In Jesus’ Name
A Sermon Series on Prayer
Week One: The Purpose and Power of Prayer
13I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14And this is the confidence that we have before Him: If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we already possess what we have asked of Him. 1 John 5:13-15 (NIV)
Today we are starting a short series on a very significant subject: prayer. I’m calling this series, “In Jesus’ name.” Either in my mind or on my laptop, I have started writing today’s message over a half dozen times. There’s so much to be said on the subject of prayer that I honestly had trouble hearing from God exactly what I was to say.
In the opening lines of Mark Batterson’s landmark book, “Draw the Circle,” he writes: In 1952, a Princeton doctoral student asked Albert Einstein a question: “What original dissertation research is left?” I’m intrigued and inspired by Einstein’s answer: “Find out about prayer.”
According to the Gospel Coalition, there are 650 specific prayers in the Bible and 450 answers to prayers. The Bible records Jesus praying 25 times. The apostle Paul mentions prayer 41 times. Would you agree that prayer must be important if the Bible speaks of it that much?
Surprisingly there are very few instructions on how to pray. Of course, we have Jesus’s response to his disciple’s request for Him to teach them how to pray. We call it “the Lord’s Prayer,” which is really a pattern of prayer and was likely never intended to be a liturgy of prayer. More on that next week when we talk about the pattern of prayer and obstacles to prayer.
Today I want to cover two aspects of prayer: the PURPOSE of prayer and the POWER of prayer. First, let’s establish a working definition of prayer…just as I did in previous messages. Prayer is nothing more than conversations with God. When the created communicates with the Creator, that’s prayer. God is ALWAYS ready to meet with us; it’s US who need to be ready to meet with God!
Barna Research Group conducted a very detailed study in 2017 of 1,015 American respondents to get their opinion on prayer and here are some of their findings:
- To my surprise, most Americans (79%), whether religious or not, reported as having prayed at least once in the previous three months of the survey. The study showed that Americans do not think about approaching prayer in any kind of standardized way—or even pray to the same deity (if they pray to a higher power at all).
- What IS consistent is HOW we pray. 82% pray ALONE and SILENTLY. Only 2% prayed either with a small group or in a church setting. Given the number of prayers in the Bible which take place in a corporate setting, this statistic is somewhat troubling!
- We pray with different motivations, the most common being to offer “gratitude and thanksgiving” (62%). An equally popular prayer incentive is the “needs of their family and community” (61%).
- Less than half (49%) of the respondents pray during a personal crisis or pray to confess personal sin. This, too, is troubling. This relates to the second part of today’s message on the POWER of prayer. It begs the question: If God is who He says He is in Scripture, and can He do what He says he can do, then why do we not pray more fervently and faithfully?
- I also observed that less than a quarter of our population—whether conservative or liberal—regularly pray for our nation, our world, or the injustices of either.
- One final point, it seems that to WHOM we pray is quite varied as well. The vast majority (89%) of respondents pray to “GOD.” And of those who pray to God, nearly the same percentage of church goers and non-church goers pray to GOD, without specifying who or what that God is. Only 50% pray to Jesus and 23% pray to the Holy Spirit. That’s why I titled this series, “IN JESUS’ NAME.” It’s vital that the believer and follower of Jesus pray to our intercessor who sits at the right hand of the Father.
Let’s talk about the purpose of prayer. We have many reasons to pray. We mentioned gratitude, confession, intercession, and help. The Bible lists at least nine main types of prayer:
- faith (James 5:15)
- agreement (corporate prayer) (Acts 2:42)
- request (petition/supplication) (Phi 4:6)
- thanksgiving (Psalm 95:2-3)
- worship (Acts 13:2-3)
- consecration (dedication) (Matt 26:39)
- intercession (1 Timothy 2:1)
- of cursing (Psalms 69)
- praying in the Spirit (1 Cor 14:14-15).
Let me share a three general purposes for prayer before moving into the power of prayer. The FIRST reason to pray is to invoke God’s presence in our lives.
Often wecomplain that God seems far from us, not JUST when we pray, but especially when we pray. I wonder if that has to do with God’s proximity to us…or OUR proximity to God. Consider this analogy I read recently. If you have your cell phones with you, raise it up. Most of you have a cell phone…but not only a CELL phone…a SMART phone. Then some of us [John Bobb] forget to carry our phone with us. If you’re like me, once you realize it, you somehow feel less secure. You can’t reach others and others can’t reach you.
Your cell phones have a little bar graph that shows you how good your signal strength is. Even with all the cell towers, there are still places where it’s hard to get a signal. Mike and Cindy Warren have to drive down the road to make and receive calls!
Our relationship with God is like that. God our Great High Tower is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His love and truth are always being emitted to His children. But sometimes we get “out of range.” We move beyond His signal. We stop praying. We skip worshipping Him in community. We stop reading His Love Letter, the Bible. We ignore the prompting of the Holy Spirit. There’s little to no signal…because WE MOVED AWAY FROM OUR TOWER OF REFUGE AND STRENGTH!
