PRAYER: LESSON TWO
A spirit of thanksgiving should keep company with humility and devotion in prayer. Praise is so closely aligned to thanksgiving as to consider them together in these lessons. Praise is an outward expression of inward thanksgiving for the mercies of God which are new every morning, and is birthed by gratitude for all God has done. Thanksgiving not only looks to the past, but considers the ongoing mercies received daily. Our intercessions and petitions should always be sprinkled with praise as well thanksgiving. Even in midst of tribulation, thanksgiving should be prominent in our prayers. We have a promise that God will work for our good in all situations providing we love Him and desire a transformation into the likeness of His Son (Romans 8:28,29). We also have a promise that we’ll not be tested beyond what we can endure and that a way will be made to bear our trials (1 Corinthians 10:13). It is because of such promises that Paul exhorts us to be thankful in all situations.
“Be anxious for nothing but in every thing by pray and supplication with thanks-giving, let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6
Paul says prayer with a heart of gratitude and spirit of thanksgiving yields the peace of God which passes all understanding, and keeps both heart and mind from being stressed in difficult times (4:7). Those who constantly grumble are like the Hebrews on their way to Canaan after leaving Egypt. They grieved the Spirit of God just as we do by always seeing our cup half empty instead of half full. Joy of the LORD is rarely manifested in such people and their ungrateful attitudes drive others away, increasing feelings of rejection so often present.“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God concerning you” is a command of Paul. Lest we think otherwise, these words apply to each of us today as much as to those in the Church two thousand years ago.
Let us turn now to the reasons we pray. I suspect at the top of the list for many is trouble of one kind or another. It’s not only to be delivered from trouble that one prays, but to ask for comfort and strength to endure in trials. We must learn to accept trouble as part of our inheritance from the Fall. Trials are common to all men, and to expect sunshine all the time has no biblical validity. Indeed we’re told to “count it all joy” in trials of various kinds because trials are the very thing which provide opportunity to increase faith and dependency on God (James 1:2). But those immature in Christ are usually not familiar with God’s way of maturing His children through discipline.
“For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons: for what son is he whom the father chastens not?” Hebrews 12:6,7
It is remarkable how many Christians refuse to accept that all who come to the Lord are disciplined. Often this is a result of listening to prosperity teachers or those who offer ‘cheap grace’ (see lesson on Grace for discussion of ‘cheap grace’). The types of discipline vary from person to person, but are used for godly purposes, irrespective of their form. Struggles and trials are simply means by which the saints are perfected, a biblical principle ignored by many who compromise the Word of God. We are to remember that trouble in itself is not always evidence of personal sin as some would charge. Rain falls on the just as well as the wicked and times of drought fall on both the just and wicked. Job is a case where there is suffering despite being described by God as an “upright man, one that fears God and eschews [shuns] evil” (Job 1:8). In my life, the words of the psalmist have proven ever so true:
“It was good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Your statues. Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept Your word.” Psalm 119:71,67
God tells us to call on Him in time of trouble, not only that He might deliver us, but so He might be glorified. Nothing reveals helplessness like trouble. As I had to learn, adversity can bring low the proud and self-sufficient. In a sense, the origin of what is troublesome matters little. It can be self-inflicted, caused by others, have a demonic origin, have no apparent cause, or even be imagined. Whatever the cause, trouble is a tool God uses for His purpose. And trouble can be a blessing or a curse, according to how it is received and treated. For it is usually in the fire of affliction that God will carry out His refinement of a saint.
“Behold, I have refined you, but not with silver [in fire]; I have chosen [refined] you in the furnace of affliction.” Isaiah 48:10
It was in 1991 that I was diagnosed with a fast-spreading cancer of the prostate. Pain in the lower back two years later and a rising PSA led to scans showing ‘hot spots’ in the spine diagnosed as spread of the cancer. But as I read the story of Peter getting out of a boat to go to Jesus, the Holy Spirit prompted me to trust God. Peter actually walked on water until fear of the storm caused him to sink. “Keep your eyes on Jesus and don’t lose faith” said the Spirit to my heart and pain disappeared over the following weeks without any kind of treatment other than prayer. Now twenty years later, prayer still helps me to walk on water as did Peter until he took his eyes off of Jesus to focus on the storm (Matthew 14:29,30).
