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Interviewing "Prayer" - Three for One
2 Who's and a What
We have come a long way now in our interview of prayer. This is week 6 now and there is only 2 or 3 weeks left before we are done. So far we have looked at the questions "What is Prayer?," "Why does prayer matter?," "Where should we pray?", "When should we pray?", and "Who are we Praying to?"
In the first four questions, we looked mainly at prayer from our own point of view and how it relates to God. We saw that our attitude about prayer matters and that even Jesus Christ found it important to take time out of the day to spend alone with God the Father.
Last week, we change the direction a bit. We looked at who it is we are really praying to, after all if we are going to set aside time for God, we should know about who He is. We looked at four aspects of who God is. We saw Him as the Creator. He created everything there is in 6 days. Genesis never really tells us why God created the world, especially knowing the trouble we were going to get into. Next we saw God as the destroyer. The world He had created had become so bad that He flooded the entire earth, killing every air breathing thing, except for Noah's family and the animals on the Ark. God knew when he created the world He would do this someday, yet He still created the world. Next we looked at God the disciplinarian, who when some of the tribes of people He chose to be His people rebelled against Moses, caused them to be swallowed up by the earth. Here again, because we know that God is omniscient, He knew at the time of creation that He was going to this.
We asked the question, why did God, knowing He was going to have to do these "terrible" things, why would He even create the world. He has been around forever and has the angels and His Son and Spirit for company, so why? We looked at Ephesians 1:4 (NIV) for the answer, "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love". God actually chose us, in love before He created us! He loved us before we even existed! How amazing that He could do this. None of us loved our spouses or children before they were a part of our lives, yet that is what God did. That is love that we will never understand, yet that is God's love for us. He loved us so much He had to create a place for us to live so we could have the chance to love Him back.
Three for the Price of One
Today, as we near the end, I can only think we have missed so much in this study of prayer. I have read each of the over 300 verses every week where prayer is mentioned I in the Bible, I find little gems everywhere. It is a shame to let them go by. So today, we will be talking about not one, not two, but three smaller questions. Two of them are "Who" questions and one is a "What."
Who Should Pray?
We are going to start out with the simplest of the three. It is a really easy question that we all know the answer to, but it is important anyway. Who should pray? We read in 1 Timothy 2:8 (NIV) Paul writing "I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing." Men (and women and children) everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer. Is that pretty clear to everyone? Anyone not understand what that means? Good, but I wanted to point out some places in the Bible that help illustrate this.
Do our Circumstances Matter
The real question here is can we do something that makes us unworthy to pray? Thoughts? Let's look at the story of Jacob from Genesis. Lets look at this verse specifically.
Genesis 32:11 NIV Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children.
Now, who can tell me where Jacob is right now? He has been living with his Father-in-law, Laban. Anyone know why? Well back in Genesis chapter 27, Jacob had lied to his father and convinced him that he was Esau, his older brother, and had taken the first born's blessing. In those days, the majority of the inheritance went to the first born. In lying to his father, Jacob now had this inheritance. And how do you think Esau reacted?
Genesis 27:41 NIV Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, "The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob."
So Jacob had fled from his family because Esau was going to kill him, now he was returning. He had done wrong and he was praying for God to protect him from the consequences of his own sin. Nobody here has ever done that have you? God will hear your prayers even if you have done wrong. He may not protect you from the results of your sin, but He will hear you. In this case, Jacob was welcomed with open arms by Esau. That to me is a miracle.
Do Consequences Matter
Is there ever a time that we should not pray because of what will happen to us? Is the cost to pray ever too high? Let's look at Daniel for this one.
Daniel 6:10 NIV Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.
Here, the king has ordered that no prayers to anyone other than himself were allowed for the next 30 days. Daniel, an advisor to the king, was not in on this decision, but he was aware the order had been issued. The punishment for disobeying the order was to be thrown into the lions den. So what do we see Daniel doing? Does he go hide in his closet? No, he continues to pray three times a day just as he always did. What would you do? If praying would cost you your life, would you still pray? Here, except for a miracle Daniel was going to be eaten by lions for praying. Could you have done the same?
