Events, Sermons

A Biblical and Practical Study on Prayer

Now honestly during our prayer time how many of you all stayed focused the entire time and minds did not drift off on something else?  It is difficult to stay focused on prayer because Satan hates when we pray, so he is going to bring things up that will distract us.  He will bring up job stresses, family stresses, and even random things like did I do the laundry today or what am I having for dinner.  My goal tonight is to first look at some passages on prayer and then hopefully teach you a method that has helped my prayer life and that it will also benefit yours.

I first became aware of my need for a better way to pray on a trip to Nashville at a Passion Conference.  During this conference, they had a prayer room where they wanted there to be continuous prayer for the conference for every hour of the day.  Therefore, my mentor, Bert Solomon, and I selected a time slot that would stretch us and we picked to pray for a 15-minute time slot at 3AM.

When we knelt to pray, I prayed for everything I could think of and looked up at the clock and realized it only took around 2-minutes.  I then suffered through 13 minutes of fighting sleep, aimless prayers, and staring at the clock.  I felt defeated in my prayer life.  To pray for 15minutes felt like an eternity, and my mind wandered much of that time.  “I guess it is me,” I concluded.  “I am just a second-rate Christian.”  Because my mentor appeared to not had any problem with praying.

However, I realized if I was indwelled by the Holy Spirit and genuinely seeking to live in obedience to God’s Word, then the problem likely is not me, but my method.  Of course, there is no method that will enliven prayer for those who do not have the Holy Spirit.  But those who are indwelled by the Spirit have received from God “the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”  (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).

Those who have been given the Holy Spirit have by that Spirit a new Fatherward orientation, a new Heavenward orientation.  In other words, those indwelled by the Holy Spirit really want to pray.  And yet, while I believed in prayer and wanted to pray and I could not imagine ever totally abandoning prayer, when I did pray it was frustrating.  My heart was often cold, my mind could not stay focused on prayer, and frankly, prayer was often boring.  Thus, I concluded, “I’m a second-rate Christian.”

I also became aware of my need not to say that same prayer over-and-over again because I was starting to get on my on nerves.  I would say the same prayer at night before I went to bed, before eating, and before athletic events.  It made my prayers boring.  In addition, there was a deacon at my old church in Knoxville, that would say the same exact prayer right before taking up of the offering every Sunday.  I was determined not to pray like him.

So let us first look at what God’s Word says about prayer and then I will discuss a method that I use and find helpful in my prayer time.

When Does God Answer Prayer?

Our first passage that we will look at tonight is in 1 John chapter 3 verse 22.  Whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.  God answers prayers for people who keep his commandments.  His commandments are summed up in these two: 1) believe in the name of Jesus, and 2) love each other. 

Therefore, God answers prayers for people: who believe in his Son and who love each other.  This could mean two things.  First of all, It could mean that believing Jesus and loving people is a way to earn answers to prayer.  This is not true.  First, because you do not earn anything by believing.  Earning is a way of showing my worth and putting God in debt to me.  That cannot be done.  He already owns everything, and any worth I have is a gift from him.  You cannot earn from a God like that.  If you want his gifts, you must believe they are better than any others are and then trust him to give them freely to those who look to him and not to the world for service.

Second, loving people cannot earn God’s blessing either, because love is already God’s work in us and not our self-reliant work for him.  John plainly teaches that love is the evidence of the gift of life not the earning or wage of life. 

What then does John mean when he says that God answers prayers for people who believe in his Son and who love each other? 

This leads us second point, God means that prayer has a specific design, and if you misuse it, it malfunctions.

What is the design of prayer? 

Prayer is designed by God to be the effect of faith and the cause of love.

Therefore, if we try to pray when we really do not believe in the name of his Son, prayer malfunctions.  And if we try to pray when our aim is not to love, prayer malfunctions.