While prayer can bring consolation if not deliverance in trials, it is not the greatest of reasons to pray. Jesus has given priorities a ranking in the so-called ‘Lord’s Prayer’ which is a model prayer for us as Jesus had no sin for which He needed to ask forgiveness. There is a biblical principle known as ‘order of first mention.’ It simply means what receives first mention has greatest importance, what is mentioned next is second in importance, and so forth. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, first mentioned is that the name of our heavenly Father be hallowed, a Greek word that literally means an awful thing. God’s name is so pure and so holy as to be an awful thing to profane. It is one of Ten Commandments that God’s name never be used in vain lest there be consequences. Israel profaned the name of God in not living as God commanded after they entered Canaan. “I had pity for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the heathen where they went” (Ezekiel 36: 20). Likewise, those who profess Christ but do not think, speak and act in a way that represents Him are profaning His holy name.
Next in order of mention is to pray for the coming of God’s kingdom so His will is done in earth as it is in heaven. This is calling for God’s grace (divine influence on the heart that becomes reflected in our lives) to be manifested in the Church so His will becomes done in earth as in heaven. The Greek translated “kingdom” is basileia and means the sovereignty and rule of a king. One prays Christ might reign in the hearts and lives of men as King of kings and Lord of lords, His life reflected in and through all professing Him. The kingdom Jesus brought to earth is one in which God’s authority and power is manifested against the reign of Satan whom Jesus describes as “prince” of this world (John 12:31). When accused of working for the devil, Jesus answered as follows:
“If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come to you.” Matthew 12:28
Jesus says coming of the kingdom of heaven is manifested, among other things, by the authority to overcome demonic influence in His name by the power of Holy Spirit. Praying for the kingdom to come is praying the Church might continue the work of Jesus on earth: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). The people realized a new authority was being seen in Jesus life. And from the very onset of His ministry, He sent the disciples to carry out deliverance from the demonic in His name.
It is utter heresy to teach the manifested authority of God in healing the sick, setting free those bound by Satan by expelling demons, and working miracles by the power of Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus does not operate today. It is a spiritual blindness that infects a significant part of the Church. Many are not aware of what they pray for by saying, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” And in simply praying the words of the so-called ‘Lord’s Prayer,’ they are praying what was never intended as a prayer in and of itself. The so-called Lord’s Prayer is intended as a scaffhold upon which the saints are to build their prayers.
Next in mention is asking God to provide our daily bread. A carnal nature causes us to focus on personal needs in a physical or material sense. It’s not without merit that we are in need of, and pray for, physical sustenance. However Jesus reminds us that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word which comes from the mouth of the LORD (Deuteronomy 8:3). What renewal of the Church would take place if people spent as much time in study and meditation on the Word of God as they do in the preparation and eating of food. There is prophecy wherein a famine would come, not of food to eat or water to drink, but of hearing the Word of God in future days.
“Behold the days come, says the Lord GOD, that I will send famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor thirsty for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.” Amos 8:11
Such famine is upon us when there is denying of continued work of the Holy Spirit in this Church age and ignoring the danger of apostacy or falling from faith. Spiritual leaders are often so unfamiliar with the Word of God as to not even know to whom to pray. I use this example because of such illiteracy in the Church. Jesus says we are to ask nothing of Him, but to ask of the Father in His name (John 16:23). His people (not heathens) are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). Yet we pay little attention as to whom we pray because there is a famine of God’s Word, many churches having fallen into apostacy.
In praying to receive forgiveness of sins, the effectiveness of prayer depends on forgiveness of others. I never cease to be shocked by how many believers hold unforgiveness because of either actual or perceived offense. Our souls are placed at risk of eternal condemnation if we refuse to forgive others.
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14,15
The consequences of failing to forgive and not hold resentments are devastating. A root of bitterness causes one to be captive and tormented in both spirit and soul. And there are so often physical consequences. I’ve seen those recovered from illness including even cancer experience rapid recurrence of disease after allowing some offense to cause bitterness and fester to defilement. Being unforgiving, filled with resentment, or desiring to retaliate are thoughts not originating in that kingdom ruled by Christ. They need to be recognized as having their origin in a kingdom under the reign of Satan.
