As most of you know, the title of our current sermon series is “When God’s People Pray”. The emphasis of these sermons has not been on how to pray, but rather upon what takes place when we do. “When God’s People Pray” what happens?
As it pertains to God, our prayers bring great delight the Father. He longs to hear our petitions and takes great pleasure in answering them. They employ the divine authority of the Son, Jesus Christ, who serves as our intercessor “standing in the gap” through whom we have access to the throne of God. They also activate the power of the Holy Spirit, the Person of God through whom His answers are manifested.
As it pertains to us personally, our prayers serve to strengthen our faith. They help us to face the challenges of life more victoriously. Our prayers of confession free us from the guilt of sin allowing our relationship with God to be more vibrant and transparent. The exercise of prayer works to make us more spiritually healthy and strong. The practice of prayer gradually conforms us into the image of Christ.
As it pertains to our circumstances, to those of others, to our nation, and to the world, prayer changes things. As we engage in prayer, God acts within the confines of His will and in accordance to our petitions to alter the affairs of men. Lives are spared, destinies are forever changed, perplexing problems are solved, formidable enemies are overcome - history is changed for the glory of God!
As you can clearly see, and as we have discussed at length for several weeks now, prayer is a dynamic and exciting process. So again I ask… what happens “When God’s People Pray”? Good things, beloved. Really good things. Which begs the question… why is it that we as Christians spend so little time in prayer?
I. WE ARE TOO BUSY (MORE IMPORTANT THINGS) - Daniel 6:10; Psalm 55:17
One of the reasons I hear most often given as an excuse for not spending more time in prayer is that we are too busy. Between our job responsibilities, our obligations at home and to our families, our commitments to serve at church, a good night’s rest, a little “me” time, and everything else we crowd into our busy schedules, precious little time is left to spend alone with God in intimate, personal prayer. I certainly don’t deny that most people are extremely busy, but this is most often by their own choosing.
The truth is that most of us spend our time doing things that we feel are important. If we perceive a benefit, we will gladly spend hours upon hours engaged in a certain activity. We prioritize our time based upon our own self-interests or those of the people that we love, usually placing greater emphasis on things we consider to be most valuable.
When viewed in light of this truth, the excuse that “we are too busy” is a benign way of saying that we esteem other things to be more important than prayer. After all, if we really thought that prayer would contribute significantly to our lives, we would make time for it - even at the expense of other, lesser things.
According to Jewish tradition, men are to pray 3 times a day - morning, noon, and evening. These are scheduled times set aside specifically for prayer. Though not expressly commanded in Scripture, this practice was instituted based upon the Biblical examples of men such as David and Daniel. While I am not advocating that we reduce prayer to a rigid daily ritual, and am suggesting that by scheduling our prayer time we make it a priority on our agenda. If we don’t intentionally set aside sufficient time for prayer each day, we will likely never getting around to actually doing it.
“It is better to let the work go by default than to let the praying go by neglect. Whatever affects the intensity of our praying affects the value of our work. 'Too busy to pray' is not only the keynote to backsliding, but it mars even the work done. Nothing is well done without prayer for the simple reason that it leaves God out of the account. It is so easy to be seduced by the good to neglect of the best, until both the good and the best perish. How easy to neglect prayer or abbreviate our praying simply by the plea that we have church work on our hands. Satan has effectively disarmed us when he can keep us too busy doing things to stop and pray." - E.M. Bounds, The Weapon of Prayer
II. WE DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY (DON’T KNOW HOW) - Philippians 4:4-7
As a former school teacher, I know first-hand the uncertainties of being able to speak to my students for extended periods of time. As your pastor, I experience weekly the challenge of having something meaningful to present to you all that will fill a half-hour. In both of these examples, I have come to realize that adequate preparation is a must. When I attempt to “wing it”, I often find myself with very little to say. Experience has taught me that there is always plenty to say, so long as I plan in advance.
Fortunately, as we learned earlier in this series, we should understand that prayer is not limited to speaking to God. Rather, prayer is the entire process of communicating with God. This certainly includes talking to Him, but also emcomposses several other aspects. We can sing to Him. But we can also listen to Him by reading and meditating on His word, or simply setting in silence allowing him to speak to us.
If you begin with a few praise songs, pray for 5-10 minutes over the numerous issues affecting your life and others, spend 5-10 reading a daily Bible passage, and then a few minutes in silent reflection journaling as the LORD speaks, you’ll find that it isn’t hard at all to spend 30 minutes or even more with God. Its actually quite easy...
The fact is, prayer isn’t so much about having anything to say - it is about spending time together with someone you love. Spending quality time with someone is perhaps the greatest indicator that you love them. When surveyed, time and time again children say that the most important thing a parent can do is spend time with them. Likewise, God simply wants us to love Him with our time.
III. WE DON’T REGARD PRAYER AS PRODUCTIVE LABOR - Acts 1:1-6, 2:1-4
Based upon the dates given in the book of Acts, we can conclude that Jesus ascended into heaven about 40 days following His crucifixion. We can further deduce that Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost which is recognized 50 days after Passover (the day that Jesus was slain). Thus, there was a period of approximately 10 days between the Ascension and Pentecost. What took place during this week and a half was absolutely critical to the foundation of the New Testament church.
Having just charged His followers with the monumental task of reaching the entire world with the gospel, Jesus abruptly told them to wait for the promise of God before seeking to take on this great commission. He knew that the work was too great to be accomplished apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, so the Lord instructed His followers to pray until He moved in their midst. The disciples wisely obeyed, and spent 10 days in intense prayer patiently awaiting the power of God to fall upon them from on high.
When the day arrived, the Spirit moved mightily and 3,000 people received Christ. With just a single invitation, the Christian church was launched. Now here’s the point - the apostles prayed for full 10 days, then worked for maybe 10 minutes, and thousands were saved. Yet today we work tirelessly for 10 full days, only taking time to pray for 10 minutes, and nothing seems to happen. We wear ourselves out working for God, all the while neglecting the imperative of prayer, and accomplish very little. We have it backwards...
I believe that we have failed to recognize the productivity of prayer. We have considered it to be something we do in addition to our work - a sort of spiritual recreational activity. But beloved, I believe that prayer is the work and that we must learn to labor in prayer for significant amounts of time daily in order to evoke the movement of God. Here is the humbling fact - our LORD can do more in a moment than we can do in a lifetime. We must wait upon Him in prayer and allow Him to labor through us, rather than going at it on our own and seeking His blessings.
Let me wrap up. First, you are not too busy to pray. Make prayer a priority and schedule it into your daily agenda. Second, you do have plenty to say to God (and He has plenty to say to you). Organize your prayer time with an updated prayer list, a daily Bible reading plan or devotional, and a journal. Thirdly, remember that prayer produces results. Allow prayer to become the primary method of your spiritual work for God. You will not be disappointed.
“While many private prayers, in the nature of things, must be short; while public prayers, as a rule, ought to be short and condensed; while there is ample room for and value put on ejaculatory [brief, oral] prayer yet in our private communions with God time is a feature essential to its value. Much time spent with God is the secret of all successful praying. Prayer which is felt as a mighty force is the mediate or immediate product of much time spent with God. Our short prayers owe their point and efficiency to the long ones that have preceded them. The short prevailing prayer cannot be prayed by one who has not prevailed with God in a mightier struggle of long continuance." - E.M. Bounds, The Power of Prayer