The Priority of Prayer, Pt. 1

Scripture: Psalm 55:17, Luke 18:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17
Date: 02/16/2019 
What is prayer? How important is prayer? How do we pray?
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Doug Batchelor: You can be taught to pray. John the Baptist taught his disciples how to pray, and they didn't know how to pray. It's possible for people to be born in a Christian home, go to Christian school, go to church all their lives, and never learned how to pray.

A number of years ago, famous pastor was traveling across the ocean on a cruise ship, and F.B. Meyer was his name, and, you know, that's when it was a more common form of transportation. And word reached the captain that this famous speaker was there on board. He said, "Could you please speak to the first class passengers? And he agreed, and he talked on the subject of prayer. Well, a number of the people were deeply impressed, but among them was a famous agnostic. And someone asked, "Well, what did you think of Pastor Meyer's talk?" Said, "I didn't believe a word of it."

Well, later that day, word had reached some of the people who had been traveling fourth class, and they said, "Any chance that he'd be willing to come down to the lower decks and talk to the fourth-class passengers?" He said, "Absolutely." Well, some of the passengers in first class said, "If he's speaking again, we want to hear him." And so they were all migrating down, and someone said to the agnostic, "Are you going to go?" He said, "Sure, I'm curious about what this babbler has to say."

So the agnostic, before he left his room, he thought he'd get a couple of oranges to have a snack in case it took a while, and making his way down to the lower decks, he had to go on some of the outer decks, and he noticed there was a few people. They were out on these deck chairs, trying to take in the fresh air, and there was one old woman that was stretched out on a deck chair, fast asleep, her mouth open, and her hands open there on the chair like that. Well, he had a sense of humor, and so the agnostic took the two oranges out of his pocket, and he placed an orange carefully in each hand without waking her up, and he smiled and went away, went downstairs. F.B. Meyer talked to the fourth-class passengers about prayer, and the man felt himself convicted, the agnostic, but he decided just resist the conviction.

On his way back up, he walked by that same deck chair, and now the woman was there. She was awake, and she was eating the oranges. And he smiled, and he said, "Well, those look like they're very delicious." She says, "My Father gave them to me." He said, "Surely, ma'am, your father's not still alive," because she was an older woman. She said, "I'm talking about my heavenly Father." She said, "It was the most wonderful thing." She said, "I've been up here on the deck, trying to take in the fresh air because I had been dreadfully seasick for several days, and I just had the overwhelming sense that, if I could just eat an orange, I'd feel better. And I went to sleep, praying that God would please give me an orange, and I woke up, and my Father gave me two oranges."

That man was so convicted that he was converted before the cruise was over. God answers prayer, and sometimes He can even use the devil to do it. Isn't that wonderful? You know, Karen and I, in our evening worship, our Friday evening worship, we've been reading through a book together on prayer. It's "The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds," a tremendous book. Matter of fact, it's so heavy and so convicting and profound that we only get through two or three pages and just go, "Wow, I need to pray more."

And so I'm not going to talk to you about prayer as one who's an expert, but I'm simply a beggar telling the other beggars where the bread is because I'll think that every blessing that we desire as a Christian is going to be connected with prayer, and we would do well to learn more about that subject. So talking about "The Priority of Prayer," dealing with perpetual praying.

Now, everywhere we go these days, you can see warnings. I remember when they used to have the little glass-- there's a fire alarm on the wall there. They don't have the old ones. They used to have a little glass window with a hammer hanging on the outside, and you'd hit this glass that would shatter, and then you'd pull the alarm, and there's a little note above it and said, "Break glass in the event of an emergency." You fly on the airplane, and there, by your seat, it says, "In the event of a water landing, use your cushion." And we're surrounded with these warnings. Any of you ever walk out in the parking lot, and you forgot where your car is, and you had to press the panic button? Find your car? Anyone that will raise your hand and admit that? "I know it's out here somewhere." "Where's my car?"

Some people treat prayer that way. "In the event of an emergency, a water landing or there's panic, pray." It's like it's the last resort for most Christians, and in reality, prayer is an attitude of life for the Christian. It is a way of life. Every blessing in the Christian life comes in connection with prayer. Prayer is not the exception for the Christian. It is the rule, and, yet so many don't pray.

