Devoted Prayer

Core Values  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  1:10:10
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Main Idea

Prayer is a means by which God works out His ends and changes us in the process

Outline & Passage

Why is devoted prayer a core value?
I - Because it's effectual
II - It honors God
III - It’s thoroughly biblical
IV - It changes us
Philippians 4:6–7 ESV
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I - Because it's effectual

Effectual means that it actually has an effect; that prayer actually does something. We should never view prayer as simply a religious practice or ritual that acts as a coping mechanism. Have you ever met someone who thinks that way? Who, if asked what they believe, responds that it is a personal thing that is between them and God alone? Someone, who might answer the question of abortion, let’s say, as a moral wrong, but they also don’t believe it is right to impose that belief on others? Do you see how that belief doesn’t have any real affect outside the individual. I think it’s easy for us to think that way about prayer as well. Sometimes, we act like God is our great psychologist in the sky to be there for us to unload on.
As New Testament believers, we believe that prayer actually makes a difference in the world (and within us), because we are praying to a God who is involved in the affairs of this world. When we pray, if we are praying biblically, then we pray with faith that God is capable and willing to respond to those prayers of His people. And to go one step further, prayer is actually a means by which God brings human history toward its intended destination, and is both a privilege and a duty for believers.
If you need textual proof, then look no further than James 5:16:
James 5:16 (ESV)
16 The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
The immediate parallel this verse draws is with a story of Elijah from 1 Kings 17, where he fervently prayed that it wouldn’t rain, and it didn’t for 3.5 years! And afterward, when he prayed for it to rain, it rained. This example was given to give confidence to those who pray for the sick to be healed and for wayward believers to repent and turn back from a life of sin. That seems to scream the truth that prayer does something and it does it powerfully.
Why would we neglect something that is powerful and effective? A builders doesn’t reach for a hand-held screwdriver when he has a 40-volt, batter-operated drill in his toolbox. Neither should we neglect the power of prayer.
So, we don’t pray so that we feel better or more spiritual. It’s not simply an internal phenomenon that never plays out in reality. To pray for those reasons is to miss the point entirely. We pray to a very relational and intimately involved God who cares about outcomes.
Prayer is effectual in this world, then, for two main reasons:

God hears us

God hears the prayers of his people. This is best seen in the popular verse from 2 Chronicles, which says:
2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV
14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
If you have ever read through the Bible, then you will likely remember a half-dozen other examples of this, because scripture is stuffed to the rafters with examples of how God hears the prayers His people. That should give us great confidence, because if God is attentive to His people, and He is in command over all things, then we have the active ear of the most powerful and loving being in existence. That is a pretty good deal!
But, we need to ask in the right ways, because there are certainly wrong ways. James reminds us that many times we don’t have answered prayers because we fail to ask God int he first place, so let’s not make that mistake. If we want to see change, we certainly must not fail to ask for it. But more than that, we need to ask with the right motives and desires, because we can easily pray for our own passions instead of God’s will to be done.
This should translate into confidence in your prayer life as well. You aren’t just reciting a list of wants and must-haves. What do you want to see God do? Ask Him according to His will and from a place of pure motives and move forward knowing that the Almighty God has heard your plea!

God works in this world

Secondly, God works in this world by answering those prayers. Again, God isn’t some unpredictable deity who may or may not give a rip about your prayer and petitions depending on what type of mood He is in.
Or first stroke of confidence is in the knowledge that He hears us. The next layer of confidence comes when we realize that He actually answers them!
Now, sometimes He answers in ways we don’t want… like when His answer is NO when we want a YES. We need to accept that no is an answer and trust it is for the best.
God heard the cries of His people and delivered them out of Egypt.
God delivered David countless times from his enemies, including the active King of Israel.
In the book of Jonah, God delayed judgement when the people of Nineveh cried out in repentance.
In 2 Chronicles, we see a similar condition: If my people pray, humble themselves, and repent, He will relent, forgive, and heal.
Have you ever had a prayer answered? What was your response? What did it do to your faith?
So, that is rule #1. Prayer actually does something. That is key, but there is much more...

