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THE EFFECTS OF PRAYER ON THE BELIEVER'S LIFE
WHY DO WE PRAY?
Prayer is an unnatural activity. It has been said that we raise our children from birth to be independent, autonomous. We teach them to walk on their own, we teach them to go to school, we teach them to eat, and everything that we do, we try to help them become independent. Prayer flies in the face of this autonomous lifestyle.
In fact, one individual said that
Prayer is alien to our proud human nature and yet somewhere, someplace, probably all of us, reach the point of falling to our knees, bowing our heads, and fixing our attention on God and praying. We may look both ways to be sure no one is watching, we might even blush, but in spite, in spite of the foreignness of the activity, we pray.
Why? Why do we pray? I want to talk about three different effects that prayer has on a believer.
WHAT DO SERVANTS OF GOD SAY ABOUT PRAYER?
Martin Luther says this about prayer: "It is the business of tailors to make clothes and cobblers to mend shoes. So it is the business of Christians to pray."
Donald Whitney, the author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, wrote, "God also expects us to pray as a general expects to hear from his soldiers in the battlefield." We are engaged in spiritual warfare and God expects us to pray.
Another author describes prayer as a 'walkie-talkie' for warfare not a domestic intercom for increasing our conveniences. Don't we use God that way? We take out a coin and stick it in the vending machine of prayer, pop the button and hope we get the request granted.
Richard Foster is the author of Celebration of Discipline, and in this book he wrote: "To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us."
CHRIST ON PRAYER
Christ had much to say about prayer. Matthew 6:5 says: "And when you pray." Matthew 6:6: "And when you pray." Matthew 6:7: "And when you pray." Matthew 6:9: "This then is how you should pray." In Luke 11:9, Jesus tells His disciples to "Ask, seek, and knock." Christ expects us to pray.
When He addressed the disciples in John 14:27, just before His suffering started, Jesus informed His disciples that despite the turbulence around them He was going to give them peace of heart. "I am going to Jerusalem and when I am there, I am going to be tried, beaten, crucified, and die. I will be buried. Then three days later I will raise from the dead and will ascend to the Father." Then He tells them in verse 27: "I am leaving you with a gift-peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn't like the peace the world gives. So don't be troubled or afraid." Christ was talking about the kind of peace that guards hearts and minds from worry and distress, not the absence of conflict or an abundance of serenity and comfort. The first effect of prayer on a believer's life is peace.
OTHERS ON PRAYER
King David talked about that through the Psalms. The theme of one of the most well-known Psalms is peace amidst difficult times-Psalm 23. "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul." And in verse 4 he says, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." As a believer, when we pray, we can get peace. Peace in the face of different storms.
Paul also had much to say about prayer. In Colossians 4:2, he says, "devote yourselves to prayer." First Thessalonians 5-"pray continuously."
Philippians 4:6-7 is a significant passage on prayer. There are four words I want to concentrate on to increase our understanding. "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
THE WORDS THAT WE USE TO DESCRIBE PRAYER
Paul says, in effect, "Do not be anxious about things, but do this instead. In everything, by prayer, [circle the word prayer] and petition [circle the word petition], with thanksgiving [circle the word thanksgiving], present your request to God [circle the word request]; and the peace of God will rule your hearts." Those four words are significant for you and me if we want to have peace in the face of difficult times. This word prayer points to a believer's devotion to God. Paul is telling us that we need to be devoted to God for prayer to be effective. It puts God in a position of importance.
The word petition describes a believer's personal details. We need to be specific when we pray. The word thanksgiving describes the believer's appreciation for past mercies. When you and I pray, when you and I are faced with difficult times, we need to pray, we need to do that with petition, personally, reflecting on God's deliverance in the past. And as we see His faithfulness, this final word, the request, describes this believer's trust for future mercies. So, as you and I reflect on the past, thanking God for who He is, what He's done, being personally devoted to Him, we will then have peace in the face of difficult times. When the storms of life are ripping across our paths we will stand firm like a building with a strong foundation.
