June 7, 2010 David Balzer

Core Value 7: We value prayer, because it’s effective, personal communication with our heavenly Father

Last week we talked about the question of whether you could be a Christian and not go to church. Whether you could be a “Robinson Crusoe” Christian.

Well, one Sunday morning, one of those Robinson Crusoe Christians was on holidays, swimming in a waterhole in Far North QLD.

He paddled out into the middle of the pool, and was floating on his back, just enjoying the sun on a beautiful Sunday morning. When he saw a huge crocodile slide down the bank, and slip into the water, heading straight towards him.

The man started swimming as fast as he could towards the far bank. But the crocodile was quickly gaining.

He got more and more desperate as he heard the splashing of the croc get closer and closer.

Finally, he was SO frantic, he cried out in prayer, “Lord, I’m sorry for what I have done.  Please forgive me and save me!  Lord, PLEASE MAKE THAT CROCODILE A CHRISTIAN.”

(pause) Suddenly the noise of the advancing croc stopped. The man turned around slowly. As he did, he saw the croc stop in the water, fall to its knees, clasp its front feet together and say, “God, bless this food which I’m about to eat.”

Two very different kinds of prayers. The passage we just read says that we’re to pray ON ALL OCCASIONS with ALL KINDS OF PRAYERS AND REQUESTS.

Sometimes we pray like the MAN – desperate, urgent, and rushed – WANTING something. And other times, it’s more like the crocodile – thankful, and grateful for God’s blessings.

(pause) Prayer. It’s something some of us do WELL. And others NOT so well. But however well we pray, I’ve never meet anyone for whom prayer came EASILY. It’s a STRUGGLE. A struggle I’m sure we’ll feel for our whole lives.

But whatever we’re like at praying. No-one would argue that prayer is something that’s VERY IMPORTANT. Crucial.

A matter of life and – at least it was for the guy being chased by the crocodile.

Prayer is SO important, it’s one of our seven Core Values. We VALUE prayer, because it’s EFFECTIVE/ PERSONAL COMMUNICATION / WITH OUR HEAVENLY FATHER.

And when we turn to Ephesians, there’s no doubt that prayer was VITALLY important for the Apostle Paul. It played a crucial part in his ministry. In Ch 1 v15, he says

(Eph 1:15-16 NIV)  For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, {16} I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

He GAVE THANKS for the Ephesians. Like the crocodile. Well not REALLY like the crocodile – he wasn’t giving thanks before he ATE THEM.

And a bit further on in Ch 3 v14, we read

(Eph 3:14-18 NIV)  For this reason I kneel before the Father, {15} from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. {16} I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, {17} so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, {18} may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,

So, he’s PRAYING SPECIFIC THINGS for the Ephesians to develop. Attitudes to work on, experiences and understanding. A bit like the man praying for the crocodile.

All kinds of prayers. But not just from PAUL, he encouraged HIS READERS to so the same. Flip over to Ch 6 , and v18. He commands them

(Eph 6:18 NIV)  …pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.

Let’s spend a few minutes looking at the specifics of what Paul had to say on prayer in these few verses.

In his “Just So Stories” Rudyard Kipling said “Six faithful men taught me everything I knew, WHAT, WHEN, AND WHERE; WHY, AND HOW AND WHO.”

And so we’ll look at PRAYER using those same six faithful men.

1. Who

Firstly. Who. Who is prayer addressed to? It might seem like an obvious question. But too often, we pray without thinking about WHO we’re praying to.

We begin with the same words we always use. Perhaps it’s “Dear God”. Or “Our heavenly Father”, and then it’s straight into our prayer. And for the next 2 or 3 or 10 or 30 minutes our minds are full, not of the God we’re addressing, but the list of things we need to get through.

Our focus is on EARTH, rather than HEAVEN.

God of our Lord Jesus Christ

But who does PAUL pray to? Look back in Ch 1 v17.

(Eph 1:17 NIV)  I keep asking that the GOD OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

This isn’t just GOD. This is God WHO SENT OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. That makes a HUGE difference when it comes to prayer. God isn’t isolated and distant and uninterested. He’s INVOLVED in his creation. He wants to RESCUE his creatures. To REDEEM them.

Jesus is God’s declaration of IMMANENCE. Of being close and active and involved.

And if he went to lengths like SENDING HIS ONLY SON to RESCUE US. HOW MUCH MORE will he be listening when we pray?

THAT’S the God we pray to.

What difference does Jesus make to our attitude to prayer? He makes us CONFIDENT to pray. Because of the work of Jesus, we have great ASSURANCE that our prayers make it to God. He is our ADVOCATE- our REPRESENTATIVE before God the Father. Rom 8:34 says

(Rom 8:34 NIV)  Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also INTERCEDING FOR US.

And in Hebrews 10, it explains this attitude to prayer further.

(Heb 10:19-22 NIV)  Therefore, brothers, SINCE WE HAVE CONFIDENCE TO ENTER THE MOST HOLY PLACE BY THE OF JESUS, {20} by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, {21} and since we have a great priest over the house of God, {22} LET US DRAW NEAR TO GOD WITH A SINCERE HEART IN FULL ASSURANCE OF FAITH, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

He’s the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, so let’s pray with CONFIDENCE.

