A PRAYER THAT GOD ALWAYS HONOURS

Bible Reading:  I Kings 18:20-40; James 5:13-18

“At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: ‘Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.’

[1 Kings 18:36-37]

As a young Christian I used to attend exciting prayers meetings at Cliff College, where we prayed that God would move among us in power. One of the prayers we often prayed was “Lord, send the fire,” and sing fervently, “God of Elijah send the fire.” Our God is a consuming fire and it is not wrong to pray a prayer like this, but as I searched the Scriptures I discovered that Elijah never asked God to send the fire. Elijah expected fire because his challenge to the prophets of Baal was, “…the God who answers by fire, He is God [verse 24]. God did answer to Elijah’s prayer and in response to his prayer God sent fire. I would like to suggest three reasons why Elijah’s prayer was so swiftly answered?

He prayed on the basis of his relationship with God. He had a clear conscience. He was a faithful servant of God who had acted in faith and done what the Lord had told him to do. What Elijah had done was not his own thinking or idea. Spurgeon said of this verse, “Go you to the mercy-seat with this as one of your arguments, ‘Lord, I have done according to thy word’.”  

He prayed on the basis of God’s promise. Elijah highlights the character of God – He is a God who keeps His promises! God had made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Israel and Elijah was reminding God of His covenant promise. A powerful way to pray is to remind God of His promises, and to claim His promises.

He prayed that God would be honoured. He desired that God would be known as God and as a result the people would repent and turn back to Him.

It is hardly surprising that God sent the fire when Elijah prayed. He had been faithful, prayed on the basis of what God had said, and desired God’s honour to be upheld.

Questions:

Why do you think it was important that Elijah prayed out of a relationship of obedience and faithfulness to God?

Why is it important that we pray on the basis of the promises that God has given us?

Why is it always God’s honour and reputation that is most important when we pray?

A TIME NOT TO PRAY?

Bible Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-18

In the light of a verse like “pray continually” [1 Thessalonians 5:17] it is difficult to argue for a time not to pray. However, Isobel Kuhn, a much beloved missionary to China, wrote, “After my first operation, finding I would have long hours just in bed, I said to myself, ‘Good. Now I will employ this time in intercession and prayer.’ But to my surprise and alarm I found I could not.”

There may be times when we are emotionally low, have low energy levels, and are unable to concentrate. In such times it may be right just to be silent and trust God. Nowhere is this more evident than the way in which God dealt with Elijah when he was in depression.

Elijah experienced victory on Mount Carmel, followed by a prolonged period of intercession and fasting. An angry Jezebel threatened to kill Elijah within twenty-four hours, and he ran for his life. He was afraid, isolated himself, lost all his enthusiasm, prayed to die, and was filled with self-pity.

There was a mental reason for Elijah’s state – he had lived a long time with the pressure of being a fugitive and had been in an intense emotional and spiritual battle. Whilst in the run he had stayed at Cherith [“a place of cutting”] and at Zarepath [“a place of refining”]. He was no longer thinking clearly or objectively! This was a spiritual cutting and polishing experience!

There was a physical cause – he was tired, exhausted and hungry.

There was also a spiritual cause – an attack from the enemy! A fiery dart had pierced his spiritual armour.

We can learn much from seeing how God dealt with Elijah. It wasn’t the spiritual that came first! God dealt with him first at a physical level – food and sleep. Then God dealt with him at a mental level – He gave him space. God gave him forty days to think about his situation, before challenging him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Finally God dealt with him at a spiritual level. He showed Elijah something of His awesome power. He didn’t condemn him or write him off, but on the contrary God re-commissioned him.

It may be that someone cannot pray because they are depressed or going through an emotionally low time. Not all depression has a spiritual root and must be treated accordingly. It might be caused by bereavement, deep hurt, or perhaps illness. What that person needs is probably a friend who will listen with compassion and quietly pray until God does His work of comforting, healing and restoration. Sometimes we need to trust others to pray for us.

Questions:

Do you have a friend who for some reason is not able right now to pray? Would you be the friendly listening ear who quietly stands in prayer for them?