THE NATURE AROUND US TELLS US ALL ABOUT PRAYER
Some of you have been watching some of the television shows on the history channel and nature channel. I am always amazed to see those huge oil ships in the North Atlantic tossed back and forth like little boats when they encounter fierce storms and winds. In contrast, massive icebergs can be hit by the same winds and storms but show little effect. The storms hit and buffet them but they just float along, largely undisturbed. Why the difference? Both are large objects, but one is tossed around like a child's toy and the other barely seems to register any effects at all.
The key is knowing not what is above the surface of the water but what lies beneath, where we cannot easily see. Most of the iceberg is under the water. The ice under the surface balances out the ice that is above the surface as the iceberg is buffeted by the powerful winds and turbulent seas. When the storms of life buffet against us, when things are being tossed back and forth, you and I can have peace in the face of these difficult times.
In Matthew 8 Jesus shows us what He is talking about. Jesus is in the back of the boat sleeping and a severe storm erupts. The disciples were terrified. The disciples were so scared they went and shook Jesus. "Jesus, Jesus, get up, get up. Don't you care we're going to die?" Jesus woke up and did two things.
First, He rebuked the storm and then the disciples. He says, "You of little faith." You and I, when we are in Christ, can have peace in the face of trials and tribulations, not because we have confidence in our ability to handle any situation but because we have confidence that Jesus can handle it for us. There is a difference. The first is a false security that is born of human pride; the second arises out of humility as we learn to trust God in our daily lives.
THE STORMS THAT WE EXPERIENCE IN OUR LIFE
Some of you are experiencing storms that I have never experienced. Some of you are being beaten up, pushed down, pushed around. The storms of life are raging against you and you need peace. As a believer, you and I can have peace that transcends all understanding in the face of these adversities, in the face of these trials, in the face of these temptations. We can have peace when we pray because the One Who can have His way in a whirlwind has promised to guide our lives if we trust Him.
POWER IN PRAYER
The second thing that I want us to take the time to look at is that there is power in prayer. Someone has said that when we work, we work, but when we pray, God works. Again, the second effect of prayer is power. Turn to Ephesians 1:17-20. Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus. "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father…" Paul says, "I keep asking." He is continually praying. "I keep praying. I keep praying to God." "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know Him better."
Paul was praying that God would reveal Himself to us as believers. Basically he is saying, "I want you to know God, He is worth knowing." And he continues in verse 18, "I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know," and he goes on and he lists three things. "I want your eyes opened that you may know…." This word know is a factual word. Factual knowledge. Much like a general taking stock in his equipment and in his soldiers. And he's taking stock. He knows what is at his disposal and Paul says, "My prayer is that your eyes would be opened, that you would truly be able to see what you have." And he lists three things. The first thing he lists is in verse 18. That you may know the hope God has given those who trust in Him .
The second is also in verse 18. The riches of His glorious inheritance. The third is in verse 19. Verse 19 says, "And his incomparably great power for those who believe." As believers, when you and I pray we have power. In fact, Paul goes on to describe, using three different points of reference in Christ's life, the power that is available to you and me. "The power is like the working of His mighty strength which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at the right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion and every title that you can be given not only in this present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be the head over everything for the church." Paul says, "Listen, my prayer is that you as a believer would understand what you have at your disposal." Then he describes it for us. This power that we have is the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead. It is the same power that caused Him to sit at the right hand of the Father. You and I, as believers, have access, when we pray, to power. Not only peace through the circumstances, but power to stand strong and bring godly change under those circumstances.
BILL HYBELS ON PRAYERLESS PEOPLE
Bill Hybels, who is the pastor of the largest church in America, says this about prayerless people. "Prayerless people cut themselves off from God's prevailing power and the frequent result is the familiar feeling of being overwhelmed, rundown, beaten down, pushed around, and defeated." Does that sound familiar?
