How to Pray
We’re going to talk about how to pray right now. One of the very basic things about the Christian life is praying. You know, we said that reading the Bible is like eating. Well, praying is like breathing. One of the other things that it’s really helpful to do if you happen to be alive is breathe. It has very redeeming value.
You exist when you come into the world in an atmosphere. And one of the things that the atmosphere does is put pressure on your lungs, and from the very beginning you breathe. And the reason you breathe is because of the air pressure that is exerted against your lungs, it forces your lungs to take air in. That’s why it’s much more difficult to hold your breath than it is to breathe. You hold your breath for about a minute and you turn purple and your heart starts pounding and you get sweaty because you’re resisting the normal pressure against your lungs.
Well, prayer is like that. When you’re born into the family of God, when you’re born again, when you become a child of God and you enter into God’s world, there is a sphere in which you live. The atmosphere of God’s presence and grace exerts pressure on your life, and the normal thing is to breathe, and we just say that’s prayer – responding to God’s pressure and presence in your life.
Prayer is as normal to the Christian as breathing is to the human. You live in an atmosphere, and you respond to that atmosphere of the presence of God by receiving that presence of God and by taking it in and putting it back out again in response to Him.
Prayer really is important. We talk a lot about prayer and we throw the word around, but prayer is a tremendous power. Somebody once said, “Prayer is the slender nerve that moves the muscles of omnipotence.” And prayer activates the power of God – that’s putting the same thing in a simple term. Prayer activates the power of God. God moves in response to the prayers of His people. And not only that, but prayer lines you up properly with God. When we’re told to pray, we are told to pray in the Spirit.
Now, what it means to pray in the Spirit is to pray consistently with the Spirit of God. So prayer not only moves God to act but prayer is to align us with the will and purpose of God. When we pray in the will of God or in accord with God’s will, we are lining up with His purposes, and so prayer has a definite effect of lining us up with God’s purposes as well as causing God to act. Prayer really does change things. I know when I was a little kid, we had a deal in our dining room that said, “Prayer changes things.” It really does. Prayer is effective.
There was a guy doing some sculpture one time, and he was down and was pounding on the bottom of this thing on the ground, and a preacher came in and said, “I wish I could deal such changing blows on the hearts of men.” And the sculptor looked at him and said, “Maybe you could if you worked like me – on your knees.” And there’s a lot of truth to that because prayer can do what all of your teaching can’t do.
If my experience has taught me anything – and I say this with a very genuine feeling that what I say you probably won’t really understand totally – but from my standpoint in the ministry, I know the difference in my ministry when there is prayer and when there is not. It is very evident to me. Both the prayers of people, even people I don’t know, and my own faithfulness in prayer makes a very distinguishable difference in my ministry, and I am very aware of it. Prayer is very effective.
We would say that prayer simply is talking to God, you know, and one of the things that happens when a baby comes into a family is that the first thing you want the baby to do is what? The first thing that you want out of new life is communication. You want some response, and that’s the same as a Christian. The thing that happens when you become a Christian is immediately you’re thrown into an environment with God where you have a tremendous desire to communicate with God, to respond, and to say the things that are on your heart.
Now, that’s all prayer is. Prayer isn’t buying a little book and saying, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” bleep, bleep, and all that. That isn’t prayer. Prayer is communing with God. It’s just conversation like you talk to anybody. It isn’t a whole lot of thee’s and thou’s and holy mogus and all kinds of fancy words. It’s not a vocabulary contest to see who can say the most theological words without taking a breath. It isn’t that at all.
And prayer is not vain repetition. It’s not, “Please, oh, do this, oh, I beg you, I beg you, I beg you,” you know. “Please do this, please” – you know, you don’t need to beg like that. The Pharisees had endless repetition. Prayer isn’t that, either. It’s not saying 48 Hail Mary’s in a row, same thing over and over again. God isn’t deaf and He heard you the first time. There isn’t any need – there isn’t any need for endless repetition. That’s Matthew chapter 6. Prayer is not endless repetition.
Prayer is not begging, begging, “Oh, please, oh, please, oh, please do this and if you only do this and – this”. It’s not that kind of thing, although there is petition and there is earnestness in it. Prayer is simply conversation. And sometimes in your life you may say, “God, it’s sure a nice day and I hope you’re enjoying it like I am, and I just want to thank you for it.” That’s as significant a prayer as if you stood up in a pulpit and said a bunch of theology because all you’re doing is communing with God.
When we read the Bible, God talks to us; when we pray, we talk to Him. And you’ve got to have both sides or you don’t have conversation. Nobody likes a one-sided conversation. Now, all Christians pray. We all talk to God sometimes. We don’t all pray right. We don’t all pray the way we ought to. A lot of Christians pray wrong. First place, we spend a lot of our time asking for stuff we don’t need. Did you ever know that? “Lord, give me this, give me that, give me that,” and the Lord knows if He gave it to us it would only mess us up, so He doesn’t.
And other things we do, we ask for things we already have. You ever ask the Lord for peace? The Bible says you have the peace surpasses understanding already. You ever ask the Lord for grace? The Bible says His grace is already sufficient. You ever ask Him for love? He says the love of God is shed abroad in your heart. What more do you want? You see, we ask the Lord for a lot of stuff we already have. That’s why James said we ought to ask for wisdom. Then if we have wisdom, that will be the sense to not ask Him for what we’ve already got.
So prayer is simply communing with God. But there are some rights and some wrongs and some things about prayer that we need to understand basically. Prayer is simply talking to God. It isn’t to be sophisticated. It isn’t to be formal or informal or – it’s just anything. Paul says in Ephesians 6:18, “Praying always with all kinds of prayer.” Any kind of prayer. You could be crying out, “Oh, God,” you know, in a terrible time of stress, or you could be saying, “Lord, this is a terrific day. I’m really happy. I just want you to know I’m checking in.” You know, that’s prayer. Any kind of communion with God at any point, any level, on any subject. Communion with God is prayer.
