Dr. Richard L. Strauss
November 24, 1974
Samuel Chadwick, a great old war horse of the gospel, wrote these words: "Satan dreads nothing but prayer. Activities are multiplied that meditation may be ousted in many churches, and organizations are increased that prayer may have no chance. The one concern of the devil is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray."
Prayer is one of the keys to successful Christian living and to powerful Christian service. Prayer is really nothing more than communion with God. God desires fellowship with His children. We learned in John chapter 4 [mp3] in our series on the Life of Christ that God is seeking worshippers--those who will come into His presence and fellowship with Him in spirit and in truth. He has ordained that prayer would be one of the basic means by which He would administer grace and peace and power to the hearts and lives of His children. Prayer would be one of the basic means by which He would change men and nations. God is looking for our prayers.
For this reason He extends to us some precious prayer promises in the Bible, God's Word. Those of you who have been studying the Word for a number of years can probably recite many great prayer promises, like Jeremiah 33:3--"Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know." Or that blessed invitation of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 7:7--"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you."
God says, "Come into My presence and pray. I've got some good things for you if you'll just come and ask for them." Jesus taught us that we don't have good things because we haven't asked for them. "Come and ask," He says.
Almost every true child of God--in spite of the commands to pray and the blessed invitations to pray and the promises of answered prayer--almost every child of God I have ever met will admit to the need of a more effective prayer life. We all know that we should pray more. We know that our failure to pray is sin. (I trust we know that. There is a passage in the Scripture that says that. It was the old prophet Samuel that said to Saul in 1 Samuel 12:23a, "Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you." Maybe you weren't aware of that verse. It shows us that prayerlessness is sin.) We know that God wants us to pray, and to not pray is to disobey Him, yet a satisfying and successful prayer life is something that many Christians have never experienced. It's still beyond their grasp, vague and mysterious.
Like the Apostle Paul, most of us would have to confess, "We know not what we should pray for as we ought" (Romans 8:26b). With the disciples we cry out, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1b).
Now if we would enjoy all the benefits that God has for us in prayer, then it stands to reason that we must pray as God intends us to pray. There are some instructions in the Word of God as to how to pray. The answers we receive may depend upon whether we follow God's instructions for prayer. Maybe we could call this two-part message on prayer "How to Get Answers to Prayer," because that's essentially what we're talking about.
If there's one verse that sums up God's desire for our prayer lives, it's probably Ephesians 6:18a. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit." That's where I got the title I did use for this message, "Spirit-Filled Praying."
"Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit." Just as we were commanded in Galatians 5:16 to walk in the Spirit, so we are in Ephesians 6:18 commanded to pray in the Spirit. I would imagine the same ideas are involved in both exhortations. Walking in the Spirit meant living with the consciousness of the Spirit's presence in our life and our dependence on His power.
Our praying is going to be in the same vein. We're going to acknowledge that He's with us all the time and wants our communion and fellowship. We're going to trust Him to help us pray as we ought and depend upon Him to make our prayer life more effective. If we are to be filled with the Spirit as commanded in Ephesians 5:18, then His control is to extend to every facet of our lives--even our prayer lives. What we need to know, then, is what is involved in Spirit-filled praying.
If we are to pray in the Spirit in obedience to the Word, how are we going to pray? I'd like to share four aspects of Spirit-filled praying. The first one is the conditions of Spirit-filled praying. That's all we will talk about this morning. Then in the message this evening we're going to talk about the content of Spirit-filled praying, the characteristics of Spirit-filled praying (like where, when, how, in what position), and finally the consequences or the results of Spirit-filled praying.
We must begin with the conditions of Spirit-filled praying. These are the principles to help us pray as we ought. "Lord, teach us to pray." Let's open our Bibles and let the Lord teach us to pray. If we put these simple, Biblical principles into action, we're going to begin to enjoy a pleasant and a powerful prayer life.
The first condition of Spirit-filled praying is that we ought to pray with our hearts prepared. It's a basic principle of Scripture that sin hinders effective praying. Let me show you a couple verses to substantiate what I'm saying.
"If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear" (Psalm 66:18). Willful, known sin hinders effective praying.
"Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear . But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (Isaiah 59:1-2). Sin hinders effective praying.
That's one reason we have to have our sin problem dealt with at the cross before we can approach God and know that He's listening and is willing to accept our prayers. We've got to be born again. We've got to be saved from sin if we want to pray effectively. I've had people tell me that they've prayed to God and God God has answered their prayer, and yet they make no pretense of knowing Jesus as their personal Savior. You ask, "Is that possible?" Well, I say certainly it's possible. God is omnipresent--He is everywhere. And God is omniscient--He knows everything. He knows what you're saying even if you don't have your sins forgiven by faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. And sometimes God even does what we ask Him to do because He knows that's the best thing for us and is possibly the thing that will even bring us to faith in Jesus Christ. So I'm not saying that's not possible.
I'm saying God does not commune with hearts where sin abides. He cannot, because the guilt of our sin produces that cloud that separates us from open entrance into His presence. We just can't pray openly and effectively with sin in our lives. We've got to be born again, and then we've got to be living in victory over sin.
There are many illustrations of this in the Bible. We could turn to passages if we had time this morning to show how the sin of pride hinders our prayers, or the sin of a lack of compassion for people in need. Let me turn you to one prime illustration from the New Testament in 1 Peter 3. I turn to this for several reasons. One, to show you that this is not just an Old Testament doctrine taken from Psalm 66 and Isaiah 59. The New Testament teaches the very same thing.
Here is a sin that hinders prayer that most people don't think about. That's my second reason for calling your attention to it.
"Husbands, likewise, dwell with them [your wives] with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered" (1 Peter 3:7).
Now here is a sin that hinders prayer. What's the sin? It's the sin of husbands being so insensitive to their wife's needs so that the wife is probably becoming embittered towards him. That hinders our prayer lives. You see, maybe the reason we're not getting answers to prayer is that there is something amiss in our home lives. There isn't that precious, close, wonderful fellowship and communion of spirit between husband and wife, where a husband loves his wife as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25) and a wife is not in subjection to her husband's will as the church is to be in subjection to Christ's will (Ephesians 5:22-23). And they're not treating each other with mutual esteem as heirs together of the grace of life.
If we're going to pray in the Spirit, then we're going to have to pray with our hearts prepared. We've got to deal with the sin. We've got to get the victory over it. It's the "effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man" that avails much (James 5:16).
Fellowship with God is to be maintained through obedience to God. Abiding in Him is a condition for answered prayer.
"If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you" (John 15:7).
Abide in Him. That's a condition for prayer. Let Him take control of your life and give you victory over sin. Then God is going to give you answers to prayer.
"You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, andthat your fruit should remain"--that means that Jesus Christ is to take control of our lives and live His life through us so that He can produce His fruit in our lives. Now notice the rest of the verse.
"You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, andthat your fruit should remain that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you" (John 15:16).
You see, letting the Spirit of God control our lives and produce His fruit is a condition for answered prayer. His fruit. The fruit of love and joy and peace. The fruit of long-suffering and gentleness and faithfulness, and meekness, and self control, and all those other things in the Word of God that make us radiant and vibrant.
A prepared heart is principle number one for approaching God's presence.
A second principle is that we should pray with a desire for God's glory. Everything we do as believers is to be done for the glory of God.
"Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).
That principle is applied to prayer by the Lord Jesus in John 14. "And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:13).
Why does God answer our prayers? Reason number one is to glorify Himself. He has to exist for His own glory or He isn't God. He is the most glorious Being in existence. He lives to demonstrate His own glory and power and grace--His own attributes. That's the first reason He answers our prayer: to glorify Himself.
Much prayer goes unanswered because we don't heed this principle. James tells us this as well.
"You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:3).
James says we're asking for things that we plan to spend freely for our own pleasures. Is it right to ask for things that we plan to spend on our own pleasure? No. Not according to James 4:3. Maybe we're asking for the wrong things, you see. Every request we make of God should be motivated by a desire to please God, not self.
There are some illustrations of prayers in the Bible that God never answered.