Bill Hybels goes on, "Surprising numbers of people are willing to settle for their lives like that. Don't be one of them. Nobody has to live that way." Speaking from experience he concludes: "Prayer is the key to unlocking God's prevailing power in your life." E.M. Bounds writes this, "The church is looking for better methods. God is looking for better men. What the church needs today is not more and better machinery, a new organization or more enabled methods, but men, men whom the Holy Ghost can use. Men of prayer. Men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men. Men of prayer."
As a believer, when you and I pray, we have access to power, power that will help us stand the test of the storms. Power that will help us stand against the temptations that you and I face. Prayer that will bring godly change to the lives of those around us.
THE NATURE OF POWR THROUGH PRAYER
Let us be honest. You and I are fallen, sinful people and when we are tested, tried, and tempted we often fail. We need this power. It may look like several different things. It might look like wisdom. The power that you and I get may be wisdom to give the proper answer when we are faced with something. It might look like courage. You and I might receive the power of courage when we are faced with temptation, to stand strong.
This power can look like a changed attitude, a changed attitude toward a colleague that we despise. It could be a changed attitude toward a spouse. It could be a changed attitude towards our children. You and I need power to behave godly in difficult circumstances. Being strong in this context does not mean beating down the competition so that we can be on top, the top dog. Being strong in a spiritual sense means living like Jesus despite the pressure that comes against us to do otherwise.
There is an Old Testament passage of Scripture that I think teaches this principle. Turn to Exodus 17. Starting in verse 8. The Amalekites attacked the Israelites. Moses said to Joshua,
Choose some of our men and go out and fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands before the Lord.
So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered him and Moses, Aaron and Hur, went to the top of the hill and as long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning. But whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses' hands grew tired, he took a stone and he put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up, one on one side and one on the other so that his hands would remain steady 'til sunset. So, Joshua overcame the Amalekites, the Amalekite army with a sword.
Go down to verse 16, and he said,
for hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord. The Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.
WHEN YOU AND I PRAY, WE HAVE VICTORY
When we pray, we invoke God into the war, into the battle. We are talking about spiritual warfare, aren't we? We are talking about an unnatural activity of prayer. When we pray, we invoke God into our lives and into the situation. The third effect of prayer is victory.
When you get tired of lifting your hands to the Lord, when you are being slammed from one side to the other, when you are being faced with trials and temptations, you need to find somebody who will lift their hands, who will help you lift hands to pray for the circumstance that you are finding yourself in. When you are tired, you need to find someone that can help you stay accountable.
Look again at verse 16.
The Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.
When we pray, we are involving God. We are inviting Him and the results will last from generation to generation. There is nothing more powerful than prayer in a believer's life. We are so blinded to that. Satan wants to crush us and turn your and my Christian life into a wreck that has little or no testimony value for God. But if he cannot crush us the next best thing for him is to render us powerless. The thing that terrifies him the most is when a believer falls on their knees and prays from a heart devoted to God.
Nothing can thwart God's efforts. Nothing will defeat Him. He is supreme. Some of you need to have the peace of God. Some of you are facing difficult times, times that I do not even understand. There are people who have lost fathers and mothers, friends and relatives through death. The storms of life are ripping them apart. Some of you need to be freed from the temptations of pornography. Some of you need to be freed from alcoholism and drunkenness. There is power in prayer and God will be involved when we pray.
Emily Griffin is an author and columnist who has a good insight into prayer. She wrote:
There is a moment between intending to pray and actually praying. It is as dark and silent as any moment in our lives. It is the split second between thinking about praying and actually praying. For some of us, this split second between thinking and actually praying lasts decades. It seems then that the greatest obstacle to prayer is a simple matter of beginning to pray. How easy it is and yet between us and the possibilities of prayer there seems to be this great gulf, an abyss of our own making, that separates us from God.
Satan encourages the maintenance of that abyss. God wants to abolish it. In your life, who is winning?
If you want peace, power, and victory, Pray! If you want to see God work in and through you, Pray! If you want your life to have eternal meaning, Pray! Brothers and sisters, Pray!
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