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 it should be, maybe you should look at these areas.
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."
The good news is 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! How is your prayer life?
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, you will pray; 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.
"What is prayer?" The bottom line is: prayer is asking God for things. I know that we should come to God with more than asking. We should come with confession, thanksgiving, and praise. In a broad sense, prayer includes all that. But, speaking precisely, prayer is asking God for something.
There is a story about D. L. Moody making a visit to Scotland in the 1800s and opening one of his talks at a local grade school with the rhetorical question: "What is prayer?" To his amazement, hundreds of children's hands went up. So he decided to call on a boy near the front, who promptly stood up and said, "Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of His Spirit, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies." Anyone know where the boy came up with that answer? This is the answer to question #178 in the Westminster Catechism. To this Moody responded by saying, "Be thankful, son, that you were born in Scotland."
Be sure to notice the main thing: "Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God." That is the main meaning of prayer. "With confession of sins" and with "thankful acknowledgment of His mercies"these go along with the expressed desires. But the essence of prayer is the expression of our dependence on God through requests.
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 if an unknown kid from the neighborhood walks up and says, "Hey, I'm going to the store. How about giving me a couple dollars." my response is different. 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 about 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:
So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, "Choose one ox for yourselves and prepare it first for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it." 26 Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, "O Baal, answer us." But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they made. 27 And it came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, "Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened." 28 So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. 29 And it came about when midday was past, that they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention. (1 Kings 18:25-29 NASB)
All of the sincerity and mutilation did not change the fact that there was no Baalthere was no god to hear them. The privilege of prayer is limited to those in God's family.
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, (John 1:12 NASB)
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 Godthose 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.
We see the priority of prayer in the life of our Savior. After a hectic and exciting day of ministry, Jesus didn't sleep in, even though I'm sure He was worn-out, but He got up early to spend time in prayer with His Father:
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. (Mark 1:35 NASB)
After a full day, Jesus went out on the mountainside, and there, all alone , 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.
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:
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: (Luke 6:12-13 NASB)
Jesus' disciples obviously saw the importance of prayer in the life of Jesus so they ask:
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." (Luke 11:1 NASB)
"Lord, teach us to pray." Why, of all the things they could have requested from Jesus, why did they ask that He teach them to pray? 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 calm storms. 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.
So prayer is asking God for things, it is limited to Christians, and it should be a priority in our lives. So why don't we pray more? One reason may be that we view it as a kind of a spiritual nagging; if we keep bugging God about something, He'll do it for us. Do we bug God when we ask Him for things? No! It is God's will that we, His creatures, ask Him for things. And it is not just His will, it is His delight:
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight. (Proverbs 15:8 NASB)
Let's put this is the form of a syllogism: Major Premise: prayer is asking God for things. Minor Premise: He delights in our prayer. What is the Conclusion? 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:
"It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear. (Isaiah 65:24 NASB)
In fact, He takes special steps to see to it that He is constantly beseeched:
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. (Isaiah 62:6-7 NASB)
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. Notice how David prays:
Incline Thine ear, O LORD, and answer me; For I am afflicted and needy. (Psalms 86:1 NASB)
For Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon Thee. (Psalms 86:5 NASB)
But Thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth. (Psalms 86:15 NASB)
As David prays, he reminds himself who God is. Listen, believer, 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 delights 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!
"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. (John 3:16 NASB)
God so lovedthat He gave. It is God's nature to be a giver.
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. (Romans 11:35-36 NASB)
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.
neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things; (Acts 17:25 NASB)
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.
And call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me." (Psalms 50:15 NASB)
God answers our call for help so that we get the rescue, and He gets the honor.
"And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:13 NASB)
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 loveHe 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, dependent that is, praying people, because it magnifies His riches.
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. Notice what Paul teaches the Colossian believers about prayer:
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; (Colossians 4:2 NASB)
This word "devote" is the Greek word proskartereo. It first meant: "to be strong towards, to
endure in, persevere in." It came to mean: "adhere to, persist in, to continue to do something with
intense effort," with the possible implication of "despite difficulty." The present tense of "devote"
further emphasizes the idea of persistence of prayer.
Paul's instructions, then, go beyond the simple idea of praying when circumstances are conducive to doing so and point towards a continuance. This Greek word occurs six times in the New Testament in relation to prayer. Luke notes that, following Jesus' departure into Heaven, the group of believers:
These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. (Acts 1:14 NASB)
There were about 120 in all, and they prayed together for about ten days. After Peter's sermon at Pentecost and the conversion of 3,000 people, Luke describes their life together like this:
And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42 NASB)
The Twelve were devoted to prayer and the word:
"But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." (Acts 6:4 NASB)
Paul told the Roman and Ephesian believers that they were to be devoted to prayer:
Rejoicing in hope, peservering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, (Romans 12:12 NASB)
With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, (Ephesians 6:18 NASB)
What does this mean? It means we are to pray often and pray regularly. Prayer is not to be infrequent, and prayer is not to be hit and miss. Being "devoted to" prayer means that you are not haphazard, and you are not forgetful. It means you take steps to see that it is part of your regular life, the same way eating and sleeping are.
So prayer is asking God for things, it is limited to Christians, and it should be a priority in our lives. God loves to be asked for things. He delights in our prayer. Prayer gives honor and glory to God as the giver of all things. Thus, we should be devoted to prayer. Prayer is vital to a believer's spiritual health.
Let me share with you two more things that the Bible teaches about prayer that should motivate us all to be devoted to prayer.
1. Prayer Is an Act of Dedication
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 on 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."
2. Prayer Is Effective!
"He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him, and honor him. (Psalms 91:15 NASB)
'Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. (Jeremiah 29:12 NASB)
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.).
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. (2 Chronicles 30:18-20 NASB)
Hezekiah prayed for the people, and the Lord heard his prayers and healed the people. Please notice what the Scripture says, "The Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people."
When Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came against Jerusalem, Hezekiah turned to God in prayer:
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. (2 Chronicles 32:20-22 NASB)
Believers, prayer is effectiveHezekiah prayed to God, and God delivered Judah. Hezekiah's prayers were also effective in his personal life:
In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill; and he prayed to the LORD, and the LORD spoke to him and gave him a sign. (2 Chronicles 32:24 NASB)
To get the full picture of what happened here, look at:
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.'" (2 Kings 20:1 NASB)
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:
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. (2 Kings 20:2-7 NASB)
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. But we don't only see this in Hezekiah's life, the early church prayed for Peter:
So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God. (Acts 12:5 NASB)
Herod had already killed James, the brother of John, so the believes prayed for Peter, and God answered their prayers, and Peter was miraculously set free. When Rhoda told the believers that Peter was at the door, their response was:
And they said to her, "You are out of your mind!" But she kept insisting that it was so. And they kept saying, "It is his angel." 15 But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed. (Acts 12:15-16 NASB)
They were amazed that God had answered their prayers. They must not have been praying in faith, and yet God still answered their prayers.
James tells us about the effectiveness of prayer when he writes:
Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the sky poured rain, and the earth produced its fruit. (James 5:17-18 NASB)
Elijah was a man just like us, and God heard and answered his prayers. And He also delights to hear ours. The Scriptures are clear about the effectiveness of prayer:
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. (James 5:16 NASB)
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 asking God for things, and we must always remember God loves to be asked for things. He delights in our prayer. Prayer gives honor and glory to God as the giver of all things. Thus we should be devoted to prayer.