Gospel Insights

by Michael Smith

 

Chapter Twenty One

PRAYER

Please read Luke 11:1-4; James 5:16-18; and 1 Timothy 2:1-4

 

Prayer brings Almighty God into every situation, and all true ministry is based upon prayer.  But there is nothing difficult or complicated about prayer; it is simply a conversation with our Father God.  A lack of prayer means we soon drift away from God, just as we would drift away from anyone with whom we're in a relationship if we didn't speak with them.  Like all conversations, it is a 'two-way street' though, and while God listens to us as we talk to Him we also need to sit quietly and listen to Him speaking to us too.

It is usually helpful to start our time of prayer each day with some praise and adoration of God for Who He is, and we can do this by reading a passage of Scripture - perhaps one of the Psalms - that tells of the greatness of God.  This leads us to thank God for all His blessings to us; the most precious blessing of course being the death of His Son, the Lord Jesus, on the cross for us, but also for His provision of our daily needs, and any answers to prayers we have recently received.

God never fails to answer our prayers, whether with a 'yes' or a 'no' or a 'not yet'.  But He cannot hear us if we knowingly continue in a sin we refuse to repent of.  Neither can He answer prayer that is self-centred or which comes from a hard or unforgiving heart.  The proud or arrogant or presumptuous person will pray in vain, but the "prayer of a righteous man availeth much" [1].  Elijah was a righteous man whose prayers were heard by God [2].

So after praising Him and thanking Him, we need to come to God in confession and repentance of any known sin, then, washed and clean in the blood of the Lamb shed for us at Calvary and with a pure heart, and, making sure we are praying in line with God's will, we can bring to God our petitions, and be sure that He will hear us.


The Lord's Prayer

Our Father:  Christians are to think of God as our loving Father who always wants the very best for each of us.  God is a Father Who desires to have a close personal relationship with each one of His children; He delights to provide for us and meet all our daily needs when we turn to Him.  God our Father is the opposite of the distant and unknowable person who cares nothing for us; He is always there for us as we turn to Him in prayer, and in Jesus we see the human face of God the Father.

Which art in heaven:  There is no better, more perfect place, than heaven.  No death, no sin, no sickness, no heartache or pain or suffering can be found there.  All those who go to heaven do so because they want to.  They have received God's free gift of salvation and with no greater desire than to be with their Saviour for all eternity, they have lived their lives here on earth with the desire for heaven in mind; trying to please God, putting Him first, others before themselves, and living the sort of life they know He wants them to live.  Heaven is a place where no-one who does not love the Lord would ever feel at home.  (For more on heaven and hell please see Chapter Ten.) 

Hallowed be Thy Name:  God's Name, Jehovah, means 'the eternal one' who always is; the beginning and end of all things with nothing before or after Him.  This should result in us wanting to praise, glorify, and magnify (hallow) His Name - the One Who Always Is.  It is because of this that we are not to take His Name in vain.  God's Name also reflects His personality - that He is always perfectly good, righteous, and holy in every way, and it assures us that we can put our trust and confidence in Him.

Thy Kingdom come.  Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth:  In heaven, the Kingdom of God, it is always God's perfect will that is done.  Thus there are no faults or imperfections in heaven; no wrong decisions or mistakes made there as there are here on earth.  God's Kingdom will come and His perfect will be completely done on earth only when Jesus returns to rule and reign.  Throughout human history, others have tried to rule the whole earth: tyrants and dictators such as Nebuchadnezzar, Napoleon, or Hitler, for example, but they only succeeded in causing the misery and death of tens of millions of people.  How could it ever be otherwise, when they are trying to set up their 'kingdoms' in contradiction of what God has promised in His Word [3]?  When we pray the Lord's prayer, we are praying for the Lord Jesus to return - not, this time, to die on a cross to blot out our sins and wrongdoings, but to rule as King of kings as He does in heaven.

