We saw in our last study that Jesus teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum caused amazement - "And they were amazed at His teaching." Not only did He teach with power, but He also cast out demons. This also caused great amazement, as you can imagine. And the people who saw these things couldn't wait to tell others what they had seen Jesus do:
Mark 1:28 (NASB) And immediately the news about Him went out everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee.
When people left that synagogue, they went everywhere spreading the news of what Jesus had done. This caused the people of Capernaum to seek out Jesus. Mark tells us:
Mark 1:33 (NASB) And the whole city had gathered at the door.
Imagine the sight as Jesus went to the door of Simon's house and saw the crowd of people with sick and deranged men, women, and children. All of these came with a dream that somehow Jesus could heal them:
Mark 1:34 (NASB) And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.
That Sabbath day in Capernaum ends with Jesus in the limelight of popularity. Many people were present, the city gathered around Him, He was the center of attention. Jesus had encountered countless sick and demon-possessed individuals who each required His personal touch. After that hectic and exciting day Jesus didn't sleep in, even though I'm sure He was wore-out, but He got up early to spend time in prayer with His Father.
Mark 1:35 (NASB) And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there.
After this full day Jesus went out on the mountainside, and there, alone by Himself, He prayed. There is a key here to Jesus' ministry and to the ministry of every effective saint of God. It is prayer. Mark tells us that Jesus rose a great while before day to be alone in prayer. That is where He communed with the Father. That is where He received guidance. That is where He heard the Father speak. That is where He received the power and authority to act in the name of the Father. If Jesus needed to pray, how much more do we? Prayer is the secret of receiving God's power.
Why did Jesus make prayer a priority? The only answer we can come to is that he wants to make clear that the authority He had was not coming from Him. This is what our Lord is trying to get across to us so continually in the Scriptures - that it was not His authority by which He acted; He had to receive it from the Father:
John 5:19 (NASB) Jesus therefore answered and was saying to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.
John 14:10 (NASB) "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.
The power that Jesus manifested had to come to Him constantly from the Father. The reason Jesus stresses this is that this is what He wants us to learn. We are to operate on the same basis. Response to the normal, ordinary demands of life, and power to cope with it, must come from our reliance upon Him at work within us. This is the secret - all power to live the Christian life comes not from us doing our dead-level best to serve God, but from Him, granted to us moment by moment as the demand is made upon us. Power is given to those who walk in dependence upon God. As we learn this, then we are given power to meet the demands and the needs which are waiting for us each and every day.
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 (NASB) And it was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, He called His disciples to Him; and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles:
In Luke 11 a disciple seeing Jesus pray asks this:
Luke 11:1 (NASB) And it came about that while He was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples."
"Lord, teach us to pray." 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.
If you want to be physically strong, physically in shape, what does it require? Exercise, proper diet, rest. These are all essential. Just like there are physical disciplines that are needed to keep us in shape there are spiritual disciplines that are needed also. If you want to be strong spiritually, what does it require? Bible study, prayer, fellowship. Are these really necessary to spiritual strength? Absolutely! Are you doing them? If your spiritual life is not what is should be, maybe you should look at these areas.
What is prayer?
Everyone may not be able to give a definition of prayer, but I believe that everybody knows what prayer is, because I think that everybody prays. I think that even atheists pray when things get really bad. Whenever you're in trouble, or in a crisis, whenever all hell is breaking loose around you, even an atheist probably throws up a prayer just in case he or she is wrong. Everybody prays.
Non-believers pray many times out of desperation, with a hope that something might happen as a result. They're not really sure that anything is going to happen, but just in case, they probably ought to pray. So they pray whenever they're in a bind. They pray whenever they're facing a challenge, whenever they're facing a hard situation at home or at work, or whenever they're having a personal crisis. They want help. And if God is willing to help them, they're willing to receive that help.
So everyone knows something about prayer. In fact, a Gallup survey revealed that a majority of the people in this country say they pray on a regular basis. That includes people who don't even profess to be Christians.
Most religions have some type of prayer in which the devotee recognizes something of his helplessness and the power of another who might grant his desires. From this we find men praying to the moon and praying to statues carved from wood. Like the prophets of Baal in ancient Israel, they call upon their god with pitiful cries; yet, those gods do not hear nor answer.