Now, you don’t have to close your eyes. Of course, I grew up in a church that was rather provincial and whenever you prayed, you know, you sort of did this little routine. You close your eyes and bow your head and all that kind of stuff. And it’s important to teach kids to do that so they don’t look around the room and make little noises and fool around and sneak, you know, their dinner and stuff. So you get them to, you know, do this – just – just so nobody starts before you, see, and – or else we hold hands, you know, just to get them to concentrate.
I remember when I used to go out with this bunch of guys and we used to go on the road. We’d would go to preach and sing and we had a quartet and a lot of funny deals we did. So we’d go out, and every time we would go out we would have a prayer meeting, you know. The first time we went out, we went out and – and everybody prayed with their eyes open, especially the guy who was driving, you know. It was his turn to pray and he just – I mean we were glad for that, we were, you know, we didn’t want to just have him close his eyes and commit everything to the Lord. He couldn’t drive well with his eyes open. But anyway, he’d drive along, and, you know, the first time it happened I thought, “I wonder if the Lord hears. I mean, he doesn’t have his eyes closed.” And then every time you see somebody pray on television they’ve always got their eyes wide open.
And it really doesn’t matter, you know. The Bible says you can pray with your eyes lifted up to heaven. It says you can pray with your hands lifted up. It says you can pray kneeling, you can pray bowing, you can lie down and pray, you can stand up, you can pray while you’re walking, sitting – you know, it doesn’t matter. I know some people who have their devotions in the bathroom, you know, and that’s – that’s fine. It doesn’t matter, really.
Praying is just conversing with God, and the particular physical position, the particular mode, what you do with your eyeballs, isn’t the issue. That’s not the issue at all. The idea is communing with God. Now, let me just talk about prayer very briefly from a standpoint of a couple of points you have in your outline: the necessity, the conditions, the content, and the hindrances. We’re going to run by them quick.
First of all, the necessity for prayer. It is necessary, number one, because it is commanded. And anything that is commanded of the Christian becomes necessary. Jesus said in Luke 18:1, “I want everybody everywhere to pray and not to faint.” You know what most people do when they have a problem? Faint. Jesus said don’t faint, do what? Pray. “I want you to pray, not faint.”
You know, Peter had a problem. He was always falling asleep in prayer meeting and – and Jesus, said to him, “You know, if you stayed awake and prayed, you wouldn’t be in the mess you’re in. Watch and pray lest you enter into” – what? - “temptation.” You see, Peter didn’t pray so he didn’t have himself girded, really, for the temptation. If you prayed more than you sleep, you’d be better off. You know, some of us go to bed at night and we say, “Dear Lord,” and we’re gone, you know, and then we – we wake up the next day and we bomb out all day. Well, you know what we did? We went to sleep instead of praying. “Watch and pray lest you enter into temptation.”
Prayer undergirds us. It’s necessary to pray. It’s necessary because it’s commanded. It’s necessary – and you can add this in a little point, sub-point there, it’s necessary because it keeps sin away. It prepares us. Incidentally, you can pray to anybody in the Trinity you want. Pray to God. People say, “Oh, but you have to pray in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Well, we’ll talk about what that means. You can pray to God, you can pray to Christ, you can talk to the Holy Spirit, just talk to anybody in the Trinity, or you could say, “I want all of you to listen here, I have something to say to all of you.” So you can call them all in there.
Now, it is commanded that we not only pray but it is commanded that we pray a lot. In fact, it says, “Praying always,” in Ephesians 6:18, and in 1 Thessalonians 5, it says, “Pray without” – what? – “ceasing.” Now, you know, I used to wonder, “Pray without ceasing. How do you do that?” Because as a child, all I could see was your eyes closed and your - you could go around the world like this, and you’d be like the bruised and bleeding Pharisees, you know. They were a group of Pharisees of the time of Jesus who thought it was a sin to look at a woman, so whenever a woman appeared they immediately closed their eyes and they kept running into walls and that’s how they got their name, see.
But we don’t want you to be bruised and bleeding Christians going around praying and running into everything. So that isn’t the idea of praying always, or praying without ceasing. It simply means that you are in an attitude of God consciousness at all times. It is commanded that you - you see everything in relation to God.
Let me give you an illustration of how that works. You’re going through life and you’re just minding your own business. You see something good. You see a clear day, you see a lovely little child or you hear a friend, they call you on the phone, you think about the love of that friend, or maybe you look at the person you love and you just say, “Isn’t that great?” So what do you do? What’s your first reaction? “Thank you, Lord, for that.” You’re seeing things in relation to God, you see. You don’t just say, “Isn’t that a nice thing?” You say, “God, you made that and you made it that way and I thank you for that.” You see everything in relation to God and you converse with Him about it.
You see something bad, you don’t say, “There’s something bad, it’s too bad bad things are around,” you say, “No, God, there’s something that’s bad. I want you to make it good, Father. Can you do something about the situation?” So you see a bad thing in relation to God. Or maybe you see a problem and you say, “Lord, here’s a problem. Deliver us from the problem, solve the problem, gain glory from the problem.” You see, in other words, everything it is, good, bad, indifferent, whatever it is, you see it in the light of God. It becomes something for which you can talk to God. That’s praying without ceasing.
It isn’t just mumbling all through the day some little words or praying some special prayer, it’s just relating everything that goes on in your life through the day to the presence of God. He’s there. You can all think of a best friend you have. Maybe it’s your husband or wife or boyfriend, girlfriend, or whatever. But think of the best friend. And imagine your best friend was with you today, all day by your side. You had the whole day with your best friend or the person you love most. And that person never left your side this entire day. And you talked to that person today just as many times as you talked to Christ today. How much conversation did you have with them?
