And even after walking with Jesus for quite a while I still find that when it comes to prayer, I’m a learner. I still feel like such a rookie sometimes. I’ve learned a lot about prayer, but I still also have a long way to go. But that is how everyone feels about prayer. It’s like asking Jacques Cousteau how much he knows about the ocean.
But as important as prayer is, it is also pretty difficult, isn’t it?
What makes it difficult is that it can feel like more of a duty than something that we actually enjoy. We can get bored with prayer. It is easy to get distracted and our mind drifts during prayer and we can’t remember if we ended it or just started thinking about something else. Sometimes we don’t know what to pray about or if we do, we can’t find the words. Sometimes we don’t pray very long. “I’m going to spend the next 10 minutes in prayer”, then after 30 seconds you’ve prayed for everything you can think of and the next nine and a half minutes are just a blank. When you pray have you ever heard yourself getting redundant, praying the same things over and over and over again and using the same words? (Lord Jesus??)
If you struggle, you’re in good company. The disciples weren’t sure about prayer either.
Everyone who is a follower of Jesus, began their relationship with a prayer. And just as it starts with a prayer, the Christian life is sustained with prayer. And so it is true that a Christian life is a prayer life.
The Bible teaches 2 main points when it comes to prayer. That prayer is about relationship and prayer is about partnership. There is a favorite story of mine in the Old Testament that illustrates that well.
2 Kings 19:9-19 Now Sennacherib received a report that Tirhakah, the king of Cush, was marching out to fight against him. So he again sent messengers to Hezekiah with this word: “Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be given into the hands of the king of Assyria.’ Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my predecessors deliver them—the gods of Gozan, Harran, Rezeph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar? Where is the king of Hamath or the king of Arpad? Where are the kings of Lair, Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah?”
Anybody here facing an impossible challenge and there’s no solution? Maybe it’s a relational challenge and there’s no solution. Maybe it’s an illness that you have. Perhaps it’s a financial challenge. Maybe the impossible thing you’re facing is anatomy in school, or a possible meltdown with your parents. What is in your life that has no solution? That’s the moment Hezekiah was in.
2 Kings 19:14-16 Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: “Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.
He went up to the Lord’s temple and spread this letter out before the Lord. He didn’t call a strategic planning meeting. He didn’t try to rally some allies. He brought the letter directly to God. Maybe some of us need to do the same thing. Maybe some of us need to take the letter before God and spread it out before him. Maybe it’s a divorce document and we think there’s no possible way this can be resolved. Maybe it’s a rejection letter, some sort of doctor’s report or troublesome email. Would you have the courage to bring this letter to God as Hezekiah took his letter and laid it before God? God knew what was in that letter before Hezekiah did. But I think God loves it when we get specific and we say, “God, here’s the exact letter, here’s the exact threat, the exact problem, and challenge that I’m laying before you.
2 Kings 19:17-19 “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste to these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.”
So often my prayers are so wimpy and vague. I pray things like “God bless me today”. What does that mean? What am I asking God to bless or do in my life? Or how about this one, “God be with me today”. Because God is saying, “I’m always with you. You’re asking me to do something I’m already doing all the time. So when you are saying “God be with me today”, God is saying, “Give me something hard.”
First, about the relationship aspect of prayer. This isn’t everything about it, but it is a major one. All of Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the Gospels can be summarized with one word: Ask.
Application #1: Tell God what you want. What do you want God to do in your life? Many of us don’t get what we want because we either don’t know what we want or we don’t say what we want. We don’t get specific, we don’t show God the letter, we don’t spell it out black and white. And so we pray things like, “God bless me” or “be with me” or whatever without ever saying what we really want God to do. I’m as guilty as anybody. Jesus says prayer is like a child asking her father for help. Simple as that.
Second, about the partnership aspect of prayer. I have met a surprising number of followers of Jesus that can’t reconcile 2 seemingly contradictory beliefs about God. That he answers prayer and that he is sovereign. Meaning, if he knows what I need, and he can make it happen, why doesn’t he just do it. Why does he need me to pray about it?
It’s true that the Bible goes to great lengths to establish that God is sovereign. But even so, we’re still told to pray. To a lot of people these two truths do not make sense in combination. But since they are both important truths, the last thing we want to do is pit them against each other, as if one disproves the other. Instead what we want to do is affirm them both. God is sovereign and God desires our prayers.
When God is determined to do something, he determines to do it in response to prayers, and then he moves his people to pray. When God wants to do something, he’ll raise up a group of intercessors to ask him to do it. We partner with God through prayer to bring about his purposes.
Sovereignty is why we pray. If we ask the question, if God is sovereign, why should I pray; and use that to get out of praying, then we’ve missed the point of sovereignty. Sovereignty is why we pray. It’s not a barrier to our praying. It’s a motivation.
If we truly believe that God reigns and he’s able to bring about his purpose, that he’s omnipotent, that nothing can resist his will, that nothing is too difficult for him… his sovereignty becomes the only reason we can pray with faith and confidence.
Example of bulldozer mistake.
Does God always answer our prayers? Of course not, for many of the same reasons you don’t do everything a child asks of you. I have had many prayers that God did not answer and now I am very glad he didn’t. But I also have many prayers that I still don’t know why he didn’t answer them. It seems that he would have wanted to. We will talk about this specifically in the coming weeks, but for now let us commit to trusting God to have our best interest at heart. That his way will lead to life in abundance here and in heaven. And because he is sovereign we can trust him to do it even when we don’t see the full picture yet.
We read about how God protected Hezekiah and Jerusalem from the Assyerians. God has done many miraculous things since then and is still doing them today. God has shown us that he can wipe out a financial debt, he can wipe our a rift with a parent you might have. He can wipe out cancer cells, we can wipe out infertility. There’s not a problem God can’t solve on this planet. There’s not a marriage he can’t restore, there’s not broken person he can’t repair, a sickness he can’t heal, or a sin he can’t forgive. So specifically, what do you want God to do?
Do you want to know what seems impossible for me today? To see our church thrive more than it ever has in the past. The future can look so bleak when you consider how our culture is turning so far from God. But the farther they go away from God the more they need him. But I can’t make them turn to God. I constantly remember that Acts 2:47 “and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Do we have individuals and families in our neighborhood who desperately need Jesus? Absolutely. Those of you who know your neighbors share the same burden I do. They need a relationship with Jesus and the peace and joy that comes with it. And God needs us to partner with him to reach their hearts. The first thing, if not the only thing, is to pray. Will you pray with me? Pass out bookmarks with attendance numbers.
Someday someone will ask, “why did God bless this church so many people?” Some will say they don’t know, others will say because they had advantages. But the ones who know will say, because they prayed.