Prayer: What Difference Does It Make? (First of a Series)

A summary of Asst. Pastor Travis Jackson’s message of October 16, 2016:

Just as much the Lord invites us to partake in the sacred sacraments—the Lord’s supper.  He says, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).  The blood and the bread is a foretaste of what we will experience in the next life.  And I hope we understand that the Lord’s supper is invitational.  Also keep in mind, Jesus did not allow his body to be broken and his blood to be shed for his own sake, but for ours.  Likewise, prayer is invitational and it is not for God’s sake, it is for ours.  God does not benefit from our prayers, he already knows what we will pray for and he commands us to pray.

So today I invite you to give careful thought about the reason why you pray. As humans, innately, have a need to pray to someone higher than ourselves.  Some people pray to false god’s. Some people pray to Buddha. Some Catholics pray to the virgin Mary.  Muslims pray to Allah. People who do not know the one true God of the Bible will continue pray to idols because praying is spiritual and psychological.

“One cannot be a Christian and not pray[1]  1 Thess. 5:17 says, “Pray without ceasing.”  Eph. 6:18 says “Pray at all times in the Spirit.”  Paul said he prayed day and night to the Lord so that he can visit the Thessalonian church (1 Thess. 3:10).  In Matthew 5:44, Our Lord Jesus said, “Pray for those who persecute you.”

One pastor said, “Prayer is to the Christian what breath is to life, yet no duty of the Christian is so neglected.”[2]  As Christians, we know that we ought to pray but don’t really understand the purpose of prayer.  What do you think the purpose of prayer is?  Some Christians pray to God, believing that God will grant every request of theirs. This type of belief can be found in the health and wealth prosperity gospel. There are several reasons why we pray to God.  One of the main reasons is to communicate our deepest thoughts and emotions to him.  As we communicate our prayers to God, our prayers can manifest into different forms, like, crying out to him, making a complaint to him, and rejoicing in thanksgiving with him.

Again, praying is for our own sake, and the main thrust of praying is to have a relationship with him by communicating to him.  Please raise your hand if you are married or dating someone.  If your spouse or girlfriend or boyfriend stop talking to you for two months, how would you feel?  Would you question your relationship with that person?  Would you feel that your spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend, do not want to have a verbal intimate relationship with you?

This principle applies to our relationship with God.  How often do you communicate to Him?  How much time do you spend with God?  Are you listening to God’s voice when you pray?  If you are not praying to God, do you not think that he is questioning your relationship with him?

For some of us, our prayer life is like baby language because it is difficult to express our thoughts and emotions toward God.  Babies cannot intellectually communicate to adults, although, they can still express their thoughts and feelings in baby speech. We know when babies are happy, sad, upset.  Some people are more experience in praying than others; some people just don’t know how to pray.  For this reason, Jude, the Lord’s brother, commands us to “pray in the Holy Spirit,” according to Jude verse 20.  According to Romans 8:26, Scripture says, it is “the [Holy] Spirit who helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words.”  In other words, it is okay if you do not have the right words to say to the Father, because the Holy Spirit understands what you are trying to express and, the Holy Spirit communicates inexpressible words to God on your behalf.  What matter is that you pray.

As an encouragement, please do not feel as if you have to have everything “spiritually right” before you pray.  That is to say, in order to pray, everything in our lives do not have to be just right before we can approach God in prayer.  All of us come to prayer with mix motives, selfishness, faithlessness, pride, and impurity (Foster. p. 23).  We can approach God just as we are, as long as we approach God with humility.  And he is able and willing to listen and answer our prayers, if it is according to his will.

Now, there are no instructions on how to pray, but there are postures of prayer. today, we will also discover three postures of prayer.  1. Simple prayer. 2. Prayer of Forsaken. And, 3. Prayer of Examine. As a disclaimer, these postures of prayer is coined by an author, Richard Foster.

What is simple prayer?  Simple prayer is approaching God just as we are, and God “accepts our prayers just as they are” (Foster. p.24).  It is being transparent to God by expressing your present feelings.  It is okay to pray to God when you feel disappointed, overwhelmed, discouraged, bitter, anxious, scared, excited, or angry. That is a good example of what simple prayer is.  Simple prayer focus on “our needs, our wants, our concerns” (Foster. p.24).   Simple prayer focuses on us.

Have you ever been upset at God?  For example, have you ever prayed in anger towards God like Jonah?  When Jonah prayed he questioned God’s motives.  Remember Jonah’s story.  Jonah fled from God when he was called to preached to the people of Nineveh. Eventually, God used a large fish to bring Jonah to the city of Nineveh.  After Jonah preached for forty days to the people of Nineveh, they repented. But the Ninevites responds greatly displeased and angered Johan, so Jonah prayed to the Lord.  Please turn to Jonah 4:1-4.  In Jonah 4:1-4 says,

And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore, now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

The Bible depicts us as adopted sons and daughters of God the Father.  Like all children, they approach their parents with mixed feelings we too can approach God with mix feelings.  There is no need for us to try to hide our feelings from God because he already knows our hearts.  One author said, “We should feel perfectly free to complain to God, or argue with God, or yell at God.  As you continue to pray like this your desire to converse and pray to God will increase. The point is this, when you pray to God it is okay to be frustrated, angry, happy, impatient.  It is okay complain to God.  It is okay to tell God that you feel abandon by him. Amen?

