How many of you understand binary numbers and how they are used to make a computer work? How many of you use a computer? You mean to tell me that you use a computer even though you don't understand how it works?
How many of you understand how prayer works when God is sovereign? How many of you pray?
The Bible teaches that God is Sovereign over everything:
Ephesians 1:11 (NKJV) In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,
This tells us that God has an eternal purpose, and that He works all things according to His eternal purpose. Knowing this, we rationalize, "Why pray?"
Daniel 4:35 (NKJV) All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, "What have You done?"
We can't change God's purposes and if our prayers could shape God's policy, then the Most High would be subordinate to the will of man, and that is a terrifying thought. We know that we are commanded to pray, but because we don't understand how prayer can work when God is sovereign, we disobey His command to pray.
We don't have to know how a computer works to use it. And we don't have to understand how prayer works to pray. All we need to know is that it does. How many of you have ever had an answer to prayer? Do you believe that God answers prayer? Sure you do. Since we believe that God answers prayer, why don't we pray more?
In Luke 11 a disciple seeing Jesus pray asks this:
Luke 11:1 (NKJV) Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples."
"Lord, teach us to pray." Why, of all the things they could have asked Jesus, why did they ask that question? I think it was because they saw the results of prayer in His life. They saw Him pray, and they saw what happened. It's interesting that the disciples watched Jesus preach the greatest sermons ever; they watched Him do miracles, heal the sick, raise the dead and all kinds of things. But never once did they say, "Lord, teach us to preach", or "Lord, teach us to do miracles", or "Lord, teach us to raise the dead". Instead they said, "Teach us how to pray." They saw that was the life support system of Jesus Christ. They recognized that was the key to His life. There is nothing more vital to your Christian life than prayer.
This past Thursday, May 3, our nation observed the National Day of Prayer. The National Day of Prayer is an annual event established by an act of Congress, which encourages Americans to pray for our nation, its people, and its leaders. The National Day of Prayer Task Force concentrates on the need to pray for those in leadership on all levels of national, church, and educational areas of influence.
The National Day of Prayer is a vital part of our heritage. Since the first call to prayer in 1775, when the Continental Congress asked the colonies to pray for wisdom in forming a nation, the call to prayer has continued through our history, including President Lincoln's proclamation of a day of "humiliation, fasting, and prayer" in 1863. In 1952, a joint resolution by Congress, signed by President Truman, declared an annual, national day of prayer. In 1988, the law was amended and signed by President Reagan, permanently setting the day as the first Thursday of every May. Each year the president signs a proclamation encouraging all Americans to pray on this day. Last year all 50 state governors, plus the governors of several U.S. territories, signed similar proclamations. We talk a lot about prayer. We know that we should pray, but why?
There are a lot of misconceptions about prayer, a lot of ignorance about how prayer works and why we pray. Some people think prayer is a magic wand. We kind of wave it at something - it's a superstitious approach - and you get what you want. God is kind of like a genie that you rub the vase, and God comes out and says, "Your wish is my command!"
Some people think prayer is a first aide kit. For them, prayer is an act of desperation. The sign for fire extinguishers reads: "Use only in emergency." For a lot of people, prayer is like that: Use only in emergency. It is a last resort. When things finally fall apart, then you pray. Like the deacon who came to his pastor one day - the pastor said, "I guess all we can do is pray," and the deacon said, "Has it come to that?" For us, prayer is like the last thing. You do everything you can, and then you pray.
For some people, prayer is a tug of war - a religious con game that you play with God where you try to convince God to do something nice for you. The idea is you have to beg and plead, and God is some cold hearted monarch sitting a million miles out in outer space, and you have to urge and beg and plead to convince Him that He ought to do something good for you. It's like a sales pitch. You keep pestering God until finally God gets so irritated that He finally says, "Ok, I'll give it to you!" And He gives in. It's like conning God into giving you what you want, and, if you pray hard enough, eventually He gives in, reluctantly.
The worst idea or the worst misconception about prayer is, for many people, prayer is simply a religious duty. The basic motivation behind it is guilt. I know I should pray more, I ought to pray, it's something I ought to do. It becomes a duty. You have a sense of obligation, that if you don't pray you'll be on God's bad list. As a result, you go through a meaningless ritual that becomes a rut. You learn memorized phrases and you get caught in religious cliches and say the same thing over and over. It's totally meaningless to you, but you know you ought to do it. When you think of prayer, you think of one word - boring! You think, "Why do I have to pray?" It becomes something you endure rather than something you enjoy.
If prayer is a duty for you, you have missed the total point of prayer. You don't understand prayer in the slightest, if you think it's a duty. It's no wonder you can't get motivated if you're going around saying, "I should pray, I must pray, I have to pray." I'd like to try to demolish some of these misconceptions this evening. Today I want to give you four reasons or purposes to prayer. Hopefully, if we better understand the purpose of prayer, we'll pray more.