Father

Over in Paul’s prayer in Ch 3, we see him refer to God by ANOTHER name. Look at it there in v14.

(Eph 3:14-15 NIV)  For this reason I kneel before THE FATHER, {15} from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

We pray to our HEAVENLY FATHER. What’s the difference between asking your FATHER for something. And asking ANOTHER PERSON? Your father is COMMITTED to your well-being. To providing for you. And PROTECTING you.

Jesus described the confidence that comes when we ask our heavenly FATHER. Mt 7 v9.

(Mat 7:9-11 NIV)  “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? {10} Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? {11} If 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!

And we ARE his children. Did you catch the second part of that verse in Ephesians 3?

the Father, {15} from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

We BEAR THE NAME of God. But rather than Thompson, or Peterson, we’re GOD-SONS. The whole family, across the whole world. In every age.

GOD-SONS. And so we can pray with Confidence.

WHO do you pray to? The God of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Heavenly Father.

What’s in a Name?

You should have all received a handout with your news-sheet. It’s the Appendix from a book called, “Praying With Your Eyes Open”. It’s by an American Presbyterian, called Richard Pratt.

(I found it very helpful. I’m happy to loan it to anyone who asks.)

But the bit in particular that I thought you’d find useful is the list of NAMES the Bible uses for God. Have a quick scan over them. Did you know there were that many? I didn’t.

His point is that the NAMES we use to ADDRESS God will influence THE ATTITUDE we have to prayer. It will keep our mind focussed on WHO we’re talking to.

The second part of the handout describes the QUALITIES, or ATTRIBUTES of God. What he’s LIKE. And that’s another point the book makes.

As we REMIND ourselves of what God is like. As we praise him for his COMPASSION, or his JUSTICE, or his LOVE, or FORGIVENESS, or MERCY. We find that WE are changed. And our prayers become more REAL, have GREATER DEPTH, are more vibrant, and personal.

So, TAKE and USE. Stick it in the back of your Bible. Pull it out. Use it when you pray.

Where

Well, that’s the WHO of prayer. What about the WHERE?

The context of these verses in Ch 6 is a description of OUR SPIRITUAL ARMOUR. And why is it necessary to put on SPIRITUAL armour? Because the world is A SPIRITUAL PLACE. Look at what it says from v11.

(Eph 6:11-12 NIV)  Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. {12} For our struggle is not against flesh and , but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

That’s the “WHERE” of prayer. Prayer occurs within THE REALM OF SPIRITUAL WARFARE.

If you think this world we see/ is all there is, then prayer is AN IRRELEVANCY. A WASTE OF TIME. Nothing more than wishful thinking, or thinking good thoughts. Meditation, or a source of positive energy.

But if there really IS a spiritual battle going on. And God REALLY IS in control. And Satan and his forces REALLY DO long to see the gospel silenced/ then PRAYER IS A VALUABLE TOOL.

We’re AT THE CENTRE of GOD’S PLANS when we’re praying. There is NOTHING MORE IMPORTANT.

(pause) Then why do we do so LITTLE of it? Why are prayer meetings so poorly attended? Why do we spend so little time in PERSONAL PRAYER? And give it such a low priority?

We need to see the world the way GOD sees it. As a place where SPIRITUAL BATTLES are going on. Every conversation is a skirmish. Every Scripture lesson, every Bible study, every family devotion / a training mission for a military offensive.

And when we think LIKE THAT/ it should transform the way we approach prayer.

(That’s the WHERE of prayer. Next, the “What”.)

What

WHAT are we to pray? Back to v18 of Ch 6.

(Eph 6:18 NIV)  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions WITH ALL KINDS OF PRAYERS AND REQUESTS.

There’s a wide variety of ways to pray. We can WORSHIP God – tell him how great he is – declare back to him the things we love about him.

We can THANK him for his blessings. For his MERCIES. For his GRACES. We can thank him for PERSONAL things, or things he’s done for our FAMILY, or CHURCH, or NATION, or WORLD.

We can CONFESS OUR SIN. It helps to be specific. To think back over the day, or week, and recall particular times when you’ve sinned. Attitudes, or words, or behaviours. Or even times when you’ve FAILED to do the RIGHT THING.

It’s good to be specific, not because GOD NEEDS IT to forgive you. There’s none of the rubbish that you have to NAME THE SIN before it can be forgiven. Just that it’s good for YOU to recognise sin. Otherwise you can’t start doing something about it.

That’s one reason I value those people who lead us in prayer who take the time to BE SPECIFIC when they pray for forgiveness. They help me to recognise things about myself which needs repentance.

And then there’s the things we ASK God for. We can ask for things FOR OURSELF. And we can ask for things FOR OTHERS.

To make sure we pray IN A BALANCED WAY, people have come up with various ACRONYMS.

One is A.C.T.S. Which stands for Adoration, or worship. Confession. Thanksgiving. Supplication – that’s ASKING for things.

