Pastor David B. Curtis

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Fundamental Disciplines - Part 2: Prayer

Selected Scriptures

02/15/1998

The following incident took place in 1968 on an airliner bound for New York.

Descending to the destination, the pilot realized the landing gear refused to engage. He worked the controls back and forth, trying again and again to make the gear lock down into place. No success. He then asked the control tower for instructions as he circled the landing field. Responding to the crisis, airport personnel sprayed the runway with foam as fire trucks and other emergency vehicles moved into position. Disaster was only minutes away.

The passengers, meanwhile, were told of each maneuver in that calm, cheery voice pilots manage to use at times like this. Flight attendants glided about the cabin with an air of cool reserve. Passengers were told to place their heads between their knees and grab their ankles just before impact. It was one of those, "I-can't-believe-this-is-happening-to-me" experiences. There were tears, no doubt, and a few screams of despair. The landing was now seconds away.

Suddenly the pilot announced over the intercom:

"We are beginning our final descent. At this moment, in accordance with International Aviation Codes established at Geneva, it is my obligation to inform you that if you believe in God you should commence prayer."

I'm happy to report that the belly landing occurred without a hitch. No one was injured and, aside from some rather extensive damage to the plane, the airline hardly remembered the incident. In fact, a relative of one of the passengers called the airline the very next day and asked about the prayer rule the pilot had quoted. No one volunteered any information on the subject. Back to that cool reserve, it was simply, "No comment."

I think that those words are a fitting exhortation for every Christian. If you believe in God, you should commence prayer!

Prayer is something that everybody knows about and talks about, but how many Christians actually do it?

Calvin Coolidge said, "People criticize me for harping on the obvious. Yet, if all the folks in the United States would do the few simple things they know they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of themselves." For the Christian who wants to grow, the most basic of all activities is prayer. Although most Christians would agree with this statement, as the frustrated Coolidge pointed out, most of us don't do the things we ought to do.

We are looking at the Fundamental disciplines of the Christian life. These are the basic disciplines that a Christian should be involved in to promote spiritual growth. I think there are four disciplines: bible study, prayer, fellowship, and witnessing. We could describe these disciplines as "four talks." Talk back is God speaking back to us through the Bible; Talk to is prayer; talk with is fellowship with believers; and talk about is witnessing. We looked last week at the importance of Bible study. I hope that you spent time this week allowing the Lord to talk back to you.

This morning we want to talk about prayer. Prayer is not something we don't understand, I think everybody knows that prayer is talking to God. We know what it is, we just don't do it. Why is it that we, as God's children, spend so little time in prayer with our heavenly Father? Why is there so much prayerlessness in American Christianity? I think we spend so little time in prayer because we don't really believe that prayer actually works. Since we don't believe that it works, we spend our time doing other things.

Why is it that we don't believe that it works? Although we all know what prayer is, I think very few know what its purpose is. Probably, most folks would say that the purpose of prayer is to get God to do something. We view it as a kind of a spiritual nagging. Like if we keep bugging God about something, He'll do it for us. Does that describe your view of prayer?

If that is your view of prayer, it is little wonder why you don't spend time praying. Just what is the purpose of prayer? Let me give you a definition of prayer that changed my prayer life about 16 years ago. Prayer is a declaration of our dependence. Every time I pray, I am saying, "God I need you!" We ask God's forgiveness because we know we are dependant upon Him to forgive. We thank Him in prayer because we know that what ever we are or have has come from Him. We petition Him because only He can give us what we need. We know that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble, and prayer is humility in action. It is saying, "God I can't do this, so I come to you acknowledging my need."

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) said, "I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day."

Prayer is not an option for a Christian, it is a command.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NKJV) pray without ceasing,

That doesn't mean that we are always to be on our knees in prayer, but that we should always be in an attitude of prayer.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) said, "As it is the business of tailors to make clothes and of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray." C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) said, "As artists give themselves to their models, and poets to their classical pursuits, so must we addict ourselves to prayer." Prayer is not something we do now and then, it is to be a continual activity. Prayer is to be a way of life. We constantly commune with God through prayer.

