Webster’s definition of prayer is interesting. He says it is an earnest request—an entreaty—a supplication—it is spiritual communion with God.
Burns, the Scottish national poet said, that, “Prayer is a correspondence fixed with heaven.”
A survey of the Scripture shows us that prayer has many different facets. Supplications—prayers—intercessions—giving thanks. It means to ask—to beseech—to call God to one’s assistance.
Prayer should also denote the acknowledging of a need—then an asking—an entreaty to God for the fulfilling of that need.
All prayer should be addressed to God—offered in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Note our advantages over O.T. saints. The Holy Spirit is the sole interpreter of our needs. He is the One who makes intercession for us before God. Rom 8. We are exhorted to pray in the Spirit.
James says that, “the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” This means that the prayer, in wrought by the Holy Spirit, of a righteous man greatly prevails with God.
Faith is essential to prayer (answered). Without faith impossible to please. There must be unshaken faith in His love, wisdom and power. Matt 21:22. “And all things, whatever you shall ask in prayer, ‘Believing,’ ye shall receive.” Jas 1:5-8.
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith with no hesitating or doubting. For the one who doubts is like the waves of the sea, blown hither and thither by the wind. Let not such a person think that he will receive anything he asks from the Lord.”
Faith is the recognition of the Omnipotence of God. The committal of ourselves and our affairs to the faithfulness of God.
From earliest of times man has practiced prayer or communion with God. Adam communed with God. Enoch walked with God, that is, he communed with God continuously. Noah walked with God also. These men maintained an unbroken communion with God.
The prayers of the patriarchs and prophets were more than a recital of well-known and well-worn phrases—to them prayer was the out-pouring of the heart. These men of God knew little of the mechanics and philosophy of prayer, but they certainly knew a great deal about its power.
This brings us to approach our subject with the prayer of the disciples, “Lord teach us to pray” Luke 11.
The power of prayer.
Let us look at a few examples of the power of prayer. Nehemiah—Moses. Daniel 6:10. “Daniel went into his house—opened his windows toward Jerusalem—kneeled upon his knees three times a day and prayed—and gave thanks before his God—as he had always done.”
Notice these features in this prayer:
1. Place of prayer - “he went into his house.”
2. Courage in prayer - “His windows being opened.”
3. Direction in prayer - “toward Jerusalem.”
4. Attitude for prayer - “He kneeled upon his knees.”
5. Regularity in prayer - “Three times a day.”
6. Thanksgiving in prayer - “Gave thanks before his God.”
7. Continuances in prayer - “As he did previously.”
In praying, he defied the king and his own enemies. He was delivered from the lions—his would be murderers were themselves killed by the lions—Daniel prospered—and finally God was glorified.
In Chapter 9 we see Daniel praying again. This time there are tremendous issues at stake. Daniel has been reading Jeremiah 25, and realizes that the seventy years of captivity are almost over. He knew his people were unprepared to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem.
Daniel began to pray. The result of his prayers was that God prepared 42,000 people to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem.
Ezra 1 also tells us that Daniel’s prayers stirred the heart of king Cyrus. He let the faithful go. As the result of Daniels prayers there took place one of the greatest revivals in Israel’s history.
The prayer of Daniel moved God to stir king Cyrus, prepare 42,000 people to leave Babylon, return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple of God. Brethren and Sisters, prayer works and is powerful. We have a decided advantage in prayer, over the Old Testament saints.
(1) Their prayers in the majority of cases were taken up with secular temporal things. The New Testament urges believers to pray for and seek after “spirit blessings.” Eph 1:3. Ours is a fuller revelation than that enjoyed by saints in the old economy.
(2) Another decided advantage we have is that of using the name of Jesus in our prayers to God. Even the mightiest intercessors of old did not use the name of Jesus. Jesus said “Hitherto ye have asked nothing in My name” John 16:2. The full merit of the Cross could not be pleaded until Christ’s atonement was complete. Now in all confidence we can rely on the Lord’s declaration, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father, ‘in my name,’ He will give it to you.” John 16:23.
(3) The third prayer-advantage in this age is the pledge of Christ to act as our personal Intercessor. “I will pray the Father for you.” John 14:16. Heb 7:25.
Such a power and resource was denied them.
“Great Advocate! Almighty Friend!
On Thee our humble hopes depend;
Our cause can never, never fail
For Thou dost plead and must prevail.”
(4) A further advantage we have is the fact that Christ assures us that He Himself will answer our supplication. “Whatsoever ye ask—that will I do.”
Not only are we authorized to use the peerless name of Jesus, we have His Word that He will hear and answer our prayers.
