Thanks for all the prayers concerning my sermon tonight. Everything ended up going really well. At first it looked like there would be problems because I couldn't print up my notes on our printer here at home and didn't have time to take it somewhere to print it up. My computer was almost out of battery power and I couldn't put my notes on my Pocket PC. But God was in control and everything worked out as I took my computer to the church, plugged it in, and preached off of my notes straight from my computer :o) So thank you al very much and now I'll be starting on my all-Spanish sermon. I've got over two months to finish that one though. Praise the Lord for all of His mercies!
The Power of Prayer
Sermon – March 23, 2008
Introduction: Buenas tardes. Bienvenidos a la casa de Dios esta tarde. ¿Es un placer a estar aqui, no? Amén. En esta tarde, yo tengo un mensaje por todos de nosotros, pero ya perdóneme. Yo no estoy acustombrado a predicar sin preocupación de la tiempo. Cuando yo fui en universidad de la Biblia, nuestro profesor nos enseñó a predicar entre 20 y 30 minutos. Por que en los Estados Unidos, si predico mas largo que 30 minutos, todo la gente empiezan a mirar a la reloj, y quieren a salir, etc. Pero he visto aquí que alguien se puede predicar por un hora o mas. Y eso me gusta, pero no se si yo puedo predicar asi. ¿Me entienden? Ahora mismo estoy preparando un mensaje que quiero predicar completamente en Español – solamente a la gloria de Dios, verdad? – pero a Hermano Jose Luis yo dije que necesito mucho tiempo para prepararlo. Asi que, por hoy, si me permiten, voy a predicar en Ingles y Hermano Diego va a ayudarme, ok?
Today I would like us to study together on the topic of prayer. I don’t want to say that I am going to preach to you about prayer, because this message is really the result of something that God has been teaching me personally. I believe that a study of prayer is something that we approach differently than other studies. What I mean is that we already know much of what the Bible teaches on prayer, but our need is to do it. We do not need more knowledge about prayer; we need more time on our knees in prayer. However, every time that I have studied the Bible’s basic teachings on prayer, I find myself realizing more the importance of prayer, and spending more time in prayer. What we will be doing tonight is just reading through and thinking about the many aspects of prayer. The title of our study tonight is the power of prayer. We desperately need to understand the power of prayer. Therefore, in our study this evening, I want us to look at three aspects of prayer – the principle of prayer, the practice of prayer, and the priority of prayer. So before we begin, let’s go to the Lord in prayer and ask for His wisdom as we seek to know His Word.
I. The Principle of Prayer
What is prayer in its most basic sense? Why should we believe that God would give us something we asked for? Let’s see what the Bible says about prayer…
A. Lk.11:5-8,9-13; Matt.7:7-11
Explanation: In this passage we see two illustrations of prayer given to us by Jesus Himself. The first is that of a friend. Jesus says, “How many of you who had a friend in need would leave him to himself and not give him what he asked?” The answer is obvious – None of us would. The next illustration is even more powerful. It is so powerful, in fact, that it is repeated in another passage of Scripture: Matthew 7. Now, just as a side note, whenever the Bible repeats something, that means that God really wants us to pay attention to that point. For example, whenever Jesus wanted to introduce a truth about God or His kingdom, He would begin by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you.” And in fact in all of the Bible, there is only one thing that is ever repeated three times, and that is they saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts”. So when God repeats this passage in another of the gospels, It is so that we will pay special attention to it. This is the illustration of a parent to a child.
Illustration: Now tell me this, please. How many of you have children – raise your hand. How much do you enjoy giving good things to your children? It doesn’t matter to you if it is a big thing of a little thing, right? You enjoy to give gifts that make your children happy. This passage says, “Pues si vosotros, siendo malos, sabéis dar buenas dádivas á vuestros hijos, ¿cuánto más vuestro Padre celestial…?”
Explanation: Look now at Psalm 2, verses 7 and 8. How powerful is prayer? Read passage. Here God says that He will give up to the farthest parts of the earth. And don’t miss why. Verse 7 says, “Thou art my son.” God, our Heavenly Father, loves to give good gifts to us, if we only ask them of Him.
