Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

Spiritual Disciplines - Part 4: Prayer


Spiritual Disciplines IV





Those who have walked with God in the past viewed prayer as a central feature of their lives, “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); “He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).  The disciples, being faithful Jewish men, had certainly prayed for many years before they met Jesus, yet when they observed His prayer life it was as if they had never been taught to pray (Luke 11:1).  It was David who said, “O God, Thou art my God; I shall seek Thee earnestly (or early)” (Psalm 63:1). The apostles considered prayer so important that it was viewed to be as effective as preaching and teaching the gospel, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).   Jesus and Paul both emphasized that for a believer, prayer is not some little habit that is tacked onto the periphery of our lives, rather, for the Christian it should be something as natural and needed as eating and breathing, “To show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1); “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). 


Obstacles to Overcome


The examples of great men of faith in the Bible might discourage some instead of motivating them.  We might think that such a level of faith is far so beyond anything we have experienced that we are tempted to despair.  Yet rather than not even trying, we should remember that one does not become spiritual overnight.  Occasional joggers do not suddenly enter any Olympic marathon.  They prepare and train themselves over a period of time, and so should we.  If our prayer lives are disappointing, be assured that with effort and practice they can be much better a year from now (Hebrews 5:11-14; 2 Peter 1:5ff).  Real prayer is something is that is learned, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).  It is liberating to understanding that prayer is a learning process.


Others are discouraged from praying because someone has convinced them that the universe is set, so that things cannot be changed.  “Many people who emphasize acquiescence and resignation to the way things are as ‘the will of God’ are actually closer to Epictetus than to Christ” (Foster p. 35).  Moses prayed boldly because he believed his prayers could change things(Exodus 32:14).  The people of Nineveh prayed that God would spare their city and their repentant prayers changed one course of history to another (Jonah 3:10).  Elijah prayed and it changed the weather patterns in Palestine for three years and six months(James 5:17).  “This comes as a genuine liberation to many of us, but it also sets tremendous responsibility before us” (p. 35).  On a certain level we are working with God to determine the future for good.  God does listen to the prayers of His people, and prayer can change the course of an individual and the course of a nation.  Prayer is a tremendous weapon (Ephesians 6:18; James 5:16 “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much”).  Instead of complaining about those in high office, God says pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1-2).  Pray that such leaders would face a crisis in their life that would move them towards some serious soul searching.  Pray that they would come into contact with a very persuasive Christian.  Pray that they would happen onto good answers to some of their unresolved religious questions.  Pray that they would read something, which would remove their excuses, and something that would shake the foundations of whatever philosophy they are living by at this moment.  Pray for well-timed opportunities; that the truth would reach them at a time that they might be a little bit more receptive.  Someone noted that when they said “God answered my prayer” that others would say, “that’s just a coincidence” (and that might be true(Philemon 15 “For perhaps”), but this same person noted that when he was diligent in prayer such “coincidences” happened, or seemed to happen more frequently, than when he was lax in prayer.  Brethren, things happen in our lives that test our faith, which could undermine our confidence, which make us reevaluate what we believe.  Pray that those types of things will happen in the lives of unbelievers.  


Did Not Get Around To It?


“We must never wait until we feel like praying before we pray.  Prayer is like any other work; we may not feel like working, but once we have been at it a bit, we begin to feel like working.  We need not worry that this work will take up too much of our time, for ‘It takes no time, but it occupies all our time’.  It is not prayer in addition to work but prayer simultaneous with work.  We precede, enfold, and follow all our work with prayer.  Prayer and action become wedded” (Foster p. 45). Consider Nehemiah 2:4-5 “Then the king said to me, ‘What would you request?’  So I prayed to the God of heaven.  And I said to the King”.   How long did that prayer take?  Nehemiah prayed a silent, short prayer while right in front of the King.  That is part of the idea of praying without ceasing, or praying at all times, or being devoted to prayer.  God has not confined us to specific times to pray, or a specific place, or a specific posture to assume during prayer.  This can give us confidence in our daily lives.  When you are about to talk to the boss—do you pray?  When you are about to meet your child’s teacher, do you pray?  When you come home and one of your children needs to be disciplined, do you pray?  As you are about to enter the business of a client, do you pray?  When someone asks you a bible question at work, do you quickly pray for wisdom?  When you see Christians having a disagreement, do you pray?  As you are working or driving, and remember a Christian in need, do you pray on their behalf?  When you see or hear someone attacking a truth found in the Bible, do you pray for them?  When your mate seems irritable, do you quickly pray?  When you feel yourself getting tired or grumpy, do you pray?  When a worry or anxiety enters your mind, do you pray?  Oh, how we hurt ourselves and bring upon ourselves unnecessary anxiety, worry, and stress!   Why is it that we stubbornly insist on worrying about something for days or weeks, instead of voicing all those concerns to the only one Who can really do anything about the present or future, that is, God (1 Peter 5:7).


