Auschwitz did occur, one must infer that God cannot (or has a policy never to) influence the course of worldly events” Now we reject these extreme conclusions but we still have questions.
What about examples of sickness, loneliness, heartbreak, that don’t get relief?
Prayers like gravel flung at the sky's window, hoping to attract the loved one's attention … R. S. THOMAS
We can look at the example of Jesus getting answers. Jesus knew how the universe worked. He had lived in heaven and He lived on earth. He knew that prayer was a way to bring God and us human beings together. So whenever something important happened in Jesus life, you’d find Him at prayer.
The simplest answer to the question “Why pray? Is Jesus prayed” He obviously considered it important because He spent so much time in prayer. The Gospels tell us that He frequently prayer. There are more than a dozen specific prayers by Jesus in the Gospels and several other instances where He talks about prayer.
Luke 22:31-32 (NKJV)31 And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."
Luke 23:33-34 (NKJV)33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.34 Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do." And they divided His garments and cast lots.
John 11:38-42 (NKJV)38 Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.39 Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days."40 Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?"41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.42 And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me."
John 14:16-18 (NKJV)16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever--17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
John 17:20-23 (NKJV)20 "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
Jesus was always praying for others rather than Himself the only time that He may have asked for something for Himself may have been when He asked the Father to “Take this cup from me” but then He immediately said not My will but Your will be done.
Jesus final prayer on the cross was “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”
There were some intense prayers:
At His baptism
Luke 3:21-23 (NLT)21 One day when the crowds were being baptized, Jesus himself was baptized. As he was praying, the heavens opened,22 and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”23 Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his public ministry. Jesus was known as the son of Joseph. Joseph was the son of Heli.
All night before naming His disciples.
Luke 6:12-13 CEV About that time Jesus went off to a mountain to pray, and he spent the whole night there. The next morning he called his disciples together and chose twelve of them to be his apostles.
On the Mount of Transfiguration
Luke 9:28-30 (NLT)28 About eight days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain to pray.29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white.30 Then two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus.
In the Garden of Gethsemane.
Luke 22:39, 41-44 CEV Jesus went out to the Mount of Olives, as he often did, and his disciples went with him. Jesus walked on a little way before he knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you will, please don't make me suffer by drinking from this cup. But do what you want, and not what I want.” Then an angel from heaven came to help him. Jesus was in great pain and prayed so sincerely that his sweat fell to the ground like drops of blood.
He was excited after the disciples came back and reported what happened after He sent them out.
Luke 10:1 (NLT)1 The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit. 21 At that same time Jesus was filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, and he said, “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way.
He prayed that the Holy Spirit would come and be with His disciples
John 14:15-17 CEV Jesus said to his disciples: If you love me, you will do as I command. Then I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you. The Spirit will show you what is true. The people of this world cannot accept the Spirit, because they don't see or know him. But you know the Spirit, who is with you and will keep on living in you.
John Chapter 17 is a prayer.
He prayed for Himself, for the immediate disciples and for all of us throughout history who would believe in him because of their message.
There are three assumptions we have to make.
- God does exist;
- God does hear our prayers
- God cares about our prayers
One of Philip's friends said;
“None of these three can be proved or disproved,” he said. “They must either be believed or disbelieved.”
He is right, of course, although for me the example of Jesus offers strong evidence in favor of that belief.
To discount prayer, to conclude that it does not matter,
means to view Jesus as deluded.
When we don’t see the answer to our prayers or we see and hear of horrible things happening to people we know and even those we don’t know we can’t answer the "why" question. We can't tell them why their prayers weren't answered, and it is for sure not because they didn't have enough faith. What we do know is how God feels about you or them.
We talked about that in our last study in the session "Upgrade Your View Of God". The Bible tell us certain truths about God:
● He is love - 1 John 4:8-10 (HCSB)8 The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him.10 Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
● He is faithful - 1 Corinthians 1:9 (HCSB)9 God is faithful; you were called by Him into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.; 2 Timothy 2:13 (HCSB)13 if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.; 1 John 1:9 (HCSB)9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
● He is patient - 2 Peter 3:9 (HCSB)9 The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.
● He is forgiving - Isaiah 43:25-26 (HCSB)25 “It is I who sweep away your transgressions for My own sake and remember your sins no more.26 Take Me to court; let us argue our case together. State your ⌊case⌋, so that you may be vindicated.; 1 John 1:9 (HCSB)9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.; Ephesians 1:7 (HCSB)7 We have redemption in Him through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace
Jesus clung to prayer as a lifeline. It gave Him guidance and the energy to know, and do His Father’s will.
John 5:19-23 (NKJV)19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.20 For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.22 For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son,23 that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.
That is like us saying “Your will be done.
So the question then is, if God knows best, what’s the point?
As one pastor said who Philip quotes said “Should I just stop bothering him with my petty requests for myself and others, and let God get on with the business of running the universe while I do my best to take care of things down here?”
Jesus’ example of praying so frequently, for so long, about everything shows us that He believed that prayer was effective. He did say “Ask and you will receive”
Matthew 7:7-12 (NKJV)7 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.9 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!12 Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
When his disciples couldn’t heal the boy at the foot of Mount of Transfiguration Jesus said their failure included a lack of faith but he said pray.
Matthew 17:21 (NKJV)21 However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting."