Now, the reason I'm talking about this message is because I've got good news for you. If you start out as a Christian, or maybe you even grew up in a Christian home and you thought, "We just didn't pray as we should," or maybe, "We didn't know how to pray," or "We've been, sort of, working at it"-- and prayer can be and must be taught. Nobody prayed like Jesus. Jesus sometimes spent the whole night in prayer, and you would think, if anybody didn't need to pray, I mean, Jesus sort of had a hotline to heaven. Why would He need to pray? But He prayed like nobody ever prayed, and matter of fact, the Bible says, when the disciples saw Jesus pray, Luke 9:29, "He prayed, and the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening." And when Christ was done praying, you read in Luke 11:1, "It came to pass as He was praying in a certain place, then He stopped--" nobody dared interrupt until He stopped-- "one of His disciples said to Him, 'Lord, teach us to pray as John also taught his disciples.'"

Now, that's a very important point. You know what it means? You can be taught to pray. John the Baptist taught his disciples how to pray. They didn't know how to pray, and these were believers. These were Jews. They had the temple. They didn't know how to pray. It's possible for people to be born in a Christian home, go to Christian school, go to church all their lives, and never learned how to pray, and some people think, "Well, there are people who are giants of prayer, and they've got the gift of prayer," but, you know, I don't find it listed that way in the Bible. Every believer is supposed to pray, and everybody can be taught to pray. Don't be thinking that something-- someone else is good at, "That's a job of another Christian."

You hear about prayer warriors. Anybody can be a prayer warrior. John taught his disciples to pray. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, and prayer must be important because it never says He taught them to preach, but He did teach them to pray. So we should ask the Lord, "Teach us to pray." Now I'm going to do some teaching on prayer. Is that okay with you? I'd like to pray better. I'd like to talk about some of the practical things dealing with prayer. Some of this may or may not sound spiritual, but it's biblical.

First of all, when and how often should we pray? Evening and morning and at noon will I pray, and cry aloud, and He will hear my voice." Now, some say, "Well, now, Pastor, that's the Old Testament." They had these three times for prayer. They had their specific hours for prayer. They even did it in the New Testament and after the Resurrection of Christ. Acts chapter 3, verse 1, "Now Peter and John went up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour." Now, that was what they would call their evening of the third time of prayer in the day, 3 p.m. By the way, that's the same time of day Jesus died, at the ninth hour. So they had regular times where they went to pray. They set aside time for prayer. And you might be thinking, "Well, Pastor Doug, hah, I get down, and I pray for five minutes. I feel like, well, I kind of covered it." And, you know, the more you pray, don't jump up off your knees when you feel like, "I've run out of things to say." Linger and say, "Lord, what am I forgetting? Is there something that I need to confess? Is there somebody I'm forgetting?"

So often, our prayers are about us and our needs. Take some time to intercede for other people, and you'll find that prayer is not just talking. Prayer is communion where you're listening to God, and He will begin to make impressions on your heart. Sometimes I've been praying, and I thought, "Oh, my mind is wandering," and then I realize, "No, God is reminding me of something I need to do today." God'll speak to you when you're on your knees. He talks to you through his spirit, through angels. He'll guide you, so don't be in a hurry. You know, the Bible says, "Do not make haste to leave the king's presence." Do not make haste to leave the king's presence. When you're on your knees and you're talking to God, you're praying.

But since we're talking about perpetual praying, I'm not just talking about where the Bible says you should set aside a time, at least in the morning and the evening. If you want to do what David and Daniel did, you do morning, evening, and at noon, I will pray to set aside some time to pray, but, really, the Bible says praying doesn't end. If you're a Christian and you're awake, you want to live in a constant walking relationship with God. The Bible says, "Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him." Enoch was translated to heaven without dying. Why? Because he walked with God. How many want to be among those who will not see death? But you can be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Wouldn't you prefer to avoid death? If you can, I mean, given the option. How did Enoch do it? "He walked with God." What does that mean? The Bible says, "Noah walked with God." Bible doesn't say it, but you can be safe in assuming Moses walked with God, and many others. That means that you spend your time abiding in the presence of God. You are praying always.

Now, the Bible, you'd be surprised how often it tells us to always be praying. Let me just give you a few verses. Luke 18:1, "Then he spoke a parable to them, that men ought always the pray and not lose heart," and you got to always to pray. Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:16, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing." Now, obviously, I think everyone here knows the Bible is not suggesting that you go around all day long on your knees, your hands folded, and you bumping into things because your eyes are closed. There's always praying-- no, it's obviously talking about an attitude of constant communion with God.

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Doug: Jesus said, "Watch therefore, and pray always--" how often? "That you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and stand before the Son of Man." Jesus said we need to watch and pray lest we enter into temptation. Anyone struggle with temptation? How often do you struggle with temptation? Once a month? Once a week? Every day? More than once a day? So how often should we pray that we enter not into temptation? In the Lord's Prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread," that's a prayer that's dealing with daily needs, and it says, "Lead us not into temptation." That means, through prayer, we come to God and ask for that power. Ephesians 6:18, "Praying always--" there you have it again. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, praying in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all of the saints."

Are you getting the picture here? But wait, there's more, Colossians 1:3, "We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you." 2 Thessalonians 1:11, "Therefore we also pray always for you." Acts 12:5, "Peter therefore was kept in prison, but prayer was made by the church without ceasing." There you have it again, praying without ceasing. How do we do that? You know, I think that the key is found in-- go to John chapter 15. We're taking a little detour here. John 15:1, "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes it away, and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it that it might bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word that I've spoken to you."

There's a cleansing effect in the Word. "Abide in Me, and I in you, that the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit. Without Me, you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he's cast out as a branch and withered, and they gather them and throw them in the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it will be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, so you will be My disciples. As the Father loved me, and I've also loved you, abide in My love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I've kept My Father's commandments and I abide in His love."

Now, you notice I read verses 1 through 10, and notice that number 10 because how many times do you think a certain word appeared? What's the word? "Abide." Why did Jesus have so much to say about "abiding" in this passage? There's ten "abides" there. The word "abide" is "meno" in Greek. Here's what it means: "to remain in a place, to tarry, to stay in the house, to dwell, to stay overnight, to stay alive, to remain in a sphere, to hold out, to stand fast, to stand against opposition." It means "to hang on, to hang in, to be in something."

So, what does it mean to pray without ceasing? It means to abide in God. What does it mean to love the Lord with all your heart and mind? It means to abide in God. It means to be thinking God's thoughts. Start your day and say, "Lord, help me today through the Holy Spirit to abide in You, to keep You in my thoughts."

Now, first of all, you know how much more peace it'll bring you? So many things you worry about, and you just think, "Lord, take that away from me." Sometimes you got thoughts coming in your mind, and you think, "Nobody should think those thoughts, let alone a Christian." Say, "Lord, cleanse my mind." Or you'll see other people that you sense have a need, and the Holy Spirit will nudge you, and it's like you're in communion with God, the Spirit, with your mind.

Now, I think that, when you do pray, there should be a reverence in our praying. I want you to notice something here. Look at a few verses real quick, I put together. Psalm 95:6, "Oh come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker." Most of the time in the Bible, informal prayer, it is appropriate, if you're able, to kneel, and the very fact of bowing down, it is universally understood that that is an act of submission and worship. Why would Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego not bow down to the graven image? They were not going to show worship by their posture. They could've said, "Well, we'll bow down, but we're not going to pray to him in our hearts." They would not even physically show worship by their posture to this pagan god.

So if we're worshipping the real God, if the pagans are bowing down, are Christians so, fair to say, call them "pompous" that we stand and pray thus with ourselves? Or is it appropriate for us to bow before the Lord? Now, it's not necessary to always do that, but let me give you a few verses here. Daniel 6:10, "In his upper room, he knelt on his knees three times." He was 80 years old, by the way, when he did this. 1 Kings 18:42, "Elijah went up on the top of Carmel. He bowed down to the ground, put his face between his knees." That's not always necessary. Some of us can't do that. Acts 9:40, "Peter put them all out. He knelt down, and he prayed." And then there was a resurrection. Ephesians 3:14, "For this cause I bow my knee under the God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Solomon the king, Jesus said, "No one was arrayed like Solomon in all of his glory." When he was dedicating the temple, build a platform for everyone to see, got up on the platform. Says, "This king, he knelt before the King of the universe." And most of us are not greater than Solomon. "He knelt down upon his knees and all the congregation of Israel." He wanted everyone to see that he was worshiping Jehovah, and he was not the one to be worshiped.

But having said that, you don't always need to kneel when you pray. There are times when it's appropriate to stand and pray. After Solomon had the kneeling prayer, then when he gave the benediction-- let me read it to you, 1 Kings 8:54, "And it was so, when Solomon had finished praying on his knees all this prayer and supplication to the Lord, that he arose from before the altar, from kneeling on his knees, with his hands spread to heaven, and he stood and he blessed the assembly." That's what we call the benediction. At the end of the sermon after the song, we do something called the benediction. In the beginning, you'll see an invocation.

It's not always necessary to kneel, but before you enter into the actual worship service, to the opening of the Word, asking God to speak to you, it's appropriate to kneel if you can. I always think it's funny that, you know, we know there's some people-- and it's getting harder for me to get up. Well, when I was young, I got done praying, I could get up on one toe. That's all it took me to get up. But you get a little older, it's like I'm reaching around, you know? Person next to me, lift-- get back up again.

So, Bible says that we should pray diligently when we pray. Diligent praying. Hebrews 11:6, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and He is a rewarder." How many want God to reward your prayers? "He's a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." I remember reading in the Bible that when the king of Israel came to see Elisha, when Elisha the prophet was dying, he came to make his hospital visit, and Elisha was more worried about the king, than the king about Elisha, and Elisha said to the king, "Open the window." Syria has been attacking. He said, "Open the window." He said, "Put an arrow in your bow." He put an arrow in his bow. Elisha put his hand on the king's hand, and he said, "Pull back the arrow. Fire." He fired the arrow. He said, "This is the arrow of God's deliverance from Syria." He said, "Now, take a handful of arrows." He did. And then Elisha said to the king, "Beat the ground." And he hit the ground three times. And the man of God was wroth, and he said, "You only hit the ground three times. You should've smote the ground five or six times, and you would've had five or six victories over Syria. Because you only hit the ground three times, you're only going to have three victories."

I wonder how many prayers that we've left behind because we quit too soon? We did not pray diligently. You know what "diligently" means? It's talking about industriously, meticulously, "with energy to the point of perspiration" is one definition. Jeremiah 29:13, "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me--" what's the rest of that? "With all of your heart." That's diligent praying, praying with your heart. What does God want from us anyway? He wants our hearts. Deuteronomy 4:29, "But if from there," if you're carried away to some pagan land, "if from there you will seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you seek Him with all of your heart and all of your soul."

Diligent praying. Hudson Taylor said, "The prayer power has never been tried to its full capacity. If we want to see mighty wonders of divine power and grace wrought in the place of weakness and failure and disappointment, let us answer God's standing challenge. He says, 'Call unto me, and I will show you great and mighty things that you have not known,'" if you do what? "If you call unto Me. If My people, which are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven. I will forgive their sin, and I will heal their land." God promises that He'll do these things.

I'd like to give you something practical in conclusion, and this is talking about the acts of prayer. Now, a simple formula when you come to God to pray, the Lord's Prayer is a very good model for prayer. Jesus said, "When you pray--" He never said, "Repeat this prayer." He said, "In this manner, pray," and that's why the prayer is a little different in Luke than it is in Matthew. Jesus didn't say it the same way all the time. Jesus said, "Do not pray in vain repetition," and that's including the Lord's Prayer.

We're not saved by just repeating a prayer over and over again. But many Christians have used something as a formula for prayer. It's called ACTS, A-C-T-S, that, when you pray, try to start out--and don't have to pray an hour. If you're not praying at all, five minutes will be an improvement. If you're praying 5 minutes, go to 15 and see what happens, but start spending more time with God in prayer. You might use this formula, A-C-T-S, ACTS.

It has--it stands for-- I think we've got it up on the screen--adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. You start with your adoration, "Hallowed be Thy name." And then we talk about "Forgive us our debts." There's confession that happens in your sin. First, you're coming to acknowledging, "I have--I'm not worthy to ask anything, but I'm coming, confessing, asking for mercy, pleading the blood of Jesus." Then there's thanksgiving. Before you give God your list of everything new that you want, you know, when you thank someone, they are more inclined to give you future benefits, so start out by thanking Him for all that He's done, all that He's already given you. You can surely find something to be thankful for.

Then you conclude with your supplications. That's your list of things you're asking God for, and then, hopefully, you're not just supplicating for yourself but in behalf of others or events. And so you might just jot that down because I just have it on the screen there. It makes a good formula for prayer, ACTS. And, finally, when we pray, there's power in the name of Jesus. We are praying that God will hear our prayers, not because we are worthy, but when He sees us, we are covered with the blood of His own Son, so we come in the name of Jesus. You read Ephesians 5:20, "Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Will He answer our prayers when we come claiming the blood of His Son, when we pray reverently, persistently, and come in Jesus's name? You know, I believe that the Lord wants us to have a revival. I think that a revival is going to be preceded by a revival in our lives in walking with God in prayer. If we're praying like we should pray, your giving, it'll change. If we're praying like we should pray, your singing will change, your living will change. Everything will change if our relationship with God changes.

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