Praying Against Evil


We must learn to pray against evil.  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places…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).  In light of the above passage, do we persistently pray for our brethren, or do we seem to forget about their pressing needs?  Such a command demands that we know our brethren on more than simply a surface level.  Such prayers need to be for the spiritual protection of our brethren, that they should succeed on a daily basis against the devil’s temptations. Notice this includes brethren in other congregations as well, “for all the saints”.  If we hear about problems that other congregations are having are we devoted to prayer on their behalf?  Do we pray against evil?  Do we earnestly pray against the things in our society that are undermining the faith of our young people, destroying people’s lives and marriages, and destroying the moral integrity of our culture?


The book of Psalms is a collection of songs and prayers covering a variety of themes, ranging from the heights of praise (Psalm 145) to the depths of despair (Psalm 13).  Included in this book are petitions to God for the destruction of the adversary that the particular psalmist was facing.  These have been labeled "imprecatory psalms" and have been placed in this category (Psalms 7,35,58,69,83,109,137 and 139).  These are not the prayers of unspiritual or bitter men, for such writers refused to take their own revenge.  As Christians we need to learn that God is really the only defense that we have against the wicked in this world (Psalm 7:10; 109:26-29).  Praying that hardship would come upon those opposed to God and hinder the truth is not an unspiritual concept, because hardship can lead sinners to repentance (Psalm 83:16 “Fill their faces with dishonor, That they may seek Thy name, O Lord”). The destruction upon ungodly men and women can impress those who are trying to sit on the fence (Psalm 58:11 “And men will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; Surely there is a God who judges on earth!’”).  In dealing with unrepentant people we often forget about loving the rest of mankind.  There are people who have influenced a couple of generations with their evil attitudes and practices.  The one good thing about calamity and death is that it often "checks" the abuser. 


The First Step


“We should never make prayer too complicated.  Jesus taught us to come like children to a father.  Openness, honesty, and trust mark the communication of children with their father” (Foster p. 40).  (Matthew 6:9; 7:7-11; James 4:3). 


“Thy Will Be Done”


There must be in our hearts the great desire to know the will of God.  “What is your will?”  “What would please You?”  “What would advance Your Kingdom upon the earth?”  This is the attitude that should stand behind all our prayers and permeate our entire life experience.  In prayer there needs to be relinquishment.  We are committed to letting go of our will whenever it conflicts with the will and way of God.  Obviously, our goal is to learn always to think God’s thoughts after Him” (Foster p. 37).  In prayer we are constantly attempting to completely pattern our thoughts, attitudes and daily lives after what God would want, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10; “Yet not My will, but Thine be done” (Luke 22:42); “We are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15); “We are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). 


“We Are Being Heard”


It is true that prayer cannot change a person’s freewill (a miracle cannot even do that-Exodus 8:15).  There must be some reason that God wants us to pray not only for ourselves, but also for others (1 Tim. 2:1-2).  From the example of Abraham, we know that prayer can give people extra time to repent.  God was willing to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if 10 righteous people could be found within them (Genesis 18:23-32).  Prayer may give someone one more chance to repent.  Prayer may bring about more favorable circumstances in which to hear the gospel.  Prayer may trigger a chain of events in the life of a loved one or friend, events which could humble a person (if so allowed), and bring about a more receptive frame of mind (even though they have to make the choice to listen, repent, and obey).   Praying for political leaders might bring about circumstances in which voting for godly laws and rejecting the wicked ones might be an easier choice in view of the political climate.  Maybe we have lost sight of a couple of things:  A.  God desires all to be saved (2 Peter 3:9).  B.  God wants to give good things to His people (Matthew 7:11). C.  God does not delight in the death of any sinner (Ezekiel 18:23).  D.  God stands always ready to hear all our prayers (Hebrews4:14-16).  Jesus is always on duty to make intercession for us (7:25).


Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017