Do do the consequences of praying give us an excuse to not pray? A resounding no.
Does Position Matter
Lastly on this question is do you ever get to the point where you don't need to pray? Have you ever "arrived" and your "position" in God make you so close to Him you don't need to pray? I think this one is obvious, yet sometimes we like to ignore the obvious. We only need to look at one man to see the answer.
Hebrews 5:7 NIV During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
Jesus prayed. We talked about this before. As far as any religious hierarchy we could create, Jesus would be at the top of that list. We can't say he was closer to God because He was and is God! Yet, even He, while in human form, found it necessary to pray. I think that is the end of that argument. Jesus prayed, we should to, no matter how far we have come in our walk with God. We should pray.
Who Should we pray For?
We already know we need to pray for everyone, but I wanted to just point out a few places the Bible give us more specifics on who to pray for, and a twist at the end.
How about when selecting a new pastor for a church. How many people think we need to pray about that? Do you think we need and deserve God's best man for this position? So did the Apostles. Judas has hung himself after betraying Christ and the the other 11 were looking to replace him.
Acts 1:23-26 NIV So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. (24) Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen (25) to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs." (26) Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
OK, so that was a way in those days they used to see God's will and I won't tell you that if we brought dice and cast them to see if a man was God's man that God could not use dice, but that's not how we normally do things today. But note, they did pray first for God's will. We need to pray for God's will next week. I want to know who is the right guy, don't you? Only one person can tell me, that's God.
Do you know there are people out there that want to know God? Okay, they may not know they want to know God, but there are a lot of people looking for answers. Spiritual answers. the answers are here, but do we pray for them? There is someone in the Bible that I want to look at that was like this also.
Acts 9:10-15 NIV In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!" "Yes, Lord," he answered. (11) The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. (12) In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight." (13) "Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. (14) And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name." (15) But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.
Paul was once a seeker. He was seeking the truth and God, even when he was persecuting the Christians, he was seeking God. Incorrectly, but he was doing what he thought was right before God. Here he has been blinded by a vision of Jesus, and Ananias is tasked with the glorious task of presenting Paul with the truth and being his teacher of Jesus! He was excited right? Well, no, he was afraid. Saul was a murder and was there to arrest Christians, but Ananias was obedient and went to Saul, and prayed for him.
A pastor I know has mentioned before how we need to have a heart for the lost. He shared his heart with us and I heard the compassion in his voice for the lost. Do you have that same compassion?
Those we should not pray for
Now for the twist. Is there ever a time we should not pray for someone? What if God tells us not to?
Jeremiah 7:16 NIV "So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you.
Jeremiah 11:14 NIV "Do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.
Jeremiah 14:11 NIV Then the LORD said to me, "Do not pray for the well-being of this people.
Three times God tells Jeremiah to not pray for the people. God had declared it was too late for them and that judgment was coming, so don't bother praying. God could have been saying, that was the last straw. Can we use these examples to decide that someone is so far gone that we should not pray for them? No.
First of all, this was an entire group of people God was saying not to pray for. We see that in these verses.
Jeremiah 23:3 NIV "I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number.
Jeremiah 31:7-8 NIV This is what the LORD says: "Sing with joy for Jacob; shout for the foremost of the nations. Make your praises heard, and say, 'O LORD, save your people, the remnant of Israel.' (8) See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor; a great throng will return.
God knew there was a remnant of people that would still serve him. This was a command to not pray for the people as a whole, not individuals. We can never decide not to pray for someone even our enemies.
Matthew 5:44 NIV But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
No, we are even told to love and pray for our enemies? Do you have any enemies? Are you praying for them?
Conditions of Prayer
Finally, we get to the end. The last question for the day is "What if any are conditions of prayer?" In other words, are there any conditions we need to meet if we want our prays to be answered. What do you think? Well, let's look at the Bible for answers.
