Dr. Richard L. Strauss
November 24, 1974
In our last message we learned a little about the conditions of Spirit-filled praying. We learned about some principles to guide us--some things we need to be thinking about when we make requests of God. Now that we know the conditions that we must meet in order to get answers to our prayers, we need to know what to pray. We need to know the content of Spirit-filled praying. What elements should be included in an adequate and well-balanced prayer life? What are some of the things we know we can request from God? What are things that are in the Bible that we can pray for and expect answers to?
Spirit-filled, effective prayer includes five parts. Every part doesn't need to be present every time we pray, but if any of these five is missing day after day over the long term, then we'd have to conclude that our prayer lives are somewhat deficient by this Biblical standard. I think we should learn these five elements. I've read books on prayer that have four, but the last one has two parts and maybe we should handle it that way because it's pretty easy to remember. I've seen it in an acrostic with the word ACTS:
But "supplication" is broken into two parts: intercession and petition, the first being prayers for the needs of others and the other being prayers for our own needs. So I'd like to put the five of them there and I'd like to put them in their proper order because I think the first one needs to be--in logical order of importance--confession.
I don't have a neat little acrostic, but here are the five elements that need to be in our prayer lives:
So even without the acrostic, maybe you can memorize them because they're important. Or make up your own meaning for that new acrostic: CATIP.
The first element that must be included in your prayer life for it to be effective is confession. If you'll remember from the last message, the number one thing for Spirit-filled praying was having your heart prepared. Well, this is how to get it prepared if it isn't already prepared when you get ready to pray. Sin hinders our relationship with God. There's no question about it. The Word of God makes that very clear, specifically in 1 John 1. We can't say we have a good relationship with God if we're walking in darkness.
There is no point in talking to God or trying to commune with Him until we get that cloud of guilt out of the way and the door is open again for free access into His presence. So confession must be the first part of our prayer if there is unconfessed sin in our lives when we begin to pray. That's important, so let me repeat it:
Confession must be a part of every prayer if there is known sin in our lives that we have not acknowledged to God when we begin to pray--and it must be the first part.
I'd like to read you a prayer of confession. As we go through these we're going to see that there are prayers in the Bible to illustrate each element of prayer. An entire prayer may be a prayer of confession, or of adoration, and so on. Or there may be two or more elements, or all of them. In Daniel 9, we see an outstanding prayer of confession.
"Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. And I prayed to the Lord my God, and made confession, and said, 'O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments. Neither have we heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings and our princes, to our fathers and all the people of the land'" (Daniel 7:3-6).
Now there's more to that prayer, but at least the first three verses (4, 5, and 6) reveal to us true confession. And it is, in this prayer, first--because Daniel understood the overwhelming sin of his people and Daniel acknowledges it and confesses it to the Lord.
If confession is acknowledging our sin, adoration is acknowledging God's greatness and His glory. It is confessing His worthiness. His majesty. His sovereignty. His power. And again it is enjoined upon us in the Scripture. We are commanded to adore and glorify and magnify the Lord. We read it all the way back in the Pentateuch:
"For I proclaim the name of the Lord: Ascribe greatness to our God. He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He" (Deuteronomy 32:3-4).
Now, God is great whether we ascribe greatness to Him or not. Adoration is acknowledging God for who He is.
The Psalmist, likewise, commands us to adore the Lord.
"I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together" (Psalm 34:1-3).
There is an invitation to adoration, you see.
"Give to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth" (Psalm 96:8-9).
There it is again. Give to the Lord the glory due His name. This is essentially worship. Adoration is worship. Worship is not confined to a Sunday morning service. As the Psalmist said, we're to do it at all times. It must be part of our daily prayer lives. God made us to adore and magnify Him.
We can't work up genuine adoration by wishful thinking. It just springs spontaneously from the heart that is occupied with the Lord, and with His glory and greatness. So God wants us to meditate on Him, to think about Him as He's revealed in His Word, to contemplate His holiness and His majesty and His grace, until we're so filled with awe and reverence that our hearts that our hearts just spring forth in spontaneous adoration and we give to Him the glory due His name.
We just say, "God, You're wonderful. You deserve all praise. You are all powerful and all knowing."