Did you pray at all today? How would your friend feel if he spent the whole day with you and you never said a word? And he was there the whole time? Well, it would be a little ridiculous, wouldn’t it? It would probably be the start of the end of your friendship. You would at least acknowledge that they were there, and you would begin to see things in the light of the presence of your friend.
You’d say, “Hey isn’t that terrific? Did you see that? Isn’t that too bad? You know, we ought to do something about that.” You’re relating everything to the presence of your friend. That’s how it is in prayer. All you’re doing is relating everything to the presence of God and that’s a God-conscious attitude and that’s praying without ceasing.
All right, so the necessity of prayer is predicated, first of all, on the fact that it’s commanded. Secondly, it brings glory to God. You know, when you pray, God gets glorified because then He can answer, and when He answers, then you praise Him. John 14:13 says that we’re to pray and He will answer for His own glory. “Whatever you will ask in my name, I’ll do it that the Father may be glorified.” God says, “I answer prayer to get the glory.”
I’ll give you an illustration. Last Sunday night we talked about that deal with Venezuela, remember that? We wanted to get some money for the radio stations there. Well, Sunday afternoon I said to Luis Palau, I said, “How much money do you need to run the whole Caracas, Venezuela radio, the whole thing?” He figured out 26 hundred dollars for television, 24 hundred dollars for radio, says, “$5,000.00.” So this is Sunday afternoon. So I said, “Well, we’ll take a love offering tonight. We’ll just ask the Lord to give us $5,000.00.”
Well, you know, that isn’t an arbitrary thing, that’s a very exact thing. We’ve never taken an offering yet in the history of this church at all, a love offering, that ever amounted to $5,000.00. Never. So I just prayed to the Lord, I said, “Lord, we would just like to have a $5,000.00 offering.” Well, you’ve got about 17 or 18 hundred people here. How do they all know how much to give to make $5,000.00? If you figure it out on paper, it wouldn’t come out that, right? So we just committed it to the Lord, “Lord, you want $5,000.00, bring it in.”
So what happens? Sunday night we take the offering, count the offering on Monday morning, it’s $4,400.00. Wednesday night I’m saying it’s only 44 hundred, and a guy walks up to me and says, “By the way, there’s 600 more dollars came in from that offering.” Five thousand dollars. Well, no way we could organize that.
So we prayed, so God answered, so who got the glory? God did. That’s why to pray. God may have done the same thing. He may have brought the $5,000.00 in, but we wouldn’t have been able to glorify Him unless we had requested that thing and then let Him do that thing. You see? So prayer is a way in which God can display His power and gain glory, and that’s very important.
All right, thirdly, we are to pray because prayer blesses us. And what did we say the word “blessing” means? Makes you happy. When you pray, you get happy. Praying people are happy people. You know why? They’re talking to God and it’s great to talk to God. And then God answers what we ask and that makes us happy.
Fourth (D). Prayer is important because it works. I’m like you, I want to do what works, right? I’m not going to waste my time doing something that doesn’t have any effect. Prayer works. James 5:16 says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man” – does what? – “avails much.” It works. Effectual fervent prayer from a righteous heart works. It actually activates God. It makes a difference. You pray for $5,000.00, God gives $5,000.00. It works. Sometimes He answers no, but He answers yes enough for us to know that prayer works.
First John 5:15 says and we know that – “if we know that He hear us, whatever we ask, we know we have the petitions we desired of Him.” “If God hears,” John says, “then we know He answers.” Prayer really works. It really does have an effect. How does it work? That’s a good question. First, under that, sometimes it works immediately. Have you ever noticed that? Sometimes you can’t hardly believe how fast it works. You ask for something like we did on Sunday afternoon, Sunday night you’ve got it. Sometimes prayer works immediately.
Isaiah 65:24 says - great statement: “And it shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer. And while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” God’s already sending the answer before we’ve even gotten the prayer off. It works immediately sometimes. Secondly, sometimes it’s delayed. Sometimes we may pray for something and we have to wait because God knows a lot more than we know and He knows it’s better to come later than to come now.
Luke 18:7, “And shall not God avenge His own elect who cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them?” In other words, sometimes it’s painful and you have to go through a lot of things. And sometimes God’s chosen people have had to suffer and suffer and suffer and suffer, and it seems like it goes on and on and on. But God will answer, even though it takes Him a long time to get His answer. And that’s because He has a purpose. So sometimes it’s immediate, sometimes it’s delayed, sometimes it’s different than we asked for.
Sometimes he gives us even more than we ask for. I’ll never forget this guy named Pappy Reveal. He was really a character. His legs were paraplegic and so he couldn’t stand up, but he had a wheelchair and he had tremendously strong arms for an 85-year-old man. And he would come and he would preach by holding on the pulpit – he’d hang on the pulpit and his legs would dangle behind the pulpit.
He’d just hang on there and lean over there. And he could really pray. I mean the guy had the gift of faith and he could pray and it was incredible. He was telling a story one time – he would talk at the top of his voice. He was the head of some big mission in the Midwest, and he was, “And I needed a station wagon.” He was going on and on about this station wagon. And he says, “I got down on my knees and I said, ‘God, you know I need a station wagon.’”
And he was telling God “a blue one,” you know, with the thing and this and a – and he was going through this whole prayer with the station wagon. And so he – he said, “You know what happened? Within one week we got three new station wagons. Hallelujah,” you know, and he’d holler real loud, “Amen, amen, amen.” Used to say “amen” about five times whenever he got happy.
Well, here was a case where God gave him more than he asked for. You know, God knew he needed more than he thought he needed, I guess. That’s biblical. Jeremiah 33:3. Don’t always count on that, so that when it comes you’re surprised. Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call on me and I will answer thee and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not.” Even beyond what you know, “great and mighty things which thou knowest not.” It’s kind of like Ephesians 3:20, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask.” He can do more than we can ask.