How have you reacted when you have gone through times when you have been unable to pray? What should the best reaction be? What are the negative reactions that the enemy would like to enforce in you in those times?

PRAYER AND DEPENDENCY

Bible Reading:  John 15:1-17

In recent years there has been a plethora or self-help books on the market. Some of these have very helpful thoughts and tips but in most of these books there is one vital missing element – dependency upon God.

In the same passage in John’s Gospel where Jesus says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you” [John 15:7], He also says, “apart from me you can do nothing” [John 15:5]. Anything that we try to do without Jesus will ultimately not succeed. This is one of the clear messages in this passage of Scripture.

We tend to wander from dependency upon God to self-dependency and self-effort. One of the characteristics of the days in which we live is a pressure to be productive and the importance of being seen to be successful. It is seen in the stress people are living under, and late hours in the office. In this context our John 15:5 has tremendous relevance.

I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing” [John 15:5 The Message].

In her book “Designer Living,” Susan Sutton writes about “an inward-focused self-pity and an outward-focused self-protection because we feel deficient in our efforts and try to hide the deficiencies from those around us.” Susan goes on to say, “Working for Christ outwardly without remaining connected to Him inwardly leads to a performance-orientated Christianity. Self-effort leaves Christ at the cross while I live the Christian life. But Christ is not still on the cross.”

How refreshing and healing it is to recognize and confess our weakness! Some say the word “can’t” is not in the Christian’s vocabulary – but it is – “I can’t, but He can!” The apostle Paul said, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness“ [2 Corinthians 11:30] and “When I am weak, then I am strong” [2 Corinthians 12:10]. James Drummond Burns summed up our weakness and linked it to prayer when he wrote,

   “As helpless as a child who clings, fast to his father’s arm

   And casts his weakness on the strength that keeps him safe from harm;

   So I, my Father, cling to Thee, and every passing hour

   Would link my earthly feebleness to Thine Almighty power

Question:

Would you today humbly confess to God your earthly feebleness and in prayer today link yourself to His Almighty power? If you were to do this every day what difference do you think it would make to your life?

PRAYING TOGETHER WITH OTHERS

Bible Reading:  Acts 4:23-31

The most powerful movement in history began in a prayer meeting when those present were in agreement with God and with one another. The result was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

Praying together was a critical, not peripheral, part of life in the early church. At the end of Acts chapter 2 we read of the four components of early church life. The believers devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. They met together every day in public places and in homes to eat together, to pray and to praise God [Acts 2:46]. They prayed together after the release of Peter and John [Acts 4:24], and the church was praying for Peter when he was in prison [Acts 12:5,12]. The church leaders in Antioch were together praying and fasting [Acts 13:1-4]. One of key aspects of each of these examples from the Book of Acts is that they were “together.”

Praying alone in the quiet place is powerful, but praying together in unity with other believers has an even greater effectiveness and strength than praying alone. Recently a group of Christians from South Korea were asked what they believed was biggest stronghold hindering the advance of the gospel in the United Kingdom. Their remarkable response to that question was individualism!

Agreement in prayer is more than having the same opinion. It is to know the mind of God and together agree with Him in our praying. In Amos chapter 3 there are two remarkable verses that relate to prayer. The first is “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” [Amos 3:3]. The children of Israel were not in agreement with God. You cannot do anything that God wants you to do if you are not in agreement with Him.

The second verse is Amos 3:7 – “Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless he reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” Here is the secret of powerful praying together – to be in agreement with God and praying together according to His will. There is nothing more powerful than praying together in community, and as one prays out loud in a language understood by all, those present can declare agreement and say “Amen.” As we pray together in this way we can understand and agree with what is being prayed, but also those who are less bold to prayer openly in public will learn how to pray.

Questions:

In the early church people were often together praying. Why do you think that today the prayer meeting in churches tends to be one of the meetings with the poorest attendance?

If you are not in the habit of praying with others would you consider meeting with others to pray, either in your local church prayer meeting, or in small groups with your friends? When do you plan to do this?