This is why “We receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments.” Not because keeping his commandments earns answers to prayer, but because prayer is designed to give power in the path of obedience.  Prayer is God’s way of making himself available for us when we are pouring ourselves out in love for others.  Prayer is the power to love.  Therefore, if we do not aim to love, we pray in vain.  Prayer is not designed to compound hoarded pleasures.

Prayer is a way of calling God in alongside us in doing what Jesus came to do.  1 John 3:16 says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  This is why believing Jesus and loving others are linked together as the way to answered prayers.  Believing Jesus means that we admire the way he lived and want to be like him.  You cannot believe in someone and think the way he lived was foolish.  So believing in Jesus will necessarily lead us to want to love others the way he did.  Believing in the name of Jesus and loving one another are almost the same thing.

And since God was entirely behind Jesus with all his power and gave him all the help he needed, he will be behind us too when we believe in Jesus and love like Jesus.  So the reason God answers the prayers of those who believe in the name of Jesus and love others like Jesus is that God loves to magnify Jesus.  (Piper, 1989)

God Loves to Answer Our Prayers

Because God loves to magnify Jesus, he loves to answer prayers of those that are living a life that glorifies Him.  Our next verse comes from 1 John 5:14-15. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.  God loves to give us what we pray for.  The clear implication of v. 15 is that God loves to answer our prayers.  God is a cheerful giver when it comes to answering prayer.

But now we need to at least raise the theological problem contained in this passage. Why is it that our experience does not always detect the reality of God’s eagerness to answer prayer? We have all asked for specific things which have not been granted. Why?

Well, Scripture does not speak a lot to the problem of unanswered prayer, though it does give us a few clues. 1 Peter 3:7 teaches that strained interpersonal relationships, especially between husband and wife, hinder prayer; James 4:3 teaches that prayers aimed at merely enhancing our own private pleasure will go unheard; and we started this lesson off by looking at  1 John 3:22 it is implied that if we disobey God’s commandments, our prayers won’t be answered. And in our passage this evening in 1 John 5:14 there is an all-important qualifier attached to our prayers. “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

Now it is important that we realize how important prayer is in our lives.  It is a test to make sure that we are in God’s will.  Because when we are in God’s will then we will pray prayers that are according to His will and He will hear us.  However, if we are out of God’s will, like if we are treating our spouse poorly, as we see in 1 Peter 3:7 our prayers will be unanswered.

When 1 Peter 3:7 teaches us that strained relationship between a husband and wife will hinder prayer.  I am afraid that someone of you are like “oh well, guess I won’t be getting that bass boat I wanted.  Prayer is much more than us sending up our wish lists to God like he is Santa Clause.  John Piper describes prayer as a wartime walkie-talkie, not a domestic intercom.

In wartime, prayer takes on a different significance.  It becomes a wartime walkie-talkie and no longer a domestic intercom.  Jesus said to his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, in order that whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he may give to you” (John 15:16).

Notice the amazing logic of this verse.  He gave them a mission “in order that” the Father would have prayers to answer.  This means that prayer is for mission.  It is designed to advance the kingdom.  That is why the Lord’s Prayer begins by asking God to see to it that his name be hallowed and that his kingdom come.

James warned about the misuse of prayer as a domestic intercom to call the butler for another pillow.  He said, “You do not have because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:2–3).

Prayer is always kingdom oriented.  Even when we pray for healing and for help, it is that the kingdom purposes of God in the world may advance.  Otherwise, we have turned a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom.

Let us pray like the apostle Paul, “that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

Our praying is never on a surer foundation than when it is grounded in Scripture, for here God’s will is revealed.  As we pray Bible prayers, we know that God will hear and answer.  However, this is not a way of tricking God into doing what you want, for prayer is not an attempt to get God to see things my way and to extract from him what I have decided I need or want.  Prayer is submitting my will to his.