(5) One other advantage is that we have the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the realm of prayer. As the result of the finished work of Christ, the Holy Spirit in all His fullness has been given to us.
This is seen to advantage in the lives of praying saints in The Acts. It was the Spirit Who led them. He waits to lead us into “a broad land of unknown wealth.”
Notice how the early church put into effect our Lord’s teaching on prayer.
· The Church was born in the atmosphere of prayer. Acts 1:4.
· In answer to prayer the Spirit was poured out upon her. Acts 1:4 - 2:4.
· Prayer continued to be the Church’s native aim. Acts 2:42; 6:4,6.
· There remained in the Church’s thinking a close connection between prayer and the Spirit’s presence and power. Acts 4:31.
· In times of crises the Church had recourse to prayer. Acts 4:23; 12:5-12.
· Throughout the Acts church leaders emerge as men of prayer. 9:40; 10:9; 16:25; 28:8.
· These godly men urge other believers to pray with them. 20:28-36; 21:5.
Lack of prayer in the assemblies.
There is a lack of real prayer in most assemblies. There is little real waiting on God to know His mind and will. Few assemblies spend more than 15 to 20 minutes per week in prayer.
The time has come for assemblies to see prayer as fundamental and foundational or many will continue to drift. To avoid this drift some are trying all kinds of schemes and programs. Never does there seem to be a call to prayer. Time spent in the presence of God would find us:
1. Subdued by His Omnipresence.
2. Staggered by His Omnipotence.
3. Silenced by His Omniscience.
4. Solemnized by His Holiness.
Notice the request of the disciples. “Lord, teach us to pray.” They had learned somewhat of the connection between His virtuous life in public, and His secret life in prayer. He was a Master in the art of prayer—none could pray like Him. The disciples wished to be enrolled in His school of prayer.
While it is true that the youngest child can pray, it is also true that prayer is among the highest and holiest work to which a man can rise. Prayer is fellowship with the Unseen and most Holy One and the powers of the eternal world are placed at one’s disposal.
Jesus never taught anyone to preach, but He taught them to pray. It is more important to know how to address God than to address man. Power with God is primary—Power with man is secondary.
The parable of Luke 11 is a perfect storehouse of instruction in regard to true intercession.
1. There is “the love” which seeks to help the needy around us. “My friend is come unto me.”
2. Then “the need” which urges the cry: I have nothing to set before him.
3. Then follows “the confidence” that help can be had. Which of you shall have a friend, and say, “Friend lend me three loaves.”
4. Then comes the “unexpected refusal”—I cannot rise and give thee.
5. Then comes the persistence that takes no refusal. Because of his importunity.
6. The reward of persistent prayer. He will give Him as many as he needeth.
The above principles set forth the way of prayer and faith in which we can experience the blessing of God.
Another O.T. example of the power of prayer is given to us by James.
James 5:17-18. “Elijah was a man with the same nature as we have, he prayed ‘earnestly’ that it might not rain; and it rained not for the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.”
Out of obscurity, Elijah bursts into the O.T. scene. 1 Kings 17. His first words were: “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand.” (Standing).
This man had lived in the presence of God for a long time, and knew the mind of God. This man communed with God. This man of God shut up the heavens for 3 ½ years with a prayer. With the “key of faith” he locked up heaven and made Ahab tremble. With the same key he opened heaven and the rain fell again. 1 Kings 18.
To encourage us to pray and receive answers James says that “the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” There is more to this verse than many have discovered. The effectual—that is, the inwrought prayer—inwrought by the Holy Spirit.
The fervent prayer, the earnest—ardent—intense prayer. Of a righteous man—one who is right with God and his brethren in every respect. This kind of prayer, from this kind of person, greatly prevails with God and unleashes tremendous power. Romans 8:26-27.
From these examples some spiritual lessons are found.
1. Omnipotent God can be reached and moved through the prayer of faith. Come boldly to the Throne of Grace.
2. The men who brought response from God were godly men.
3. This leads us to believe that prayer is conditioned by our spiritual state. In backsliding prayer is the first thing to go. “God forbid that I should cease to pray.”
One does not need to be spiritual to preach, that is, to deliver sermons of homiletical perfection and ex-e-get-i-cal exaltitude.
By a combination of memory—knowledge—personality—plus well lined book shelves—and self-confidence, anyone can preach to tickle the ears of men. These give stones for bread, and serpents for fish.
Brethren, it is only the spiritual believers who can pray in the way that moves the hands of Him who moves the Universe. See John 15. “He who dwelleth in the secret place, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalm 91.
Jesus believed prayer to be a working force, a dynamic, rather than a doctrine, in a believer’s life. “Men ought always to pray and not to faint.”
In order for prayer to be a working force or a dynamic in one’s life there are certain conditions that must be met.