“Repent you therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the LORD.” Acts 3:19
I’ve never known anyone set free of guilt and filled with refreshing that comes from the LORD where unforgiveness was evident. Ezekiel was told by God that he was to be a watchman on the wall to warn people about the enemy coming in a spiritual sense. God told the prophet that failure to do so would result in the wicked dying for their sin and that their blood would be upon Ezekiel’s hands for failing in his duty as a watchman. Paul well understood need to warn the Jews of self-righteousness and sin, demanding repentance and turning to Jesus Christ as Savior. Knowing of God’s warning to Ezekiel, Paul said he had no blood on his hands in going to the Gentiles. Yet I never hear a pastor give stern warning to his congregation that those failing to forgive others will not be forgiven their sins and will find themselves condemned to hell with Satan and his angels. Failing to warn about consequences of holding unforgiveness, many charged with being shepherds for the sheep are blind to what Ezekiel and the apostle Paul wrote as to blood being on their hands should they fail in their responsibility to be a “watchmen.” Instead, many teach a false kind of security known commonly as ‘eternal security.’
In praying to not be led into temptation, but delivered from the evil one, we need to realize that God never leads us to temptation. The temptor is Satan, not God. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts He any man” (Jamew 21:13). We’re praying to discern evil from good and to be given the grace (divine influence on our hearts as reflected in our lives) to not fall into Satan’s snare. Our responsibility is to do as Jesus told the disciples at Gethsemene: “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation.” A sinful nature inherited by all since the Fall makes our hearts prone to wander from a narrow path which leads to eternal life (Matthew 7:14). It includes praying for wisdom to separate from old unsaved friends if not lukewarm believers, knowing wrong company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33). This is a difficult lesson to learn, but one cannot avoid being led astray when in the wrong company. And we must avoid situations where great temptation is known to exist. Satan’s kingdom of intelligent spirit beings are on the lookout at all times for open doors to exert their influence and we must never deliberately risk participating in their ventures.
There are times in a person of faith that a stronghold exists, a mindset in thinking and behavior that leaves no alternative other than crying out to God for deliverance from demonic influence. We often encounter this in working with those in bondage to addiction. We’ve witnessed not only immediate deliverance from desire to use alcohol and drugs (including cocaine and cigarettes), but there has been no withdrawal symptoms. Even in the midst of severe withdrawal, we have seen all symptoms instantly relieved. The idea that believers cannot be influenced by the demonic is not only grave error. It is unbiblical. Peter warns, “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Some deceived pastors are teaching that this applies to the unsaved,, forgetting Peter is writing to believers. The same is true with James: “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:6-8). Note that before we can resist, there must be willingness to humble oneself and submit to God in order to receive the grace to resist!
Prayer will not fulfill its purpose until we see ourselves as fallen men and women, born with a carnal (sinful) nature that inclines us toward desires not in the will of God. As soon as we are born, we tend to stray. A fallen nature not only carries iniquities of forefathers to us as David recognized (Psalm 51:5). Our spirits receive thoughts and impressions from a kingdom ruled by Satan which speak to us spirit to spirit using the same pathway as the Holy Spirit. God tells this by the story in the garden of Eden when He asked Adam, “Who told you that you were naked?” (Genesis 3: 11). Until then, Adam only heard the voice of God by his spirit. But following his disobedience, Adam and all his descendants thereafter would hear ungodly thoughts birthed by Satan through the same pathway of his spirit..
So it is God desires to make unholy men holy, restoring them to what He intended at creation: “Let Us make men in Our image, after Our likeness” (Genesis 2:26). Never can we make ourselves holy. It is a work for Holy Spirit, but we must be prayerfully ready to cooperate with the Spirit in cleansing misdeeds of flesh for sanctification to take place. “For if you live after the flesh [sinful nature], you shall die; but if you through the Spirit do mortify [put to death] the deeds of the body, you shall live” (Romans 8:13). Paul is making it clear that putting to death the deeds of flesh will not take place short of our cooperating with Holy Spirit in the process. Here prayer is an absolute essential. Many come to Christ in torment but too often remain in torment. Prayer can never become of secondary concern to other matters, given only time left after tending to cares of the world.