THE GREATEST HINDRANCE TO PRAYER

Bible Reading: Luke 11:1-12; James 1:17

The Bible speaks clearly of things that hinder prayer. These include sin, unbelief, unforgiveness, and praying with wrong motives, but perhaps the greatest hindrance of all is a wrong concept of God. Some people see Him as harsh, demanding and cruel, others as distant and unapproachable. To some people God is seen to be like a detective – just waiting to catch them out. Tragically, others think that God rejects them because they are simply not good enough or worthy of Him.

Can you see something that is consistent in all these wrong views of God? They almost all reflect a poor relationship with an earthly father – one who was harsh, cruel, demanding, distant, always missing and unapproachable.

Unless God’s grace has touched and changed us, our understanding of God will be similar to the relationship, or lack of relationship that we had with our earthly father. In his remarkable book, “Kisses from a Good God,” Paul Manwaring says, “The reason for nearly every deficit of our souls can be found in the deficit that exists in our earthly relationships – father wounds, as they are often called, or the wounds of a mother or even a friend.”

God is not like this! He is good, compassionate, and slow to anger, rich in mercy, extravagantly kind, never absent, always approachable and not demanding! He longs for His lost son to come home so that He can pour on Him good things. He is an extravagant Father! He loves to give us good gifts and will never ever give us something that is bad for us.

Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted and to restore us. Many times I have been asked why, coming from the broken and damaged background that I came from, do I have no hang ups or anger towards God. He healed my broken heart, set free me from all the wounds of rejection and filled my heart with love for God. It is easy to pray to this Heavenly Father because He is totally good. Our circumstances, failures and successes do not change the goodness of God!

Our damaged concepts of God may be the biggest hindrance to prayer. How do you pray effectively to a God who you don’t really trust?

Questions:

What do you earn about the character of God in James 1:17?

What principles of prayer are found in Luke 11:5-13?

What does Luke 11:13 say about the goodness of God?

What is your understanding of the goodness of God? How does this impact your prayer life? Is there an area of your life that needs healing so that you can relate more easily to God?

PRAYING THE LORD’S PRAYER – PART 3

Bible Reading:  James 1:1-18

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” [Matthew 6:13]

Protection. The Greek word for “temptation” in 1 Corinthians 10:13 is “peirasmos,” and can mean either testing or refer to any outside source that appeals to a weakness in our flesh. If it is God who is testing you, then it is for your good and never for the purpose of causing you to fall. If it is the devil tempting you then it is for the purpose of causing you to fall. God does not tempt us [James 1:13]. It was the devil, not God that tempted Jesus in the wilderness [Matthew 4:1]. The devil attacks us through negative thoughts and entices our flesh to look closer at things forbidden by God! The temptation itself is not sin, but we have the choice to give in to temptation.

 

God has given us a wonderful promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13 – No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it [The Message Bible].

 

“Deliver us” – the Greek word is very expressive and means “to break our chains and set us free,” and “to snatch, or pluck us, from the evil.”

 

“For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever. Amen”

[Matthew 6:13 KJV]

 

Proclamation. Most modern translations omit these final words but they do appear in some manuscripts, and the words were similar to a doxology often used by the Jews, and for that reason it does not seem unreasonable to include them.

 

What a glorious way to conclude a prayer with a proclamation of God’s kingdom, power and glory!  The word “kingdom” here means, “reign.” God’s power governs His kingdom and He is able to accomplish what we ask. We are weak but He is strong! God’s glory, that is His honour and the full expression of His attributes and nature is what we long for.

All of our praying should be for the purpose of honouring God. Even Jesus said, “I do not seek My own glory” [John 8:50]. We want God to reign! We recognize and submit to God’s power! We seek above all that He is honoured!

Questions:

Are you going through a time of temptation? Take hold of God’s promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13. If you are struggling with temptation find a Christian friend that you can trust and share it with that person. Ask them to pray with you.

What does James 1:3-4 say that the Christian’s attitude should be to trials?