It is an opportunity to express our devotion to God, and our dependence upon God. It is an act of dedicating ourselves, saying, "God, I need You." The biggest reason we don't pray is that we don't feel a dependence upon God. We think we can do it ourselves. Ever since Adam and Eve, man has vastly overestimated his ability. So we go thinking, "I don't need to pray, because this is something I just do." Our biggest problem is admitting we need God's help. You have to be honest to God, "I admit I am inadequate. I am helpless. I need Your help in this situation." As long as you think you're self sufficient, prayer can have no meaning for you. You think you've got it all together. Prayer is an act of dedication: "God, I admit I have a need. I need Your help in my life." Prayer is a declaration of dependence upon God. It's our way of saying to God, "I need your help, I can't do this myself."
In John 15 Jesus is giving an illustration of a plant. He says, "I am like a vine, and you Christians are like the branches":
John 15:5-7 (NKJV) "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 "If you abide in Me, [if you are dependent upon Me, trusting in Me] and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.
That's an incredible promise! "Ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you." What is the condition of that promise? Abide in me. The branch is connected to the vine; if you cut the branch off, it loses all its strength, all its power. And if you cut a Christian off from God, he withers.
In a T.V. documentary about deep- sea divers they talked about how they let a diving bell down 800 feet under the water. They were attempting to recover some gold from a sunken ship in the North Atlantic. The only link between the people 800 feet below the water and those on the surface was the air hose. The hose was the lifeline, the support system, the connection between those above and those below.
Likewise, prayer is our support system. You cut it off, and you run out of spiritual air. Prayer is an act of dedication. It shows our dependence. Until we realize we need God, we will never pray like we should. And if prayer is not really a priority with you, it is because you think you are independent.
Think about this: Prayerlessness is an act of self-sufficiency. Would you agree with that? Would you agree that self-sufficiency is pride? If you do, then think about this:
James 4:6 (NKJV) But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."
1 Peter 5:5 (NKJV) Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."
Most of our problems in life are communication problems. Communication with your wife/husband, your co-workers, or boss. Most of your problems in life come from poor communication. You can't understand a person in marriage unless you communicate with them. And you can't understand God, God's will for your life, unless you communicate with Him. We will never understand the Word of God if we aren't dependant upon God to teach it to us. We need to approach the Scriptures like David did:
Psalms 119:18 (NKJV) Open my eyes, that I may see Wondrous things from Your law.
Many years ago there was an international incident - the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was a stand off between President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev of Russia over planting missiles in Cuba. We nearly went to war over it. But we didn't, because communication was established. There was one positive benefit of the Cuban Missile Crisis. They established right afterwards a communications link called a "Hot Line". They put a red telephone on the desk of the President of the United States and a red telephone on the desk of the Premier of Soviet Russia, and there was only one number. Even if the employees went on strike, they'd still get through. It was so there would be no misunderstanding. If at any time somebody thought somebody else was doing something wrong, they could simply lift up the phone and communicate. Communication is vital on the international scene. And it's vital in the Christian life. Prayer is an act of dedication, and it's an act of communication.
We have a hard time praying, because we fail to recognize what a privilege it is to talk to God. If I told you that tomorrow I'd arranged for you a twenty minute personal interview with George W. Bush, the President of the United States, and you were to get up at 7:45, and you would have twenty minutes to talk to him about anything of your heart's desire, what would you do? One, you'd probably not go to bed tonight, you'd be so nervous. You'd probably go out and buy a whole new wardrobe, maybe get a hairdo, haircut. You'd probably write out some questions you'd want to ask, so you didn't waste the time. You'd get prepared, because you were going to get to talk personally with the President of the United States.
We have a greater invitation than that. Over and over in Scripture we are invited to converse with the Creator. That's going to the top! You're not working with some little bureaucrat. You don't have to know the key men if you know the man who holds the keys. That's what prayer is. It is dedication, but it is also communication.
Our problem is we have a hard time believing that God is really interested in us. We can't seem to conceive that the Creator of the entire universe is interested in car payments, and house payments, and buying new clothes for the kids for school, and the guy at work who irritates you, and the fact that you have back problems, and everything else. When you fully understand how much God really loves you, prayer will no longer be a problem for you. Why? Because we love to talk to the people who love us the most.
If you find prayer is a duty, a ritual, a routine, that you don't look forward to going through, it means you don't understand how much God's in love with you, and how much He's interested in everything that is of interest to you. Believer, God cares about us:
1 Peter 5:7 (NKJV) casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
Prayer is an act of dedication. It is the way we express our dependence upon God. And prayer in an act of communication. It is the way we communicate with God. It is our life communication, the umbilical cord of the Christian life from which we draw our strength.
Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV) Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Prayer is an act of supplication. Supplication means request. It is the way we make our requests. The fact of the matter is prayer is God's chosen method of meeting your needs.
When we read the New Testament and read about the New Testament Christians, they were unbelievable. They were happy, joyful, contagious, enthusiastic about life. They had power in their lives. We say, "How come I don't have that kind of power? Why don't we have that same kind of power they had in the New Testament?" We don't ask. James said, "Yet you do not have because you do not ask" (James 4:2). Over twenty times in the New Testament it says, "Ask". Ask, seek, knock, keep on asking.
