We live in an awesome time. Think of the changes that have occurred in the last 2 or 3 decades.
o The information highway - the internet - has forever changed the way to send and receive information.
o Political upheaval
o The fall of the Berlin Wall
o Saddam Hussein no longer in power
o The establishment of the European Union
o Terrorists cause a shift in leadership in Spain
o The AIDS, Ebola, SARS and Mad Cow diseases.
o The economy around the world is on a roller coaster.
o There's nothing safe to eat anymore - except for okra and liver.
Are we doomed? Is there an answer?
o Some would say, "NO - but just hang tough, get what you can, and be yourself. You'll get by."
o Some would say, "Of course there's an answer; just send me $500, follow my surefire formula, and you'll soon be rich.
o Some would say, "Here, have a drink or a snort or a smoke, and you won't worry about all that."
What does the Bible say about all that? One thing the Bible tells us is mentioned in Ephesians 6.
Ephesians 6:18 NIV
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
This Scripture tells us that in any and every situation, we are to bring our needs to the Lord, as well as those of other people. As I mentioned in an earlier lesson, most if not all of us here today do not have a prayer life that we are proud of. As Christians, we know we ought to pray, but we have difficulty in setting a time to pray. And when we do, we don't think we do it very well.
In thinking of the difficulties we all have experienced in our prayer lives, I was reminded of a couple places I have visited. The first is the Grand Canyon, which Paula and I have visited twice in the last 3 or 4 years. Once with Bill and Doreen, and after that with Paula's parents, Ken and Virginia. I remember Ken, my father-in-law, say: "Pictures just don't do it justice." It is amazing how deep and how wide the canyon is. But, thinking about this incredible hole in the ground made me think of another awesome place which I have visited only once. That's the Niagara Falls.
There's an old story of a famous acrobat, named Charles Blondin, who attracted a large audience to watch him walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls. On June 30, 1859, he nimbly and skillfully passed over the waters below, suspended by an 1,100-foot thin line - and , without a safety net. "Bravo," yelled the crowd. The performer spoke to the onlookers, and said, "How many of you believe I could do this carrying someone on my shoulders?" All hands shot up, agreeing that he could do it. "Who would like to be first" he asked. The crowd went home.
Shouting "Bravo," when you have no intention of climbing on the man's back is what I call "praying with a net." It is saying, "OK, I'll pray about this, but if I get uncomfortable in this process, I'm gonna bail out……and do with something I can see." That something you can see is the safety net. It is trusting in yourself as the one who can handle the problems if God won't. That is not the kind of prayer God wants to hear. He wants to hear prayers offered by people who have no safety net --- just faith in Him.
Most of us can remember setting out to learn a new skill, like playing a musical instrument, painting a portrait, tennis or golf, only to soon give up because our first results disappointed us. The awful sound or the clumsy movements were so different than the experts we admire. And in no time at all, we have formulated excuses for dropping the project. We tell ourselves it just didn't suit us, or we didn't have the time for the new hobby after all.
There are, however, a number of tasks that we begin to learn, where we don't have the option to quit and make excuses. When you are hired into a job, you almost always have new things to learn. Even when you have a degree in, say, Engineering, Accounting, or Architecture, the company who hires you has their way of doing things.
As Christians, where we are part of God's army, there are instructions that come down from of our Commander-in-Chief, with which we have no options but to do if you want to succeed. Prayer is one of those instructions. Jesus, as our example, found it necessary to pray to the Father. And, in Luke 18:1, Jesus taught the disciples saying, "they should always pray and not give up."
But, although we are instructed to pray, that doesn't mean that when we do pray, we do it well. This is what I want to address today. How can our prayer time become more meaningful, where we think we are really accomplishing something.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned a list of questions that quite naturally arise when one studies about "Prayer." Let's look at them once again.
