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Sunday, January 1, 2017

What Is Prayer and Why Do We Do It? - A Sermon

This is the manuscript of a sermon that I delievered at The Church Of Divine Guidance (CDG), Los Angeles, CA. The Pastor of the church has named 2017 "The Year of Prayer" at CDG. This is the first sermon of 2017 and it lays the foundation for the emphasis on prayer this year. In the sermon I explore the what and why of prayer in the life of a believer. The audio recording of the sermon is included in this published manuscript.

James 5:16 (NKJV) Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you maybe healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

Pastor has declared that the theme for CDG this year is prayer. Not that prayer isn’t an emphasis now but we are going to really talk about prayer this year not just on the Prayer Line but, in bible study, Children’s Church and on Sunday during worship.

What is Prayer? – Talking With God

Dictionary definition - a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.

God is the One WE make OUR requests and expression of thanks to because He is the only one who can and has responded perfectly every time. Another person or object, which would be an idol, and we know what God thinks about idols, either can’t respond at all or is unable to give the right response every time. They may be able to give the right response response sometime but not every time. God’s response is the right one every time.

You know that if something is mentioned a lot it’s usually important. In my study, for this sermon, I learned that there are about 650 different prayers in the Bible. The number varies depending on the version of the Bible, but in general, "prayer" seems to be referenced over 600 times.

Prayer is an essential part of everyday life. In fact, prayer is as much (and more) a language of reality as mathematics, chemistry, or physics. God invites us to pray about everything, not as if it were so, but because it is so.

A rich prayer life—or rather, a life of prayer—is not the height of praise, worship and devotion. It’s the foundation. We can’t expect growth in our spiritual lives without fervent prayer. A fervent prayer is passionate and intense. Christ, whom we’re to imitate, rose early and often, in order to pray.

Luke 5:16 (NLT) But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.

Prayer is only so good at getting what we want, but if we trust God, we can be sure that we’ll get all we need.

Matthew 6:8 (NLT) Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!

Prayer, on the other hand, is excellent at getting what God wants.

1 John 5:14-15 (NLT)14 And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him.15 And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.

Progress in prayer isn’t necessarily when we get what we want, but when we trust God enough to ask Him for whatever He wants.

Prayer doesn’t exclude personal requests, but they aren’t its essence. At the heart of prayer is a crossroads. To the left, we try to change God, and get Him to do things; to the right, we seek to be changed by God, and to do things for Him. One is the way of discipleship; the other isn’t. That’s not to say we can’t ask God for things!

John 14:14 (NLT) Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!

But we should examine our prayers and determine for whose name are we asking. Do our prayers flow from loving God before ourselves, or for ourselves?

Prayer gives us an opportunity to share all aspects of our lives with God. It gives us the chance to express our gratitude for the things He provides. Prayer is where we confess our sin and ask for help in overcoming sin. Payer is an act of worship and obedience. And prayer is a way to acknowledge who is really in control of our lives.

What Prayer Is Not

Prayer is not some mystical process where we call out to some force. It’s not a power with which we create things or speak them into existence, ordering God around like some bellhop “who art in heaven”. When we pray sometimes, and I’ve done this myself, we try in our prayer to speak things into existence by praying scripture, “and calleth those things which be not as though the were”

The scripture says that it is God who calleth those things which be not as though they were... not us and our prayer.

Romans 4:17 (KJV) (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

The power of prayer doesn’t flow from us; it is not special words we say or the special way we say them or even how often we say them.

When Jesus gave His disciples the model for prayer in Matthew 6:5-13 He said in;

Matthew 6:7 (NLT) “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.

The power of prayer is not based on a certain direction we face or a certain position of our bodies. The power of prayer does not come from the use of handkerchiefs, candles,oil or beads. There is nothing wrong with them as long as you realize there is absolutely no power in them. The power of prayer comes from God who is the One who hears our prayers and answers them.

● Prayer is not magic. We cannot summon God as though He were a genie, waiting to grant our wishes without regard for our circumstances or the consequences.

● Prayer does not make demands. While we can make requests of God in prayer, we can’t make demands. God is the Creator of the universe and does not take orders from us.

● Prayer is for our benefit, not God's. We were made to function best when we are in a proper relationship with our Creator and prayer starts with that relationship.

● Prayer is not a guarantee against suffering.

John 16:33 (NLT) I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

1 Peter 4:12-13 (NLT)12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.13 Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.