C.H. Spurgeon, a great pastor in London, England, once said this, "God never shuts His storehouses until you shut your mouth." You have to ask. Prayer is an act of supplication. What are you lacking right now in your life simply because you've never asked God for it? You've tried other things, but you've never stopped to ask God for it.
Prayer is an act of dependence or dedication. It's an act of communication, and it's an act of supplication. Ask!
And finally, in answer to the question "Why Pray"? Please understand this:
Psalms 50:15 (NKJV) Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me."
Psalms 91:15 (NKJV) He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.
Jeremiah 29:12 (NKJV) Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.
God promises over and over to answer our prayers. Hezekiah was a man of prayer and we see prayer's effectiveness in his life. Hezekiah was the king of Judah (South) just before Israel (North) was taken into Assyrian captivity (700 B.C.)
2 Chronicles 30:18-20 (GWT) Many people from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun had not made themselves clean. So they ate the Passover, but not in the way the written instructions said they should. Hezekiah prayed for them: "May the good LORD forgive 19 those who have their hearts set on dedicating their lives to serving God. May the LORD God of their ancestors do this for those who are not clean as required for the holy place." 20 The LORD listened to Hezekiah and healed the people.
Hezekiah prayed for the people, and the Lord heard his prayers and healed the people. Please notice what the Scripture says, "The Lord listened to Hezekiah and healed the people."
When Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came against Jerusalem, Hezekiah turned to God in prayer:
2 Chronicles 32:20-23 (NKJV) Now because of this King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah, the son of Amoz, prayed and cried out to heaven. 21 Then the LORD sent an angel who cut down every mighty man of valor, leader, and captain in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned shamefaced to his own land. And when he had gone into the temple of his god, some of his own offspring struck him down with the sword there. 22 Thus the LORD saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria, and from the hand of all others, and guided them on every side. 23 And many brought gifts to the LORD at Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah king of Judah, so that he was exalted in the sight of all nations thereafter.
Believers, prayer is effective - Hezekiah prays to God, and God delivers Judah. Hezekiah's prayers were also effective in his personal life:
2 Chronicles 32:24 (NKJV) In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death, and he prayed to the LORD; and He spoke to him and gave him a sign.
To get the full picture of what happened here look at:
2 Kings 20:1 (NKJV) In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, went to him and said to him, "Thus says the LORD: 'Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live.'"
What would you do here? What did Hezekiah do? Did he say, "Well God is sovereign, and He said I'm going to die, so that's it, I'm dead." No, he did the same thing you would do:
2 Kings 20:2-7 (NKJV) Then he turned his face toward the wall, and prayed to the LORD, saying, 3 "Remember now, O LORD, I pray, how I have walked before You in truth and with a loyal heart, and have done what was good in Your sight." And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 And it happened, before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 5 "Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: "I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD. 6 "And I will add to your days fifteen years. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake, and for the sake of My servant David."' " 7 Then Isaiah said, "Take a lump of figs." So they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered.
Over and over in the life of Hezekiah he prayed, and God answered. What we see in the life of Hezekiah is that prayer is effective.
In 1540, Martin Luther's great friend and assistant, Frederick Myconius, became sick and was expected to die within a short time. On his bed, he wrote a loving farewell note to Luther with a trembling hand. Luther received the letter and instantly sent back a reply, "I command thee in the name of God to live. I still have need of thee in the work of reforming the church. The Lord will never let me hear that thou art dead, but will permit thee to survive me. For this I am praying, this is my will and my will be done, because I seek only to glorify the name of God." These words seem shocking to us, but do you want to know what is even more shocking? One week later, Myconius recovered and died two months after the death of Luther.
Craig and Leigh Huang had been trying to have children for about a year. They shared their desire with our cell group, and we began to pray for them. Soon afterward, Leigh announced that she was pregnant. The Scriptures are clear about the effectiveness of prayer. James said, "...The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16). With this the whole Bible and Christian experience agree. Prayer is effective.
Bereans, please listen to me. I think that Berean Bible Church is weak in the area of prayer. I don't know about your personal prayer life, but when it comes to corporate prayer, it's quite obvious that most of you don't make it a priority. And if the truth be known, prayer probably doesn't have a high priority in your personal lives either. May God help us to realize the importance of prayer that we may begin to do it.
I want our church to be a praying church. A praying church is a dependant church, a committed church. When you pray, it makes you sensitive to God and to other people. It sensitizes your life.
I think we all need to ask the Lord what the disciple did, "Lord, teach me to pray." Maybe you've been a Christian for a while, and prayer has seemed kind of boring to you. The problem isn't prayer. The problem is you just don't realize how much God loves you. It's not to be a duty, it's to be a delight. Not something you endure, it's something you enjoy. Prayer is an act of dedication, communion, supplication; and please never forget, prayer is effective!