Mark 11:24-25 NIV Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (25) And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."
James 1:6-8 NIV But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (7) That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; (8) he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
Do we need to believe that God can do what we ask. We need to not doubt. Anyone ever prayed just for show? I mean you prayed to support the person but never really believed the prayer would be answered? I doubted I would see any hands, but I will admit I have. I'm human. I have doubts and fears. I have done that before, and guess what, I was double minded. I don't think I am all that different from anyone else, but maybe I am. You need to pray for me then.
Proverbs 28:9 NIV If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable.
Ah yes, the wisdom of proverbs. You know that when you are not obedient to God, He has no obligation to listen to you? When your kids are not obeying, don't we sometimes send them to their room? Why? Well, some of it is a punishment, but let's be honest, we don't want to listen to them right then, so we send them away. Ever been sent to your room by God? Ever feel like your prays can't make it through the ceiling only to realize later it was a problem with you not God?
John 14:15 NIV If you love me, you will obey what I command.
That's pretty plain. If we love Him, we will obey. If we don't obey....
Mark 11:25 NIV And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
Here we hear Jesus telling us that if are not forgiving someone, we need to forgive them. The consequences of not doing that is God cannot forgive your sins, which sounds really bad to me.
Matthew 5:23-24 NIV Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, (24) leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Here we see if we are presenting a gift at the alter and we have offended someone else, we need to go try to be reconciled if we can before we offer the gift. Now, we don't give gift today like they used to in the Old Testament, but we already saw that our prayers are like incense before God's throne. That sounds like the closest thing to a gift that we give (and tithes don't count, they are not a gift).
Lastly, my favorite. Let me talk to just the wives for a minute. Ladies, you know the verse in the Bible where it says you are to submit to your husbands?
Ephesians 5:22-24 NIV Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. (23) For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. (24) Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Has that ever gotten under your skin. Well, you'll want to pay attention to this next part.
You husbands out there. This is for you.
1 Peter 3:7 NIV Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
Did you hear that? Treat your wives right so that nothing will hinder your prayer life. Wives, next time he needs it, you know where to look. Ok, all fun aside, when you combine all these verses as a whole what do we get? We need to treat others correctly, whether that is our wives, our husbands, our children, friends, strangers or enemies. There is no one hear that is left out. It all points to the last point for today.
We have talked about this one before and here it is again. I'm reminded of the story of a pastor, that preached the same sermon four Sundays in a row. When asked why by the people, he said when they get this one God will let him move on. I think we need to get this, and I'm not looking to put it in every week, it just keeps coming up in my study.
Let's look at Matthew for our example.
Matthew 6:5-8 NIV "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (6) But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (7) And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (8) Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
We have already talked about verses 5 and 6, how Jesus was telling us don't just pray for show, to be seen by men. Pray with an understanding that this is time alone with God. So let's look at verses 6 and 7. Here we are told to not babble on like pagans. Are we being told here to only ask for something once and never again? Well, no. Jesus taught in other places that we are to ask and keep asking.
I was not sure what was meant by babble. To me it is like just making a bunch of noise. Praying just to hear you own word. So since I was not sure if that was the meaning, I looked up the original word for its meaning. Guess what it said. To Prate. What in the world does that mean? So to the dictionary I went. It said "to talk long and idly" or "to chatter". That gave me a picture of two ladies in the beauty shop under the hair dryers just talking like there's no tomorrow. What do you take out of this? What do you think this means then? I think it means when we pray, have a focus to your prayers. It is not like sitting in the back yard with a glass of lemonade in summer talking to you neighbor over the fence about the latest neighborhood happenings. I'm not saying to keep it short, but have a focus. Don't engage the mouth without engaging the mind also.
If you read on in Matthew you find the Lord's Prayer next. This is where we are going for the last weeks of the lesson when we ask the question, "How do we pray?"