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The POWER of PERSONAL PRAYERLearning to Pray with Faith and Purpose
By Jonathan Graf
NAVPRESSCopyright © 2001 Jonathan Graf
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat Is Prayer?
Lani sat in the dark in the room she and her husband had prepared as a nursery for their new baby-only it was not to be filled. Unable to sleep, trying to make sense of this miscarriage following three years of infertility, she prayed. She relates that there, for the first time, she heard the voice of God: "I'm here. You're going to be all right."
I had recently married a single mom and was going through the learning curve of having a daughter-an eight-year-old-for the first time. It was late at night; Amy was in pain with an earache. Do I need to rush her to the emergency room? I wondered. I did what I knew to do. I laid hands on her ear and asked God to heal her, to allow her to fall asleep. Within minutes she was resting peacefully, and soon was sound asleep.
Joyce heard the news of the escape of seven criminals from a Texas prison. Even though the escape was more than a thousand miles away from her granddaughter, she felt compelled to pray for her protection. She prayed for almost a month and intensified her petitions when the shocking news came that five of the criminals had been captured one town away from where her granddaughter lived. A week later the two remaining fugitives were captured just a few miles from her granddaughter's house. Her prayers not onlykept her granddaughter safe, but likely combined with the prayers of many others to weave a protective blanket over the area. Even though these men had murdered a police officer in Texas, they didn't harm anyone in Colorado Springs and gave up peacefully.
Carol, a mother of three, was driving on the expressway thirty miles from home. Suddenly she had a strong impression that she should pray for her children. Later she learned that at the very moment she was praying, her teenage son was in a classroom where the teacher was going on a godless tirade, spewing false ideas and philosophies.
A mystery! There's no other way to describe prayer. Think of it! If you have come into a relationship with Jesus Christ, you have the privilege of communicating with the Divine. You can talk to God. And, if you listen, you can hear Him speak too.
Simply put, prayer is communication with God. Some have defined it as "being with God." I can talk to God any time of the day or night. Anywhere-whether in my favorite chair, walking the dog, driving the car, taking a shower, mowing the lawn, or sitting by a quiet stream in the mountains. Al Vander Griend calls prayer the "talking part of the most important love relationship in my life."
Somehow, for some reason, almighty God has not only decided that He wants to be in relationship with us and communicate with us, but He also has provided the method to do it. Prayer. A. B. Simpson, founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, said it well a century ago: "The mystery of prayer! There is nothing like it in the natural universe ... marvelous bond of prayer that can span the gulf between the Creator and the creature, the infinite God and the humblest and most illiterate child."
While we cannot fully explain it, the fact remains: Prayer is an awesome privilege! If you are starting out on your faith journey, do everything you can to grow in prayer. It will bring adventure, mystery, and a sense of the presence of God into your life. Prayer will prove to be the key to a vibrant relationship with God.
As you start or grow your journey into prayer, you may be thinking, Why should I pray? What are the reasons for prayer? Is it just to talk to God?
-Reasons for Prayer
There are two main reasons for prayer.
1. Relationship. The primary purpose for prayer is to grow what Vander Griend calls "the most important love relationship in my life." God simply wants us to know Him. He wants to be in communion with us. He wants to talk to us, to have us share our hearts with Him.
When you are in a human relationship, it will not grow without regular communication. If you do not spend time with each other, talk to each other, share what's on your hearts and minds, then that relationship is going nowhere.
So it is with God. If we are to develop a relationship with Him, prayer becomes central. If we do not spend time with Him, if we do not talk to Him, if we do not listen to Him, we have no relationship. We can know about God by reading the Bible, but we cannot know God without prayer.
"You will seek me and find me," says God, "when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). To build this relationship we must take on the attitude of a seeker: I am not going to give up until I meet God. We need the attitude of the psalmist who said,
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? ...
By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me- a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42:1-2,8)
Jesus Himself should be our model. He both needed and desired time alone with God. Verse after verse tells us that He rose up early or spent all night talking with the Father. He received strength and counsel, direction and purpose from those times. They were so important to Him that Luke tells us that in the week leading up to His crucifixion, "Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives" (Luke 21:37). What did He do there? Spent time with God.
The apostle Paul declared, "I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Philippians 3:8). Paul probably didn't have the Gospels to get to know Jesus; he got to know Him through prayer.
How much more do we need to foster that relationship with God! Like King David, we need to say, "My heart says of you, 'Seek his face!' Your face, LORD, I will seek" (Psalm 27:8).
2. Releasing God's will. The second major purpose for prayer is that it releases God's will on earth. While I cannot explain how it works, somehow, in God's sovereign plan, He has chosen to accomplish certain aspects of His will only if people pray. Some believers cringe at this teaching. "What do you mean it releases God's will?" they say. "God's will is God's will. He's going to do it whether we pray or not." But Scripture, Christians of the past centuries, and experience all tell us otherwise.