 

PRAYING THE LORD’S PRAYER – PART 2

Bible Reading:  Matthew 18:21-35

We continue our praying through the Lord’s Prayer with the phrase:

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” [Matthew 6:12]

In the parable that Jesus told about the unforgiving servant the issue was a debt that was forgiven and a debt demanded. The servant was forgiven a huge debt but refused to forgive someone else a small debt that was owed to him. Not to forgive is likened to demanding a debt be repaid.  Unforgiveness say, “He owes me and apology.” Pastor John Barr used to say, “Forgiveness is tearing up the I.O.U.” Nothing damages a person more than unforgiveness. It can cause all sorts of physical and emotional illness, but even worse, our own forgiveness of sins by God is dependent on our forgiving of others.

When Esther and I were living in Indonesia we cycled to a small village several kilometers from where we lived along a twisty path through woodland. I challenged my wife to a race and was ahead of her when I heard her scream. Jumping off my bike I ran back, and found that several young men had jumped out of the bushes, and with to intent to harm her had already begun to pull off her clothes. As I ran to her rescue the young men ran off into woods. Esther was deeply affected by this attack, and in the weeks that followed often expressed fear, and had nightmares that caused her to scream out. She saw those young men as representatives of all Indonesians, and on several occasions expressed a desire to go back home to her Mum.

Esther struggled for some time with the emotion of what had happened to her but realized that if she did not deal with this issue in her heart, it could negatively affect not only her ministry as a missionary in Indonesia but ultimately her walk with the Lord. One Saturday morning, as we knelt to pray, Esther cried, “Lord, I cannot love these people, but I know that You love them, and want I You to love them through me.” A few moments later she experienced something like warm water flowing through every part of her being, and she was free. The reality of that experience was confirmed a few days later as we read in Romans 5:5 – “The love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit given unto us.”

Questions:

Read Mark 11:25-26. Why do you think that unforgiveness is such a hindrance prayer?

If, as you meditate upon today’s devotional, you are reminded of someone who hurt you, abused you, or spoke harshly to you and who you have not forgiven, then would you ask the Lord to help you to forgive them?

PRAYING THE LORD’S PRAYER – PART 1

Bible Reading:  Matthew 6:5-15

When Jesus spoke about prayer in the “Sermon on the Mount” He prefaced it with three important statements. Firstly, that our motive for prayer should not be to be seen and praised by men, secondly, that we should not use vain repetitions – many words do not make prayer more effective! Thirdly, our Father knows what we need even before we ask Him!

Jesus then tells us how we should pray. His prayer is concise and contains no unnecessary repetition of words. We can make His prayer a model for our own praying, using it line by line:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your Name”

Worship. Here are great themes to meditate and focus on: He is Father – that is relationship; He is our Father – that is personal but also family – “our” is plural; He is in heaven and yet is accessible; He is holy – but full of love!

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”

Intercession. God’s kingdom has come where people have crowned Jesus as Lord and King of their lives and do His will, but for multitudes His kingdom has not yet come. Millions have never even heard that Jesus is their saviour. We need to pray for His kingdom to come to them, and it may even be that God would send us to those who are unreached. As Bill Johnson puts it, “We need heaven to invade earth!” It will happen as we pray.

“Give us today our daily bread”

Personal Provision. The word “bread” denotes everything necessary to sustain life, and the prayer implies our dependence on God for the supply of our daily needs. The plural “us” shows that the prayer is not just for the individual but also relevant to a community or family.

One day, when my wife was a young girl, the cupboard was bare and a grumpy dad would come home demanding his meal. Esther’s mother gathered her two young daughters to her and prayed that God would supply their needs. While she was praying there was a knock at the front door, and a lady was standing there with a box of groceries. She said simply, “This morning God told me to go and buy groceries for you,” and so God met their need.

Questions:

Why do you think that Jesus emphasized that we should focus on the fatherhood of God as we begin to pray?

Would you consider writing to an overseas missionary and asking them to give you points for prayer for the people that they work among, and then pray regularly that God’s kingdom would come among those people?

What is the difference between our needs and our wants?

THE PRAYER LIFE OF JESUS

Bible Reading: Hebrews 5:1-10

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and was heard because of his reverent submission” [Hebrews 5:7]

Our text gives us an insight into the prayer life of Jesus. His life was a life of prayer. The four gospel writers use the words “prayer” and “pray” at least twenty-five times in connection with Jesus, and it is an education to see when and where Jesus prayed.