I can think about my own ministry coming to Grace Church and praying in the early years, “Lord, I want you to use me here and I want you to bless this church” and I never even dreamed what would happen. I had absolutely not the slightest inclination what was going on. And nobody is more surprised than me at what God has chosen to do. Far beyond what I ever could ask or think.
All right, the conditions of prayer. Now when you’re going to pray, how you going to pray? (A) Asking in Christ’s name. And this needs to be explained because more people get this over-simplified. They think that at the end of every prayer you say “in Jesus’ name, amen,” and that guarantees it. Praying in Christ’s name. Oh, and then you get some Presbyterian who prays and says, “Amen.” You say, “Oh, he didn’t say ‘in Jesus’ name, amen.’ That’ll never get beyond the ceiling.” I heard a guy say one time, “That’s like sending a letter to God without a stamp.”
I mean, you’ve got to have this little formula zapped on the end, you know, or it doesn’t get there. Now, that’s really ridiculous. You read the prayers in the Scripture, you’re going to find very few of them that end “in Jesus’ name, amen.” That is not what it means in John 14:13 when it says, “If you ask anything in my name.” What the word “name” means is all that Jesus is, so praying in His name is asking consistently with who He is. That’s all.
It is saying, “This I ask as if Christ was asking it.” Another way. The idea of name means all that He is. The name of Christ is all that He is, the totality of His person. “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” What did that mean? Did that mean that the little name had a trick thing to it? A formula? No, it meant because of who He is, because of His power and His person, walk. So the name means all that He is. So when I ask in Jesus’ name, I’m asking consistent with who He is.
Illustration. “Father, this I ask because I know this is what Jesus would want.” You got it? Try that at the next prayer. “Lord, all the stuff I’ve been asking for, I’m asking because I know” – that’s hard to say – “this is what Jesus would want.” That’s how to pray in His name. Now, that will clean up a lot of the junk. Right? Right there, you get rid of a lot of stuff.
Like the little kid who said, “Lord, bless mommy and bless daddy,” and then at the top of his voice he says, “and, God, I’d like a new bicycle.” His dad says, “Well, God isn’t deaf.” He says, “I know, but grandma’s in the next room and she’s hard of hearing.” Yeah, well, who you praying to? A little selfish there. Like James says, you ask amiss to consume it on your own lusts, and that’s why you don’t get it, you receive not.
So asking in Christ’s name is saying, “This is what I ask because this is what I believe Jesus would want.” Can you pray about the one you love and say, “I pray for their salvation because this is what I believe Jesus would want?” Sure. Can you pray for your own spiritual welfare because you know this is what Jesus would want? Sure. There are some things that you know He wants and you know He would pray for. That’s what it means to ask in His name, not “Dear Lord, I want a new Datsun 240Z because this is what Jesus would want.”
All right, secondly, we not only ask in Christ’s name, we ask in faith. We ask believing. God wants you to believe Him, and then when He does respond, you’ll give Him praise. Matthew 21:22, “And all things whatever you ask in prayer believing you will receive.” The first condition, ask consistent with Christ. The second condition, ask believing. Do you really believe God does answer prayer in your heart? That’s a condition. And what he means by that is, “Well, God, if you’re really up there, do a trick and then I’ll believe in you.” No, no. God is not doing tricks to make people believe; He is responding to the prayers of those who do. Believing.
In fact, it says, “If you had the faith of a grain of a mustard seed you could” – do what? – “move a mountain.” And I remember the story of the little old lady who said she had a mountain in her back yard, she wanted to get rid of this hump so she could put a garden. And so she got down on her knees and prayed, “Oh, Lord, I know that you can remove a mountain and I believe” - she got up in the morning, the mountain’s still there. “Ha,” she says, “I knew it.”
Well, that’s not exactly asking in faith. She knew all along God wouldn’t do that. There’s another scripture comes to mind. Let’s see, where is it? James - James 5:15, “The prayer of faith shall save the sick and the Lord shall raise him up.” And there again you have implied in the idea of praying the idea of faith. Asking, believing.
Thirdly, asking in God’s will, consistently with God’s will. You always have to say, “Father, this I ask in your will.” First John 5:14, “This is the confidence that we have in Him, if we ask anything according to His” – what? – “will, He hears and does it.” So in Christ’s name, asking in faith and in God’s will. If we say, “God, do this whether you like it or not,” He’s not going to do that. God is not up there whimsically responding to everything we ask for whether He wants to do it or not. Prayer, as I said, is lining us up with God’s will.
Another thing, prayer must come from a pure heart. Pure heart. James 5:16, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man.” If there’s garbage in your life, the channel of prayer is really closed off.
And then the last thing is we’re to ask with earnestness. God really wants what is called by the old English word “importunity.” Remember the guy in Luke 11 who wanted to get the bread? So he goes and he starts banging on the door and the guy’s asleep and he says, “Get out of here.” And the guy keeps banging and banging and banging and the guy says, “Get out.” Bang, bang, bang. The guy finally comes down, and he says, “I want some bread.” And the Lord says, “You see, he got the bread for his much knocking, so shall you for your much asking.” In other words, this is seeking. This is being so intense and so desirous that you continue to seek the Lord, not endless repetition, but earnestness.
All right, thirdly, the content of prayer. We’re moving pretty quick, but we want to wrap it up. The content of prayer. What is prayer to be about? Well, first of all, the kind of prayer, we mentioned that earlier, Ephesians 6:18, all kinds, any old kind. Standing up, sitting down, crying out, whispering, praying in a closet, praying in public, supplication, which is asking for things, interceding, which is praying for somebody else’s needs, thanksgiving, which is thanking God for what he’s done, praise, which is just extolling His virtues. Any kind, all kinds.