Another one is J.O.Y. Which stands for Jesus, others, yourself.

Both are good ways to make sure out praying isn’t selfish and unbalanced.

But it’s not just THE WORDS we pray. There are all kinds of WAYS to pray too.

We can pray by ourselves, or in a group. We can pray in bed. We can pray kneeling, or standing, or sitting.

We can pray over breakfast. We can pray INSTEAD of breakfast.

We can pray on the train or bus, walking the streets, or even riding a bike. (Sounds like a Dr Seuss book!)

If you struggle praying the way you always pray. Why not try some of these DIFFERENT ways? It doesn’t matter to God. If you pray MORE, and with a BETTER ATTITUDE doing something else/ that’s what He cares about.

And use the PSALMS as your guide. PRAY the Psalms. There’s such a variety there/ it’s a great guide book to help you.

And one of the things the Psalms do/ is give us permission to express NEGATIVE emotions to God. Sadness and bitterness and frustration and hopelessness. God KNOWS our hearts ANYWAY. And he WANTS us to hand it all over to him.

So don’t think you have to be in the right frame of mind to pray.

And if you’re looking for some variety, try praying through AN OLD HYMN BOOK. You can often picks them up in second hand book shops.

And many of the old hymns are PRAYERS. And they often express spiritual truths BEAUTIFULLY. It can be very REFRESHING.

When

That’s the WHAT. And closely connected to that is the WHEN. If we’re to pray in a variety of WAYS. Then it makes sense that we aren’t restricted in WHEN we pray. Verse 18 says to pray ON ALL OCCASIONS.

Formal or Informal. Public or Private. By yourself, or in a group. Celebrations, or times of sorrow. Include God in them all. He’s there anyway. So acknowledge him. Give him the place he deserves. On ALL OCCASIONS.

Are you a “restaurant grace” person? Someone I know used to joke, “Who’s turn is it to scratch their nose, and mumble?”

God is Lord of restaurant food just as much as food you eat at home. So pray ON ALL OCCASIONS.

How

Fifthly, HOW are we to pray? Paul gives us a of hints. V18. Be ALERT, and KEEP ON praying. Be WATCHFUL, and STICK AT IT.

Look for things to pray ABOUT. KEEP those prayer guides. Take NOTES. ASK people what you can pray for them. And DO IT. Don’t just SAY you will.

And look for ANSWERS to prayer. Be WATCHFUL for THOSE TOO. What better way to be encouraged to pray than to look back over answered prayer. To see how faithful God HAS been, so that you can pray confidently that God WILL be faithful.

And STICK AT IT. Don’t grow tired. Persevere. To KEEP PRAYING FOR YEARS is a sign of trust in God’s providence and sovereignty. HE’s in control, and will bring about his purposes in his time. So stick at it. That’s HOW we should pray.

Why?

Finally we come to “Why”. Why pray?

The simple answer is because God TELLS US TO. But from this passage, we’re called to pray FOR THE BENEFIT OF GOD’S PEOPLE.

In v18, Paul says to pray for ALL THE SAINTS. Notice how it’s not just the LEADERS, or the MISSIONARIES, or the SICK. But ALL the Saints.

And you can see the sorts of things they need in the verses above. Pray that they might put on the armour of God. And what’s the PURPOSE of the armour? V13

(Eph 6:13-14 NIV)  Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to STAND YOUR GROUND, and after you have done everything, TO STAND. {14} STAND FIRM THEN,

There is nothing more important we can pray for each other/ than that we might STAND FIRM. Stick it out. PERSEVERE.

Ultimately, nothing else matters. Sickness, poverty, depression, unemployment, divorce, EVEN .

All sorts of things that we DO pray about for other people. But nothing is WORSE than them NOT STANDING FIRM. Than giving up following Jesus. That’s something with ETERNAL CONSEQUENCES.

So pray, above all else, that the saints might STAND FIRM.

Do we really KNOW that? How is the importance of that/ seen in the way we KEEP WATCH for each other? ESPECIALLY people who are on the fringes of church. Who haven’t been here for a while.

I can think quite a few people who have been a part of us who haven’t been here for MONTHS. How many can YOU think of? Does it BOTHER you? What can you DO about it? Are you PRAYING for them?

(pause) But as well as praying FOR EACH OTHER. Paul wanted the Ephesians to pray FOR HIM. Look at what he says in v19.

(Eph 6:19 NIV)  Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,

For Paul that’s the urgent need. He’s writing from prison. Chained for proclaiming the gospel. Yet, he doesn’t ask that he’ll be DELIVERED. Which matters LITTLE.

But rather, he prays that IN SPITE of the chains, he might FEARLESSLY continue to proclaim the message he’d been given. His life is nothing – the gospel is everything.

What a wonderful vision of the spiritual re of the world we live in. The battle we’re part of. And the reason prayer is so important.

We value prayer, because it’s effective, personal communication with our heavenly Father.

Let me finish with the words of a great old hymn.

(513) What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.

~Written by Joseph Medlicott Scriven, 1855~

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