We are in the middle of a sermon series on prayer called “When God’s People Pray”. Pastor Jim Cymbala has been teaching us various truths about prayer as we’ve watched his instructional videos. So far, we have discovered God’s great desire for us to bring everything to Him in prayer. We have seen how the Holy Spirit helps us when we pray, and even leads us to pray rightly. We have discussed the importance of listening to Him, and even learned about some obstacles to effective prayer such as unforgiveness and unconfessed sin.
Today we will shift our attention to when we pray. I’m not talking about the exact time of the day that we do it, or even how frequently we do it. Rather, what I mean is when are we praying about things in relation to when they actually take place. Are we praying before things happen or after they’ve happened...
Most often we tend to pray in reaction to something that has already happened. Someone we love becomes ill, so we pray for their healing. Someone we know passes away, so we pray that their family will be comforted. Someone dear to us loses their job, so we pray that they will quickly find another and that their needs will be met in the meantime. Praying in response to some event that has already occurred is both common and extremely important.
But this morning we are going to consider a different type of prayer one that takes place before the prayed-about event occurs. We call this Preparatory Prayer, because its purpose is to prepare us for things which have not yet taken place. Sometimes we pray in advance of something that we are aware is about to happen, and other times we are called by the Holy Spirit to pray in anticipation of something that only God knows is about to happen.
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Throughout His ministry, we find that Jesus often prayed Preparatory Prayers. Before His baptism, before His temptation in the wilderness, before His choosing of the 12 apostles, before performing many of His greatest miracles, before His transfiguration - in all of these cases, and many more, Jesus prayed in advance for a readiness to face each situation in a manner consistent with God’s perfect will. Perhaps the greatest example we find of Preparatory Prayer in the life of Christ is His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His arrest.
I. JESUS PREPARES FOR THE SUFFERING (Luke 22:41-44)
As God, Jesus was fully aware of all that the future held. He knew in advance what atrocities He would face - the ridicule, the beatings, the scourging, and even the cross. Knowing this, Jesus prepared to endure this suffering through fervent and agonizing prayer. Our Lord’s labor of prayer enabled Him to face and be victorious over the great challenges that He encountered.
In a sense, prayer to the Christian is like practice to an athlete. An athlete will spend untold hours in the gym, on the court, or in the field preparing for some event or contest. They practice so that when the moment arrives, they will be ready to perform at their very best. Their level of their practice is often the determining factor when it comes to their ultimate success or failure. Likewise, we must learn to spend ample time before God on our knees in prayer, so that when the challenges of life come we are ready to meet them.
II. PETER NEGLECTS TO PREPARE FOR TEMPTATION (Luke 22:39-40; 45-46)
Before Jesus left His disciples to go pray alone, He urged them to pray also. Just as He knew what was about to happen to Him, the Lord also knew what was about to happen to them. Specifically, Jesus knew that Peter was going to face incredible pressure to deny Christ. With this in mind, He urged him and the others to pray that they’d not succumb to temptation.
Unlike Jesus, the apostle Peter did not know what was about to take place. Although Jesus has spelled it out to them pretty plainly, the disciples didn’t fully realize or understand the magnitude of what was going to happen. There in the Garden that night, as led by the Lord himself, Peter was provided with an opportunity to pray a Preparatory Prayer.
Only hours later Peter was going to face a great struggle - the temptation to deny Christ not just once but three times. Yet here in this moment, Jesus appealed to Peter to pray that he might be prepared when the moment of temptation arrived. And what did Peter do? He slept. In so doing, he neglected the Lord’s call to Preparatory Prayer.
Now let’s not be too hard on Peter… he was not the only one who fell asleep that night. The other apostles did too. And can I be honest? There have been many nights when I have sensed the Lord calling me to prayer, but I chose to sleep rather than to pray. What about you?
III. THE RESULTS OF PREPARATORY PRAYER (Hebrews 2:14-15, Matthew 26:74-75)
Strengthened by His Preparatory Prayer in the Garden, Jesus proceeded to endure all of the suffering that befell Him. Not only was He able to withstand it, but was also able to be victorious over it. Jesus never violated the will or commands of God, even in the face of such cruelty and hatred. The significance of His prayer as it relates to His ability to succeed cannot be overstated.
Having neglected the calling of Jesus to prayer, Peter was ill-equipped to face the temptation that came upon him. When asked if he knew Christ, Peter denied Him three times. The apostle failed the test, in part because he chose to disregard Jesus’ urgings to spend time in Preparatory Prayer.
Let’s take a moment to review. Both Jesus and Peter, along with the remaining disciples, were about to endure incredible hardship. Jesus, being the Son of God, foreknew what was about to take place, while Peter didn’t (though he’d been warned). Both went to the Garden on the night before the crucifixion, and both were to spend extended time in prayer to prepare for what was coming. Jesus did exactly that, but Peter chose to reject the calling of Christ to Preparatory Prayer. When the moment of testing came Jesus was able to overcome the challenges and be victorious, while Peter stumbled and fell.
Have you ever sensed the LORD stirring you to pray? Perhaps you have become restless or uneasy, and felt the Holy Spirit nudging you to call out to God. All too often in these moments I try to shake off the feeling, or to fill it with something else that will calm me down. Yet, perhaps God is trying to help us get prepared for something unknown that is about to happen. In these times, we need to listen to Him and practice Preparatory Prayer.
Have you ever forgotten to charge your cell phone? I certainly have, on many occasions. So what happens? Invariably, in the exact moment when I need it most the phone doesn’t work because the battery is dead. Has this ever happened to you? Thus, because I failed to prepare adequately by charging my phone the night before, when I need to make the call I am unable to do so. Do you understand the analogy that I am trying to make here?
In the end, the battle is ultimately lost not so much in the heat of the moment, but rather in the season of preparation or the lack thereof that occurs beforehand. Peter’s true failure was neglecting to pray, which then led to his cowardly denials of the Christ. Because he chose not to spend time in Preparatory Prayer, he was ill-equipped to face the temptation successfully. Could it be that you and I often struggle and fall because we too neglect God’s calling to Preparatory Prayer?