II - It honors God

Even if we didn’t receive benefits from prayer (which we do), shouldn’t this be enough to pray? Shouldn’t we be about the business of living our lives in a way that pleases God simply because He is worthy of it?

It honors Him by pleasing Him

Scripture paints an interesting illustration of prayer. It’s likened to a pleasing aroma that rises to Him like burning incense. Take a look at this progression:
In the OT - the burnt & drink offerings along with incense offered on the alter of incense were pleasing aromas to the Lord. Even through the offerings meant temporary removal of sin, it was still an activity that brought great pleasure to God, because it was a purification of His people.
Ps 51:16-17: The offering changes. God is now more pleased with the sacrifice of a broken spirit and contrite heart (instead of the ritualistic sacrifices).
Ps 141:2: Instead of actual incense being offered, prayer goes up to God like incense and the lifting up of hands be like the lifting of the hand for the evening sacrifice
Eph 5:1-2: Jesus’ sacrifice is the fragrant offering that is pleasing to God
Rev 5:8: Describes the Lamb’s worthiness to open the scroll in heaven and we see the prayers of the saints offered to God as incense by the four living creatures during the heavenly worship service. Their prayer lives are like a gift presented to God.
This makes me think about how utterly delighted I am when I walk into a bakery and become enveloped in the smells of fresh-baked bread and coffee. I could spend hours there! Think of your prayers as giving God the same delight.
The testimony of scripture is pretty clear. Whereas animal sacrifices, wine, and incense offerings were pleasing to God because of their affect (meaning the cleansing and sanctifying of His people), the same is true of Jesus’ sacrifice (because it was the fulfillment of the entire sacrificial system), and of the prayers of His people. All are seen as willing sacrifices that are pleasing aromas around the throne.
Did you ever think of your prayers in that way? Doesn’t that appropriately take the focus of prayer life off of us and place it on giving God something wonderful? Don’t you want to give God that great pleasure?

It’s honors God as Father

God is our Father and He is delighted when His children want to talk to Him. Most of us can understand that, right? One of the best moments in my day is when I come home and one of my kids makes eye contact with me as I walk through the door, runs toward me, screams “DADDY!!”, and jumps in my arms. There is nothing better!
As a Dad, I love when my kids want to be with me. Right now, they still want me around. They want me to play with them, snuggle with them, read with them, and tuck them in at night. They want my presence in their lives. Don’t you think it’s the same and even more so with our Heavenly Father?
Isn’t the basic definition of prayer a conversation with our Father? We see this relational dynamic at play in Matthew 7.
Matthew 7:7–11 ESV
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
I know there are many of you who did not have a great relationship with your Father and may find it hard to connect with this concept. If that is you, then maybe think about what you wished your Dad could have been like. You wanted him present. You wanted love and compassion. You wanted mentorship. That is what Dads do.
Maybe you had the best Dad ever. I did. He was an incredible example for me, and even with that great influence, I know that God is infinitely more present, loving, compassionate and gracious… because He is the only person who can be the fullness of those things.
That is the relationship you have, and you bring your Heavenly Father great delight when you pray, because you are showing Him that you want Him in your life.
Hopefully, this reason will be a catalyst for change in our prayer lives, because it refocuses the intent. It’s so easy to make it about us. But in this view, instead of prayer being about me getting something from God, it becomes about offering something that is pleasing to Him, and that is a much better motivation, wouldn’t you agree?
But, even with that in place, there are other motivations to consider. We know prayer is effectual and that it pleases God, but we also want to pray because we see it clearly in scripture, and that is where I want to go next.

III - It's thoroughly biblical

It should go without saying that prayer is biblical, but I want us to see a few examples. We’ve just walked through verses that confirm God hears us and answers us and we’ve seen how He is honored through our prayers, but now, I want to spend just a few minutes seeing just how biblical it is.
First, it commands us in how often we should pray.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 ESV
17 pray without ceasing,
Okay, that’s about as clear as it gets. That’s pretty much what Paul was getting at in the verse from Philippians as well… to pray in every circumstance with thanksgiving.

