The Essentials: Prayer

Prayer is how we relieve ourselves of worry, anxiety, fear, and the need to feel like we’re in control.  Prayer is how we slip out from underneath the load of stress we carry around. It’s through a growing dependence on God, gained from a greater confidence in His power and love, that we feel less and less as though it all rests on us.  

While on vacation we saw a fun sort of recreation that you don’t see everyday:  gliding. Several hundred feet in the air above us a small prop plane was literally towing a slender, elegant glider.  It looked like a very modern, aerodynamic plane, except that it didn’t have an engine. It could fly, except it couldn’t get into the air by itself.  The glider depended on something else to get into the air and get up to the right altitude. Once there it could be released and glide around all by itself for awhile.  Sounds pretty fun if you’re into heights and all.


Christians, we are like gliders.  We cannot get up off the ground in our Christian lives all by ourselves.  We need something else that has power, that can tow us up higher and higher into Christian maturation.  Our power is prayer. Without prayer we aren’t going anywhere. We may have wings, but, unless we are connected to the power of prayer we’ll be grounded in our Christian life.


Prayer is essential to Christian growth, it is the 4th essential.

Prayer is the reaching out of a soul longing for God.  


#1:  Prayer is Asking

Prayer is asking.  John 14:13-14; 16:23-24…Hebrews 4:14-16…Often times the asking part of prayer gets a bad rap.  “People only go to God when they’ve got problems or they want Him to do something for them.” I’ve come around to asking, “So what?”  And, “How do we know that person never praises God?” Sure there are people out there, and, truth be told, I’m probably one of them more often than I would like to admit.  


First, Asking is Depending.  But I want to teach today that asking is a fundamental expression of our trust in God and our relationship with Him.  Asking is Depending. We show Him that we look to Him as our All-Sufficient Provider and that He is our Greatest Source when we come and ask things of Him.  We may ask for the wrong things, and, we may ask for the right things but have to wait a while for the answer, but, asking is essentially a way of depending.  Our lives as Christians is the ongoing interaction between us and our Savior, asking Him for things, Him giving us what we ask for, or, not giving them to us. But what we should begin to learn through all our asking is how to search for and submit to His will.  


James Coats wrote an old song that went like this, “Where could I go but to the Lord?  Seeking the refuge for my soul. Needing a friend to save me in the end, won’t you tell me, where could I go but to the Lord?”  Even better, number 427 in our hymnal, “I need Thee every hour, Most gracious Lord; No tender voice like Thine can peace afford.  I need Thee, O I need Thee, Every hour I need Thee! O bless me now my Savior, I come to Thee.” Notice the need, the dependence on Christ coming through those lyrics, and how that need for Him is expressed in going to Him, “I come to Thee”!


I will dare to say that our anxieties persist so long as we persist in avoiding prayer.  Prayer is how we relieve ourselves of worry, anxiety, fear, and the need to feel like we’re in control.  Prayer is how we slip out from underneath the load of stress we carry around. It’s through a growing dependence on God, gained from a greater confidence in His power and love, that we feel less and less as though it all rests on us.  My peace I leave with you, Jesus said. And the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Philippians said. The measure of peace in your heart is directly related to the measure of dependence on God you have. Do not be offended by this, but, convicted.  


If prayer is lacking in our lives it reveals we really believe that we can do things without Him.  It may even betray a belief that He can’t come through for us.


Prayer is not letting God do something that you could do. Prayer is by nature a confession of our own inadequacy and a declaration of our own desperate dependence on God’s sufficiency.


Second:  Asking is Worshipping.  Your requesting of God is worshipping Him when you know Who He is while you ask Him.  A desperate father once asked Jesus for help and said, “If you can help us please have pity on us…”  He did right by coming to Jesus, but, it was the “if” part that Jesus took issue with. In Mark 9:23 Jesus retorted, “If?!”  “If I can?!” Jesus was insulted by the man’s uncertainty about the ability of Jesus to do what he asked.


Compare that to the Centurion in Matthew 8 who was in no doubt of Jesus’ power, “Just say the word and my servant will be healed, there is no need for you to come to my house.”  Jesus had a strong response to this man as well, and turning to the crowd around Him in that moment said “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith!” (Mt. 8:10).  One man doubted Jesus’ ability and Jesus rebuked him for his unbelief.


The other man was certain of Jesus’ ability and was commended for his faith.  That is why we must always pray by affirming the power and ability of God saying, “I know you can Lord.”  What we cannot say for certain is the willingness of God to do something.


That is why we must pray like a 3rd man, a leper, found in Luke 5.  He came to Jesus and said, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Notice that? He believed Jesus had the power and ability, but, He appealed to Jesus’ willingness.  


