Personal Notes on Prayer
PERSONAL NOTES ON PRAYER
Sadly, for many Christian, God has become as Lee Botzet said during our Prayer Emphasis earlier this Spring…a "divine bellhop" or "cosmic Santa Claus." Too often prayer is something many turn to only when a need or crisis arises or if engaged in regularly prayer often becomes rambling expressions of superficialities. Are your prayers like "The Yuppie's Prayer"?
Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my email to keep.
I pray my stocks are on the rise,
and that my analyst is wise,
that all the wine I sip is white,
and that my hot tub's watertight,
that racquetball won't get too tough,
that all my sushi's fresh enough.
I pray my cordless phone still works,
that my career won't lose its perks,
my microwave won't radiate,
my condo won't depreciate.
I pray my health club doesn't close
and that my money market grows.
If I go broke before I wake,
I pray my Beemer they won't take.
Too often our prayers are just like "The Yuppie's Prayer."
Yet, along with Bible reading, prayer is the most crucial element of our walk with Jesus Christ. We learn about God by reading the Bible---His Word. We experience God through prayer. It is our lifeline, our method of communicating with Him.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Philippians 4: 6 - 7: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." If we got nothing else but God's peace, what more could we want? Just think…that God, the creator of this Universe, has invited us to bring our requests to Him!! That is just awesome to me. Notice, that we are told to bring our requests to God with "thanksgiving" even in situations where that may seem difficult or impossible. Do it anyway in obedience to God's Word, and you will be surprised how God will take this and return it in manifold blessings. I remember early days in our company's history when sales were down and stress levels up…that when I took God at His Word and thanked Him for those small sales, He responded with record level sales…sometimes even the next day!
In fact, prayer is so important to God that He saves the prayers of the saints: In Rev. 5: 8, we read: ""And as He took the scroll, the four living beings and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense---the prayers of God's people!"
And peace is what this world needs and it was what I needed as I made a complete career change 4½ years ago. And it was because of this crisis that God taught me much about prayer and made it not a burden or something I "should do" as a "good" Christian but a privilege that blessed me more than anything I had every experienced before and blessed me beyond measure.
As I said before, prayer is our method of communicating with God…it is simply talking to God and listening for His response. It is a 2-way conversation with us speaking to God and He with us. John 10: 27 says: My sheep listen to my voice ("recognize" NLT); I know them, and they follow me." God told Isaiah "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying: "This is the way; walk in it." (Isaiah 30: 21). The first step toward learning to hear God speak is to spend time with Him reading Scripture, meditating and spending time with God in prayer. The primary place He does speak is through Scripture. You will most likely first develop your ear for His voice as you read the Bible. A verse will stand out to you. As you mediate upon it, you may hear "you need to apply that to ___________situation," and your mind begins to think about the situation with clarity. That was God's voice.
In The Power of Personal Prayer, Jonathan Graf tells the following account: "Teaching pastor Eric Simpson of Eagle Church in Indianapolis gives this excellent illustration about recognizing God's voice. He and his wife had recently had their first baby, Lilly. Eric was present in the birthing room. When Lilly was born by C-section, she was immediately whisked away to another part of the room to be cared for. Even though people all around Lilly were talking and shouting out instructions, when Eric said, "Hi, Lilly; it's your daddy," she immediately turned her head toward his voice. She had picked out one of the two voices she had been hearing over the past nine months. She was familiar with it, so she turned toward it. That's the way we should eventually be with God's voice, if we listen, discern, and practice listening."
Too often people get tripped up on how to talk with God…that you have to mimic or sound like an orator and use all kinds of fancy words, etc. But you should talk to God just as you would talk to someone sitting right next to you. You do not have to use ornate language to talk to Him. God know the heart, He know your thoughts; you do not need to explain everything clearly for Him to understand. Sincerity and honesty are the most important issues when coming before God. In fact, Jesus tells us in Matt. 6: 7-8: "And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him."
You do not even need to worry if your prayer makes sense. In fact we can't get it wrong because the Holy Spirit prays what we should be praying for. "In the same say, 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. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." (Romans 8: 26-27). This doesn't mean we don't need to pray because the Holy Spirit is praying for us…rather it means that the Holy Spirit takes our feeble attempts to pray, our bumbling words, our incoherent and wandering thoughts, and turns them into powerful prayer. We still need to pray to make the formula work. And because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us "in accordance with God's will," then, when you bring your requests to God, trust that He will always do what is best.
In Matt. 6: 6, Jesus also said that when we pray we should go into your room, close the door and pray (Matt. 6:6 NIV). The King James Version says,"Enter into thy closet" which is where the term "prayer closet" comes from. I like the NLT: But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father secretly." "Going away by yourself" might mean praying while taking a walk each day…or even praying in your car as you commute to work. Relate story of having a "sanctuary" of cedar bushes as a young teen on our ranch that was a special place of prayer for me. Today it is in my car as I drive to and from work. Now traffic jams and delays are not a frustration but a time of praise for they give me more time to commune with God and more time for me to listen to His voice. I have also found the early morning a great time to be "alone with God" out on my front porch at 5:30 a.m. each morning as I go out to get my paper. I spend time kneeling at my front door, confessing my sins, praising God, dedicating my life and family anew to Him, and seeking His blessing and guidance for the day. This is the best part of the day for me and I treasure these times with God. I also have made it a practice to recite my life verse: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all you ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3: 5-6)
2 Main Reasons for Prayer:
1. We have already talked about the relationship aspect of prayer. We can know about God by reading the Bible but we cannot know God without prayer.