Now, what is to be the subject of your prayers? Who do you pray about? Two things: yourself and others, that’s it. Pray for yourself and pray for others. And those Scriptures there, you can look for yourselves, we don’t need to go into those. But it would be an interesting study for you sometime to trace in the Bible who you’re told to pray for. You ever do that? You can find a whole long list of about 15 different specific groups that you’re told to pray for.
You’re supposed to pray to the Lord He’ll send for laborers into His harvest. You’re supposed to pray for new missionaries and teachers and preachers. Did you ever pray for that? You’re told to pray for that. Do you ever pray for your president? You’re told to pray for those in authority over you. Do you ever pray for the governor? The policemen? You ever pray for your local police? Should pray for your local police. Pray for the governor. There’s a lot of people you’re supposed to be praying for and they’re all there in many places in the New Testament.
All right, then lastly, there’s some hindrances to prayer. And generally speaking, the hindrance is Psalm 66:18. “If I regard iniquity in my heart” – what? – “the Lord will not hear me.” The hindrance to prayer is sin. Psalm 66:18. The hindrance to prayer is sin. Now, that sin can take many, many, many forms. Number one there, selfishness. If you ask selfishly to consume it on your own lusts, your prayers are hindered. Then I list some other ones, unconcern – you know, that interesting one is the fourth one.
If you’re not getting along with your wife, your prayer won’t be answered. Did you know that? That’s kind of heavy, isn’t it? People wonder why things aren’t going well in their home. Well, they ought to maybe get right with the wife before they get right with the Lord. When you doubt things, James says, you’re wavering, your prayers are hindered. Unconcern there, from Proverbs 21. All of those things hinder prayer. All right, there is a general look, a general outline on the subject of prayer in a very basic way.
Now let me throw it at you again and have some questions. We have about 20 minutes or so and we’ll just try to pick up any of the areas we didn’t cover and answer those right now.
Audience: On the asking in the will of God, do you kind of tack that on like in Jesus’ name? Is that what you were saying? Or, you know, like some people, every time they pray, they go, “Lord, if it’s your will,” and kind of got the idea that they really don’t think it is but they’re going to pray it anyways.
Audience: Would you explain what you mean by asking in the will of God?
John: By asking in the will of God, I think you are acknowledging that whatever God would want to do would be best. Now, in a very practical sense, there may be some times when God gives you what you ask for even though it isn’t the best. Illustration number one would be Saul. The people kept begging God over and over and over and over for a king and they got one and he was a bummer. And it was God’s way of saying, “You’re better off to do it my way to start with.” So it may be that one way God could teach us a lesson would be to give us what we want but we really don’t want that. In your prayer, honestly and objectively, you really do want God’s will because God’s will is the best thing. So I think that’s the idea of it. Okay?
Audience: Yeah, thank you.
Audience: At the first point, you asked – you said that prayer moves God to act. Would you explain how I can move God to act?
John: Well, I’m only responding to Scripture just exactly how that works. In other words, how my prayers affect the sovereign God is a mystery. But I do know that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. I do know, for example, in the Old Testament that God says, “I am going to wipe out Israel.” And then what happened? Moses starts praying, “No, no, God, don’t do that, don’t do that,” and what did God do? God spared them. In other words, somehow in some way, the sovereignty of God and the will of man in prayer connect. That’s a mystery, and I don’t – how they do it, I just accept the fact that Scripture says they do. Incidentally, the mysteries are important because they let God be God.
Audience: Two things that I’d like you to explain that I hear people use in prayer very often. Pleading the blood of Christ and praying to bind Satan. They’re common practice. Would you comment?
John: Well, both of those are ridiculous. Pleading the blood of Christ, I – I don’t even understand what that means. Some people will say to me, “Well, boy, we were afraid of demons so we went in this room and pled the blood of Christ in the bedroom and then we pled the blood of Christ in the dining room and” – that’s ridiculous. You’ve reduced yourself to magical formulas. You’re acting like a witch or a warlock. You’re reducing things to a formula. You don’t need to beg the blood of Christ into your house; if you’re a Christian, the blood of Christ has covered your sin in your life. You know, going around and saying, “I plead the blood of Christ,” you know, that little verbosity, those words coming out of your mouth have zero effect on Satan. They don’t have any effect on him. What has an effect on what he does is your own holiness, right? Or the practical righteousness of your life, your salvation. Saying that doesn’t mean anything. So the idea of running around and pleading the blood here, there, and everywhere is – is ridiculous. People get into conflict with demons and they think they’ve got it all figured out and they forget that demons are so much more intelligent than they are that they’re dealing with demons who are infinitely wiser than they are and who are liars. You know? So you can’t believe anything they say. There are even demons that claim to have the name Jesus. So the idea that you could go around and say little formulas and clean Satan out of your house or demons is ridiculous. The way to eliminate them is simply by having a pure life and confessing sin before God, and that takes care of it. So the idea of pleading the blood is not even a biblical concept. The blood of Christ has already been pled in your behalf and it’s washed away your sins and made you a child of God, you’re cleansed forever. There’s nothing left to plead. In addition to that, the idea of praying to bind Satan is, again, ridiculous. What does that mean? Does that mean that if you say a little formula, it’s going to happen? Listen, if you live a holy life, Satan is already bound because greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world. The Bible simply says resist the devil and he’ll do what? He’ll flee from you. He can’t handle you. Incidentally, the binding and loosing of Matthew 18 has nothing to do with the devil, it has to do with discipline in the church and God’s agreement with what’s being done in the church. So don’t reduce your prayer to formulas. That’s not the issue.