Now, God knows His own attributes but God is such a great God He deserves to be told that we know them as well. He wants us to tell Him that we understand how great He really is. That's adoration.
Here's a prayer of adoration:
"Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You. You show lovingkindness to thousands, and repay the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them--the Great, the Mighty God, whose name is the Lord of hosts. You are great in counsel and mighty in work, for Your eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, to give everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings" (Jeremiah 32:17-19).
Thanksgiving is acknowledging God's supply and provision and expressing gratitude for it. This also is commanded of us in the Bible. It must be a part of our overall prayer experience. It won't necessarily be a part of every prayer but it should be a part of our prayer life.
"Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name" (Psalm 100:4).
"[Give] thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:20).
"In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
There are also Bible verses about giving thanks that we don't look at very often, so let's look at them.
"And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful" (Colossians 3:15).
"Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving" (Colossians 4:2).
You see, God commands us to have a thankful spirit.
"Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name" (Hebrews 13:15).
We are not normally and naturally thankful. Most of us have to remind our children to say "thank you" after something kind is done for them. Thankfulness is a habit we need to develop; our prayer lives are deficient without it.
So let's discipline ourselves. Let's make ourselves thank God every day for things. Begin with the obvious, temporal blessings of life, such as life itself, our health or our jobs. There are some without jobs, you know. We should be thankful for food to eat and clothing to wear. We can thank God for the strength to deal with the tasks of life. Thank Him for our loved ones. We have many, many temporal blessings. Thank God for them.
Then move on to the spiritual blessings we have in Christ. If you can't think of any, read through the books of Philippians or Ephesians to remind yourself of the blessings we have in Jesus.
Keep practicing thanksgiving for temporal blessings and spiritual blessings until you can even thank God for the problems, and the trials, and the heartaches of life.
There is a fourth element to include in our prayers: intercession. Intercession is approaching God about the needs of others. It is coming to God on behalf of other people. Just as the Lord Jesus makes intercession for us, according to Hebrews 7:25, we are to do so for others. The central Bible passage about intercession is in 1 Timothy.
"Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men" (1 Timothy 2:1).
Of course, that's not just those of the male gender, but mankind. Everyone. Requests for others should occupy much more of our prayer time than requests for ourselves. Now Paul certainly isn't enjoining the "God bless everybody" kind of prayer here. I think he's instructing us to begin a systematic program of prevailing prayer for the specific needs of as many specific people as we can pray for in the time we have available for intercessory prayer. In other words, we need to write the needs of other people on our prayer list, and we need to remember them regularly before the throne of grace.
Praying for others is a solemn obligation as well as a blessed privilege. If we would enter into this intercessory ministry, I'm firmly convinced that we could change our world for God's glory.
Pray for Unbelievers
First of all, we can pray for the salvation of souls. Keep reading in 1 Timothy 2. Paul says to pray for all men, and that God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).
God wants people to be saved. So we ought to be praying for people to get saved--our loved ones, our friends, our government leaders, and people we rub shoulders with at work and at other places. Pray for the people with whom our missionaries are laboring. Pray for the Jews. Do you ever pray for the salvation of Jewish people? Paul did. He said, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved" (Romans 10:1). We ought to follow Paul's example and pray for the salvation of Jews. God took the gospel to the Jews first (cf. Romans 1:16) and also to the Gentiles. Pray for the salvation of souls.
Pray for Ministers and Teachers of God's Word
Something else to pray in your prayer of intercession is for the people who are ministering God's Word. I thank God for the people I know who are praying for me every Lord's Day as I get up to minister the Word of God. Many of you, I know, pray for me every week. And not only do you pray for me here in this congregation, but there are people in other parts of the country--even in other parts of the world--who remember the ministry from this pulpit Sunday after Sunday. How I thank God for them. I would be afraid to stand here before you and teach through the Bible if I did not know that there are people praying for me and holding up this ministry of the Word of God week after week. And I'm convinced that whatever blessing God pours out on the ministry of His Word in this place is an answer to the intercessory prayers of God's people.
And let me tell you that I am in need of a few more intercessors right now because we just lost one of the best. Mrs. Pelkam was one who prayed regularly for the ministry of the Word of God in this place day after day and week after week. God blessed and honored her prayers, and now we could sure use a couple more people to stand in the gap. It would take a few, I'm sure, to replace her in an intercessory ministry.