2. The second major purpose for prayer is that it releases God's will on earth. It goes beyond explanation as to how it works, but somehow in God's sovereign plan, He has chosen to accomplish certain aspects of His will only if people pray. Some would object: "What do you mean prayer releases God's will? God's will is God's will. He's going to do it whether we pray or not." But Scripture tells us otherwise.
a. Let's start with Elijah. James tells us that "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. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops." (James 5: 17-18).
(1 Kings 17 and 18 gives us the story of these two verses.) God apparently put in Elijah's heart to pray that it wouldn't rain. The prophet went to King Ahab and declared it wouldn't rain for three years…and it didn't. In 1 Kings 18:1, we find: "After a long time, in the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah: 'Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.'" What followed is the incredible showdown between Elijah and the true God and the false prophets of Baal. Following a decisive victory, Elijah said to the king, "Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.'" (1Kings 18:41). In the next verses we see that Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel and bent down to the ground and prayed and waited with his servant for the rain to come…which it did. (vv. 43-45).
Did you notice the sequence? God planted a thought in Elijah---pray for no rain---then His will was released. He later sent word again…to pray for rain and His will was again released.
b. Daniel has a similar experience. As a Hebrew exile in Babylon, he discovered in reading Jeremiah's prophecies that Israel's captivity was to last seventy years and that the time was almost up. Instead of praising God and anticipating the event, Daniel "turned to the Lord God and pleaded with Him in prayer and fasting." (Daniel 9: 3)
Why would Daniel pray so? Because he lacked faith to believe God's Word? Rather…that because of God's plan to include humans in the releasing of His will on earth, He drove Daniel to prayer. In fact, Daniel was told on at least several occasions that his prayers had been heard and taken action on. Read Daniel 9: 21 - 23: "As I was praying, Gabriel, whom I had seen in the earlier vision, came swiftly to me at the time of the evening sacrifice. He explained to me, 'Daniel, I have come here to give you insight and understanding. The moment you began praying, a command was given. I am here to tell you what it was, for God loves you very much."
Later, God sent another spiritual messenger to Daniel who told him: "Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer." (Daniel 10: 12)
You have all heard cases where people are suddenly burdened to pray for some person or situation. Later they find out that something very serious was happening to the individual at that time. Who would God burden them to pray unless He needed them to pray to release His plan?
c. And we also have the chilling reverse proof…something doesn't happen because no one prays. According to Ezekiel 22: 30-31 ("I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before Me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none."). God was set to punish Israel for its sins, but would have shown mercy had someone righteous only prayed. Unfortunately, He found no such person:
God has promised in 1 John 5: 14-15: "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us…whatever we ask…we know that we have what we asked of Him."
How can you know if you are praying "according to God's will" in a given situation?
a. The first step is to make sure your heart is pure before Him. God will not reveal His will and purposes to people who are not living godly lives. If your prayers don't seem to be going anywhere, look first at the possibility of sin in your life. As you go to prayer, ask the Holy Spirit if anything stands between you and God. Then listen and confess.
Prayer leader Mell Winger has listed fifteen things that hinder prayer:
- Rejecting truth (Proverbs 28:9)
- Pride (2 Chronicles 7: 14)
- Hard-heartedness (Zechariah 7: 12-13)
- Lack of compassion (Proverbs 21: 13)
- Unconfessed sin (Psalm 66: 18)
- Wrong motives (James 4:3)
- Unbelief (Matthew 17: 20-21)
- Not seriously asking (James 4: 2)
- Broken relationships (1 Peter 3: 7)
- Sinful lifestyle (Isaiah 59: 2)
- Vain repetitions (Matthew 6: 7)
- Lack of forgiveness (Matthew 6: 14-15)
- Hypocrisy (Luke 18: 9-14)
- Double-mindedness (James 1: 5-8)
- Idolatry (Ezekiel 14: 3)
Mell has also related a time in his prayer life when he experienced several weeks of unusual spiritual dryness. As he started analyzing the situation, 1 Peter 3:7 popped into his mind: "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers." Remembering a recent incident of being unkind to his wife, he confessed it to the Lord and then to his wife. The dryness left and he once again felt like he was connecting in prayer.
James 4: 3 tells us: When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." And too often, we come to God in prayer and asking for His will to be done but in actuality we are seeking God's approval of our desires rather than asking Him for guidance. It is not good to make plans apart from God's guidance, and it is not good to pray unless we are willing to accept God's answer.