Luke 18:1 (NKJV) Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart,

Jesus said that men are to always be praying.

James 5:16 (NKJV) Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

Not only are there plenty of direct commands in the Word of God to pray, but as Christians, we are to be following the example of Christ, and He prayed.

Mark 1:35 (NKJV) Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.

Jesus, the God-Man, got up early and spent time in prayer. What does that tell you about the importance of prayer? Before Jesus chose His disciples, he spent all night in prayer.

Luke 6:12-13 (NKJV) Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. 13 And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles:

Do you spend time in prayer before making major decisions? If Jesus did, shouldn't we? I would think so. James said that if we lacked wisdom that we should ask God.

If God commands us to pray, and if we are to be followers of Jesus's example, is it a sin not to pray?

James 4:17 (NKJV) Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Prayer is an essential part of our Christian experience. What if you spent as much time talking to your spouse as you did to God? You probably wouldn't stay married long.

I think that we all know that we should pray, so let's talk about the content of our prayer time. I think that our prayers should be made up of three ingredients; confession, thanksgiving and petition. I think we should start our prayer time with confession.

1 John 1:9 (NKJV) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

It's a healthy thing to begin our prayer time with confession of sins. It reminds us of our sinfulness and God's holiness. It gives us a sense of humility in our approach to God. Also, when we confess something to God as a sin, it makes it more difficult for us to continue in that action.

After confession, we should spend time in thanksgiving. If you are honest with yourself and God, this could take up the majority of your prayer time.

I believe that Paul teaches us, in Phil. 4:6, that when we go to God in prayer, we should always start with thanksgiving. He is saying that we should start by counting our blessings.

Philippians 4:6 (NKJV) Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;

Paul says, "Instead of worrying, pray." The words "with thanksgiving" in the Greek are meta eucharistia. Meta and the genitive means "with" but this is meta and the accusative, and it never means "with," it means "after." After thanksgiving, make your request. What Paul is saying is, instead of crying out to God in your difficulty with doubt, questionings, dissatisfaction, discontentment, blaming God, cry out to God after a time of thanksgiving. Why? If you have a thankful heart, your prayers will be right.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV) in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Corrie Ten Boom, in The Hiding Place, relates an incident which taught her this principle. She and her sister, Betsy, had just been transferred to the worst German prison camp they had seen yet, Ravensbruck. Upon entering the barracks, they found them extremely overcrowded and flea-infested. Their Scripture reading that morning in 1 Thessalonians had reminded them to rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances. Betsy told Corrie to stop and thank the Lord for every detail of their new living quarters. Corrie, at first, flatly refused to give thanks for the fleas, but Betsy persisted. She finally succumbed. During the months spent at that camp, they were surprised to find how openly they could hold Bible study and prayer meetings without guard interference. It was several months later when they learned that the guards would not enter the barracks because of the fleas.

David said in Psalms 118:24 (NKJV) "This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it". We must make a decision to be thankful. Thankfulness is the honestly grateful recognition that no matter what else is true of me, God loves me and he has chosen me; I am His, and that relationship cannot be broken.

I'm convinced that the greatest singular act of personal worship that you can render to God is to have a thankful heart. Thanksgiving ultimately recognizes God as the source of everything. God created us and we are to be thankful. Thanksgiving promotes contentment about our possessions, position, and providence by focusing our thoughts on the blessings God has already given to us.

Psalms 107:8 (NKJV) Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!

Are you a thankful person? How much time do you spend in prayer giving thanks to God for what he has given you? When is the last time that you counted your blessings and thanked God for each and every one of them?

A time of thanksgiving during my prayer time has changed my prayer time and my attitude. I never before realized how much I had to be thankful for.