Audience: When you pray, how do you know – you’re praying earnestly for something over and over and over again, how do you know you’re not going to get something like a Saul in your life, you know, you don’t –
John: That’s a good question and a fair question. You probably would have to really search your motives, and I think that would be the key. I think in the case of Israel, it was clearly a pride motive. They were seeking a king and this is what they said: Everybody else has a king, we should have a king. You know, that’s like praying for a Cadillac because everybody on your block has one. There’s a selfish motive there. But I would say that if you have examined your motives and your motives are pure, that you have nothing to fear. Okay?
Audience: I understand that idols don’t have to be graven images, you know, that we’re to bow down to, but can you help us understand what some could be in our lives now?
John: Anything that substitutes for God in your life is an idol. Anything that takes precedence over God is an idol. For some people, I suppose, it could be a girlfriend. I mean I’ve seen some people totally abandon all their Christian testimony for the sake of some girl that they fall in love with. And vice versa. I’ve seen girls, you know, going into church and active and aggressive in the Word of God and they get attracted to some guy and all of a sudden – boing – you know, they’re gone, long gone, just – set your goals for God, anything that diverts you to another thing – nothing wrong with boyfriends and girlfriends, that’s all right, we’re for that, but the perspective has to be proper. It could be money. Some people bow down at the shrine of money and they worship money. The biggest thing in their life is to make money. Not so much for the money’s sake, usually, but for the sake of being able to show the other people that they have the money. It’s always a pride thing much more than it is a materialistic thing in most cases. It isn’t that they really want a different car, house, clothes, it’s they want everybody else to know they have a different one that’s better than the other. So it can be materialism, it can be even humanism. You can worship the mind. Some people go to college and all they want is degrees after degrees after degrees so that they can write them all down on a little piece of paper and everybody’ll think they’re bright, you can worship education. It could be anything. It could be sex, it could be booze, it could be anything, anything that dominates and – and diverts you from the total goal of submitting yourself in worship to God. Could be even a hobby. Could be a good thing. Golf is a good thing, a lot of people like golf. You go out there and you bat around a little white ball and it’s terrific. But for some people, it becomes god, you know, it’s as if they were worshiping the little white ball, they can’t do anything else, that’s their whole life. It’s like the guy who was playing golf, you know, and a funeral went by and he took his hat off and he bowed his head. Funeral went by and this other guy says to him, “I didn’t know funerals got to you like that.” He said, “They don’t normally but it’s my wife.” So, you know, you can get to the place with any good thing – you can get to the place where even a good thing, a good thing can become a very evil thing. Does that help?
Audience: When we pray, does Satan hear our prayers or can he listen to us?
John: Yeah, if we pray audibly, I think he can, but I don’t think it matters a whole lot.
Audience: I mean it doesn’t make any difference in my life, I was just curious.
John: Yeah. I think he can hear what you say out loud, but I’m not convinced he can hear the prayers of your heart before God. I don’t think he’s omniscient as we’ve covered in our series on that. I don’t think Satan knows the secret prayer of your heart, but I think he hears what you say. But, frankly, the best time for him to hear you would be when you’re praying because you’re really in the right contact there, so I don’t think it makes any difference that he hears. I hope he hears a lot of things I say.
Audience: Would you comment on fleeces?
John: On what?
John: Is that a herd of fleas? Oh, I see, fleeces, okay. I got you, you mean putting out a fleece?
John: Yeah, well, that’s a good question. People say, “Well, I told the Lord that if it rained on Tuesday then I would take that as a sign from Him.” Bad news. Don’t do that to God. You know, don’t put God in a situation where you force the issue. That’s just exactly what Jesus was tempted to do by Satan. Satan says, “Now, you dive off the temple, and if He catches you, we’ll all know you’re the Messiah.” So you’re forcing God into a corner. And so what did Jesus say? Thou shalt not what? Tempt the Lord thy God. Don’t put God in that kind of a deal. And, you know, people will say that all the time. “Well, I put out a fleece and I said, ‘All right, God, if a phone call comes in between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, I’ll know that that’s your will.’” That’s ridiculous because you’re forcing God into a corner, and that might not be His timing. Don’t ever do that and don’t make a judgment on the basis of some whimsical desire to have something happen in a certain way.
Audience: I understand why God might not answer a prayer for a 240Z, but I don't understand if a family is praying for a safe trip and on their way back they’re – half are killed and it’s stated it’s God’s will. I don't understand what the point of prayer would have been or even constant prayer because it was going to be God’s will for the family to split in the first place.
John: Well, the point was that we have to learn to let God say no, that’s all. And true faith in God will let Him say no. You know, we pray for the safety of our children, but some of our children die. That doesn’t cause us to lose faith in God, that just causes us to say God is sovereign and He makes the choices. So prayer is still useful because prayer is communing with Him, and prayer, then, must be offered in his will. We pray, “Father, give us a safe trip in your will.” Jesus prayed, “Father, save me from this hour,” and yet He said, “nevertheless not my will but thine be done.” Would you say His prayer did no good? No. Because His prayer was if I don’t have to go through this, that’s what I would prefer, but if you want me to, I will. And I think that’s the kind of prayer which says God, all we can pray as human beings is that you would keep us safe, but if you choose to take us home, then you’re God and that’s your plan.
Audience: So all you do is make a petition and He makes the decision?
John: That’s it. That’s it.
Audience: When you were talking about prayer, you made the comment that it was wrong for us to ask for more love or more peace because we already have this. And I assume that you were referring to us positionally. We have it all, but then there’s the other side, and don’t you think that often when people pray for more love or more peace or any of these things that are ours positionally, that they’re asking that it would be more of a part of their experience? Without denying the fact that it is their position and that it wouldn’t be irrelevant to pray that way?
John: Only thing that I’m saying is that kind of prayer often assumes that you need something that you don’t have when all you’re really talking about is appropriation.