Prayer invokes God’s presence. Prayer draws us closer to the source of power. Prayer is not something we DO before doing something else. It IS the activity that fuels everything else. Oswald Chambers said, “We don’t pray before we work…prayer IS our work.”
King David was a true worshipper of God. Many of his psalms (which are really prayers) speak of being in God’s presence. For instance, Psalm 16 prays, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” And in his prayer of confession, David prays this, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.”
Abraham Lincoln once said , “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
In the apostle Paul’s famous exhortation for us to be anxious but pray about everything in Philippians 4:6-7, he offers this promise: “…and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Prayer brings us into the peaceful, protecting presence of God.
The second purpose of prayer is to trust in God’s promises. Takingeverything to God in prayer is an act of faith. We are saying, in effect, “Holy God, I’m powerless over the direction and outcome of my life. Anything I do on my own without Your guidance and power will ultimately come to nothing. You are sovereign ruler over my health, my family and community, my finances, and my future. You know best.” Psalm 56:1 reminds us that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.” I would ADD that God is our present hope and happiness in times of peace and calm.
King David trusted God for so much, including his lovingkindness, salvation, and provisions. Listen to what he says in Psalm 13:5-6à 5But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me. Prayer takes us to a place where we trust in some ONE greater than ourselves.
My favorite Proverb is chapter 3:5-6à Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight.
[It’s either that one, or “better to live in the corner of an attic than with a quarreling wife.”]
The third purpose of prayer…and the thing I’d like to focus the rest of our time on this morning…is to release God’s power.
John Wesley once wrote, “God does nothing except in answer to believing prayer.” I don’t think Wesley was implying that even the earth would not rotate on its axis unless somebody prays for it…as if the action itself were in our control. I think what he means is, there are simply some acts of God…some healings…some reconciliation of marriages…some financial provisions made…that do not happen unless and until God’s people offer faith-filled prayer. It’s a mystery, really.
I can’t explain it, but there are just some things that the Lord refrains from doing until we pray. Let me give you a few biblical examples:
- Isaac prayed on behalf of his wife, Rebekah, because she was barren, and the LORD answered his prayer by allowing her to conceive.
- Joshua prayed for the sun to stand still so that the Israelite army could defeat the Amorites.
- Hezekiah prayed to the LORD about extending his life and…well…let me just read you this one: 1In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”
2Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3“Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
4Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: 5“Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. 6I will add fifteen years to your life.
As a sign (which Hezekiah asked for), the shadow of the sun went backward up the stairway of Ahaz. Instead of God hitting the pause button on the earth’s rotation, He hit the rewind!
Dwight L. Moody once said, “Those who have left the deepest impression on this sin-sick earth have been men and women of prayer. You will find that prayer has been the mighty power that has moved not only God, but man.”
Beyond the characters of Scripture, one of the greatest examples of a man who believed in the power of prayer was George Meuller, a pastor of the 19th century who trusted God to provide all that was needed to care for over 10,000 children in 5 orphanages and 117 schools. The total cost over his 50+ year ministry was in excess of 1 million pounds. The amazing thing is that he never asked anyone for money. He faithfully prayed, watched, and waited. The power of God did the rest! He trusted in two things: The Word of God and prayer. Not a bad combination is it?
I opened this morning’s message with a truth from John’s first letter. Listen again to part of that text: If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we already possess what we have asked of Him. Do we believe that this is the inspired word of God? If so, do we accept that God hears us when we pray according to His will? And how do we know if something is God’s will? We test it against the scriptures.
Is it God’s will that lost people are saved…reborn through faith in Jesus Christ? Absolutely. John 3:16. Is it God’s will that injustices be made right? You better believe it. Micah 6:8. Does God want to bless His children? No question. Listen to Jesus’s words in Matthew 7:11àIf you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Is it God’s will that signs and wonders accompany the word of the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that others might come to believe He is the Son of God? That’s what my Bible says. Is it God’s will that this church give its pastor a $12,000 raise? You bet! It’s right here in 1 Hesitations! Ha Ha!
You get my point. God is ready and willing to hear and answer the prayers of his children, answering them according to His will and in His time. Sometimes answers to prayers come quickly…sometimes we may wait a lifetime or never see them in our lives…but they ARE answered! That’s why we have to pray with faith and patience.
So much more could be said about the power of prayer, but I thought we would end by hearing the testimony of the power of prayer by a couple of folks in our community. Let me ask Angela Spindle to come up, and then we will hear from Dudley Brewer.
Turns out, most people pray; but we all don’t know WHO we’re praying to. Most of us pray with grateful hearts, and about half of us pray for God to help us in crisis or pray to confess our sins. But I wonder if pray to have a deeper, more intimate fellowship with God? I’m not confident we are praying the WILL of God found in His word. And I’m certain we could all pray with more faith that God WANTS to answer our prayers.
We are called to stay close to our TOWER of refuge and strength. We pray to invoke His presence. We pray to seek and trust God’s promises. And we pray to release the power of God in our lives and in the lives of others SO THAT His will be done and His kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. AMEN.