1. Can a person be saved without praying for salvation?
2. Why is it the common practice to bow the head when praying?
3. Is it important that we pray audibly?
4. Can Satan hinder our prayers? And if so, how?
5. Does prayer change things, really?
6. Is it ever proper to address a prayer directly to the Holy Spirit?
7. Why do we say "amen" at the end of our prayers?
8. How long should we pray?
9. Does God always answer our prayers?
10. When should we pray?
11. Where should we pray?
12. What does the Bible specifically instruct us to pray about?
13. What is the difference, if any, between praying as a group and praying privately?
14. Why pray at all?
I would like to start answering this group of questions by beginning with question # 4. "Can Satan hinder our prayers? And if so, how?"
WHAT ARE SOME HINDRANCES TO OUR PRAYER LIFE?
1. Busyness - Activities are crammed into every area of our lives.
2. Distractions - When we try to pray, there are all kinds of interruptions.
3. Tiresome - We get tired after having prayed for 5 minutes.
4. Uninformed about effective prayer
5. Wandering thoughts
6. Guilt over past actions or sins
7. Sin in our lives
9. Improper relations
a. With one's spouse
b. With others
You can actually break this list into two categories:
1. Hindrances that keep us from praying much or at all.
2. Hindrances to receiving an answer from God.
The first 6 of the 11 hindrances mentioned above can be put with Category #1. The rest can be aligned with Category #2.
We are going to begin our quest for understanding these hindrances by beginning with category #1. Hindrances that keep us from praying much or at all. Hindering Christians from praying is one of Satan's most successful tool. He knows that if he can keep us from praying, we will not have a strong relationship with His enemy, Jesus Christ. A church that works without prayer may have lots of activity, but it will exhibit little spiritual power.
A classic example of how Satan tries to interfere with our prayers is found in Daniel 10. Let's take a look.
In Daniel 10:10-14 (NIV), Daniel is speaking,
10 A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees.
11 He said, "Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you." And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.
12 Then he continued, "Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.
13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.
14 Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come."
Satan hindered Daniel's prayer from being answered for 21 days. He will do his best to keep us from praying at all - Even if it means getting a king to forbid praying. But if we do pray, he will try to hinder us from receiving an answer.
Let's look at the hindrances that keep us from praying, and see if there are answers.
Busyness - Not enough time
WHAT IS IT THAT CAUSES US NOT TO HAVE TIME TO PRAY?
The business of life is usually felt because of two areas.
Ephesians 5:15-16 (NAS) says,
15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise,
16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil.
Too many of us have become so busy that we have little time for God. Our lives have become more obsessed with climbing the ladder of success, or resting in the easy chair of entertainment, than in finding time for God.
I hope I don't rub any feathers the wrong way, but I think this excuse of being too busy to pray is a smoke screen.
Before going any further, I must say that while I am speaking to you, I am also pointing a finger at yours truly. I have often been guilty of being too busy to pray. At least, I thought I was. But if someone came over to the house and wanted to play some basketball in our back yard, I could usually find an hour to go one-on-one.
All of us are very busy. We live in a society where busyness is seen as a virtue. How we order our daily schedule is a reflection on what we think is important. Regardless of how busy we may be with meeting legitimate needs, we know that if we really want to do something, then we will make the time for it. God is worth the time to pray.
One thing I have learned better as I have gotten older, is that it is OK to say "no" to some of the things I am asked to do. The book that many of you are now reading as our church goes through "40-days of prayer," titled, "To Busy not to Pray," addresses this very problem.
Martin Luther said that it was on particularly busy days that he woke up earliest to set aside still more time to pray in the morning.
Psalm 46:10 reads:
"Be still and know that I am God."
God knows the world is busy but he waits for you in stillness. Prayer is our way of communicating to God, and like having a relationship with another person, it requires effort and skill.
Satan understands the power of prayer, and plots to keep us too busy to pray. Most of you have heard of C. S. Lewis. I see him as one of the great minds of the 20th century. One book he wrote, which is particularly good for new Christians with inquiring minds, is the book, "Mere Christianity." He also wrote a number of other books, one of which is called "The Screwtape Letter." This is a book that is written from the devil and his demon's point of reference. Screwtape is the name of a senior, high-level demon, who teaches lesser demons on how to trip up the Christian. That is, either to keep people from becoming Christians, or how to cause them to stumble if they are already a Christian. Specifically, The Screwtape Letters are a collection of letters from the master demon, "Screwtape," to a new demon recruit, named Wormwood. He is trying to train him to become an expert tempter. In one letter he writes to wormwood;
"You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday's paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes but also in conversations with those he cares nothing about, on subjects that bore him."