What does Scripture say? Let's start with Elijah. James tells us, "Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops" (James 5:17-18). First Kings 17 and 18 gives us the story of these two verses. God apparently put in Elijah's heart to pray that it wouldn't rain. The prophet went to King Ahab and declared it wouldn't rain for three years-and it didn't.
"After a long time, in the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah: 'Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land'" (1 Kings 18:1). What follows is the incredible showdown between Elijah and the true God and the false prophets of Baal. Following a decisive victory, Elijah said to the king, "Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain" (18:41). Then Scripture tells us,
Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees [signifying intense prayer].
"Go and look toward the sea," he told his servant. And he went up and looked.
"There is nothing there," he said.
Seven times Elijah said, "Go back."
The seventh time the servant reported, "A cloud as small as a man's hand is rising from the sea."
So Elijah said, "Go and tell Ahab, 'Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'"
Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, [and] a heavy rain came on. (1 Kings 18:42-45)
Did you notice the sequence? God planted a thought in Elijah-pray for no rain-then His will was released. He sent word again-I'm going to send rain. Yet somehow Elijah knew to pray fervently for it to happen. Again, God's will was released.
Daniel, a Hebrew exile in Babylon, had a similar experience. While reading Jeremiah's prophecies, Daniel discovered that Israel's captivity was to last seventy years and that the time was almost up. Shouldn't he have praised God and started anticipating this event? That's what I would have done. But Daniel "turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes" (Daniel 9:3). That's quite a reaction to something God said in Scripture was going to happen. Why would Daniel pray so? Maybe he just lacked faith to believe God's Word. I doubt that. I firmly believe that because of God's plan to include humans in the releasing of His will on earth, He drove Daniel to prayer.
Author Dutch Sheets, commenting on this experience, said, "No verse in Daniel specifically reports that Israel was restored because of Daniel's prayers, but the insinuation is there. We do know that an angel was dispatched immediately after Daniel started praying, for he tells Daniel, 'Your words were heard, and I have come in response to them' (Dan. 10:12)."
We also have the chilling reverse proof-something doesn't happen because no one prays. According to Ezekiel 22, God was set to punish Israel for its sins, but would have shown mercy had someone righteous only prayed. Unfortunately, He found no such person:
"I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done." (verses 30-31)
Clearly, Sheets comments, God was saying, "While My justice demanded judgment, My love wanted forgiveness. Had I been able to find a human to ask Me to spare this people, I could have done it. It would have allowed Me to show mercy. Because I found no one, however, I had to destroy them."
Christian leaders of the past certainly taught this truth. John Wesley once said, "God does nothing on the earth save in answer to believing prayer." E. M. Bounds wrote,
The prayers of God's saints are the capital stock in heaven by which Christ carries on His great work upon earth. The great throes and mighty convulsions on earth are the results of these prayers. Earth is changed, revolutionized; angels move on more powerful, more rapid wing, and God's policy is shaped as the prayers are more numerous, more efficient.
Even modern experience bears out this truth. Today the medical community is starting to take notice of the power of prayer. Studies show that people who were prayed for, or who were praying people, fare far better in their healing journey than those for whom prayer was not involved. We all know people who seem to get their prayers answered more readily than others. We always ask them to pray for us. Why does this happen? Does God love them more? No. But He responds and His will is released because they take the time to pray, to ask.
Most of us have heard stories of individuals, who-like Joyce and Carol-are suddenly burdened to pray for some person or situation. Later they find out that something very serious was happening to the individual at that time. Why would God burden them to pray unless He needed them to pray to release His plan?
-So Why Don't We Pray?
With all of these facts, one would think we believers would pray constantly, that we would thrive on prayer. Unfortunately, many Christians in Western culture do not avail themselves of the privilege of prayer. Why?
We know from Scripture that God values prayer. Jesus was constantly communicating with the Father through prayer, evidenced throughout the Gospel records in verses like, "Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed" (Luke 5:16); or "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed" (Mark 1:35).
In fact, prayer is so important to God that He saves the prayers of the saints: "The twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints" (Revelation 5:8). A little later, as the last of the seven seals was opened, heaven fell silent for thirty minutes. During that time John observed, "Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand" (8:3-4). While I'm not sure what all that means, I am sure it indicates prayers are important to God.
The apostle Paul tells us, "The Spirit himself intercedes [prays] for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will" (Romans 8:26-27). And the writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus "always lives to intercede for [us]" (Hebrews 7:25).
Because God places so much emphasis on prayer, how important it must be for us to practice it. So why don't we? If you are a new believer, coming to understand the following reasons will help guard against prayerlessness in your own life. If you are a struggler, find yourself here, and seek God's help.
-Obstacles to Prayer
Excerpted from The POWER of PERSONAL PRAYER by Jonathan Graf Copyright © 2001 by Jonathan Graf. Excerpted by permission.
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