Explanation: But I want us also to notice another important passage of Scripture. Look at what God tells us in James 4. Verse 2 tells us that we have not because we ask not. But notice also verse 3. Sometimes we do not receive what we ask for because we are asking for the wrong thing, or for the wrong reason.
Illustration: Let’s think once again of the illustration of a parent to a child. I’m sure you parents have had times where you couldn’t give your children what they asked for. For example, maybe your 7 year-old son would like to have a gun or maybe a pocketknife. In that case, you as a parent probably would not give your son what he wanted. Why? Because your son sees something he would like to have and he thinks it would be fun to have it; but you know better than he does and you know that it would be dangerous for him to have it. So it is with our Heavenly Father. He loves to give us things we ask for. But ultimately, He knows what is best. And we’ll talk about this a bit more at the end of our study today.
Explanation: Look now at John 14, verses 13-14. Jesus tells us here, “Y todo lo que pidiereis al Padre en mi nombre, esto haré, para que el Padre sea glorificado en el Hijo.” In his life on earth, Jesus was always trying to bring glory to His Father. And so He does when He answers our prayers.
E. I Jn. 3:22
Explanation: Look also at I Jn.3:22. Here Jesus gives us another condition for praying effectively. He says again that He will answer our prayers, look, when we are doing what is pleasing to Him.
Illustration: Once again, we return to the illustration of parents. As much as you like to give gifts to your children, you’re not going to reward them when they are in disobedience to you, right? It is like when you are eating dinner and your child wants candy. What do you say to him? “You can’t have any candy until you have cleaned your plate, like I told you to.” Right? Again, we will talk about this a bit more at the end of our study.
Explanation: Now, to finish up the principle of prayer, I want to show you two very encouraging things. The first is in John 15:7,16. When you receive an answer to your prayers, that is evidence that you are abiding in Christ, just as Christ was abiding in the Father. Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Without me you cannot bear fruit.”
G. I Jn.5:14-15
Explanation: The second encouragement is in I John chapter 5. Read passage. When you receive an answer to prayers, it is an evidence that you are a child of God. The book of First John was written entirely for this purpose – that you may know that you have eternal life. If you ever go through a time in your life when you begin to doubt that you are truly a Christian, read and pray through the book of First John. You will find there 15 evidences of a child of God.
Transition: So we have seen in these passages the basic principle of prayer. We must ask in order to receive. God wants to answer our prayers because we are His children. And we must be in obedience to Him in order to receive answered prayers. Once again, remember that there is great power in prayer! Let’s look now at the practice of prayer.
II. The Practice of Prayer
How exactly do we pray effectively? This is a question that many Christians ask, and it is a very good question. In fact, Jesus’ own followers asked Him the same question. Let’s look at several passages that teach us specifically HOW to pray.
Explanation/Application: This is probably the most well-known of all passages on prayer, because it it followed by what we call “The Lord’s Prayer”. But we need to notice some very important things here. First of all, is the element of privacy. Jesus says, “When you pray, go into your closet.” The idea he is trying to communicate is that our prayers are only between God and ourselves. Now Jesus said this to His disciples because they were used to hearing and seeing the Pharisees pray. Now as you know, Jesus often had problems with the Pharisees. They were the religious leaders of that day, but all of their religion was external. They did not love God, they loved themselves. They did not seek God’s glory, they sought their own. Jesus called them cleaned-up tombs. He said they looked good on the outside, but they were dead inside. The Pharisees, when they prayed, would stand on the steps of the temple and pray loudly, in long, extended prayers of meaningless words, and it was all just for show. It was so that others would see and think that they were good, holy men. Jesus said, “Do not pray like them”. He said, “Pray in secret, because your Father sees in secret, and He will reward you openly. Now think about it. When do you pray? Do you only pray in church, when the pastor asks you to pray? Or are you on your knees every day, before your Father in heaven, asking for His guidance and direction for the day? If not, then your prayer life is just like that of the Pharisees. Jesus reminds His disciples, “Your Father already knows what you need before you ask Him. Let’s look quickly at another passage to prove that.