After you have spent time in confession and thanksgiving then you are ready for petition. This is the part of prayer where we make request of God for our needs and the needs of others. Here we must understand that God loves us and He wants to bless us, but He wants us to ask Him to meet our needs. Prayer works! We must believe that if we are going to pray.

James 5:16 (NKJV) Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

Do you believe that? Too many of us are like the disciples in Acts 12, we pray but we don't expect an answer.

Acts 12:1-16 (NKJV) Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. 2 Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3 And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. 4 So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover. 5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. 6 And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. 7 Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, "Arise quickly!" And his chains fell off his hands. 8 Then the angel said to him, "Gird yourself and tie on your sandals"; and so he did. And he said to him, "Put on your garment and follow me." 9 So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. 11 And when Peter had come to himself, he said, "Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people." 12 So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. 13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter's voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. 15 But they said to her, "You are beside yourself!" Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, "It is his angel." 16 Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.

God answered their prayers and they were astonished. Why were they praying if they didn't believe that God would answer their prayers? Aren't we too much like them? I'll bet that, apart from being astonished, they were all very excited because they had been apart of Peter's deliverance.

Psalms 4:3 (NKJV) But know that the LORD has set apart for Himself him who is godly; The LORD will hear when I call to Him.

God hears and will answer our prayers! Maybe not our way.

When I was aboard ship in the Navy, three of us started a daily prayer meeting to pray for those on our ship. All we did was get together and pray. Each week more people showed up to pray and we had to move three times to accommodate them all. We grew to about 15 men, many of which were not saved, they just wanted to be there and hear us pray. We decided that we should start a Bible study since we had all these unsaved guys together. In the months to come, we saw many men come to trust Christ. All because we prayed!

I wanted to advertise in the paper for our church but we didn't have the money to do so, so I began to pray. The next week I received a call from a man that I had not heard from in about 12 years. He told me he had a van and asked if I wanted it for the church. I was excited until I went to pick it up and found out that it was orange. So I began to pray again that God would send someone along who wanted an orange van. In a couple of weeks a family was very excited to buy our van. We now had two thousand dollars to use for advertising. Just a coincidence or an answer to prayer?

Folks, if you are not praying, you are missing a lot of blessings. What a joy to see the Lord answer prayer.

Let me give you a few suggestions for prayer before we close. We should set a time to pray just as we should set a time to study. Most of us won't be very effective at prayer if we have no plan and just try to fit it in whenever we have a free moment.

Saint Francis of Sales (1567-1622) said, "Every Christian needs a half hour of prayer each day, except when he is busy, then he needs an hour." Martin Luther (1483-1546) said, "I am so busy now that if I did not spend two or three hours each day in prayer, I would not get through the day."

Not only have a set time, but have a prayer list. Keep track of the things that you are praying for and keep track of the answers that you get. If you do this, you will begin to get excited about prayer.

We all know that prayer is important, so why don't we do it?

Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983) asked this question, "Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?" It should be our steering wheel guiding us in all we do.

Richard P. Cook said, "Most of us have much trouble praying when we are in little trouble, but we have little trouble praying when we are in much trouble." Isn't it amazing that even people who say they don't believe in God, will pray when in trouble. Why is that? It's because we know that there is a God and we know that we need Him. A sign was seen in a principal's office that stated, "In the event of nuclear attack, fire, or earthquake, the ban on prayer is temporarily lifted."

Joni Eareckson Tada said, "Like art, like music, like so many other disciplines, prayer can only be appreciated when you actually spend time in it. Spending time with the Master will elevate your thinking. The more you pray, the more will be revealed. You will understand. You will smile and nod your head as you identify with others who fight long battles and find great joy on their knees." To that I say, "AMEN!"

Prayer is an awesome privilege! Are you exercising your great privilege?

Jeremiah 33:3 (NKJV) 'Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.'

When it comes to prayer, Christians should adopt the Nike slogan, "Just do it!"

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