Many people pray, but prayer is limited to Christians. Only those who have trusted Jesus Christ have God as their Father and thus have the privilege of prayer. Many of the misconceptions and misunderstandings about prayer today are because people do not understand that basic concept. As a father, my children ask me for many things. If you are a parent, you also experience the privilege of being able to give your children the things they ask of you. But my response is different if an unknown kid from the neighborhood walks up and says, "Hey, I need some gas money, my car's on empty; how about giving me twenty dollars?" I think, "The nerve of that kid to ask me for money. Did he not have any home training? Doesn't he know that you just don't go up and ask people for money? He needs to ask his own parents."
Many people are continually making that mistake in prayer. God is not their Father, but they think they can just barge in, tell Him what they want, and leave. They think He should be there to respond to them at the snap of a finger. They think God is there for their convenience. If they have a problem, they want to blame it on Him. He had better work it out! If they have a need, God ought to be there to respond to it. They have no concept of the fact that God is not their Father.
There are probably many children in your neighborhood who have various problems and needs. You do not necessarily respond to all those needs. But when your children have problems and needs, you respond to them, because they are your responsibility. You have an obligation because of your family relationship. So it is in prayer. Prayer is limited to those who enjoy a family relationship with God. This means that of all the people who pray, the only ones who have the right to pray are those who are members of His family. Of course God hears and sees everything, so He hears the unbelievers' prayers. He heard the prophets of Baal; He saw what they were doing. But the point is that He does not hear with the intention of responding to unbelievers' prayers.
It is important to understand that Scripture limits the privilege of prayer to the members of God's family. It is amazing how so many people can go through the routines of prayer and never stop to think whether they are being heard or not. They can be very sincere in their prayers. The prophets of Baal were so sincere and earnest that they were willing to mutilate their bodies in order to get Baal's attention. But all of the sincerity and mutilation did not change the fact that there was no Baal - there was no god to hear them. The privilege of prayer is limited to those in God's family.
John 1:12 (NASB) But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,
The right to be the children of God is limited to those who believe in Jesus Christ. His name refers to who He is. Those who believe in Jesus Christ are the ones who have the right to be the children of God. That narrows it down very clearly. The children of God are those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died on a cross to pay the penalty for their sins. What about those who don't believe that Jesus Christ is God? What about Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and everybody else who rejects Christ? This verse says that the right to be the children of God belongs to those who believe in Jesus Christ. Salvation comes only through Jesus Christ. And prayer is only for the family of God - those who are saved.
Only Christians really know about prayer. We know the power of God. We know Jesus Christ. We know the provision of God. We know what the Bible says about the importance of prayer. And you would think knowing what we know about the power of prayer, the efficacy of prayer, and the power of Christ, that we would be praying and seeking God much more than we do. But, the sad reality of the fact is, we don't. I know I often find myself disappointed over my prayer life.
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 we get what we 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 aid 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 they pray. For them, prayer is like the last thing. They do everything they can, and then they pray.
The worst idea or the worst misconception about prayer, for many people, is that it 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 morning. 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.
1. Prayer Is an Act of dependence
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 dependence: "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 (NASB) "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, 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 the fellowship of God, he withers.
Think about this: Prayerlessness is a declaration 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 (NASB) But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE."
1 Peter 5:5 (NASB) You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.
If we want God's grace, we must humble ourselves and pray.
2. Prayer Is an Act of Communication.
Most of our problems in life are communication problems. Communication with our wife/husband, our co-workers, or boss. Most of our problems in life come from poor communication. We can't understand another person unless we communicate with them. And we can't understand God, unless we 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 (NASB) Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Thy 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 dependence, and it's an act of communication.
3. Prayer Is an Act of Supplication.
Philippians 4:6 (NASB) Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
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. Now think about this for a moment. God's will is that we, His creatures, ask Him for things. And it is not just His will, it is His delight:
Proverbs 15:8 (NASB) The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight.
If prayer is asking God for things, and He delights in our prayer, then God loves to be asked for things. Would you agree with that?
Isaiah tells us that God is eager to hear our prayers and respond to them:
Isaiah 65:24 (NASB) "It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.
In fact, He takes special steps to see to it that He is constantly beseeched:
Isaiah 62:6-7 (NASB) On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; All day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the LORD, take no rest for yourselves; 7 And give Him no rest until He establishes And makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
So God loves being asked for things so much that He appoints people to "give Him no rest" but to "remind the Lord" and "never keep silent." Remind Him of what? Remind Him of his promises. Remind Him of His goodness. Remind Him of His mercy. Remind Him of His love for His people. Why do I need to remind God of all of that? Surely He doesn't need to be reminded by me. No, He doesn't. But what you're doing is not just reminding the Lord, you're reminding yourself. You're remembering who God is when you pray by recounting His promises. You're reminding yourself of who God is. You're quoting His promises back to Him, because it builds your faith in God. It shows you that God wants to do something.