Give us day by day our daily bread:  For much of the world's population throughout most of history, hunger and shortages of food have been a grinding reality, especially if the harvest failed.  Praying at harvest time that there might be enough food to last through the winter was therefore, until very recently, a basic practice in virtually every society.  But today in the UK we have probably never known real hunger - even during the ten years of severe rationing in the 1940s.  Jesus has promised to meet the needs (not necessarily the wants!) for shelter, food, and clothing of all those who will follow Him.

And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us:  God originally created us to always obey His good and perfect will, but man chose to do what he wanted instead, and imperfection, sickness, destruction, guilt, and death resulted.  Jesus died on the cross to forgive us for going our own way instead of God's way, but there is a condition to receiving His forgiveness for our offence against our Holy God, and that is that we forgive others for their offences against us; something we don't always find very easy to do, especially if we have been badly hurt, perhaps betrayed or rejected by someone close to us whom we trusted.  Nevertheless, it is necessary that we forgive others if we want God's forgiveness of us [4].

And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil:  We will all find ourselves in testing times during our lives; at school or work, in failed health or a broken relationship.  At some time in our lives we may be tested almost to the limits of what we can bear; perhaps even to the extent of being forsaken by all those we love.  However, Jesus has promised to go through such times with us.  He has promised never to leave us or forsake us, and He uses these times of tribulation to refine us and draw us closer to Himself.  God has promised us that any evil against us can only go as far as God Himself permits it to (see the book of Job); it is like a wild beast on a lead that makes a lot of noise and may even bite us, but God will not allow it to destroy us.  We can meet every situation, no matter how dark, with His grace, strength, and blessing, and He will keep us until the time comes for Jesus to take us home to be with Him.

The Lord's prayer covers all our needs in this life, moment by moment and day by day.  It is the prayer that has become known by heart by countless millions of Christians throughout the centuries.  What a wonderful God we have Who cares so much for each one of us, and so all the glory goes to Him alone.  THANK YOU LORD.  Amen.


Helpful Prayer Hints When in Need

During our lifetime we all will experience both good and bad times.  There are times when all goes well and it is easy to rejoice, thank, and praise God for His blessings to us, but there are also hard times when trials seem to test us to our very limits and we cry out to God for help.  Since man first rebelled against God and chose to go his own way, everyone has needs or problems that are seemingly impossible to solve.

For the Christian who is walking in God's ways, there is strength and guidance to be found when we cry out to Him from the heart to show us what to do if we have to make an important decision that may affect the rest of our life, or to comfort us in our unbearable pain and sorrow at the loss of a loved one.

The Lord always knows the way we should take in any situation, and though sometimes it may seem a hard way, yet He knows it is the best way for us to take and we will come out 'refined' and 'pruned' if we seek Him in prayer and trust Him to lead us through the difficult time.

Ask, Seek, Knock

Jesus taught on the value and importance of prayer in response to His disciples' request that He teach them how to pray.  The Lord emphatically stated His hatred for the hypocritical prayer of the Pharisees and the empty repetitious words of the pagans' prayers [5].

We have already looked at the first part of His teaching on prayer, in what is known as the 'Lord's Prayer', and Jesus went on to teach them to persevere in prayer: "ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."  If we ask according to God's perfect will for us, we will receive.  God never promises to meet our wants, but He does promise to meet our needs.

Jesus then tells us to seek.  If the answer doesn't come it may be that there is a blockage, such as hardness of heart or unforgiveness toward someone, that we need to put right before God can hear us and answer our prayer [6], or perhaps we need to ask God to remove any doubts or unbelief or fears that are hindering His blessings from reaching us.

We are also to knock, and sometimes we need to knock quite hard and quite persistently on heaven's door; often with heart-filled cries and much fasting (see below) before we can receive God's answer.  This 'stickability' in prayer shows God our resolve and determination to keep going regardless of the circumstance.  He wants us to be truly whole-hearted in our prayers for any need or situation [7].