Prayer is opening the door of my need to prayer is God’s means by which my submission to Christ’s lordship can be developed.  The less I pray, the more self-willed I become.  Likewise, the more I pray the more humbled I become.  Answers to prayer do not depend on a right diagnosis or analysis of the problem by us as we pray, but on a childlike submission to the Father, knowing that He will give what is best according to His will.  (Jackman, 1988)

Praying Through Scripture

Now that we have went through the theology of prayer, tonight I want to teach you all a method of praying that I learned in seminary on how to pray through the Psalms.  Now a caution, this is not a gimmick to get your prayers answered.  God is not a genie in a bottle waiting for you to rub him the right way.

Likewise, I do not want to make prayer appear to be hard, we know that the solution to our problems with prayer has to be simple because God has children of all ages, levels of IQ’s and educational levels. I want this method to help you, like it helped me get over a spiritual road block in prayer.  It is a way to help you pray prayers that will encourage you to do it more and more efficiently.

Since there is 150 Psalms, you can read 5 Psalms a day for a month and you will have completed the book of Psalms.  How you pray through the book of Psalms is take the day of month as your first Psalm.  Then keep adding 30 to that number until you get 5 Psalms.  So on the 15thof the month, your first Psalm is Psalm 15. To Psalm 15, add 30 to get the next one, Psalm 45. These would be followed by Psalm 75, then 105, and 135. (On the 31st, use Psalm 119.) Take 30 seconds to scan these five Psalms, then choose one to pray through.  One advantage of this method is that gives you direction when it is time to pray and defeats aimlessness.

You can also do this with Proverbs.  Since there is 31 Proverbs, you can pray through a Proverb a day.  This is especially helpful if you are seeking wisdom that month, since Proverbs is a book on wisdom.

The Advantages of Praying Through Scripture.

1.) Keeps you from saying the same old things about the same old things. Which in returns keeps you from becoming bored with prayer.

2.) Gives you direction when it’s time to pray and defeats aimlessness. Which allows you to stay focused and pray longer without being distracted.

3.) You will find yourself praying about things that you had forgot about, but scripture reminded you of.

4.) You will find yourself praying about most of “the same old things,” because that is what is on your heart, but in brand new ways.

So How Do You Pray Through Scripture?

Let the words of Scripture become the words of your prayers.  For example, if you pray through Psalm 23, read, “The Lord is my shepherd,” and thank Him for being your shepherd.  Ask Him to shepherd your family that day, to guide, protect, and provide for them.  Pray that He will make your family members His sheep; that they will look to Him as their shepherd.  Ask Him to shepherd you through the decision you must make about your future.  Pray for Him to bless the undershepherd at your church, shepherding him as he shepherds the church, etc.  When nothing else comes to mind, go to the next line—“I shall not want”—and continue to pray.  Simply go through the passage, line-by-line, praying what you find in the text or what it brings to mind.  If nothing comes to mind, or if you do not understand the verse, go to the next. You might choose to linger long on one verse.  Conversely, there may be only a handful of matters that prompt prayer as you go through many verses.  Nothing says you have to pray over every verse.

Continue in this way until (1) you run out of time, or (2) you run out of Psalm.  However, since you have 5 Psalms for that day you are more likely to run out of time than Psalms.

What if I am Called on in Public to Pray?

Now you might ask what if I am called on in public to pray and do not have time to find a Psalm.  Here is when scripture memorization comes in handy.  I memorized 4 Psalms and I use them when I am called upon to pray.  I use an acronym almost every day for those that I love, and when I am asked to pray in front of groups.  This acronym keeps me focused and on track so that I do not stumble my way through prayer.  Not only does it keep me from saying the same clichés over and over, but believe it or not I get really nervous when talking in front of people so if I do not have something to fall back on then I will trip all over my words if I just tried to pray off the cuff.  This acronym is based off of Four Psalms.  The acronym is IOUS.

Iincline (Psalm 119:36) Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!

Oopen (Psalm 119:18) Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.

Uunite (Psalm 86:11) Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.

Ssatisfy (Psalm 90:14) Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

I hope that you find these techniques as helpful as I have in my prayer life.

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