Jesus prayed in the night and sometimes continued all night in prayer. He did this before He chose His disciples [Luke 6:12-13]. He prayed in a solitary place very early in the morning while it was still dark, and in the midst of a very busy time of ministry [Mark 1:35]. It seems that the busier Jesus became the more He withdrew to pray [Luke 5:15-16]. He was praying at His baptism [Luke 3:21-22], and He was praying in private before asking His disciples a very important question [Luke 9:18].

He prayed before feeding the five thousand [Matthew 14:19], and after feeding them went up on a mountainside to pray, and was there most of the night [Matthew 14:22,25]. Remarkably, Jesus prayed before raising Lazarus from the dead [John 11:41-42], showing His tremendous sense of dependence upon His Father even though He Himself was the Son of God.

Jesus prayed before great temptations [Matthew 26:36; Luke 22:39-41], and in the last moments of His life Jesus was praying, asking His Father to forgive those who crucified Him [Luke 23:34]. His last words before He died were a prayer – “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” [Luke 22:46].

Jesus didn’t always pray alone. Before His transfiguration He took Peter, John and James with Him, and went up on a mountain to pray [Luke 9:28]. Luke 9:18 tell us that His disciples were with Him when He prayed, and Peter, James and John were with Him in Gethsemane [Mark 14:32-33].

A whole chapter of John is given to record a prayer of Jesus, as He prays for Himself, His disciples, and for all who would believe [John 17:1-26]. It is hardly surprising that the only recorded time that His disciples asked Jesus to specifically teach them something was about prayer! “Lord, teach us to pray” [Luke 11:1]. If prayer was so important and necessary for Jesus, then how much should it be for us who follow Him?

A Question:

Why do think that prayer was so important in the life of Jesus?

Something to do:  When you are able to do so, take some time to read through each of the passages mentioned in todays devotional word, and allow something of the prayer life of Jesus to really impact you. Perhaps its effect will be the same as the disciples who asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray!” 

PERSISTENT PRAYER

Bible Reading:  Luke 18:1-7

In Luke 18, Jesus told a parable about the widow who persistently came to the unjust judge to get from him what she wanted. If the judge didn’t really care about this woman but was compelled by her persistence to give her what she wanted, how much more will a good God give us what we ask for!

Psalm 40:1 says: “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” Perhaps the key word here is ‘patiently’. In a society that wants things instantly, God sometimes makes us wait. Someone once said that waiting is one of the hardest parts of the Christian life. Ma and Pa Rowbotham, founders of the WEC Missionary Training College where my wife and I studied, used to say: “God loves stickability!”.

I became a Christian in 1963. My home background was not Christian, and there was a lot of opposition and resistance. Nine years later, shortly before Esther and I left to serve God in Indonesia, we were ministering together in a large missionary meeting.

We both gave short testimonies and at the end of the meeting, a grey-haired, middle-aged man approached me. “Are you really Michael Ross-Watson and do you come from Essex?”, he asked. When I confirmed this, he began to hug me and cry. Embarrassed, I asked what was the matter, and all he could say, over and over again, was “God has answered my prayer!” He turned to the flyleaf of his Bible and showed me my name and a date, 7th April 1953. He told me that he was an evangelist, holding meetings in a local church and each afternoon he visited people in their homes and invited them to the gospel meetings. “One afternoon,” he said, “I visited a home where a woman invited me to come back in the evening and talk about religion with her husband. I went back and they rejected all that I had to say. They told me that they had a son, Michael, and as I was leaving, I suddenly had a tremendous burden to pray for this boy”. Amazingly, he continued, “I have prayed for you every day for 19 years, and today, I have seen that God has answered my prayer”.

God had given this man a burden to pray and he kept on praying, each and every day until his prayers were answered. That is persistent prayer!

Questions:

Is there someone or something that God has really burdened you to pray for and you are still waiting for the answer? Don’t give up!

Why do you think that sometimes God wants us to wait for His answer?

Someone has made the statement, “Most people who are saved, have been brought to Christ because someone prayed.” Do you agree with this statement, and if so then how should that affect your prayer-life?