Fasting

In addition to whole-hearted prayer we can add fasting; by perhaps going without a meal and giving up the time spent in preparing and eating it to the Lord in prayer.  Or we can give up a favourite TV programme to spend that time praying instead, or we could get up an hour earlier one morning to pray before breaking our fast.  (Please note though, that even when fasting from food, it is still wise to keep up our fluid levels by drinking sufficient water.  In the cold winter it is helpful if the water is gently warmed, by boiling and allowing to cool slightly.)

Grounded in the Scriptures

When Jesus was weakened through hunger and thirst in the wilderness, the devil came to tempt Him to turn the stones around Him into food [8], but, weakened as He was, the Lord nevertheless still knew how to quote the Scriptures as a sword with which to cut the temptation to bits, and the devil was forced to retreat and go away.  If only we would learn to do this when we are tempted in the weak areas of our lives!  To do so, however, we first need to read and know the Scriptures, especially the teachings of the Lord given us in the New Testament.  The Bible is God's living Word to us and we need to learn to treat it as such, and how to use the Scriptures in our prayers.

Praying for One Another

There are also the prayers of other brothers and sisters in the Lord to support us through difficult or sad times.  Many years ago I was involved in what could have been a serious accident when a heavy-goods lorry pulled out directly in front of the car in which I and another person were travelling.  With no time to apply the brake, our car was pulled partially under the back of the lorry, yet even as the accident was happening we both felt very strongly the prayer support of other Christians lifting away the shock to our systems, and we felt this keenness for several days afterwards.  We could so easily have been seriously hurt, and our ministry, which was reaching several hundred people at that time, hindered for quite a while, but the Lord laid us on the hearts of our brothers and sisters and very graciously kept us.  When it came to sorting out the liability and insurance claims the Lord then sent us a Christian lawyer who worked in the Houses of Parliament to advise and help us.

Praise and Worship

God never fails to work things out for us in the way that will bless us the most.  Everything He does is always perfect in every way.  Therefore we should continue to praise and worship Him even when we don't understand a situation or when the answer to a problem doesn't come immediately.  Be certain the answer is on its way!  The prophet Daniel had to wait three weeks for the answer to his prayer, and we can read what he prayed and why the answer was delayed in Daniel chapter 10.  Also Zechariah and Elizabeth who were probably in their 60s and had prayed for a son but were now past the normal child-bearing age.  But God gave them even more because their son, John the Baptist, would become the prophet to announce the arrival of Jesus the Messiah.  They learnt that God's memory is perfect and He remembers our heartfelt prayers - not only for years, but also for generations long after our lifetime.

Hearing God's Answers to our Prayers

Prayer strengthens our relationship with God.  We speak to God and He speaks to us - through the quickening to us of a passage we read in His Word, or something said by someone that we inwardly know is God's answer to our prayer, or maybe through circumstances working out in a way that can only be God's doing, or perhaps a thought slipping quietly into our mind which (with further guidance to ensure it is the Holy Spirit speaking to us and we are not simply heeding our own desires) addresses the need or problem we have been laying before the Lord.


Intercessory Prayer

Intercessory prayer is the lifting up of a person or a need to God in a particular situation in order for God's will to be done.  As with all prayer, it isn't the bending of God's will to ours, but it is different from our daily prayers in that it is usually felt as a specific burden from the Lord concerning someone or something which lifts once the need has been met and the prayer answered.  This may be just an hour or two after we start praying, or such prayer may continue for many years, and through such dedicated prayer laid on our hearts by the Lord, people and even nations can be greatly changed, as can be seen in the ministry of, for example, Rees Howells.