● Prayer is not an opportunity for us to show off.

Matthew 6:5 (NLT) “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.

So Why Do We Pray?

Prayer Binds Us to God

  • Prayer is a communication process that allows us to talk to God! He wants us to communicate with Him, to talk to and hear from Him.
  • Prayer grants us the opportunity to present our requests to God. 
  • It is the place where pride is abandoned, hope is lifted, and supplication is made. 
  • Prayer is the place of admitting our need, of adopting humility, and claiming dependence upon God. 
  • Prayer is the exercise of faith and hope. 
  • Prayer is the privilege of touching the heart of the Father through the Son of God, Jesus our Lord.
  • Prayer allows us to worship and praise the Lord. 
  • It also allows us to offer confession of our sins
All of these things involve communication with God. He is personal, He cares for us, and wants to commune with us through prayer.

2 Chronicles 7:14 (NLT) Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.

1 Peter 5:6-7 (HCSB)6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time,7 casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you.

That's why we tell God what He already knows. We know that God is Omniscient, that He knows what we have need of before we ask.

Matthew 6:7-8 (NLT)7 “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.8 Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!

But we are still told to pray and ask anyway.

Romans 12:12 (NLT) Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

Ephesians 6:18 (NLT) Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

Philippians 4:6 (NLT) Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

When we pray we are obeying God. We don’t pray to impress or inform God, but to have fellowship with Him, so that we can grow, and learn to depend on Him. True prayer happens when our will is the same as the will of God, and we pray that way.

Matthew 6:10 (NLT) May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Prayer is our connection to heaven and heaven's connection to us—that is why you should always keep the lines open!

Prayer Gives Peace of mind.

When problems and challenges arise in your life, do you feel overwhelmed with anxiety? The Bible assures us that if we turn to God in prayer, “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and minds.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT) Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

We can have peace of mind by pouring out our concerns to our heavenly Father. In fact, he encourages us to do just that.

Psalm 55:22 (NLT) Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.

Prayer Gives Comfort and strength when facing trials.

Are you facing extreme stress, perhaps even life-threatening or tragic circumstances? The Bible says that he “comforts us in all our trials.” Here is what Paul told the Christians in Corinth.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NLT)3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.5 For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.6 Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer.7 We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.

Jesus gave us an example of this too when He was in the Garden praying before He was arrested and crucified because He knew what He was about to suffer.

Luke 22:41-43 (NLT)41 He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed,42 “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”43 Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him.

Prayer Can Bring Wisdom from God.

Some decisions we make can permanently affect us and our loved ones. How can we make wise choices? If we pray for wisdom, God can use his holy spirit to guide us to make wise decisions.

James 1:5 (NLT)  If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.

Jesus showed what can happen when we seek wisdom;

Luke 6:12-16 (NLT)12 One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night.13 At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles. Here are their names:14 Simon (whom he named Peter), Andrew (Peter’s brother), James, John, Philip, Bartholomew,15 Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (who was called the zealot),16 Judas (son of James), Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him).

Prayer Can Help Avoid Temptation

Luke 22:39-40 (NLT)39 Then, accompanied by the disciples, Jesus left the upstairs room and went as usual to the Mount of Olives.40 There he told them, “Pray that you will not give in to temptation.”

We Pray For Forgiveness of sins

2 Chronicles 7:14 (NLT) Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.

That’s just a few of the benefits of prayer we will talk about others throughout the year.

The Apostle Paul told us that we should pray all the time and in all circumstances 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

Prayer is essential in the life of a believer and one of the things that really show our faith In God. It is vital in our ability to function in this world. But exactly what does it mean to pray without ceasing? Does it mean we are to walk around with our heads bowed, and eyes closed all day? Does it mean that we’re supposed to devote ourselves to reciting ritualistic prayers or forms of prayer? Of course not.

While most of us have certain times and places that we pray, and we bow our heads and close our eyes, some of us kneel, some lay on our faces, most of us can’t do that 24/7. ?

To "pray at all times" obviously does not mean we are to pray in formal or noticeable ways every waking moment.

When Paul wrote this to the believers in Thessalonica he wasn’t talking about non-stop talking but an attitude a consciousness of God and a surrendering to God which we carry all the time. He was talking about an awareness that God is with us and involved and engaged with us in our thoughts and actions all the time.

It means that we are to consciously turn all our thoughts into prayer, (remember our definition a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship) especially when those thoughts turn to worry, fear, discouragement, and anger.