John: That the prayer should be framed, “Lord, help me to exercise that which you have given me.” You know, I just react negatively to the idea that a Christian is incapable of anything and that he has to say, “God, I can’t do this until you do this for me.” He’s done it all for you. It’s a question of your willingness to appropriate what is yours. The average Christian thinks that there are things that he still needs but there aren’t really. They’re all ours if we will only be obedient to appropriate them. You know, it’s just like going to your closet and having an unending supply of everything you need. There’s no sense in sitting in the living room praying about it, you might as well go to the closet and use it. So it’s that kind of idea. “Lord, help me to appropriate what you’ve given me.” Just the recognition that you have everything.
Audience: But it’s not wrong to ask Him for the strength to do that?
John: To use it.
Audience: I have a question concerning the gospel where it – talking about hypocrisy of praying aloud versus praying in the closet and praying the Lord’s Prayer.
John: Well, you see, when Jesus was talking to the Pharisees and to the Jewish leaders, they wanted to pray in public because that’s how they displayed their spirituality. When they came to pray, they would always put on real cruddy clothes and put ashes all over their head and they would come down, very spiritual, with the ashes over their head and this was their format. And Jesus was saying, “You know, that’s despicable because that’s pride. If there was anything legitimate to this, you’d go in your closet and pray between you and God.” He wasn’t saying that always when you pray, go in your closet. I mean some places, they don’t even have closets. You know? So that isn’t the point. And sometimes there isn’t one around. The point is he’s simply saying as opposed to that public display of pride, there ought to be the private reality of real conversing with God.
Audience: Does God answer unsaved people’s prayers?
John: God is not obligated to answer the prayers of unsaved people.
Audience: Well, the thing I can’t understand is –
John: He may choose on some occasion to do that, but normally He would be doing what He would be doing anyway and they would maybe hit it on the head once in a while. But if He’s driving them to Himself, He may bring those sequence of events. God is not obligated to answer the prayers of unbelievers simply because He says if I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord won’t hear me.
Audience: My mother-in-law always says that, you know, she prayed for her kids and everything seemed to turn out okay, which, you know, my husband said that, you know, that undoubtedly her prayers were answered in many ways.
John: But, you see, there are just as many people who prayed and their kids didn’t turn out all right, so, you see, it’s just a matter of, you know, they’re either going to turn out good or bad and so you got a 50-50 shot even if God isn’t listening.
Audience: It’s the Lord’s will, then?
John: It’s just this, it’s just that an unbeliever has no claim on God, none at all. As I say, some things may happen that appear to be what they prayed for, but you can’t say that that’s because God is working in their behalf.
Audience: I didn’t know what to say, I just –
Audience: Okay, thank you.
John: That’s a good question and it’s an important question because people often ask that. Now, I believe one prayer that’s always answered in the heart of an unbeliever is the prayer of salvation, the prayer of faith that seeks to know God and know Christ.
Audience: On the same line of fleeces and this last question, if you’re not praying in God’s will, can Satan answer your prayer? I mean like if you’re outside of His will? Could he make something happen the way you think you were being answered?
John: I suppose he could.
Audience: What I’m referring to is like petitions to the Blessed Mother and these type of things where actual miracles were supposed to happen.
John: Yes, yeah, that’s why I say possibly could because in the case of an unbeliever, you know, they can be saying God do this, God do this, and Satan will come in and do it and he’ll do it through a non-Christian medium which will cause that person to attach to that. For example, a pagan man prays to the moon for a certain thing to happen, Satan makes it happen, that holds the man to worshiping the moon and Satan’s got a convert. And that’s one of the things that we say about unbelievers. God has no obligation to answer their prayer but very often Satan will, just to convince them that everything is all right. In the case of this, maybe a non-Christian mother prays for her kids, so Satan makes sure her kids don’t get too wiped out, too far into the situation, the satanic system, and that convinces the mother that she’s already connected to God, so she never seeks any further. And so she never comes to Christ.
Audience: I never knew that Satan would be able to hear your prayers if you said them audibly. I was under the impression that he could only be one place at a certain time.
John: That’s true.
Audience: So if he was listening to you, he wouldn’t be anywhere else?
John: Well, I’m just saying he could if he happened to be hanging around you, he could hear. And there’s plenty of other demons who can hear.
Audience: I didn’t like the idea of thinking that he was around.
John: Well, just look at it this way: There’s an awful lot of people in the world that he’s busy with, and I don’t know what his schedule is, but he probably only gets around to you once in 3.8 billion units of time, whatever it is. But it doesn’t really matter so don’t worry about it because Satan can’t touch you. You belong to Christ.
Audience: I just wanted to ask what suggestions you would have for teaching children to pray.
John: I think a really great thing to use to teach a child to pray would be just the Lord’s Prayer, which really should have been called the Disciples’ Prayer. But it’s a beautiful thing to talk about and things to pray about. Our Father, God is our Father, who art in heaven, that’s where He is. Give us this day our daily bread. We pray to God for the food that we eat, the things that we need every day, and there’s forgiveness in it. And then the kingdom of God to come. I think to use the Lord’s Prayer is kind of a beautiful way to start to teach a child just what are the basic ingredients in prayer. I’ll tell you how I work with my children and that is that - and their ages are two, and she’s out, she’s running around the room at the time – how old are my kids? Seven, nine, and eleven. And we pray every night and we share requests. We pray specifically. In other words, my daughter used to always pray God bless the whole wide world, you know, and I used to tell her you can’t pray that because God can’t answer that. What’s He going to do, you know, zap the whole wide world? You’d never even know. So you have to pray specifically. So we say, “What do we want to pray about tonight?” “Well, a little girl in my class, you know, broke her leg” or “We want to pray for the missionaries” or “Let’s pray for Dad because he has to speak” or “he has to study” or whatever, we share the requests, then we just pray about those things. I think you start where they are and you let them pray about the things in their world, in their life, as well as teaching them what prayer is, which I think the Lord’s Prayer can do.