Too Busy to Pray
I knelt to pray but not for long,
I had too much to do.
I had to hurry and get to work
For bills would soon be due.
So I knelt and said a hurried prayer,
And jumped up off my knees.
My Christian duty was now done
My soul could rest at ease.
All day long I had no time
To spread a word of cheer.
No time to speak of Christ to friends,
They'd laugh at me I'd fear.
No time, no time, too much to do,
That was my constant cry,
No time to give to souls in need
But at last the time, the time to die.
The bottom line of this topic is this: We must think prayer is so important in our lives, that we make time for it. That doesn't mean you have to immediately set aside an hour out of each day. You can start slow until it become a part of your daily life. As you do, you will come to where you will want to add more time.
Another thing to do is to ask God to help you set the priorities in your daily life.
Let's go on to the next thing that hinders us and keeps us from praying as we ought.
You are not the only one who is troubled with wandering thoughts. Probably every person here has experienced the wandering of our thoughts while we are in the middle of a very important prayer. They even seem to draw us, against our will, to the things of earth.
HOW CAN WE KEEP OUR THOUGHTS FROM WANDERING DURING PRAYER?
Let me give you a list of potential helps to keep your mind from wandering while you pray.
1. Pray through it.
2. As things come to your mind while praying, make a list.
a. If it is on a list, you won't forget to deal with it later. But your mind does not need to continue to dwell on it now..
b. Keep a piece of paper handy for jotting straying thought while praying.
3. Pray out loud.
4. Put together a list of items to pray about before you begin. This will help keep your mind focused.
In this area, I want to spend most of our time discussing the last two ways to keep our minds from wandering.
o Pray out loud.
o Put together a list of items to pray about before you begin.
IS IT IMPORTANT THAT WE PRAY AUDIBLY? ARE THERE SOME ADVANTAGES?
There are advantages in praying audibly. Personally, I get a feeling of talking to a real, living Person when I pray aloud.
Psalms 77:1 NASB
1. My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud; My voice rises to God, and He will hear me.
I would not even hint to you that prayers need to be audible to be heard by God. Jesus hears the whisper of a prayer, spoken in earnest. He hears even the silent prayer of the heart. In Nehemiah 2:1-4, the prophet was standing before the king. He was not in a position to call to God at the top of his voice. But the Lord responded to his silent prayer.
There may, however, be some advantages to praying out loud. I believe that praying aloud will keep our mind from wandering and being easily distracted. When we use our voice, we are better able to concentrate and control our words. If this is new to you, try practicing praying aloud in the privacy of your own home.
SUGGESTION ON HOW TO PRAY AND WHAT TO PRAY ABOUT
How many of you have those times when you have prayed for everything you could think of, but it only took five minutes. I think we have all been there. So what should we include in our prayer? Let me mention once again the value of having a list of things to pray about.
What I am going to give you now is a list of possible things to pray for. I do not give this list for you to follow verbatim. Rather, I want this to be used to remind you of directions you may want your prayer to go. I pray they will be merely helps that will set our minds and hearts on important principles in which you can grow in grace. Hopefully you will find something of use here in your prayer life.
Praise and Thanksgiving
This is a good way to start your prayer time. The example that Christ gave to his disciples, in what we call the Lord's Prayer, begins by praising the Father - "Hallowed be Thy name." Thank Him for the privilege of coming into His presence.
Pray something like this: "Lord, I thank You that in spite of myself, I can come into your presence to find grace and mercy in my time of need. Lord, I consciously and deliberately enter Your presence, not on my own merit but through the merit and finished work of Christ alone. I acknowledge my prone to sinfulness (confess any specific sins). Thank you Lord for opening the way so that I can enter freely into God's presence as an adopted child."