1. Jn.16:17-29 (19,23,24) – The disciples wanted to ask Jesus something, but He already knew it; again, He says ask the Father in My name and He will give it to you; so far you have not asked in my name; ask so your joy may be full – like a parent.
Explanation: See here, in verse 19, they were confused about what Jesus said and they wanted to ask, but were afraid to. Jesus answers their question before they ask. Then notice again in verses 23 and 24, that they had not asked for anything in Jesus’ name. And again, like a parent, Jesus says that He will answer so that their joy might be full.
Explanation: Next let’s look at Luke chapter 18. Jesus gives us an example here of the attitude with which we must pray. The Pharisee in this passage came to God with pride and self-righteousness. And the sinner came to God in humility. What did Jesus say about these two men and their prayers? “Os digo que éste descendió á su casa justificado antes que el otro; porque cualquiera que se ensalza, será humillado; y el que se humilla, será ensalzado.”
C. Lk.18:1; I Ths.5:16
Explanation: Notice also two other passages. Both of these passages tell us the same thing. That we ought to pray at all times. Now, does that mean that we walk around all day with our head bowed and eyes closed, talking aloud to God, and we tell our friends, “Don’t talk to me; I’m praying.” Of course not. These passages teach us to live our lives in an attitude of prayer. I believe that is to live our lives with the recognition of God’s presence. It means that we go to Him all throughout the day as if He were there walking with us. “God, what should I do with my day that you have given me? Father, how should I answer the questions that this person is asking me about you? Lord Jesus, give me the courage to go and tell this person about You.” This is what it means to pray without ceasing.
D. Mat. 21:21-22
Explanation: This next passage is the area of prayer that god has been teaching in my life recently. Read passage. When you pray, do you really believe that God will answer? Our next passage will explain this more. But look once again, Jesus says whatever you ask in prayer, believing, YOU WILL RECEIVE!
>>> How many times does the Bible have to tell us before we believe it?
Explanation: Let’s read together about what it means to pray in faith. Read passage. Pray in faith, nothing wavering. He who wavers is like a wave of the sea, driven by the wind. That man who wavers in his faith will not receive anything from God.
Illustration: Allow me, if you will, to share with you how I have seen this principle work in my own life. God has been teaching me in my life, that, at times, I treat God more like a heavenly Santa Claus than like my Father. I go to him in prayer like a little kid asking for a Christmas present. “Dear God, I need this, and this, and this, oh and maybe some of that, too…” God has shown me that I often throw up prayers just hoping that maybe He will answer them. When instead I need to cry out to Him like a soldier on the battlefield, who is trapped and surrounded by enemies, and is calling in to his headquarters begging for support. And let me tell you, when you pray like this, God WILL answer you! And it’s kind of hard to explain. Basically, when you pray, you need to be expecting God to answer. Anticipate what it will be like when God answers. Go ahead and thank God for how He is going to answer. I first saw this happen when I was 18 years old. God had been teaching me this same thing about prayer. I wanted to see God answer something that only I was praying for, that I was expecting him to answer, and that nobody else even knew about.
At that time, I was traveling around the United States with a team of young people my age. Well one night, a girl from my team, whose name was Connie, told me some things about her father, who was in the church service that night. To put it shortly, her dad would often discipline her in anger while she was growing up. She had told me how much that hurt her and how she did not have a good relationship with him because of it. She then told me that we would be traveling to her home state of Alabama 7 months later and would see her parents again. So God burdened my heart to pray for her father. And I wanted to pray a very specific prayer. On the first Saturday of all of our meetings, we would lead a seminar for parents on how to raise their children. So this was my request. I prayed that when we went to Alabama 7 months later, that Connie’s dad would come, that he would stay for that seminar on Saturday, and that afterwards he would seek Connie’s forgiveness for his sin against her. So I began to pray for that every day. I tried to think what it would be like when God answered. I would write something on my hand to remind me that I had prayed for her that day. So for 7 months I asked God over and over, “God please answer this prayer!” And just as God promised, He answered my prayer. Connie’s dad came to those services, he stayed for the seminar that Saturday, and afterwards, he asked Connie to forgive him for what He had done. As if that was enough, Connie also told me that she could already see him changing his attitude towards his family and her two younger brothers and sisters. Brothers and sisters, there is incredible power in prayer!!! That idea goes along with our next passage.