There was a prayer made to the Lord Jesus that He couldn't answer because it was made for the wrong reason. James and John and their mother came to Jesus one day (Mark 10:35-45). They wanted to sit on His right hand and on His left hand in the kingdom of God when it came to earth. Jesus said, "I can't give you that." It was a prayer motivated by pride. They wanted to have those positions of glory. They wanted everybody to see them. They wanted the prestige. It was selfishly motivated and the Lord Jesus couldn't answer it.
This should also be applied to public prayer. Public prayer is not for show or self-glory, or to impress people with our knowledge of Bible doctrine or anything else. Public prayer is simply to lead others into the presence of God and to pray for things that would be of common interest in our hearts, and to represent one another before God's presence. It not ought to be for personal preeminence like the scribes and the Pharisees who prayed on the street corners so everybody could see them. It was just for show. Jesus said they have their reward; their reward was the praise of men and they couldn't expect any more for it (Matthew 6:5).
c. Pray according to the Will of God
A third principle for Spirit-filled praying that leads to answered prayer is to pray according to the will of God.
"Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him" (1 John 5:14-15).
You ask how are you to know the will of God? We talked about that last week. You likely remember that the primary means of knowing the will of God is through the Bible, the Word of God. That is the only known factor in finding God's will. You want to know what to pray for? Saturate your soul with the Word of God. Then you'll learn to think God's thoughts after Him and you'll know what to ask for. If God has promised you something in the Bible, you have a right to claim it in prayer.
But no request should ever be made that is contrary to the principles revealed in the Bible. He can't answer a prayer that's contradictory to His Word. His Word is truth, He said. It's timeless, changeless, inerrant, infallible truth. So, pray in accord with the Word and God will answer.
James and John had a lot to learn about prayer. They are the prime illustration of a prayer prayed outside the will of God, too. Remember that Jesus had been in one village and they had treated Him badly. James and John got all upset and they said, "Lord, shall we call down fire from heaven?" And Jesus said, "You poor fellows don't know what you're saying. I didn't come to destroy men's lives but to save them" (cf. Luke 9:54-55). Their requests would have been outside the will of God as revealed by the Lord Himself. You see, God cannot answer a prayer that is outside of His will--and we look to His Word to find out what His will is.
"If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you" (John 15:7).
You want answers to prayer? Fill your heart and mind and soul with God's Word. Study the Bible. Memorize Bible verses.
Are you not getting an answer to prayer? Maybe you're not praying with a prepared heart, or with a desire for God's glory, or with His will in mind.
There's also a fourth principle to keep in mind if you want your prayers answered: Pray in Jesus' name.
I find this principle in a number of passages. In fact, it's repeated three times in the gospel of John. If you want to memorize a verse for this principle, here's a good one:
"And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:13).
It's also found in John 15 and 16.
"...That whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you" (John 15:16b).
"Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:23b-24).
What does it mean to pray in Jesus' name? Well, first let me tell you what it doesn't mean. It does not mean that tacking the phrase "in Jesus' name" on the end of a prayer is a magic formula that guarantees answers. It doesn't mean that. I'm not saying that it's wrong to say that at the end of a prayer; in fact, I usually do, because I want my prayers to be in the name of the Lord Jesus. But it's more than just a phrase tacked on at the end.
What it does mean is praying with Jesus' authority--on the basis of His merit as the sinless Son of God. It means praying prayer that are consistent with all He is and all He has done. That's what a name implies in the Scripture; it implies what a person is. The name of Jesus implies His authority and His worth.
So if we're going to pray on the basis of Christ's standing and on His resources, it's obvious that we're going to ask for things that He agrees with. Right? You're not going to come into the presence of God on the basis of Jesus' authority and ask for something that Jesus wouldn't want you to have. Praying in His name not only means praying on the basis of His authority but also praying for things that Jesus agrees with
Let me give you a very human illustration: If you borrowed somebody's credit card and he agreed to let you use that card to buy something, I don't think you'd by something that he would not be in agreement with, would you? I hope not! Let me make it more specific. If you borrowed my credit card--the credit card belonging to the pastor of your church--would you take my credit card down to the local liquor store and buy a fifth (or whatever you buy at the liquor store) and put that alcohol on my credit card? I hope you wouldn't!! Because I don't think you should drink that stuff. I think it's going to harm you and make you do dumb things that probably wouldn't honor the Lord Jesus. I take a stand against that, and I don't think you'd take my credit card and my name and use it to buy something that I stand against.
