by: Denise Robinson
Lord, Hear Our Prayer – Pt. 2
Acts 4:23-31; 2 Tim. 1:3-12
Today we continue our look at prayer. If we claim to be a follower of Christ, we know that prayer is important to our spiritual life; the New Testament speaks of the richness of not only Jesus’ prayer life, but the lives of the disciples, the Apostle Paul, and other early Christians. If they viewed prayer as essential, we know deep down that we should as well. And yet, prayer can be frustrating and it can be intimidating. And, for a number of reasons we discussed last week, prayer is hard. At the same time, the Bible promises us that when we pray, God listens. So how do we move from “supposed to” pray to “want to” pray. The problem for many of us in the church is that we’ve been told to pray, but we’ve never been taught how to pray. Prayer becomes an occasional, last chance, option, when everything is going wrong or when we really want something or when everything we have tried has failed. But that’s not what prayer is supposed to be. Prayer is the bridge between us and God; it’s a gift, given to us through Christ’s death on the cross, that is meant to begin to restore the relationship God wants with us, one like that between a parent and a child. It prepares us for the in-person relationship we will one day have with God, that day when we are in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
So, for those who never learned how to pray or for all of us who need to be reminded of the importance of prayer, what can we learn from the Bible about how to pray? As we discussed last week, answering that question begins with understanding what prayer is – and is not. Prayer is not asking God for what you want when you want it; waiting until something goes wrong in your life and asking God to fix it. Prayer is not a “I want” button to be pushed; it’s a relationship to be pursued. We wouldn’t think of talking with family or friends only when we want something from them – and talking to God is no different. So, if we’re not praying for what we want, what do we pray for?
Last week, we looked at some advice from the Apostle Paul who in his letters gives practical advice on prayer. As a summary from last week, Paul opens his prayers by giving thanks to God. In prayer we remember that God created us, gave us life, gave us family and friends, gave us our personalities and our gifts, and, most importantly, gave us the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Second, Paul prays for a stronger faith, not just for himself but for all believers. In his prayers, he prays for his faith, for the faith of others, and for the faith of the church. Third, Paul prays for wisdom. Paul accepts that God has a plan for his life, and his prayer is that God’s plan is revealed and fulfilled. But, just as with faith, Paul also prays that God’s wisdom is revealed to all believers, not just for himself.
Today we look at Luke’s thoughts on prayer in Acts 4 and then at advice from 2 Timothy 1. In Acts 4, Peter and John had been proclaiming the news of Jesus’ resurrection and had been arrested by the high priest and Jewish council and thrown in prison. After a night in jail, they were brought before the priests and elders and released – on the condition that they not speak any more about Jesus. As soon as they were released from prison, Peter and John met with other believers and together they prayed. V. 29 gives insight into their prayer: they prayed, not for themselves or their safety, but for the courage to speak God’s word with boldness. The prayer in 2 Timothy 1 is a similar one – the prayer is for a spirit of power and love and self-discipline. In v. 9, the writer prays for the strength not to be ashamed of the testimony about Jesus Christ. In v. 13, the prayer is for the strength to hold firm to sound teaching and not to be misled. All of these prayers have a common thread: they are prayers for spiritual growth. How do we grow spiritually? We become more courageous in our faith, we trust God more deeply, forgive more easily, put God first more often, see God’s vision for our lives more clearly. How does this happen? Through prayer.
Our prayers are also a time for confession. Paul reminds us that God’s command is that we be holy as Christ was holy; but Paul also knows this is an impossible task. He admits to his own struggles and his failures, and in prayer we do the same. Confession is not for the purpose of making us feel guilty, it’s for the purpose of releasing us from the guilt we already feel. We all know when we blow it, when we say something or do something that we shouldn’t say or do – or when we don’t speak up or act when we should. We know it, but beginning with Adam and Eve, God doesn’t want us to hide from it or from Him. God’s promise to us is that when we confess our sins, our shortcomings and failures, he forgives. We tend to forgive and still hold a grudge, but God’s forgiveness is total release – we pray, God hears, God forgives, and the sin is erased, forgotten by God as if it never happened. But the process begins with prayer.
Next, Scripture shows us that our prayers should be specific. It seems to be a Facebook thing to post a vague, generalized request for prayer. I have seen any number of posts from people indicating a need for prayer without mentioning any reason for the prayer request. I can certainly understand the desire not to broadcast one’s prayer request on Facebook, but you won’t find these types of prayers in the Bible. While I believe God knows what is on our hearts and in our minds, prayer is a time of sharing our joys, concerns, fears, doubts, and desires with God. Perhaps we need to be specific about prayer because we need to hear ourselves say it out loud – if not for God, for us. Generally saying something out loud makes me think about what I am saying and be clear about what I mean to say. It also may help me listen for God’s answer.