In the Old Testament, Job prayed for his friends and was healed as, instead of being absorbed with his own dire situation (which would be completely understandable!), he filled his heart with their needs [9].  Moses interceded - or "stood in the gap" as it also sometimes known [10] - in order to save his nation from destruction.  Psalm 106 says that God "would destroy [the Israelites] had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach to turn away his wrath, lest he should destroy them".  Moses dared to get in God's way and cried out to the Lord for mercy [11].  The apostle Paul was willing to do the same [12], while in the 16th century Martin Luther interceded for much of the then known world, and men such as George Muller and Rees Howells, as mentioned above, are well known as intercessors of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Supremely, of course, the Lord Jesus stood in the gap at Calvary in order to give us salvation and now makes intercession for us before God the Father.  Jesus knows all our needs and so interceded perfectly and we can join in with Him by lifting up others in their needs: family members, friends, the nation's leaders and others in authority.

To do this we have to set aside time for prayer; perhaps rising early each day to ensure we spend precious time with God before our daily duties crowd in.  If the Lord has burdened us with an especial situation for which to intercede then He will also ensure He gives the hour or the day or the week or whatever time is necessary for that prayer to be carried out, while for those to whom He has given a ministry of intercession it may be that much of every day will be spent in prayer.

Intercession can sometimes be a ministry that is seen as merely a 'warm-up act' for the 'bigger' and more visible works of the Kingdom.  But that is not how God sees it, and while, by its very nature, much intercession is solitary and must be kept confidential, the reward of seeing hardened hearts soften and impossible circumstances change after many years of private prayer, and sometimes fasting, in our 'closet' alone with the Lord, is one of the greatest blessings.

So how does intercessory prayer 'work'?  It is a journey into the heart of God.  By humbly spending time in His presence we come to understand the way God sees things and begin to know His mind and will on any matter about which we're praying.  We present our petition to God, praying to our Heavenly Father in the direct and simple way a child will speak to his much loved earthly father, and when we hear His answer then we intercede according to what He has said.  As said above, we can't tell God what to do or demand anything; we are just to be open to His Holy Spirit leading us in the way He wants us to intercede.  In intercession we leave our own small world and as we lift others before God's throne of grace [13] so we rise with them into 'heavenly places'.

Some Helpful Scriptures

The Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit intercede for us (Hebrews 7:23-25;  Romans 8:26-27),

We are to intercede for others (1 Timothy 2:1-8),

We are to come to God the Father in Jesus' Name, through the blood of Jesus, and empowered by the Holy Spirit: (John 15;16;  John 16:23-24;  Hebrews 10:19-22;  Ephesians 2:13-18;  Ephesians 6:18),

Our preparation is to walk in forgiveness, under the cleansing of the blood, and in knowledge of and obedience to the Scriptures: (Matthew 18:21-35;  Isaiah 59:2;  James 1:22; Romans 12:1-2),

We must give up our time to be with God, to love to be in His presence, and cultivate a listening ear: (Psalm 37:7;  Psalm 84:10;  Proverbs 8:34),

Following the examples of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, the Lord Jesus Himself, and the early Church and the saints: (Genesis 18:16-33;  Genesis 32:22-32;  Exodus 32:7-14;  Exodus 30-35;  Luke 11:5-13;  Luke 18:1-8;  Acts 12:1-19).

Some Helpful Keys

Come with thanksgiving, renounce our own will, be led by the Holy Spirit, desire God's glory, pray in faith, identify with those for whom we are praying, persevere until the burden is lifted, conclude with thankfulness to God.


Finally, then, it is time to get on and start prayerfully interceding!

 

Footnotes

[1]  James 5:16b.          [2]  1 Kings 17 and 18.          [3]  E.g. Daniel 2:1-45;  Isaiah 11:1-9;  Isaiah 65:17-25;  Revelation 20:1-6.          [4]  Mark 11:26.          [5]  Matthew 6:5-8.          [6]  Luke 11.          [7]  Luke 11:1-10.          [8]  Matthew 4:1-11.          [9]  Job 42:8-10.          [10]  Ezekiel 22:30.          [11]  Psalm 106:23.          [12]  Romans 9:1-3.          [13]  1 Timothy 2:1-8.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty   |   Chapter Twenty Two   |   Back to Contents

 

 

Michael Smith 2013