Thank Him that, although you deserve God's wrath, He poured out that wrath on Jesus instead, and now there is no condemnation for you. Praise God for His perfections and glorious attributes. Thoughtfully consider each of these as you praise Him.
o His Holiness
o His eternal Word
o His faithfulness
o God's goodness
o God's grace
o His supremacy and sovereignty
o His power and omnipotence
o His patience and mercy
o God's love and affection for you
o and that His name alone would be hallowed.
Tell Him, Lord, "I want to be pliable clay in your hands, to do with as it pleases You. I ascribe the greatness and honor that You alone deserve in all things. Help me to submit to all Your will, and that I would delight and be satisfied in Your will above that of sin. Help me to be a sensible steward of all that You have given me, including money, time, work, joy and suffering."
Lord, help me to be willing...
...to receive what you give,…
...to lack what you withhold,…
...to relinquish what you take,…
...to be what you require.
Having begun with praise and thanksgiving and placing ourselves in His hands, what could we pray about.
"God, grant me an undivided heart that I may learn to fear you." (Psalm 86:11)
This would include:
o Single-minded devotedness to God
o To love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength
o Undivided allegiance to God
o Complete surrender to God's will for our life
o Obtaining an inclination to be holy - striving to be like Christ
Deliverance from Sin
Ask Him to free you from:
o all worldly fear and greed
o the desire to do those things that hinder our close walk with Him
o the habits that hurt your testimony
o self-love, idolatry, and pursuit of vain things.
Ask Him to give you a greater fear of displeasing Him more than the fear of others. Ask Him for a desire to do His will in all things.
Spreading the Gospel
Ask the Lord for opportunities to share the gospel. Ask Him to help you live is such a way that others will desire what you have. Pray that you will become equipped for daily ministry in whatever way He desires. Ask for help in health and strength to live will all your might that you might become an excellent ambassador for Him. Ask Him to forgive you for falling woefully short in this area
Love and Compassion
Ask the Lord to grant you a heart of giving and compassion toward others. Also ask for specific acts of love you can show to others. Pray that your life would exhibit sincere encouragement and care. This may also mean we need to pray for God to help you hold your tongue, and be sensitive to your own faults.
Pray the Scriptures
Many of the Psalms are actually prayers that are as timely today as they were in David's day. Try the prayer from Psalm 5.
"Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my King and My God, for to you I pray. In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation." (Psalm 5:1-3)
Can you identify with those thoughts?
Or, how about this one from Psalm 6:1-4. NIV
1 O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony.
3 My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long?
4 Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.
Many of the Psalms lend themselves to being prayed back to God as you put yourself into the place of the psalmist. Look for those that captivate your heart, and speak of where you are at that particular moment.
Another favorite of mine is from Jeremiah 33:3. "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." Your prayer might be something like this: "Lord, I'm calling on you because I know that you will answer and help me sort out some things I don't understand at all."
A prayer based on 1 Corinthians 10:13 could be: "Lord, I understand that I'm not the first one to experience this particular temptation, and I am glad that you are faithful and have not left me to face this alone. Help me to take the way of escape that you provide so that I can move beyond it.
The words of Jesus make some of the best text to pray back to God. Consider a prayer formed around Matthew 11:28. NKJV
28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Your prayer might be something like: "Jesus, I come to you because I am weary and burdened. Please give me rest. I want to see things as you see them, to learn from you because you are gentle with me."
You could also pray through the actions listed in Romans 12. These verses include:
o Love sincerely
o Being devoted to one another in brotherly love
o Honoring others above self
o Sharing with those in need
o Blessing those who persecute you
o Rejoicing with those who rejoice
o Mourning with those who mourn
o Live in harmony with one another
o No repaying evil for evil
o Seeking to live at peace with everyone
o Not seeking to pay revenge
o Overcoming evil with good.
Personal Spiritual Qualities
Ask God to help you improve your spiritual qualities. This would include:
o Mourning over sin
o Hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
o Readiness to forgive injuries
o Distaste for the world
o Love, not mere tolerance, for enemies
Praying for those who enter our church
Pray that God would bring in great numbers, and that when they enter the doors of our church, that they would feel welcomed and cared for. Most of all, may all find Christ as their loving Savior.