Explanation: Ephesians 3: 20 goes beyond our own prayers. God not only wants to answer our prayers, He wants to do more than we could even think to ask Him for.
Transition: So now we’ve seen the principle of prayer and these passages teach us about the practice of prayer. Finally today, let’s look at the priority of prayer.
III. The Priority of Prayer
Let me ask you a personal question. This is not something you’ll answer out loud, just think to yourself about it. When do you pray? Whenever I ask myself that question, I am convicted by the Holy Spirit, because I know that I do not pray as often as I should. If you are like me, you find yourself going to God when you are in trouble or when you have a need. Now, is there anything wrong with this? Not at all. Like a parent, God wants us to come to Him when we are in trouble or when we have a need. Look at these passages:
A. When do you pray?
a. Trouble – Ps.3:7-8 – Call to God in trouble, but this should not be the only time. David called out to God when He was in trouble.
b. Need – Zec.10:1 – Ask God in times of need and He will answer. God promises to answer us in times of need. But I believe the best way to improve our prayer life is to observe quickly the life of Christ and to understand the priority of prayer.
B. When did Jesus pray?
a. Matt.14:23 – After feeding the 5,000; he was alone
If we look at the context of this passage, Jesus went off to pray after feeding the 5,000, one of His most well-known miracles. And notice also that He was alone. Remember what Jesus told His disciples? Pray in secret. He spent time in prayer after busy times of successful ministry.
b. Matt.26:36 – Before going to the Cross
Notice also that Jesus spent much time in prayer before going to the Cross, the greatest work of His life. He spent time in prayer before big events in His life.
c. Lk.6:12 – After healing a man, before casting out demons; in prayer all night
Jesus also spent time in prayer after being engaged in spiritual warfare. He spent long, extended times in prayer. He prayed all night.
d. Lk.9:28 – Before His transfiguration; with Peter, James, and John
Jesus also prayed with those closest to Him. He prayed before the Father revealed Him in His glory to His disciples.
e. Lk.11:1 – After long periods of teaching; alone, disciples asked how to pray
And finally, he prayed after long periods of teaching and public ministry. And it was after this time that His disciples came to Him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” You see, when we look at the priority of prayer in the life of our Lord, our perfect example, we see how greatly short we fall of a true commitment to prayer. So before we close with prayer, I want to look at one more passage and answer the question:
C. What do I do when my prayer is not answered?
a. Remember that “no” is also an answer. God knows what is best and He is allowed to answer “no.” Remember that, like a parent, God will give us what we ask, unless He knows that there is something different that we need instead.
b. Examine your own life for sin/disobedience. Now I want to be careful here that we don’t leave here thinking that every time God doesn’t answer our prayers just the way we want, that there must be something wrong with us. That was what Job’s friends tried to tell him, remember? In this step, simply ask God if He couldn’t answer your prayer because you were in disobedience in some area. You don’t need to go on a frantic search of your own life for sin – If it is there, God will show you. If not, then take step three:
c. Rest is God’s sovereignty; he works all for His glory and our good – Rom.8:28. We see from this passage one of the most comforting things in all of the Scriptures. God is always working everything out for our good and for His glory. Now does that mean that everything that will happen in our lives is good? No not at all. Just like Job, God sometimes allows evil things into our lives, but He promises that He is in control and will work those things out for our good in the end.
Conclusion: Once more, brothers and sisters, there is incredible power in prayer. I believe that if we really believe that fact, we would spend much more time in prayer than we do now. I know that this is certainly a need in my life and I would suspect that we all need a greater priority on our prayer life. As I said at the beginning of this study tonight, we do not need to know more about prayer; we need to spend more time in prayer. So it would be sad if we closed this night without spending time in prayer. I know that this is a need in my life, and so I am going to kneel down in front here and ask God to give me a greater commitment to prayer. If you believe that this is a need in your life as well, you are welcome to join me down here in prayer, and after our time of prayer, I’d like Brother Jose Luis to come up and close our service in prayer. Let’s pray together…