(1) There must be sincerity.
Sincerity is the first requisite of successful prayer. The Lord condemned the Pharisees for their long prayers—ostentation—hypocrisy and insincerity.
Luke 18:9-14 The Pharisee and Publican. God must be approached in spirit and in truth.
John 4:24. Like the Psalmist we must “yearn eagerly” for God, just as the deer pants after the water brook. Inner desire and urgency must characterize us as in the parable of the importunate or persistent friend.
(2) There must be humility.
For our prayers to be answered there must be the complete absence of pride or self-assertion.
James 4:3, “Ye ask and receive not because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your own lusts.”
2 Chronicles 7:14 All prayer should be for the glory of God. “If My people who are called by My name shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
2 Chronicles 34:27 “Because thy heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, and didst mourn and weep before Him, He heard thy prayer.”
The Lord Jesus displayed the perfect attitude of complete abandonment to the will of God, when in the days of His flesh, He offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears. “Not My will, but Thine be done.”
(3) There must be forgiveness.
We cannot expect answers from God if we harbor an unforgiving spirit towards others. “When you stand praying, forgive.” Mark 11:27. Luke 11. In His Sermon on the Mount our Lord gave the four-fold exhortation to forgive one another if we expect answers to our prayers. Brethren, we reach the pinnacle of Christlikeness when we forgive. “Father forgive them” etc. In this blessed state of being like Christ claiming His all prevailing name, we have the right to expect answers to our prayers.
(4) There must be faith.
Faith is an unquestioning belief, it is complete trust and confidence. In the context of prayer, it is asking God for something, according to His will, and fully expecting that prayer to be answered. James said, “Let him ask in faith, not wavering—it shall be given him.”
Without faith it is impossible to please God. Heb 11:6.
All things are possible to him that believes. Mark 9:23.
The Lord also said, “For with God all things are possible. Mark 10:27.
Matt 21:22 “All things—ye ask—believing, ye shall receive.”
So then our prayer of faith takes us to the God with whom all things are possible and from whom we can expect miracles.
Matt 17:20. The Lord mentions “faith as a grain of mustard seed.” This is one of the smallest of seeds. Jesus said, that even if your faith is very small, but is real, you can remove mountains of difficulties, as you draw from the eternal resources of the God of the impossible. If ye have faith and doubt not. Because of your own belief. Brethren, the formula for answered prayer is not great faith in a God but faith in a great God.
(5) Our prayers must be persistent.
This is the whole point of the parable of the friend coming at midnight begging bread. He was persistent. Luke 11:5-10; 18:1-8. Ask—Seek—Knock.
When we pray in the Spirit, we must demonstrate Jacob’s spirit when he said, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.” Despite difficulties and apparent failures, even though the heavens are silent, we must pray on in the Spirit. We must wrestle like Jacob.
Pant and yearn like David.
Hope like Elijah.
Persistent like Bartemaeas.
Crying with tears like our Lord.
(6) We must pray in the Spirit.
The Scriptural way to pray is in the Spirit, through the Son, to the Father. The prayers that are answered are those that are inwrought by the Spirit and therefore in accordance with God’s will. We must learn how to pray in the Spirit.
Eph 6:18. “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.”
Jude20. “Praying in the Holy Spirit.”
“What does praying in the Holy Spirit mean?” Our prayers will be inspired and led by Him. We will be prompted by the Holy Spirit to pray for certain things. To pray in the Spirit means, to consciously place ourselves under the Holy Spirit’s influence. It is He who makes our conscience sensitive to sin and inspires prayer. God delights to hear.
The Lord’s seasons of prayer.
There is a beautiful paradox here. Our Lord lived in unbroken fellowship with the Father, yet a study of His life shows Him many times in prayer for guidance.
The Lord prayed whenever the need arose. He prayed late at night after others had retired. He prayed before and after important events. It was His custom to steal away and pray where the noises of earth were hushed.
Time does not matter, because God’s ear is ever opened to our cry.
David prayed all day. Psalm 55:17.
Daniel prayed at noon. Daniel 6:10.
Paul and Silas prayed at midnight. Acts 16:25.
The Lord sometimes prayed all night. Mark 1:35.
At all times we have access into the presence of God. He is a God who never sleeps.
No matter where we are, God can hear us.
· He heard Hagar in the wilderness.
· He heard Jonah in the belly of the fish in the depths of the ocean.
· He heard Hezekiah on his bed.
· He heard David in a cave.
· He heard Peter on a ship.
· He heard the thief on a cross.
The greatest blessing of Christ’s life came as the result of unbroken fellowship with God. Prayer was His life and it brought unmeasured power.