So, if we’re continuing with a list, what else should we be praying for? Think about what you do and say with your spouse, family, or close friend. You hang out and do things together, you ask for advice and input, give gifts, share secrets, laugh, enjoy being together, challenge one another, and to borrow from street slang, you conversate. Talk about your spouse, children, grandchildren with a friend? Talk about them with God. Talk about your lifestyle, your singleness perhaps, your desire for change, your career, your work situation, your financial concerns with a friend? Talk about these things with God. And then there are those things you might not talk to anyone about: depression, anger, bitterness, fear, rejection, insecurity, jealousy, loneliness, pride, temptation. Talk to God.
And before you end your prayer, now turn it outward. Pray for this church and your pastor, our community, our nation and its leaders, for those you know – and those you don’t – who don’t believe in Christ to come to find their faith. By now, if you’ve been making a list, it’s a rather long one. Don’t think you have to pray all this at once. Somethings you may pray for daily; others, perhaps once a week or even once a month. The point is you now have a template for prayer.
But now we get to something that, when it comes to prayer, we might be afraid to say out loud. Does prayer matter? The Bible says God listens, but does God really answer? If you’ve been praying very long, you’ve probably prayed, I mean really prayed, for something and it didn’t turn out the way you wanted. And I don’t mean you prayed to win the lottery. I mean you prayed for healing for yourself or someone you love or for pain to stop – and the healing didn’t or hasn’t happened and the pain hasn’t stopped. And unlike some people who pray once or twice and stop praying if they don’t get what they want, you’ve been praying for days or weeks or months or even years. The silencing is deafening and this little voice creeps uninvited into the back of your mind saying, “What’s the point?”
There are Bible verses that tell us God answers prayer, but sometimes they are difficult to accept. 1 John 5:14-15: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” Mark 11:24: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Matthew 7:7-8: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” These are only a few verses out of many in the Bible that make this promise. So, when it seems God doesn’t answer our prayer, does that mean our faith isn’t strong enough, that we’re to blame? Sometimes that may be the case: prayer comes through our belief in Christ as we pray in Christ’s name. And we are told that we are to pray without ceasing or be fervent in our prayer. John Wesley described prayer as banging against the gates of heaven. But many of us have done that and still not seemed to have gotten an answer – and perhaps there’s our problem. Because deep down, when we pray, we know how we want the prayer to be answered. We have our expectation of what God should do. And when it doesn’t turn out the way we wanted, we blame prayer.
Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, shortly before his arrest and his death, prayed fervently and passionately to God. You know his prayer: “Father, if it be your will let this cup pass from me.” Jesus, in his humanness, knew pain and humiliation and death was right around the corner and in that moment, he prayed for another way. But Jesus began his prayer with the words, “If it be your will….” What was God’s will? It was that Jesus suffer and die on the cross – for us.
Those are hard words to pray when we want a specific outcome and we believe we know its best. “Thy will be done.” We pray it every Sunday, but I wonder whether we really mean it? That kind of prayer means trusting God completely; believing that God sees deeper and farther than we see. Paul says in 1 Cor. 13: “[N]ow we see through a glass, dimly, but then, someday, we will see face to face. Now we know only in part; then we will know fully.” Faith reminds us that our knowledge is limited and God’s is infinite; but someday, when we are in the presence of God, it will all be made clear. Then we will see the results of prayer – when God heard us and said yes, when God heard us and said no, and when God heard us and said not yet. Wesley said that God does nothing except in answer to prayer: so, keep praying and know that there will be times God says “yes” and other times when you won’t understand the answer until that day when you see face to face.
Finally, when it comes to pray, the Bible tells us there is strength in numbers. Spouses – do you pray together? Parents and grandparents – do you pray with your children and grandchildren? Do they even know you pray? Do you have a prayer partner or prayer partners in the church? When we join together in prayer, we don’t just bang on the gates of heaven, we storm them.
I want to end today with a couple practical thoughts on prayer. First, there’s a simple prayer that is attributed to the Apostle Paul which is known as his unceasing prayer. It goes like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Repeat it. What is it saying?
Second, look at what is happening in our community and our church. We need to pray. So, I invite you to gather in the chapel on Sunday mornings at 10:10 am for prayer. I will try and be there, but whether I am or not, form a circle and pray for our church, for the worship service, and that the message be heard in the hearts and minds of all present. Pray above all that God be honored in all that is said and done.
Third, look at our world and our nation. We need a spiritual revival. I don’t know whether any of you have heard about the New Room Network, but it is sponsored by the Wesleyan organization, Seedbed. The New Room Network is a group that has covenanted to walk together in love and seeks to unite all Wesleyans around the world. They have created the Watch for Awakening, an ongoing 24-7 Prayer movement. The movement is based on these words from the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 62:6-7: “I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” This is their watch word. In the spirit of Isaiah 62 they are posting watchers on the walls of this world who will never be silent day or night. Their website says: “We will give ourselves no rest, and give the Lord no rest, till he brings a great awakening and establishes his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We will watch and pray. We will listen and speak. Word and Spirit. Heart and home. Church and city. Until heaven breaks in on earth with great awakening.” They covenant to watch, to pray, and to wait for Christ’s coming – and in the meantime to work to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The website has a prayer guide and you can commit to praying solo, you can join an existing Zoom prayer group with others from anywhere in the world, or we can form our own prayer group in covenant with other groups.
My friends, we need to pray.