A good verse about intercession is in Ephesians 6. Paul has just exhorted us to pray in verse 18, and in verse 19 he says
"...and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel" (Ephesians 6:19).
Here's another Bible verse about praying for others who are ministering and teaching the Word of God:
"Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you" (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
Pray for pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and other leaders in the church of Jesus Christ. Pray that God will empower the Word as they proclaim it.
Pray for Christians with Needs
Pray also for the needs of other Christians. This is one of the first Bible verses we teach our children in the beginner department of Sunday School, James 5:16, "...pray for one another." It's a very simple command but a very important one. The specific matter in that verse is for physical healing but the same principle applies to any need.
Families in our church have problems. Some are out of work. Some have sicknesses--extended illnesses. Some are facing imminent death. Some have lost their loved ones. We ought to be aware of these things and bring them to the throne of grace. That's why our Wednesday night prayer meeting is so important. This is when we have time to share the needs of members of our congregation and bring them before the Lord.
I think when we pray more for people, we'll criticize them less and we'll learn to love them all the more. That's what makes a powerful church body. Pray for the needs of other Christians.
Pray for Christians Living in Sin
Pray also for those living in sin. I'm not going to take a lot of time to explain this next verse because it's a very difficult verse, but John says in 1 John 5:16, "If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that."
Sometimes God takes believers out of this world as the ultimate discipline for continuing to live in sin. We don't always know what is a sin leading to death and what isn't. So the safest thing would be to pray for those who are living in sin. Pray that God would bring them back into fellowship with Himself. Even that God would discipline them if that's what's necessary to show them the light and bring them back into fellowship where they can grow and come to know Him in a more precious and blessed way. Pray for believers living in sin.
Pray for Those Who Persecute You
Jesus adds another one to this list for intercession. It's probably a very hard one, too. Pray for those who wrong you.
"But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).
Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. That's not easy to do, is it? But that's intercessory prayer.
Jesus prayed that type of prayer. As He hung on Calvary's cross He prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34).
Even as Stephen's life ebbed away from him as he was being stoned, he cried out and prayed, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin" (Acts 7:60).
Pray for those who wrong us. Job did that. And my, how God blessed him. When Job prayed for those friends who had wrongfully accused him, God gave him twice as much of this world's goods as he had before.
"And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before" (Job 42:10).
So, you see, we have many examples of intercessory prayer--prayer for others. Prayer for the salvation of men's souls, for those ministering God's Word, for the needs of other Christians, for believers living in sin, and for those who wrong us.
So far we have these elements of prayer: confession, adoration, thanksgiving, and intercession. The fifth element of prayer is petition: praying for our own needs. It is last in order of importance. But it is a valid and blessed part of prayer.
God has promised to do some wonderful things for us and give some wonderful things to us if we ask for them, and we have a right to do so. Petition for our own needs is a valid and acceptable part of a well-balanced prayer life. In Psalm 84 we read:
"No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:11b).
He wants to give some good things to us.
"He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32).
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17a).
God wants to pour out some good things upon us and do some wonderful things for us. We have a right to ask Him for those things. But...we need to be extremely careful that our requests conform to the Biblical conditions. Don't forget that. Don't fall into the pitfall of asking for things you can spend on your own pleasures.
"You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:3).
That has ensnared so many Christians in their prayer lives. We need to be careful about that but we have a right to pray about our own needs.
So what things can we pray for? You can pray about everything.
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6).
Pray about everything. You can even pray about what to fix for dinner or which suit you should buy. You say, "Oh, that's ridiculous. God's not interested in silly little things like that." Well my Bible says that He is. It says He's interested in everything. And you can talk to Him about every need in your life. We all have needs: emotional, spiritual, and material.
What about things about which you're not really sure are in God's will? How do you know if something really is a need?
Well, let's say that your car is just about on its last legs. You've thought about it and have come up with more reasons than not that say you should buy a new one rather than spend money to fix the one you have. Yet, you're not really sure it's God's will. And you don't have the money. And you're convinced that you ought not to go into debt for depreciable items, which is a good principle to follow if you're going to keep your finances in order.