Prayer demands time, thought, energy, and the hearts of men. God would that we set apart intimate time in a prayer closet so our faces would shine like that of Moses when he left the tent of meeting. Littleness in prayer will be reflected in littleness of grace. Prayer together with God’s Word is a primary means of receiving revelation of God’s will for our lives. Holy Spirit is sent to do God’s will, including revelation of “deeds of the body” that must be put to death. We need to give God no rest by day or night until He answers our cry for grace to recognize, take responsibility for, and repent of things that hinder relationship with Him. The world judges Christians not nearly as much by what the Bible says as by how they see Christians act. Let us not forget that those who know Christ are perhaps the only Bible some sinners will ever read in their lifetime.
Prayer and consecration to Christ are tightly knit together. Good works can easily be carried out apart from consecration, and are called humanism. Consecration on the other hand means to have a sacred nature in what is done as it involves placing one’s life in the hands of God to be used as He ordains. Being must precede doing. First be and then do (God’s way). First develop a right heart, then live it. Half-hearted prayer leads to half-consecration at best, and often limits sanctification. Being only partly set apart from sin and the ways of the world is a seductive temptation always encouraged by the enemy of our souls.
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” 1 John 2:15
Prayer and a consecrated life are so intimately associated as to be inseparable. They recognize God as holy, submit to God, and have their end in God. It can even be said that prayer and consecration walk and talk together. We can do many fine things in a church and be strangers to consecration. We can do charitable deeds and remain prayerless. I know this is true because I lived in such a place for years. One test of being consecrated is a life of daily prayer. As Paul writes, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:13). No one is led by the Spirit of God who does not spend much time in a prayer closet. It was not possible for Jesus, and is certainly not possible for us. Consecration is the outward expression of a fervent and effectual prayer life, removed from distractions which are the bane of all mankind. Does not Jesus Himself speak of time in the prayer closet for all who’d become His true disciples?
“But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father which is in secret, and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly.” Matthew 6:6
The Father sees in secret those who pray not only for deliverance from outward sin, but from inward pollution by a carnal nature (Romans 6:12,13). God sees those who seek the life set before us in the Word of God as being opposed to standards set before us by the world. Prayer is a tool along with the Word of God for moving toward God’s righteousness. Unless the ground we occupy is held by advances first in prayer and then in action that is Spirit-led, backsliding will threaten standing firm in faith. And need for prayer concerns success in missions. Missionary events in the early Church were born in an atmosphere of prayer and fasting. As the church in Antioch was in prayer and fasting, Holy Spirit had Paul and Barnabas set aside to advance the gospel. Missionary work is God’s work and can never be isolated from a spirit of prayer. God must be the One to send out laborers to the mission field after the Church has been faithfully praying that He would do so.
“The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few: pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He would send forth laborers into His harvest.” Luke 10:2
We have seen utter failure when the above was not followed and missionaries left by their own decision rather than by direction of Holy Spirit after prayer and fasting. It may have been that their calling to a mission field was of God, but there seems either to have been inadequate preparation or not yet having instruction by God to “Go now in the name of Jesus and power of the Spirit.” It was painful to see precious missionaries return home in total discouragement.
The anointing of the Holy Spirit which first took place at Pentecost was described by Jesus as a “promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4). Yet the promise was only realized after ten days of persevering prayer in one accord. It was in unity as they prayed that the Holy Spirit came upon (Greek epi) them. Jesus had received the promised gift from the Father, and as the Baptizer then poured out empowering that set the early church on fire. Those from other nations were amazed to hear the disciples speaking of God’s wonderful works in their own native language. Peter explained to them what they had just seen and heard:
“Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He [Jesus] has shed forth this which you now see and hear.” Acts 2:33
Prayer brings Pentecost today when it is with the same kind of praying. The promise of the Father has never been exhausted and is still realized by the earnest cry of true penitents. But ‘cheap grace’ is manifested here as well. One sees people invited to receive baptism in the Holy Spirit by the act of laying on hands along with a quick prayer without discussion about the heart being prepared for filling with the Spirit. There is rarely mention of the disciples tarrying for ten days in prayer prior to the day of Pentecost. Ignored also are teachings of Jesus in Luke 11 about the man needing bread who presses his case with an “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” example of pressing on in order to receive. When Jesus says the heavenly Father shall give the Spirit to them that ask, there is the implication of persistent supplication by those who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness. This idea has all but been discarded in a drive-thru mentality which has entered much if not most of the contemporary Church in America.