So, you see, when we come into the presence of God and ask Him for something, we should be asking for something that Jesus agrees with because we're coming with Jesus' name--with His credit card--on the basis of His authority and His resources. We're to pray in Jesus' name. The whole spirit of the prayer should be based on His name. That's how to get answers to prayer.
e. Pray from the Heart
A fifth principle for effective, Spirit-filled prayer is that we should pray from the heart, with sincere and meaningful language. Jesus gave some great instruction on this in the Sermon on the Mount, including what's called The Lord's Prayer.
"And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words" (Matthew 6:7).
Don't just repeat words over and over again that have no meaning to you. Think when you pray. THINK when you pray. God deserves more than just repetitious phrases that we heard someone else use, droned in a pious monotone. Prayer is intelligent conversation with God. So talk to God as with a friend, intelligently, about all the issues of your life. Some people talk about things with everyone but God. Talk to Him as you would a friend. Don't just repeat the words you've heard other people pray. And don't repeat phrases over and over, like "Heavenly Father...Heavenly Father" or "Father God...Father God." We don't talk to each other like that, do we? When we talk to our spouses, for example, we don't use their names in every third sentence.
Just talk to Him in plain language. He's right there. He loves you. He's your friend. So converse with Him in that manner. I think sometimes such formal and flowery praying reveals a relationship is not very personal. Don't talk to God that way. Use your own personality and vocabulary. Don't try to copy someone else--even if you respect that person and his prayers seem to have great power. God isn't impressed with eloquence. Just pray from the heart.
Cultivate the habit of talking to God all through the day--when you're driving your car, or walking your dog, or pushing the vacuum. I think that's what Paul meant when he said "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
We must pray from the heart with sincere and meaningful language, as in a conversation with God throughout the day.
f. Pray about Definite and Specific Matters
Sixth--it's a long message this morning. There are actually eight points, so bear with me. Sixth, pray about definite and specific matters.
"Therefore I say to you"--Jesus is speaking here--"whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them" (Mark 11:24).
Now there is no verse that says this clearly, but it's implied here, I think. "Whatever things you ask for." That sounds rather specific, doesn't it? Sometimes we don't get answers to prayers because we haven't really asked for anything specific. We just pray in generalities, like "God bless all the missionaries." Do you really want God to bless all the missionaries, even those who aren't teaching the truth of God's Word? And just what do you mean by "bless"? What exactly do you want God to do for all the missionaries who are teaching the truth of God's Word? "Bless" is a rather broad request. Pray about specific matters.
I think the best way to do that is to write our requests. Making a list helps us pray for our specific requests and for the specific needs of other people. Write the date of the request, and then when God answers, write that date down, too, and note how He answered. Thank Him for the answer. That will put new power and joy into your prayer life.
Writing your prayer requests down will not only help you remember what to pray for, but it will help you to concentrate on prayer. It will help you keep your mind from wandering; it will help you keep from dozing off, which, otherwise, can sometimes happen when we pray. This will make an exciting difference in our prayer lives overnight. You'll begin to really enjoy praying and those times you spend in prayer will take on new meaning.
g. Pray until God Answers
Seventh, we ought to pray with urgency and persistency until God answers. I think there are a number of Bible passage that teach this, although there are some Bible-believing Christians who disagree with me on this. But I see it so clearly in the Word and I don't see how you can deny it.
You remember the parable that Jesus told about the guy who knocked on his neighbor's door at midnight and asked for some bread. The guy knocked for so long that the neighbor finally got out of bed and gave him some bread. Then Jesus says:
"I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many [loaves of bread] as he needs. So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Luke 11:8-9).
You see, a principle of prayer is importunity--persistence.
Over in Luke 18 we get a similar story. This one is about a woman who is looking for justice and the judge won't listen to her, but she keeps coming back to the judge and finally the judge gives in and settles her case for her. That parable is introduced in this way:
"Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1).