Do you have the right to pray that God will send you the money to buy a new car? Do you have that right? It says in Philippians 4:6 that you can pray about everything, doesn't it? You have a right to make your requests known to God, including your desire for a new car if that desire is for God's glory. You know your own heart. If you just want that new car so you can drive around town and get the glory and the praise, then no, you shouldn't ask for it. If you're not sure of your motives, then ask God to reveal your heart and expose it to you.
If you pray for something like a new car, then you need to do it in the spirit in which Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Lord, not My will, but Yours be done" (Luke 22:42). Don't just tack those words onto the end. Really mean it. Say, "God, if this is what You want, then please provide it in your own manner." And God can do it. He's provided needs like this for many, many people in miraculous ways. So why not just ask Him for it if it be His will?
So that's the content of Spirit-filled praying. I'd also like to talk about a few matters that we could sum up under the heading of "The Characteristics of Spirit-Filled Praying."
The first matter is the form of prayer. To whom do we pray?
The Biblical precedent is to pray to God the Father, in the name of God the Son and with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. When we fellowship with God we commune with all three Persons of the Godhead, so I would not say that this is a hard and fast rule.
I've been called into question at times for addressing a prayer to the Lord Jesus, particularly at invitation time at the end of many of our services. When sharing with unbelievers how they ought to pray I may say, "Lord Jesus, I know I'm a sinner." There is at least one Biblical precedent for praying to the Lord Jesus. It's the prayer that the first martyr of the Christian church prayed; Stephen said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Luke 7:59).
That's one instance, but the common Biblical precedent is that we pray to the Father in the name of the Son with the assistance of the Spirit.
"Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Romans 8:26).
The "communion of the Holy Spirit" which is found in the benediction of 2 Corinthians 13 may even suggest prayer to the Holy Spirit. I wouldn't be dogmatic about that but I certainly wouldn't be critical of anyone who on occasion addressed the Spirit of God in prayer.
But I repeat, the normal form of prayer--which Jesus taught us when He said in Matthew 6, He said when you pray, say "Our Father;" and which He showed us by example in His priestly prayer of John 17, He prayed, "Father"--the normal form of prayer is to the Father in the name of the Son with the help of the Holy Spirit.
The second characteristic of Spirit-filled praying I want to address is the posture of prayer. The Bible records men praying in almost every conceivable position. They are standing, kneeling, lying down; they have their arms raised, or have them down. From what I can determine from reading the Bible is that the two most frequent postures while praying are standing and kneeling. And I would say that there is certainly something going for kneeling for prayer.
When we have quiet time for prayer it would be good to get down on our knees because it is an indication that we are acknowledging the sovereignty of God and that we are submitting ourselves in humble adoration before Him. There is nothing that says we have to kneel when we pray. But it would be good to get on our knees once in a while when we pray, and bow down in humility before our great God.
When should we pray? Any time is acceptable to God. In fact, the Bible tells us to pray all the time (cf. Ephesians 6:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Luke 18:1).
Now, obviously we can't be praying every minute of every day, but to "pray all the time" means several things. It means we're to come to God with all of our problems. We're to enter His presence with regularity all through the day. And we're to be on praying ground all the time, in fellowship with the Lord and aware of His presence with us throughout the day. Praying always.
But the Bible also suggests that we should have specific times for prayer. I think this is especially necessary if you're going to have a ministry of intercession. If you're going to pray for the needs of other people, there's probably going to need to be a time when you get your list out and spread it before God.
I think there is a lot of sense about what the Psalmist said about the morning.
"My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up" (Psalm 5:3).
The morning is a good time to pray. As you roll out of the sack and start your day, commit it to God. "Thank You for this new day, Father. Help me be available to You for however you want to use me this day."
David had other regular times for prayer, as well. Evidently, he had some stated times when he set some time aside to be with the Lord.
"Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice" (Psalm 55:17).
The time for prayer? I think two words sum it up: spontaneous and scheduled.
Where should we pray? Anywhere is acceptable to God. In that verse on prayer that we've looked at a couple of times already, 1 Timothy 2, we're exhorted to pray everywhere.
"I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting" (1 Timothy 2:8).
