Another common obstacle to prayer is an enslavement to “feeling.”
“I don’t feel like it.”
They assume that prayers are only efficacious when they rise from an eager and emotional heart. We should keep our appointment with God, whether we feel like it or not. The meek submission of our will deepens our surrender; our resolution to engage in prayer strengthens thought control.
Faith, not feeling, measures the efficacy of prayer.
There are many obstacles to having a strong prayer life and none more employed and observed than the lack of time or busy-ness. It’s a shallow obstacle because we clearly find time for less important things–entertainment and friends. We rarely use that excuse meaningfully to excuse our lack of time spent with those closest to us. Christ stole time from his sleep to pray. Just begin with 15 minutes/day and try to grow that over time.
Prayer is like a ladder, an ascent to God, step by step. This imagery can show us where prayer begins and to what heights it is capable of rising.
Step 1: Emergency prayer. Prayer commonly begins with the cry of escape. The lowest step on the ladder of the soul is the cry wrung from disaster or adversity.
Step 2: Confession. The next step of the ladder is the stage when prayer for outward help becomes a cry for deliverance from sin. Initially there is no thought of anything but the calamity which has befallen us. But slowly, as a person prays for help, there steals on him the strange conviction that he needs something deeper than assistance and that he is a sinner. So we cry out for a clean heart and right spirit.
Step 3: Request for personal virtue and grace. Deliverance is not everything if our walk is to be well-pleasing before God. We must become something, something in the image of Christ Himself, full of patience and courage and control. This can only happen through grace.
Step 4: Real submission to God’s will. We have to learn to get to the place where we can honestly trust God with the phrase, “Thy will be done.” This is the point at which we can have joy in prayer. Most people pray out of duty and not joy. Joy can’t be found in prayer if we come to God demanding our own way. Joy is born when we come to God wanting nothing but God and His ways.
One of my favorite stories is in Daniel 3…you know…Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego get thrown in the furnace for not bowing down to King Nebuchadnezzar. I loved that story particularly in college where I felt like I needed to avoid bowing down to the idols of sex and alcohol. I didn’t want to “stand out” and look “un-cool.” But I wanted to obey God. So, I did. Did I fit in the crowd? No. Did I want to? Yes. But in the furnace when I felt like I had no friends, other people appeared in the furnace with me. It turns out they refused to bow, too. That’s when I became friends with other Christians who lived out their faith even more than I did. And because of them I’m in the ministry today. I’ve lost touch with most of them now. But thanks to their obedience (and the Holy Spirit’s help in my own obedience) I feel like I’m one of the most blessed people in the world. I could care less if I’m “cool” now because I’ve got a wife and 3 kids who think I am.
What have you learned from obedience?
We can only stand our ground in life after being swept off our feet by God. And something like that should happen in worship.
I’m not talking the “Wizard of Oz.” God didn’t summon Isaiah to His throne to scare the…Stamina out of him. Rather, God calls us to worship, and there wants to display His might because He knows we’ll face things in which we need to act mightily.
“Lord, teach us to pray.”
The request is not HOW to pray, though Jesus does teach us how. Neither is it WHAT to pray, though He does teach us what. We know how to pray and what to pray better than we pray.
“Lord, teach us to pray.”
We are tempted to let other good things displace prayer. As a result, we spend hours, days, and weeks for other things but only minutes for prayer. Knowing how and what isn’t sufficient. We must take time to do it for God works in answer to prayer, and God at work is our greatest need.
The seven closing words of James 4:2 (“you have not because you ask not”) contain the secret of the powerlessness of the average Christian, of the average minister, and of the average church. We ask, “Why is it that I make such poor progress in my Christian life? Why do I influence others for Christ so weakly?” God answers in the words of the text: “Neglect of prayer. You have not because you ask not.”
Many ministries ask, “Why is it that I see so little fruit from my ministry? Why are there so few conversions?” And again God replies, “You have not because you ask not.”
Guess what I’m asking for this morning?
Sin is not something which began on earth. Before the Fall there had been a previous fall. Satan was a perfect, bright, angelic being dwelling in the heavens and he fell before the Fall.
It is fallacious to think of sin only in terms of actions. Sin is essentially a disposition. It is a state of the heart. Sin is ultimately self-worship and the terrifying thing is that it rears its ugly head even as we try to worship or pray to God (see Matthew 5). So even sometimes people may be persuading themselves that they are worshiping God, but actually worshiping themselves and doing nothing more.
Prayer is a mystery and an effort. So many petitions seem to remain unanswered. The most disheartening barrier lies in the moral difficulty: Why should we have to pray to a loving and merciful God? A parent doesn’t wait until a child is lying on a bed of pain crying out for his sympathy and healing. When our poor human hearts love, they do not wait to be begged that they may supply the needs of those they love. Why should prayer on our part be the indispensable condition of the working of God?
First, prayer makes us more deeply conscious of God. In the rush and stress of life we tend to lose a sure and clear consciousness of God. In the busy world, the mind is filled every morning with all of the news to the ends of the world. If we will not sometimes think of God, He will merely become a name to us. It is in prayer that we have the sure consciousness of God.
Second, prayer helps us to see through God’s eyes. It’s sad how most evils go unnoticed, wrongs unremedied, poor unpitied and unhelped, miseries uncomforted, not because we don’t know, but because we do not sympathize. We haven’t looked at the world through God’s eyes.
Third, prayer surrenders us to the energy of God. The highest attitude in prayer is not desire or praise. It is surrender. In surrender we open our whole being to God as a flower opens itself to the sun, and we are filled up to our measure with His divine energy.
God has chosen people as a means of His power and grace in the world. And if people will not work the works of God, the works of God remain undone. We limit God by our prayerlessness. Because we are not surrendered to God in prayer, the might of His energy does not pass into us.
Romans 12:1b (The Message):
Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him.
I like that word “embrace.” People “accept” Jesus as their Lord and Savior but that seems like we’re “allowing” Him rather than really “embracing” that reality. It also sounds more familial.
And just imagine: God returns the embrace! Our God is Lord and Nurturer (Comforter). He is our Counselor, our Peace, our Joy.