Jesus modeled it

But beyond a command, it is a lifestyle that Jesus himself embodied. He secluded himself often to pray to the Father and he even gave the disciples an example of how to pray and how not to pray. Let’s take a look at that now.
Matthew 6:5–15 (ESV)
5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
So, don’t be arrogant and pray in a way that draws attention to yourself, because then, you are trying to draw attention to yourself! If that’s what you are searching for, then you aren’t really trying to commune with God at all. You just want to look good and godly in front of others, which is ironic, because when you do it that way, you are neither.
Instead, you are to pray a prayer like Jesus did. This wasn’t meant to be an exact prayer. Not that there is anything wrong with reciting it. We prayed this prayer after every football game when I was in High School and I enjoyed it, but that wasn’t really the point. It was a template prayer. Jesus said to pray like this… then gave an guideline that included
exaltation - honoring and holding God sacred, and acknowledging Him as your Father
alignment - praying for GOd’s will to be done and for His kingdom to come as Jesus described it
provision - give us what we need for today
forgiveness - we are never without fault. We need to give it and receive it
dependence - asking God to re-route us away from the things that tempt and ensnare us
If Jesus modeled it, we should eagerly emulate it. It is so easy for us to inject our selfish motives into our prayers and this one passage will help us pray in the right way.

It is what the early church did

How many times have we seen this in the book of Acts already? When Jesus ascended into heaven, what did the group of 120 believers do? They prayed together. When the Spirit came at Pentecost and they were filled and proceeded to boldly and miraculously proclaim Jesus, what did we find them doing? They were praying!
And not only were they praying, but we see the manner of prayer time and time again, in passages like Acts 1:14, 2:42, 6:4, and others. In these verses, we see how they devoted themselves to prayer.
It was intentional
It was fervent
It was on-going
It was corporate
I would love to see us model this aspect of the early church. I would love to see us come together and spend twenty minutes… thirty minutes… even an hour together in prayer as a church body. How tightly woven do you think we could be as a community of believers if we practiced that together regularly?
All of this has been a look at prayer from God’s viewpoint or a corporate viewpoint, but I want to finish with a third way in which prayer is effectual, in that it changes who we are individually.

IV - It changes us

There are many types of prayers in scripture, such as adoration, petition, lament, plea for mercy, intercession, and others. Each type is asking God to meet a particular need and as we experience that lack and fulfillment, it molds us and crafts us. We are changed by them. When I was a teenager, I thought I was bulletproof. I thought I could do almost anything and walk away unharmed, whether it was competitive sports, jumping of high waterfalls, or any number of bone-headed decisions I would make for a thrill. But now, as I get older, I see more and more just how fragile life is and how vulnerable we are. I see more clearly just how dependent we are on God’s hand of protection and provision.

Prayer reveals our dependence

So, when we pray prayers like these, we are admitting our dependence on Him. And, when we see an answered prayer from a posture of helplessness and dependence, our faith and trust grows.
I saw this when I lost my Construction Company in the economy crash of 2008. Not only did I lose my income, but we had a lot of outstanding debt, my oldest daughter had just been born, and we were living off of my wife’s teacher salary. Those were dark days and I doubted God often, and yet, He was patient with me and over time, He proved himself faithful. We didn’t go hungry. We didn’t lose our house, and eventually, God provided a job. He carried us through that time and now, it is a integral part of my testimony.

Prayer aligns us to God’s will

Like Jesus’ model prayer, we are to pray for God’s will to be done. That would imply that you understand what God’s will is. So, if you don’t know, you should pray that God would show that to you and read your Bible to discern it. That was Paul’s prayer for the Colossian church:
Colossians 1:9 ESV
9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
…and it is the exhortation of John to his readers:
1 John 5:14–15 ESV
14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
The confidence of these prayers is built on the foundation of knowing what God wants to do, and let that knowledge guide how we pray. And when we pray like that, we will be changed for the better.
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