Prayer ~ 20100117 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

01/17/10 - Prayer

We, as the people of God, are called to pray. We are to be a people of prayer. Prayer is to characterize the church of God. We must pray, and we need to pray. After the ascension of Jesus, the disciples devoted themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14). In the early church, the prayers, alongside the apostles' teaching, fellowship and the breaking of bread, was what the believers devoted themselves to (Acts 2:42). The Apostles turned some of the physical ministry of the church over to others so that they could devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). Earnest prayer set prisoners free (Acts 12:5). If we want victory over the forces of evil, Jesus said the power for that victory comes only through prayer (Mk.9:29). When God told Ananias to go speak to Saul of Tarsus, who had been severely persecuting the churches, he said 'behold, he is praying' (Acts 9:11). When Jesus demonstrated his fury by making a whip of cords and driving people out of the temple, it was because 'my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations' (Mark 11:17; cf.Jn.2:15). In Revelation, the prayers of the saints are being poured out as incense before the throne of God (Rev.5:8, 8:3-4).
Over and over again in scripture, we are called to pray, and great promises are attached to our praying.

2 Chronicles 7:14 If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

Jesus commanded that we pray:

Matthew 5:44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Matthew 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6:9 Pray then like this: [the Lord's prayer]

Matthew 9:38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest.

Matthew 26:41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.

Luke 18:1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

Prayer is essential and we are commanded to pray. I believe that we will be more inclined to pray and more determined and disciplined to pray if we understand what prayer is and how it works. We will be more effective in our praying if we understand how to effectively wield the weapon of prayer. I say the weapon of prayer, because prayer is listed in the description of the spiritual armor that every believer is to take up in Ephesians 6:

Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil... 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm... 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel ...that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

R. Kent Hughes describes the scene of a soldier preparing for battle:

"His heart pounds ka-thump ka-thump under his metal breastplate. As he steadies himself, he hitches up his armor belt and scuffs at the earth like a football player with his studded boots, testing his traction. He repeatedly draws his great shield across his body in anticipation of the fiery barrages to come. Reflexively he reaches up and repositions his helmet. He gingerly tests the edge of his sword and slips it back into his scabbard. The enemy approaches. Swords pulled from their scabbards ring in chilling symphony. the warriors stand motionless, breathing in dreadful spasms. And then the believing soldier does the most astounding thing. He falls to his knees in deep, profound, petitionary prayer - for he has obeyed his divine instructions to take up what John Bunyan referred to as "All-Prayer." -R. Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man, p.95

So, in order to obey our divine commander and take up this weapon of "All-Prayer", we need to know what it is. What is prayer? Most simply and broadly put, prayer is conversation or talking with God. To be more accurate, prayer is our part of the conversation. When we speak to God, it is called prayer. When God speaks to us, it is called divine revelation or Holy Spirit illumination. Prayer can describe anything we say to God, whether it be worship of who he is, thanksgiving for what he's done, confession of sin, questions, concerns or desires expressed to him, needs requested of him. But when prayer is distinguished from some of these other types of Godward communication, prayer is specifically the asking part of our speaking to God. Prayer is coming to God with needs that we request that he meet, calling on him for help.

Psalm 18:6 In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.

So a prerequisite for effective prayer is an understanding of who we are in relationship to our Creator. We are weak; he is omnipotent in strength. We are poor; he has all resources at his disposal. We are fools; he all-wise. We are blind; he sees all and knows the end from the beginning. We are dependent; he is self-existent. We are helpless; he delights to stoop down to help those in need. We are miserable in that we often turn from him as the all satisfying source of true joy and fulfillment and back to the fleeting pleasures of sin that we know will leave us hollow and empty with a painfully bitter aftertaste.

To put it bluntly, if we don't know ourselves to be weak, poor, foolish, helpless, miserable wretches, then we won't pray. Or if we do pray, our very prayers will be an offensive stench in the nostrils of God. We may pray like the wretched Pharisee "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get." (Lk.18:11-12). That is a pompous arrogant self-centered self-righteous boast, not a prayer. Until we see our acute sinfulness and desperate need, we cannot pray as we ought. If we hope to be given anything by God, we must come as a desperate beggar. That is what prayer is. Jesus told us that "apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn.15:5). We cannot come to God self-assured, self-confident, as if we had some talents or gifts or resources that he should be impressed with. God cannot accept us if we come to him with a high self-esteem. 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble' (1Pet.3:5-6). We are nothing, in fact, worse than nothing. We were created in his image with his dignity, but we have disfigured and distorted that image by wallowing in sin. We refuse to submit to his rightful authority, we are rebels against him and enemies of the cross. We have taken his good gifts and spat in his face. We have dragged his good name through the sewer. We must take our place with the tax-collector:

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' (Lk.18:13)

That is true praying. Asking. Crying out for mercy with a deep heartfelt sense of unworthiness and need. And yet boldly calling out to God because he is 'rich in mercy' (Eph.2:4). So prayer is turning away from ourselves to God in confidence that he will provide what we need. But where do we get this confidence? What makes us think that God will hear our prayers or be disposed to answer favorably? That brings us to the next point;

All our praying must be cross-centered praying. The cross is the expression of God's mercy toward sinners. What we deserve - justice and wrath and punishment and eternal separation from a good God in hell, God poured out on Jesus on the cross. What we don't deserve - forgiveness and welcome and kindness and favor and blessing, God freely gives to us who have taken refuge in the cross of Jesus. Our only safe place of meeting with God is at the foot of Calvary. If we come on our own, we will face the wrath of an angry God. If I come to him on the ground of the finished work of Jesus for me, I find love and peace and hope and joy and help. Jesus said:

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

Jesus is the only way to the Father. There is no other access.

Ephesians 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

We, Jew and Gentile alike, gain access to the Father through the blood of Christ on the cross. We have been brought near to God through the substitutionary sin-bearing work of Jesus.

Hebrews 10:12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Jesus sacrificed himself for sinners. Because of the cross, God remembers our sins no more. They are gone! They have been punished, God's justice is satisfied! And through the blood of Jesus, we now have confidence to enter the presence of God. We can enter with confidence and a clean conscience. Even boldness.

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Because of the cross, we can be bold in prayer. We can use our blood bought privilege to approach with confidence the throne of grace. We can cry out as needy sinners to the God of all grace who will supply every need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil.4:19). We can have confidence because:

Romans 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

If Christ died for us while we were sinners, what do you think he is willing to do for us now that he has made us saints? He has done the infinitely hard thing in bearing our sins and turning enemies into friends. Now that he has transformed us, how much easier is it for him as our Father and Friend to answer our requests as we ask according to his will? This is how Paul argues in Romans 8:

Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

We have his promise from the Psalms:

Psalm 84:11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

And we have the word of Jesus himself:

John 14:13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. ... 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. ... 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

John 16:23 ...Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. ...26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.

Prayer is essential. We as believers must take up the weapon of prayer if we are to stand our ground. Prayer is asking – coming to God empty with our needs asking God who is the all-sufficient source to supply our every need. We approach in humble boldness because of the cross. We have been forgiven and invited, even commanded to come. We bring glory to God as the giver by coming to him to receive.