Let me offer a reason why this is important for you and I to understand in our prayer lives.  If God can’t do something it is pointless to even pray that He would do it. Maybe He would want to, but, if He didn’t have the ability to do what we ask it is a waste of time…it is an exercise in futility.  


No, understanding the power of God first puts our feet on firm ground so that we can then move our attention to the area it needs to be in prayer:  God’s will. This is where our relationship with God really takes off: moving God to move for us. Knowing God can do something that allows you to advance your prayers into the area they need to be:  persuading God to do what you’re asking. Wrestling with the will of God. Not discovering it in order to obey, but, persuading Him to be willing to answer your request. Do you know that God wants His children to speak to Him not just reverently, but, boldly?  Appealing to Him, imploring Him, begging Him, persuading Him.


Third:  Let your asking be Persistent.  Outlast God you might say.  You might balk at that, but, it’s what God wants of us.  Luke 18. God loves a tenacious pray-er. God loves a bold, uninhibited asker.  Why? Because boldness, tenacity, persistence, reflect faith. Not presumption, not rudeness, not bossy, but unanxious, clear petitions.  That reflects faith. How does it reflect faith? Because faith means confidence and confidence comes from familiarity – that is to say, familiar with God.  That “knowing God and what He is like” part is crucial. This is how one of His children ask Him.


Evan is the poster boy of persistence.  You have not seen tenacity until you have seen Evan want something.  Now, how Evan asks me is different than how other kids who are not my children ask me.  We have neighborhood kids around all the time at our house. Evan comes not wondering if I can do something, he always believes I can do what he wants.  He comes in order to persuade me to do what he is asking. His focus is not on my ability, but, on my will. His job is not to doubt my capabilities – his job, in his mind, is to get me to want to give him his request.  That strategy may include repetition of the request, reminding me that I would actually enjoy the thing he’s asking for and more tactics we don’t need to divulge here. That’s how my child asks me: boldly, repeatedly, with the freedom that comes from the fact I am his father and he is my son.  


The neighborhood kid, however, is not my child, and, therefore does not have that same comfort, and freedom.  So, they do not ask me the same way. They are more shy, more timid, and careful about their manners. That’s how kids who are not mine ask.  


How does your asking of God reflect your relationship with Him?  Are you a child of His….or, are you a neighborhood kid?


Fourthly, Asking is Transformational.  You will be transformed by persistent, worshipful asking.  Last week a lady in Annie’s Bible study left an Essential oils bracelet for me.  You know essential oils, right? They cure everything. Anyway, the idea was the little beads on the bracelet carry essential oils in them and give off their fragrance.  Well, the next day I forgot to wear the bracelet, and as I was sitting at my desk I could smell something quite lovely on me. Not that I was all too surprised by a pleasant smell on me as though I’m used to my own stench.  But, I started sniffing around my desk and then on me and then I realized it was my watch. I smelled my watch and for a moment wondered why it smelled so nice. Then I realized it was because it was next to the braclet the whole night before.  The watch didn’t smell like that on its own, but, given enough time in the presence of the bracelet, the fragrance of the bracelet got all over my watch.


Are you seeing where this is going?  SPending time with God in prayer makes us smell like Him.  WE’re not naturally like Him all on our own, just like my watch isn’t naturally fragrant like the essential oils.  But, like the watch, if we are close to God then who God is will begin to really rub off on us. Let me describe some of these ways prayer will transform you.


Practical Benefits of Prayer.  As I reflected more on prayer this week I thought about some practical benefits that prayer gives and I want to offer them to you today. These are from my personal experience.


First, prayer calms you down. I get restless, anxious, and impatient if I don’t pray. But, when I am praying there is a peace that settles in my heart.  Then I remember, oh yeah, that’s what the Bible promises in Philippians 4:6-7!


Second, I enjoy the things God has given me more. When I don’t pray, I tend to focus on what I don’t have and forget what I do have. I’m not content. Do you know anyone like that? I’m like that. But, when I am praying I find my heart enjoying the things that really matter in life that I do have and I don’t want so hard for things that I don’t have.


Third, prayer helps me to love better. I find that the amount of love that I have in my heart to give shrinks a lot when I am not praying. I get critical, I get self-centered. But after time spent with the Lord in prayer I find that He enlarges my ability to love. ***When I pray it feels natural to think of others. But when I don’t pray it feels natural to think of myself.


Fifthly, I find that when I pray I sense a closer proximity to God. I am more sensitive to what pleases Him and my mind is thinking more about what pleases Him.


And lastly, prayer makes you joyful.  In John 16:24 Jesus promised: “Until now you have not asked in my name. Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete.” We’ve heard this from Jesus a couple verses earlier in 15:11, “I have told you these things [v7, ask and it will be given to you] so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”


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