There have been many outpourings of the Spirit with supernatural manifestations of the Spirit described in the twelth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The most prominent outpouring of Holy Spirit in America began in 1906 in Los Angeles using William Seymour, the son of former slaves who had submitted himself to pray five hours daily for two and one-half years. During services which were spontaneous and lacking in structure once outpouring began, Seymour remained in prayer much of the time, head inside of a wooden shoe box in the front of the church. Over several years, thousands received baptism in the Spirit, and miraculous signs and wonders were in evidence including healing and miracles. Some returned home to see Pentecostal churches birthed as a result of experience at 312 Azusa Street in Los Angeles. Over the decades, however, power manifested in Pentecostal churches across the land has steadily dimmed even as emphasis on prayer found itself relegated to the back burner, emphasis on preaching and teaching becoming birthed in the study instead of in a prayer closet.
Nonetheless, there have been any number of individuals through whom the power of Holy Spirit has been manifested with miraculous signs and wonders. But it has been my experience over the past quarter century that fervent extended prayer on any corporate level is the exception rather than the rule. Not only are spiritual gifts of divine healings and miracles rarely in evidence. The discerning of spirits is often absent, and even enthusiasm in worship is often generated artificially by leadership instead of being a spontaneous move of the Spirit. Were the emphasis on prayer as great as that given to tongues in many Pentecostal churches, such a lukewarm condition might well not exist. Indeed, the words of the LORD by the prophet have never changed as they are spoken by a God who is unchanging: “Call to Me, and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things, which you know not” (Jeremiah 33:3). A promise we often claim today is that nothing is impossible for God. Yet the kind of prayer which moves God to undertake the impossible is anything but commonplace.
The examples of God dealing mightily with people through the vehicle of prayer are common in the OT as well as NT. It was by prayer that Abraham’s servant found a wife for Isaac. Elijah prayed and no rain came for three years, and he prayed again and rain came. Hannah prayed diligently and was given a son Samuel who became a prophet. Jacob’s praying saved him from Esau’s wrath. Yet we find examples of prayers unanswered when specific hindrances or reasons existed. David’s first son by Bathsheba died following their adultery. Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not removed by prayer, instead being a tool to keep him humble after great revelations. Jesus’ suffering was not deterred at Gethsemene when, as a man, He prayed for relief before asking that His Father’s will be done instead of a human desire to be spared.
These instances are exceptions, however. God has ruled the world by the work of Holy Spirit through praying men over the ages, and still does. But we’re in desperate need of a heaven-sent quickening of faith today, and it will only become a reality as a consequence of prayer. I fear we have such limited belief in our prayers being answered to the point where we have little faith in a little god instead of great faith in an Almighty God. Satan has been successful in deceiving us much as he was able to deceive a third of angels that God was not deserving of their worship. But the Father is capable of “all things.” Paul says to not be anxious about anything, and it means anything. I know that keeping a mind free of worry and cares can be a challenge. Worry of tomorrow led to a cardiac catheterization in my forties when a massive heart attack was suspected, and caused me to take medicine for high blood pressure for thirty years. Worries distract and bewilder us so that quietness of mind and inner peace are elusive. There’s such a need today to guard our minds from worry by trusting God in all matters.
“Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.” Matthew 6:34
In time I came to appreciate that whatsoever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23) and that to worry about tomorrow is not trusting God. After realizing I was manifesting fear and lack of faith, and sinning in doing so, I began to take thoughts of worry captive as commanded by Paul (2 Corinthians 10:4,5) and prayed for grace to not allow cares of the world to over-shadow thanksgiving for all God had done and continues to do. As I put prayer into practice, turning concern into thanksgiving, my blood pressure fell until daily medicine was no longer needed. Even greater blessing was a relief from the stress and anxiety I tried to cope with for decades. It isn’t sufficient to know what Jesus taught. For us to build our lives on a foundation of rock means His teachings must be practiced. That requires time spent in the prayer closet seeking divine influence on the heart that becomes reflected in life (grace) together with power from the Holy Spirit.
“In everything let your requests be made known to God” is Paul’s exhortation. He makes no distincstion between spiritual and secular, between eternal and temporal. Nothing less than “In everything” is to be the pattern for prayer. While God is aware of our needs, even before they develop, we must acknowledge dependence on Him in prayer. The psalmist says, “Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice” (Psalm 55:17).
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grief to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh what need-less pain we bear; all because we do not carry everyhthing to God in prayer!’ Words by Joseph Scriven, 1857