This tells us that God, the Creator of the Universe, who holds our life in His hands and rules the world, is the kind of God who loves to be asked for things. Why does God not only will that we ask Him for things, but delight in it and take steps to see that it happens? What's behind this delight in our asking Him for things? What attribute of God causes Him to delight in our asking Him for things? Love! What does love do? It gives!
John 3:16 (NASB) "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
God so loved - that He gave. It is God's nature to be a giver:
Romans 11:35-36 (NASB) Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
God is self-sufficient. And He is the Source of all things. "For from Him... are all things." That is, they originated from Him. This all-sufficient God, who is the source of all things, delights to give:
Acts 17:25 (NASB) neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things;
God is love and love gives. So God loves to give. And the last phrase of Romans 11:36 says why: "To Him be glory for ever." God is glorified as the source of all things. So God ordains prayer, because He wants us to see Him as the gloriously self-sufficient source of all things and ourselves as totally needy.
Psalms 50:15 (NASB) And call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me."
God answers our call for help so that we get the rescue, and He gets the honor.
John 14:13 (NASB) "And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
Ask for things in My name! Why? So that the Father may be glorified.
God wills that you pray. He wills that you ask Him for things. And not just wills it, but really delights in it, because it comes from the very nature of who God is. He is love - He is a giver. Why is He a Giver? Because He is utterly self-sufficient and delights to overflow and show us His glorious fullness and strength and wisdom, and that He will give us whatever we need. God loves to show the fullness of His grace in meeting the needs of humble; that is dependent that is, praying people, because it magnifies His riches.
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 (NASB) casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.
So prayer is not some small thing. It is not some marginal thing. It is not some incidental thing in the Christian life. Prayer gives honor and glory to God as the giver of all things.
From Genesis to Revelation, we find believers praying to the Lord. Abraham, Joseph, David, and Daniel offer wonderful examples of believers bringing needs and praises before the Lord. They did so consistently, even if it meant personal peril. Prayer was a priority for them. We can surmise that one of the critical reasons for their deep spirituality was that prayer had a place of priority in their lives.
The same is true in the New Testament. We see that our Lord gave priority to prayer. We follow through the book of Acts and see the early believers praying privately and corporately. Paul's epistles are filled with examples of his own prayers, demonstrating that he gave priority to this spiritual discipline.
Prayer is an act of dependence. 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:
4. Prayer Is Effective!
Psalms 91:15 (NASB) "He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him, and honor him.
Jeremiah 29:12 (NASB) 'Then you will call upon Me and come 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 (NASB) For a multitude of the people, even many from Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun, had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than prescribed. For Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, "May the good LORD pardon 19 everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary." 20 So the LORD heard 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, "So the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people."
When Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came against Jerusalem, Hezekiah turned to God in prayer:
2 Chronicles 32:20-23 (NASB) But King Hezekiah and Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, prayed about this and cried out to heaven. 21 And the LORD sent an angel who destroyed every mighty warrior, commander and officer in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned in shame to his own land. And when he had entered the temple of his god, some of his own children killed him there with the sword. 22 So 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 were bringing gifts to the LORD at Jerusalem and choice 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 (NASB) In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill; and he prayed to the LORD, and the LORD spoke to him and gave him a sign.
To get the full picture of what happened here look at:
2 Kings 20:1 (NASB) In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came 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 (NASB) Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed to the LORD, saying, 3 "Remember now, O LORD, I beseech Thee, how I have walked before Thee in truth and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in Thy sight." And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 And it came about before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 5 "Return and say to Hezekiah the leader of My people, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of your father David, "I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD. 6 "And I will add fifteen years to your life, and 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 My servant David's sake."'" 7 Then Isaiah said, "Take a cake of figs." And 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.
About a year ago Laura was in the hospital, and the doctors said she would not leave. They told her mother this is the natural progression of spina bifida. We had promised to take Laura tubing and we prayed that we would be able to fulfill that promise. We prayed for Laura's recovery and here she sits. The Scriptures are clear about the effectiveness of prayer.
James 5:16 (NASB) Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
With this the whole Bible and Christian experience agree: Prayer is effective.
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!
God grant that as we study together, we will learn the great lessons Mark seeks to lay upon our hearts - that we are to live as Jesus lived, exactly as He lived: In dependence upon God for everything.
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