What About Jesus’ Unprayed Prayers
Jesus didn’t pray for John the Baptist, that he would be released and delivered, He didn’t pray that Satan not sift Peter. Instead He prayed that Peter would survive the sifting.
Luke 22:31-34 (NKJV)31 And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."33 But he said to Him, "Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death."34 Then He said, "I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me."
The result was that Peter repented and became a great witness for the gospel. The sifting got rid of Peter’s arrogance, and his propensity to violence. He became humble and submissive to the point that He wanted to be crucified upside down because He didn’t feel worthy of being crucified like Jesus.
John 21:18-19 (NKJV)18 Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish."19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, "Follow Me."
He didn’t pray that God stop Judas from betraying Him. The result was that He was crucified and His crucifixion became the sacrifice that saved mankind.
John 13:26-27 (NKJV)26 Jesus answered, "It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it." And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.27 Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus said to him, "What you do, do quickly."
He didn’t even prayer for His own rescue.
Matthew 26:52-53 (NKJV)52 But Jesus said to him, "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.53 Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?
That’s 72,000 angels.
Jesus Himself said why He wasn’t going to pray that prayer.
Matthew 26:54 (NKJV)54 How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?"
One of those scriptures that wouldn't have been fulfilled was this one.
Isaiah 53:1-7 (NKJV)1 Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him.3 He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.4 Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.6 All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.
In struggling with the question why pray consider this. God does still perform miracles but they are really rare exceptions to the natural things that happen.
Nobody can promise that prayer will solve all the problems that we have or all the problems of the world. If that was the case we wouldn’t have the problems and the world wouldn’t be in such a mess. However we are commanded to pray.
Jesus commanded us to pray and He was certain that it would make a difference.
Why then does God allow suffering and rarely step in with miracles? We don’t really know. We say that it is to make us stronger. I’ve said that. We repeat Romans 8:29 and that's true too but we do often think that the things that are happening are unfair.
Part of it is that God has given mankind free will and God often allows things to play out naturally.
Jesus told His disciples that although they would have tribulations (trials and trouble) that they shouldn’t give up because He has overcome the world. The world that Jesus was referring to is the world system which is the state of affairs in the fallen world under the influence and power of the evil one. The evil one exerts an extremely powerful influence indeed, as he is the “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), and in a sense, the whole world lies in his power (1 John 5:19). Behind the scene, he shapes the trends, values, direction, perspective and approach of fallen men, encouraging them to indulge in the desires of the flesh. - God and Truth - Meaning of “The World” and two opposing systems
Jesus says He overcame all of that.
Back to Jesus providing the answer why pray. We know that prayer matters because Jesus prays for us today.
Hebrews 7:25 (NKJV)25 Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
Pray because it does matter.
Our prayers can connect us with God who is accomplishing His great purpose and we can be a part of it.
Ephesians 6:10-12 (NKJV)10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (NKJV)4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,6 and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.
Mark 14:38 (NKJV)38 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."
Pray with confidence that God wants to respond to our needs or desires:
Matthew 6:8 (NKJV)8 Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.
Psalm 103:13 (NKJV)13 As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him.
Pray that God’s will be done;
Matthew 6:9-11 (NKJV)9 In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.11 Give us this day our daily bread.
Ask for help:
2 Thessalonians 3:1-3 (NKJV)1 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you,2 and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith.3 But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one.
James 5:13 (NKJV)13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.
Psalm 62:1-2 (NKJV)1 Truly my soul silently waits for God; From Him comes my salvation.2 He only is my rock and my salvation; *He is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved.
Prayer accomplishes its work because it connects our heart with the heart of God. “God doesn’t need the data of my life. What He cares about is my heart. He wants me to spend time with Him so that I can share my passion, my concern, what I really care about.”
For most of us, the entry point to prayer is a need for help. We know we can’t fix or face our troubles alone. Even when we’re scared, unsure, or we convince ourselves for a time that we can handle it, the truth is, God is our only hope. As the psalmist says in Psalm 73:25, “Whom have I in heaven but you?”
Let’s discuss two questions that I think hinder our surrendering to a vulnerable trust in God—one where we are free to cry out without fear or pretense:
1) Does God really hear my cries?
2) Can I really trust Him?”
The Bible tells us because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we are counted righteous before God. We get credit for Jesus’ righteousness in the eyes of God.
For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.
Romans 5:19 NKJV
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
II Corinthians 5:21 NKJV
and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;
Philippians 3:9 NKJV
Does God hear your cries? Yes, He hears the cry of His children, the righteous.
Trust is a tender thing when we’ve been hurt or when we struggle with God’s goodness based on our experiences and our perspectives.
The entire Bible is the story of God’s love for us, culminating in our rescue with the death and resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into each of us, sealing us (Eph. 1:13) for the day when all things will be made right and new. (Rev. 21:5).
Ephesians 1:13 NKJV In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,
Revelation 21:5 NKJV Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
How do we know we can trust God? Because He proved He is trustworthy by showing the ultimate display of love for us. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). If we believe He loves us, then we must believe that we can trust Him. His love took Him to the depths, and when we’re in the depths, it is His love that preserves us.
Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me, O Lord ; Let Your loving kindness and Your truth continually preserve me.
Psalms 40:11 NKJV
Next week Wrestling Match. Remember Jacob’s wrestling match in Genesis 22:21-32?