Praying for family members
If you are married, pray for your spouse that they would grow in grace, maturity and in nearness to God. Pray that their lives will bring God glory. Pray that together you would become a team that brings sweet fragrance to the world around you. Ask that you be prepared for areas of ministry He may have planned for you. And pray that He would take out any remaining hindrances. Pray for your children to mature in the things of the Lord and that their heart would always be inclined towards God, to do His will.
Praying for your local church
o Pastors, elders, deacons, group leaders, teachers
o Sound biblical teaching
o Acceptable worship
o Spiritual growth of the congregation
o Specific needs you know about - both physical and spiritual
o Souls to be saved
In addition to all that has been listed thus far, we could also pray for the following.
* God's will to be done - Matthew 6:9-13 (note v10). [Matt. 26:39]
* Necessities of life - Matthew 6:11. [Acts 27:35; Matt. 15:36; 14:19; 1 Tim. 4:3-5; Luke 24:30]
* Forgiveness of sins and deliverance from the consequences of sin - Matthew 6:12.
* Safety in travel and care for loved ones we are separated from - Acts 21:5. [Acts 20:36-38; 28:15; Ezra 8:21-23; Gen. 24:26,27; 1 Thess. 3:9-11; 2 Tim. 1:3-5; Rom. 1:10; 15:30-32; Philem. 22]
* Good health and freedom from other threats to life or safety - 3 John 2; 2 Kings 20:1-7 (Hezekiah) [James 5:13-18; 2 Cor. 12:7-10; 1 Kings 8:35-53; 2 Chron. 7:13-15; Jonah 2:1-10; Psalm 50:15; 86:6,7; 32:6,7; 2 Sam. 12:15,16; Num. 11:2; Luke 21:36]
* Deliverance from enemies and persecution - Acts 12:1,5,12. [2 Thess. 3:1,2; 2 Cor. 1:8-11; Acts 4:23-31; 16:25; 1 Kings 8:33-35; 2 Kings 19:4,15-19]
* Peace, joy instead of disappointment or discouragement - Philippians 4:6,7. [1 Samuel 8:6-9; 2:1-11; Jer. 29:7; Psalm 122:6; 1 Peter 5:7; Matt. 26:36-46; Col. 1:11; 1 Thess. 3:9; 2 Sam. 7:18-29]
* Ability to recognize and resist temptation - Matthew 6:13. [Matt. 26:41; Eph. 6:11-18; 2 Cor. 13:7; Luke 22:31,32; John 17:14-16]
* Wisdom, and understanding of God's will - Psalm 119:169-172. Note that this comes today through the Scriptures, not by direct revelation. [James 1:5,6; Col. 1:9,10; Phil. 1:9,10; Psalm 86:6,11; 143:1,8,10]
* Laborers to take the gospel and teach the lost - Matthew 9:36-38.
* Strength when weary - Colossians 1:9-11. [Eph. 3:14-19; 2 Thess. 1:11]
* Patience, - Colossians 1:11.
* To show grace and mercy - 2 Corinthians 4:15. [Psalm 4:1; 86:3-6; 1 Cor. 1:4]
* Proper speech - Psalm 141:1-3.
This is not a complete list, but it suggests many things we could properly pray for. Remember that these are things both to make request for and to give thanks for. Hopefully, what I have given you will help you in what to pray about. Prayer is the vital lifeline of the Church. It is an important link in our communications with the Commander in Chief - Jesus Christ.
I hold in my hand a rock - not too unlike any common stone. The significance of this stone is not in itself, but where I picked it up. I picked this rock up at the Valley of Elah, during our trip to Israel this past October. Although there was no water in the brook when we were there, there was when David picked 5 smooth stones for his sling. The soldiers of Israel were on one hill, and the armies of the Philistines were on another. Goliath and David met in this valley.
David said to Goliath "You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied." (1 Samuel 17:45) NKJV
I think it is safe that David would never have been able to say these words, had he not had a much-used line of communication between he and God. The real battle is won in the prayer closet. If we can't win there, we won't win at all.
Psalms 91:1-2 (NKJV) is one of my favorite Passages.
1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust."