Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples" (Luke 11:1).
Every generation is in the same boat with the disciples. We all need to learn how to pray. Prayer seems so simple at the beginning; it’s just presenting our little requests before God. Yet we soon learn that prayer is also very hard. We learn that prayer is taking what God wants, praying about it, then praying for it, until it comes to pass. There are many obstacles set before someone who prays beyond their own little lives. These of course come from the devil because he knows the power of prayer. These obstacles are designed to bring us to a stop. But a disciple will press through such difficulties and pray until victory is sounded.
The very first thing God wants is a closer relationship with us. I don’t care how well we think we know Him, there is more to learn. Without that close relationship, how can He reveal His heart to us? Until we know Him better, He cannot trust us to know what is on His heart. With chagrin I can remember many times when I brought my intimacy with God to an abrupt halt because I, in my childish pride, blabbed His divine purposes. Someone in close relationship keeps secrets until the time to disclose them comes.
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16).
The Bible was not written in chapter and verse. It was written as long discourses given to faithful, Godly men who accurately recorded what was on God’s heart to share. When the appropriate manuscripts were put together to form the Bible, the scholars required a system by which the Word of God could be studied. The ones who created a manageable system often put two ideas in the same verse. When one reads the Bible, one must be sensitive to read it correctly. James 5:16 contains two ideas.
First, it speaks of confessing faults, and that indicates that if someone has trespassed against you, you go to the person at fault, confess the problem, and the two of you pray for each other in order to resolve it. This verse does not call for an intermediary. It also indicates that wounding someone else can bring sickness. Resolving that wound brings healing.
For our purposes, we are taking the second part of this verse because it is a completely different subject. It’s talking about the status of someone who prays. A righteous man prays effective, fervent prayers.
What is a righteous man? It’s someone who has been born again and the blood of Jesus makes him or her righteous. He or she then knows the Lord, personally, and has put his or her own selfish little ideas aside and opened his or her heart to receive Him and His heart. That means we have to know His voice in order for Him to share His heart. The Bible says His sheep will know His voice.
23 "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:23, 24).
Worship and prayer are intertwined. Our worship satisfies His heart and gives Him joy. Our worship puts us on a level with God where He can share with us heart to heart. We must understand that praise and worship are not the same thing. Praise is acclaiming how wonderful our God is and expressing our gratitude for all He does for us. Praise actually rises up from our soul. We speak, we sing from our reason, from our emotions, from our experiences, but worship rises from our spirits. Remember, God created our souls and He loves them. He loves our praises, the Bible says He inhabits our praises, but He desires our worship. There, all the flesh is laid aside; good as it is, yet the spirit is on a loftier plane and it is there that God meets us face to face. It is when we arrive at worship that our prayer life can succeed.
Truth is God’s Word. There is no other truth. We must know His Word. We cannot say, oh that’s for the scholars; it has nothing to do with me. That’s not true. The Word is His handbook for His creation, His manual from which we learn how to be His disciple and how to please Him. He created us, He put us together, and then He gave us a book of operating instructions. If we operate any other way we are worshipping the devil. When we can pray His Word we are meeting Him mouth to mouth, so to speak, in the most intimate way possible to be with God. He said it. We repeat it. He makes it come to pass.
But if we don’t operate according to His instructions, He wonders. Have you ever thought of God wondering? Can you imagine Him sitting on His throne in heaven saying to Himself, “I wonder….” What circumstance could ever make God wonder?
He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor; therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him; and His own righteousness, it sustained Him (Isaiah 59:16).
God wondered why no one was praying. It’s all through His handbook; prayer is continually mentioned in the Bible. Since He had given the instruction, He wondered why it wasn’t being followed. He could well wonder that today, couldn’t He? There are so few Christians who pray effective prayers. An effective prayer is an answered prayer. God wondered in the Old Testament, so for the New Covenant He sent His Holy Spirit to live inside a born again Christian in order to help us with our prayers.
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered (Roman 8:26).
Jesus marveled! What on earth would make the Lord of the Universe marvel? The people’s level of distrust amazed Him. Here He was, on earth as a man, yet performing astounding miracles, walking all over Israel teaching in every village and hamlet, expending incalculable energy, never stopping, always available—the veritable image of how God wants man to be—not to mention His all night prayer sessions, and His long hours in the mountains praying, and unbelief crowded Him out of His own village? What must He marvel at today?
And He marveled because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching (Mark 6:6).
How I long for fervent prayer, prayer that succeeds. Every revival, since the days of Jesus has been birthed by fervent prayer.
Lack of prayer is what discourages and disheartens Christians. Lack of prayer makes a church lukewarm, avoiding the fires of fervency. Lack of prayer keeps sinners in darkness instead of drawing them into the Light of God.
And there is no one who calls on Your name, Who stirs himself up to take hold of You; For You have hidden Your face from us, And have consumed us because of our iniquities (Isaiah 64:7).
Prayer is what stirs us up to take hold of God. When churches hold prayer meetings today, only a handful of people show up, because the prayer is so weak. Prayer groups have conductors, not leaders, not directors, but someone who knows the Lord well enough to conduct what He wants. In other words, when people drift back into their own little wants, or start praying self-pity prayers, or enter into negativity, the Conductor shifts the group back into higher approaches, praying the truth not the lie, daring to proclaim the power and authority of God, His majesty, His force, His joy and the group will once again be praying at a level that will succeed.
21 So Jesus answered and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' it will be done. 22 And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive." (Matthew 21:21, 22).
We want to pray prayers that move mountains! We want to know the will of God and proclaim it! Much teaching is going on today about our words and our words are definitely important because they form our future. But we cannot know what words to use until we know the will of God. His will is what must be done. To know His will is to get into worship and listen. He will speak. He will announce His good news because that is all He has to proclaim: Good News!
There is one thing we are required to do first.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).
Before we arrive at the prayer meeting, we must pray ourselves into a good place with God. We must confess to Him and repent before Him of any spiritual filthiness. What is spiritual filthiness? Ask Him. He will readily tell you what you have in your heart. As for me, I have pretty well controlled the words that leave my mouth. I know longer curse anybody or speak negatively about them, but I do entertain thoughts, thoughts of retaliation. I can’t tolerate criticism. That is a downfall for me. I don’t take action against the person but boy, I can sure think thoughts! To have a thought come to my mind and dismiss it—that’s fine. But to entertain the thought and think of the ways I could speak to that person and how they would cringe, well, that’s spiritual filthiness. When I catch myself, I repent.
We all need to clean our hearts before we come to the prayer meeting. We also need to pray any prayers we need for our own personal lives. We come to a communal prayer meeting in order to pray God’s purposes, therefore, our own purposes should already be resolved, at least for that day, by our own personal prayers.
21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. 22 And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight (1 John 3:21, 22).
Come with a clean heart, not with a condemning heart, and therefore we can trust God to give us what we ask for, and with confidence we can receive what we’ve asked for. His commandments are two-fold: love God, love people. Keeping those two commandments makes us free to ask for what we want, and we will receive it.