Importunity. Urgency and persistency. Don't give up. Pray always with all prayer and supplication (Ephesians 6:18). Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Come with boldness (Hebrews 4:16). The effective, fervent prayer...(James 5:16)--that's energetic. Fervent means "energetic." And here's another one:
"Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God" (Romans 15:30). That word strive means to agonize together in prayer.
Now that's praying with urgency and persistency.
I'm not saying that being persistent changes God's mind. I don't think that was the intent of those parables in Luke 11 and Luke 18. We aren't going to wear God down and get Him to change His mind by bothering Him. No, no, no. But...God has determined in His sovereign will that we are to pray with the spirit of urgency and persistency in order for Him to answer. He wants to see that in our hearts.
That doesn't take away from believing that He's going to answer, and thanking Him ahead of time for the answer. If you have the assurance that God is going to answer because it's in His will and in His name, then thank God for the answer even before that answer comes. But don't stop talking to Him about it.
So if what you're praying for is for God's glory and is in His will as revealed in His Word, you keep on praying for it until you get the answer. The Bible teaches praying with urgency and persistency.
h. Pray Believing that God Will Answer
Finally, the last principle for Spirit-filled praying is to pray believing that God will answer. Pray in faith. We saw that just a moment ago in Mark 11:24--"Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receivethem, and you will have them."
"So Jesus answered and said to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, "Be removed and be cast into the sea," it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive'" (Matthew 21:21-22).
What marvelous promises. Faith. I think that is the essential ingredient most often left out of our prayers.
Faith in prayer is simply expecting God to act like God, that's all. It's expecting Him to do what He says He's going to do.
When Elijah prayed for rain, he sent his servant out to look for the clouds. He believed that God was going to answer even though it hadn't rained for 3-1/2 years (1 Kings 18). Sometimes I think we put a noose around our prayer requestss when we fail to pray confidently and expect that God will answer.
Maybe because He doesn't always answer as quickly as we think He should, we get discouraged and we stop asking. Don't waiver. Don't doubt. Keep on praying. And keep on believing.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Well, these are some conditions for answered prayer. There are many more things to share about Spirit-filled praying, which we'll review the next message. We will cover the content of effective prayers, the characteristics of effective prayer, and the consequences of prayer (the results of Spirit-filled praying).
Let me tell you that this morning we've been praying specifically for two things. First, we've been praying that Christians will grow in their prayer lives. Second, we've been praying very, very fervently that God will bring those who have never trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior to faith in Him. We're told to pray for that in 1 Timothy 2:4. We've been praying that those who have never acknowledged their own sinfulness before God--as we all have to do; and acknowledge that Jesus is God's Son who left heaven's glory to die in our place and pay the very penalty we deserve--death, separation from His Father; and put their trust in Him for salvation.
If you haven't done that, we'd invite you to do it right now. This is the most important decision of your life. It makes all of life worthwhile. It brings peace and joy. It brings the assurance of forgiveness. Jesus says it settles the question of where you will spend eternity. He said He is the way to God, and if you came through Him and trusted Him, you would go to the place that He is even now preparing for us (cf. John 14:16 and John 14:3).
Won't you acknowledge your sin and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior?
Heavenly Father, we come into Your presence again, asking You to work in the lives of those who have yet to make a decision for Christ. They may be good people. They may be religious people. But You said that we in our natural condition are lost. We pray that today the Lord Jesus would continue His work of seeking and saving those who are lost.
And while our heads are bowed and eyes are closed, if you haven't yet trusted Jesus to save you from your lost condition, why not do it right now? He died and rose again to prove who He was and what He did? What He did through His death and resurrection was to pay for your sin and conquer death so that you could have eternal life with Him.
Just pray something like this:
"Jesus, I acknowledge that I'm sinful. I don't deserve your forgiveness but thank You for paying for my sin on the cross and forgiving me. Thank You for your willingness to receive me on the basis of what You did. Come into my life, Lord Jesus, and save me."
He promises to do that if you'll just invite Him.
Oh, God, we pray that You'll bring some to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior from sin. For it's in His name we pray. Amen.
Continue to CA-08B: How to Get Answers to Prayer (Part 2)