But I warn all of us, it is never okay to be disrespectful to God, nor is it okay to curse God.  There is nowhere in the Bible God responded well to those who cursed him.  After Satan struck Job with painful sores all over his body. Job’s wife said to Job, “Curse God and die.”  Now I am sympathetic to Job’s wife because she watched her husband deal with painful health problems and her seven sons and three daughters were murdered.  This help us to understand that she went through a traumatic events causing her to not be in a right state of mind.  She felt abandon from God.

This leads us to our next point: Prayer of Forsaken.  Prayer of forsaken is feeling deserted.  It is feeling abandoned; it is feeling as if you are in need of God because you were left in a hot dry desert to die.  Prayer of forsaken is seeking God’s face, and acknowledging that God will not answer you when you need him to.  God will remain silent, which gives the impression that he is absent from our lives. I remember two occasions I prayed to God and fasted seeking God’s guidance.  Out of those two occasions he only answered me once.  He was silent.

Have you ever felt forsaken?  Have you ever felt deserted, abandon and ditched?  All of us felt this way before.  I felt this way and sometimes I still do. Some of us is still feeling we were abandoned by our ex-husband, ex-wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, sisters, brothers, cousins, mother or father and God. For example, I did not grow with a good male role model this cause me to abandoned.

And, prayer of forsaken is not only feeling that you were deserted by others and God, but it also knowing that God allowed a devastating event to happen in your life.  It could have been a loss of a love one like, a child, a husband, a father or mother, a sister or brother.  It could have been loss of a job, a house; it could have been an emotional and physical abuse.

We know that we serve a good and gracious God.  But sometimes we have to ask, where is God?  Why God is allowing this to happen?  Why innocent people suffer?  Many people in the Bible have asked these questions and this is why they have prayed the prayer of forsaken?  I am sure Joseph questioned God in this manner when he was sold into slavery because his brothers betrayed by him.  Moses, David, Job, Isaiah and many more people questioned and complained to God.

Prayer of forsaken is crying out to God in any moment of disparity.  Jesus exemplified this before he went to the cross and when he was on the cross.  Before he went to the cross he said, “Father, if you are willing remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42).  When he was on the cross he cried to God saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:42).  Jesus did not say those words because he did know that he was going to beaten, humiliated, and to be hung on a cross.  He knew those things would take place.  He said those words because, he is holy, and he knew he had to endure the sins of the world.  The Father and Son is inseparable; however, Jesus felt abandoned by the Father at the moment when endured my sins, your sins and the sins of the world.

Prayer of forsaken is found in many passages, like, Psalms 119:145 which says, “With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord! I will keep your statutes.  I call to you; save me.”  Or like Psalms 88:1-3 O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry! For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to [the grave].”  A better example would be Job.  I believe that Job yell at God when he was distressed, under pressure and felt forsaken by God.  Job believe that God was cause of his of his troubles and that God was nowhere to be found. In Job 30:20-23 he said,

“I cry out to you for help, but you do not answer me; I stand up, and you turn your attention against me.  You have become cruel to me; With the might of your hand you persecute me.  You lift me up to the wind and cause me to ride; and you dissolve me in a storm.  For I know that you will bring me to death.”

When you are feeling this way tell God.  I encourage you to let him know how you feel, Job did.  However, even if you are feeling that you “do not understand what God is doing or even where God,” I also admonish you to believe that God is for always for your good.

Last point: prayer of examine.  Prayer of examine turns our prayer from being outward to inward.  This prayer our consciousness. It also helps us to think introspectively. It is an invitation to God to help us examine our hearts and to see the ugliness of our own sins. Psalms 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” Keep in mind, when we are examining ourselves in prayer, is it for God’s benefit?  No.  It is for ours.

Prayer of examine causes to remember our surroundings in another way.  All of us deal with rudely neighbors, unsanctified coworkers, challenging children.  Instead of complaining about our relationships with other people, we should examine their pain and suffering and their need for the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In other words, when your coworker or son or daughter is upset, being sarcastic towards you don’t look at them as an enemy, look at them how God looks at them.

Prayer of examine was done by David.  After David’s infidelity with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, who was adversely murdered by David.  David conducted a prayer of self-examination.  We find this prayer in Psalms 51.  Turn to Psalms 51, we will read verses 1-12.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.  Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.  Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.  Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Let us put in practice what we just learn by responding corporately.  I invite all of us pray these three postures of prayer.  I will afford us one minute of praying time to pray.  You can remain where you are.  I want us to tell God how we presently feel.  If you are feeling angry, sad, disappointed, happy, content, thankful, tell him.

Let us pray. Dear Jesus, how desperately I need to learn to pray. And yet when I am honest, I know that I often do not even want to pray. But I am so grateful for your invitation to enter your heart of love. As best I can I come in. Thank you for receiving me. —Amen.

[1] Sproul, R. C. (2009). Does Prayer Change Things? (Vol. 3, p. 2). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

[2] Sproul, R. C. (2009). Does Prayer Change Things? (Vol. 3, p. 2). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

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