Audience: I was raised up a Catholic and my husband, like when we say prayers before meals, he still says the Catholic prayer. And it’s like – they’re just words to the children and doesn’t really mean a thing but then he’s the one that leads the prayer, so should I just –
John: Well, what does it say? What is it? How does it go?
Audience: Bless this food, oh, Lord, which we are about to receive and these, thy bounties through Christ our Lord.
John: That’s a good prayer.
Audience: But – I know –
John: But it’s repetitious, is what you’re saying.
Audience: Right, I mean like they just say it and, you know, (overlapping).
John: Yeah, you know, you might just, you know, in one of those –
Audience: And I know it doesn’t mean anything, I want prayer to mean something to them.
John: – one of those nice moments when he’s got his arm around you, just say, “Hey, you know, I was thinking about, you know, our” – he’s probably here tonight, so it won’t work.
Audience: No, he’s not.
John: Okay. Just say, “You know, I was thinking about our prayers. I wonder if the kids really learn what prayer is when they have the same thing. Why don’t you just, you know, put on the end of it, ‘Lord, thank you for helping us through the day,’ or just a little” – make a suggestion that maybe you could add a little thing on the end or make the suggestion that “maybe it’d be nice if we could take turns in praying and they could pray maybe some of the things that on their mind to pray.” I don’t know how you can suggest those things, but I think without telling him “this is how to do it,” you can make those suggestions at the right time and maybe he’ll respond to that.
Audience: I was wondering, regarding the area of praying for God’s will, kind of along the fleeces line, I guess, that okay, like, you know, you talked in your book about, you know, you go through the -- the aspect of make sure you’re filled with the Spirit and you’re a Christian and going through all these things, you know, and then you follow your desires, you know?
Audience: What about the times when you, honestly trying to follow a pattern like that and you’re looking in the Word and things like that, and you just can’t figure out what you -- what in the world you want to do? You know, and you’re faced with decisions. Because I know I -- I struggled with that several times in my life where I’ve been faced with something and I’ve – in fact, I’m in a situation right now where I’m trying to, you know, figure out where am I supposed to be going with my life, you know, and what exactly type of ministry I want to go into. And I think a lot of us face that and I was just wondering, can you elaborate on your principles for knowing exactly where God wants us and some patterns maybe we can follow to – to find that out for sure?
John: Yeah, and again, it goes back to this idea of desire. What is the thing you most want to do?
John: You know. If you had your choice, which would you do? If you don’t know what you would do, just do something, just don’t do nothing, you know? Make any choice at that point and let God lead you in it. Personally, I think I would probably choose whichever of the two appeared to be the more difficult. That’s just a personal feeling. Believing that – that the greater the challenge, the more it will demand of me; and the more it demands of me, the better success it’s going to be. I find that usually when I choose the easiest of two things that I’ve chosen for the wrong reasons. That’s not always true but the most difficult thing – I don’t know how to answer that other than to say that I don’t believe the Holy Spirit wants a Christian in limbo and I believe that the Holy Spirit will show you the right thing.
Audience: Do you feel that perhaps He would be leading you through a period of indecision perhaps to test your faith –
Audience: – and to show you that, you know, just to –
Audience: – trust Him completely?
John: Sure. There are times like that.
John: Sure. No question about that.
Audience: Okay. Thank you.
Audience: I always hear that God helps those who help themselves, and like you mentioned, it’s, you know, you ought to do something, you shouldn’t just be in limbo. How do you draw the line between the point where you are doing something that God can work on and where you’re doing so much that it – it shows that you really don’t have faith that He’s going to answer your prayer?
John: That’s a very difficult question because I think it would be different in the life of every individual. You know, again, we go back to the simple things. The only thing you can do in your life – and you can’t get too analytical. I say this so often, we all get analytical. Am I doing too much of this? Is this the Holy Spirit? Is this me? Who’s doing this? Is this the devil? Is this God? All this stuff. If we would just walk in the Spirit, study the Word of God, commune with the Father, and just do and not analyze, we’d be a lot better off. Just accept what’s happening. Don’t chastise yourself over the idea that oh, it’s probably me and not God doing this, just be doing this. And as long as your conscience is clear and your heart is pure before God, don’t be concerned with that. You know, it’s like losing yourself in the pursuit of Christ and let everything else take its place. I was speaking the other day at a place where they train psychologists and was talking about the fact that – to the student body that one of the things that really disturbs me is that psychology so often just takes a person inside and leaves them there. And their whole life is absorbed with themselves. And the debilitating aspects of their own self destroys the possibility of ever growing out of that, and you’ve got to turn people outside, focus on an external thing, the reality of Christ over here, and just follow that and don’t be analytical because your own mind is not regenerated fully, you still have a mind that’s confused by sin, and you can’t really make those evaluations. So don’t let that be a struggle. Now, that may sound vague, but maybe it answers what you’re thinking.
Audience: In praying for a brother that is in some sin, and this brother continues to be in sin, should it come to a point where we should discontinue our prayers or what should be – I don’t know. Along that line?
John: I wouldn’t say so. I would say we could continue to pray for him until such a time, as 1 John 5, you know, where – where he’s taken away. But even in that case, I don’t think 1 John 5 is saying stop praying for him, it’s just saying it won’t do any good if you do. But you don’t know that, that’s for God to decide.
John: So I think definitely you should continue to pray for him.
Audience: Okay, thank you.
Well, this has been good, some practical things and – appreciate your patience. Let’s have prayer and then we’ll let you go.
Thank you, our Father, tonight for bringing us together. Thank you for these who are here, many of them new Christians and eager and desirous of knowing the basics. And we thank you for what you’re going to do in their lives because they have been faithful to acknowledge this need and to submit themselves to some instruction and some sharing in this area. We pray that you’ll use them. We give you the praise and glory for all that has been done tonight and will be done in their lives. In Christ’s name. Amen.
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