You can pray anywhere. I don't care where you are, God is available at that moment. Pray anywhere.
But the Scriptures, likewise, encourages us to find a solitary place.
Jesus said, "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father" (Matthew 6:6a).
Get alone with God in a place where you can shut out distractions. Again I would say that a systematic intercessory ministry almost demands this.
We are also to pray with other believers. Please don't forget that one. The Lord Jesus gave us a very precious promise about corporate prayer:
"Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:19-20).
Because we're gathered in Jesus' name, He's with us here. He's always with us, really. But He seems to be saying that He'll make His presence felt in a very special way when we gather together in His name. Why not make our Wednesday night prayer service part of your week and lend your heart and your voice corporately?
There is a great illustration of corporate prayer in Acts 12. Remember when Peter was in prison and the church prayed for him? The church was gathered together and they laid hold of God on Peter's behalf. The angel of the Lord appeared and Peter was led miraculously out of that prison.
What happens when we pray in accordance with what God has directed in His Word? Obviously, He answers. When you pray in this way, you get what you ask for.
You've heard it said that sometimes God answers "yes," sometimes "no," and sometimes "wait." Actually, if all the conditions are met, God only answers "yes." He says if you'll do this, He'll answer. The answer will be "yes." God says, "If you pray according to My will in My name for My glory and all those other things, I'll answer." We've talked about all those things. So if all the conditions are met, God is only going to answer "yes."
The Word of God contains some fantastic prayers of people who prayed with all the conditions met, and God did some wonderful things. When Moses prayed, water came out of a rock; poisonous water was made pure. When Elijah prayed, God closed the heavens for 3-1/2 years and when he prayed again God opened the heavens. When Peter prayed, a Godly woman named Dorcas was raised from the dead. When the church prayed, Peter was delivered from prison. There are many Biblical illustrations.
But what about that one area--is it in God's will or isn't it? You may be praying about an issue and you just don't know whether it's God's will because the Bible is not specific about your particular issue. Yet you pray in faith and you pray for God's glory, and you pray with persistency and urgency, and you pray in Jesus' name, and maybe you even pray with other believers about it. How does God answer then?
Now we're down to our three-fold answer: Sometimes God answers "yes;" if it's in His will He does say "yes." Other times He answers "no," if it is not His will. Or, if it is God's will but not at that particular time, He answers "wait."
And there is even a fourth way in which God may answer. That is, God may give us the desire of our hearts without actually granting that specific thing for which we asked.
He knows what's on our hearts. He knows what is the burden of our souls. And so He gives us what our hearts desire but yet He doesn't answer the exact request we had. We might have thought there was only one way to do something but God does it in a completely different way. Let me give you a Biblical illustration of that.
"And Abraham said to God, 'Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!'" (Genesis 17:18).
You what he's praying? Abraham is praying, "God, I want Ishmael to be the heir through whom Your promises will be fulfilled."
God knew what Abraham desired. Abraham desired an heir through whom God's promised would be fulfilled. God gave him the desire of his heart, but did not grant the petition that he asked.
"Then God said: 'No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him" (Genesis 17:19).
Paul had an answer like that, too. Paul had what he described as a thorn in his flesh, and Paul prayed three times that God would take that thorn away (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:8). His specific request was, "God, I can't live with this any longer. Please remove it." His desire was that he be able to serve the Lord freely and with power, and he felt that his suffering was holding him back. The desire of his heart was effective service for Christ, but the petition was, "God, take this thorn away." God did give him the desire of his heart, but not the petition of his lips. God gave him grace to be able to bear it and he went on ministering with effectiveness, even though the thorn was not removed--whatever physical disability it was.
Watch for answers to your prayers like this. God may grant your desire because it meets all the conditions of Spirit-filled praying, but may not grant the specific petition because that is not part of His plan and will for your life. Be open to any answer, whether it was what you asked for or whether it wasn't. God may answer, "yes," "no," "wait;" or He may give you the desire of your heart but not the petition of your lips.
God is going to answer pray. He invites us, saying, "Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know" (Jeremiah 33:3).
Do you want to see God do a great thing in your own life, in your family, in your church, in your nation, in your world? Then learn to lay hold of God in prayer.
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