Philippians 4:6 (NLT) Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Colossians 4:2 (NLT) Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.

Ephesians 6:18 (NLT) Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

When we go through our day in unceasing prayer we are showing our dependence on God. If we don’t have this attitude throughout the day we may start to depend on ourselves instead of depending on God's grace. When we live our lives and go through our day in constant communion with God then our minds are constantly on the things above.

Colossians 3:2-4 (NLT)2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

Here’s something that I read some time ago;

For Christians, prayer should be like breathing. You do not have to think to breathe because the atmosphere exerts pressure on your lungs and essentially forces you to breathe. That is why it is more difficult to hold your breath than it is to breathe. Similarly, when we are born into the family of God, we enter into a spiritual atmosphere where God's presence and grace exert pressure, or influence, on our lives. Prayer is the normal response to that pressure. As believers, we have all entered the divine atmosphere to breathe the air of prayer.

10 Ways To Pray Without Ceasing

Here are 10 ways you can do that. These are just suggestions. You can modify them or come up with others. The important thing is to start praying without ceasing. I can personally tell you that when if you start working on it, praying without ceasing is really like breathing, you do it naturally. If it comes naturally then when those bumps in the road come you don’t even think about it your thoughts automatically go to God seeking His grace, His mercy, and His guidance and there is constant thanksgiving. You don’t have to think about its automatic.

  1. Thoughts - Cultivate a prayer-filled mind. Devote your thoughts to prayer by maintaining a constant awareness of the presence of God.
  2. Meditate - Meditating on God's word is a powerful way to pray. Select a Bible verse each week to pray and meditate on throughout the day.
  3. Plug-In - Listen to your favorite praise & worship song and ask the Lord to lead you into prayer through the lyrics.
  4. Incoming Message - When you get a text message, take a moment to pray for the friend or family member sending you a message, especially if you know they have a need.
  5. Driving - While you're on the road, pray for your co-workers and your work environment. Ask the Lord to bless everyone to have a fruitful day. (My pastor puts both hands on the steering wheel of his car every day before he leaves home and says the same prayer. He says that since he started doing this he hasn’t had one accident)
  6. Exercise - Flex your spiritual muscle when you work out. Ask for strength to endure or just thank God for the ability to exercise.
  7. Gratitude List - Keep a running list of all the things that you are thankful for. Add to this and take time to thank God for His endless blessings.
  8. Early Morning Listening - Prayer also involves listening. Turn your ear and your heart toward the Lord in the morning and receive a fresh word from the Father
  9. Dinner Time - Take time around the dinner table to bless each member of your family and even take prayer requests to ward off the heaviness of the day.
  10. Reminders - Send yourself reminders on your phone, computer or even use, old-school post-its to remind you to pray for something or someone. Keep a prayer journal to archive as God answers each one.

Prayer Has No Barriers

Governments cannot stop it, your location cannot stop it, and enemies in the spiritual realm cannot stop it. We can pray anywhere and anytime, because prayer is always available to us. But we must take the initiative. If we do so, God is eager to hear us, comfort us, strengthen us, help us, and uphold us with His "righteous right hand"

Isaiah 41:10 (NLT) Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

Prayer is always available to us, but far too often we turn to God in prayer as a last resort, not a first response.

The following is from a Charles Spurgeon sermon “Pray Without Ceasing” delivered on March 10th, 1872

Never give up praying, not even though Satan should suggest to you that it is in vain for you to cry unto God. Pray in his teeth; "pray without ceasing." If for awhile the heavens are as brass and your prayer only echoes in thunder above your head, pray on; if month after month your prayer appears to have miscarried, and no reply has been given to you, yet still continue to draw nigh unto the Lord. Do not abandon the mercy-seat for any reason whatever. If it be a good thing that you have been asking for, and you are sure it is according to the divine will, if the vision tarry wait for it, pray, weep, entreat, wrestle, agonise till you get that which you are praying for. If your heart be cold in prayer, do not restrain prayer until your heart warms, but pray your soul unto heat by the help of the everblessed Spirit who helpeth our infirmities. If the iron be hot then hammer it, and if it be cold hammer it till you heat it. Never cease prayer for any sort of reason or argument….You know what your God has told you, and if you cannot reply to every difficulty which man can suggest, resolve to be obedient to the divine will, and still "Pray without ceasing." Never, never, never renounce the habit of prayer, or your confidence in its power.

Sermon Audio