In Jeremiah 42 and 43, we have an account where Johanan and others of the remnant in Jerusalem came to Jeremiah seeking direction from the Lord. "Please pray to the Lord your God for us….Beg the Lord your God to show us what to do and where to go." (42: 2-3) Their request seemed sincere, but we find in Jer. 43:1-4 that after hearing the answer Jeremiah gave them and seeing that it was not the answer they wanted, they said: "You lie! The Lord our God hasn't forbidden us to go to Egypt…so Johanan and all the army officers and all the people refused to obey the Lord's command to stay in Judah." They went to Egypt in direct contradiction to God's direction where they met disaster.
b. The next step in seeking God's will is to simply ask. In the Lord's Prayer we are told to pray "Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven (Matt. 6:10). Wouldn't it stand to reason that He would reveal what it is so we can pray it? In a fast pace society that demands "fast everything," waiting to discern God's will can be difficult. Too often we pray the first thing that pops into our head…and that's wrong. We need to seek God..ask Him for what He wants to do in a given situation. As you seek, begin to take note of what you become burdened to pray about. Remember, even if you aren't right on target, the Holy Spirit is interceding on your behalf.
Often when we bring problems to God in prayer, He shows us that it is not the problem that should be removed but that He wants to show us how we need to change and grow in our attitude toward the problem. This may not be the answer we were looking for but is what we need to mature spiritually. So instead of changes in circumstances, we should be praying for changes in character. But too often our prayers focus on the circumstances and not our character.
c. The third key is to spend time in the Scripture as you pray. Look for a verse to claim, or pay attention to a passage that God seems to want you to meditate on. Listen for His voice. Start praying Scriptures over the situation. Look for verses that seem to pop out at you. Remember, the truth of Scripture is God's will. You can never go wrong praying scriptural truth over a situation. J. Oswald Sanders has said that "true prayer is not asking God for what we want but for what He wants…Prayer is not a convenient method of getting one's own way or of bending God to one's desires. Prayer is the means by which our desires can be redirected and aligned with the will of God."
The Holy Spirit knows the will of God and He will lead us to pray "according to God's will." I like the following example from the Experiencing God workbook. Claude King relates (p. 89) that "For his sixth birthday, my oldest son Richard was old enough to have a bicycle. I looked all around for a bicycle. I found a blue Schwinn. I bought it and hid it in the garage. Then I had a task---to convince Richard that he needed a blue Schwinn bike. For the next little while, we began to work with Richard. Richard decided that what he really wanted for his birthday was a blue Schwinn bike. Do you know what Richard got? Well, the bike was already in the garage. I just had to convince him to ask for it. He asked for it, and he got it! What happens when you pray? The Holy Spirit knows what God has "in the garage." It is already there. The Holy Spirit's task is to get you to want it…to get you to ask for it. What will happen when you ask for things God already wants to give or do? You will always receive it. Why? Because you have asked according to the will of God. When God answers your prayer, He gets the glory and your faith is increased." Years ago I wrote something I had heard from a Bible teacher in the back flyleaf of my Bible. I ran across it recently and it is so true: "God always gives me what I ask…unless He has something better."
And this leads to how I would like to end today's discussion…and that is the blessing of praying scripture. Prayer naturally brings us to the Word, and God's Word should always bring us to prayer. The two go together. Unfortunately, most of us keep them separated at all times. We have our time to read the Bible and our time to pray. If you learn to put them together you will be amazed how much more you can get than through any one method alone….and how alive Scripture reading can be. Praying God's Word gives us a deeper sense of what to pray for in a situation…and praying Scripture is powerful because we are confident that we are praying God's will for a situation. If I am praying, for example, for my friend Joe's job situation, I may not know if the specific job he is being interviewed for is God's will for him. But I do know that it is God's will that Joe may be counted "worthy of His calling and that by God's power working in him, he might fulfill every good purpose God has called him to" (Read 2 Thess. 1:11-12: "With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of His calling, and that by His power He may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him…"). I do know that God has a perfect plan for Joe, plans to prosper him and not harm him, to give him hope and a future (Jer. 29:11: "'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."). I can pray those things for Joe and be fully confident that they will come to pass.
As you are reading the Bible, if something surprises or delights you, express that emotion in a quick prayer of praise to God. (Ro. 8: 1-2 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." I might pray in response: "Father, I thank you that because of Christ, I am no longer condemned. Thank you for the gift of your Son. Thank you that I am free from sin and death."
If the Word offers something you desire or a promise that you need at that time, pause in your reading and offer that desire in a prayer to God. In Romans 8: 6, we read: "but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace." So I might pray, "Holy Spirit, I desire a mind of life and peace, a mind controlled by You. Please take control of my mind. Show me those hidden places not yet controlled by You." Read Colossians 1:9-11: "…we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that thou may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light." (Father, fill Ethan and Emily with your Spirit and show them your will with clear understanding. I pray that both of my children, Lord, will live lives that bring glory to your name and are worthy of all that you have done for them. I pray that they will bear fruit in every good work and that you will strengthen them and given them courage and boldness to stand for You. And give them the special joy that comes in serving you faithfully and obediently.)