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Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Effective, Fervent Prayer Of A Righteous Man Avails Much - A Sermon

The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
 This is the manuscript of a sermon that I delivered at Christ Church, Los Angeles, CA.  This sermon was initially delivered at The Church of Divine Guidance on 1/1/2017 and revised for delivery at Christ Church 2/26/2017.   The audio recording of the sermon is included in the manuscript.

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

A fervent prayer is passionate and intense.

Which of the following do your prayers most closely resemble?
  • A wish made when throwing a coin in a fountain.
  • A distant hope a child experiences when daydreaming of something he or she wants to have.
  • A desperate plea made in the face of imminent disaster.
If you surveyed books on prayer in a Christian bookstore, you'd find varied and often conflicting advice. Some authorities insist that successful prayer is scheduled; others favor impromptu prayer. One writer says fasting should accompany prayer, but another tells us to pray in any circumstance. Still another says that prayer is best done when alone, though someone else urges us to join with others. Some claim that prayer requires careful preparation and thought, while a conflicting authority says prayer should flow spontaneously from our hearts.

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 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, so it must be very important.

Prayer is an essential part of everyday life. A rich prayer life—or rather, a life of prayer—is the foundation for praise, worship and devotion. We can’t expect growth in our spiritual lives without fervent prayer. Christ, who we’re to imitate, rose early and often, in order to pray.

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

He prayed all night before naming his twelve disciples 2

Luke 6:12‭-‬13 (NKJV) Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles:

We don’t always get what we want when we pray. But if we trust God, we’ll always get what we need.

Philippians 4:6, 19 (NLT)6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 19 And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

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.

This means that if we ask God anything according to His will that He hear and will respond because what we are asking is not contrary to His will.

In the model prayer that Jesus gave His disciples ( we call it the Lord’s prayer and we prayed it today in song), He said that we are to ask for God’s kingdom to come and His will be done.

It doesn’t mean that we can’t ask God for things. Prayer doesn’t exclude personal requests,

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

Here Jesus is saying pray in the authority that He gives to use His name, which means that we will not pray outside His will. We can know God’s will by the promises that we have in the Bible. That’s why it’s important that we read and study the Bible so that our prayers are on solid ground.

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”. We can’t speak anything into existence. The scripture that Christians use to say that they can speak things into existence is;

Romans 4:16-17 (NKJV)16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all17 (as it is written, "I have made you a father of many nations") in the presence of Him whom he believed--God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did;

That scripture says that it is God who calleth those things which be not as though they were... not us.

The power of prayer doesn’t flow from us. The power of prayer flows from God. Iit is not special words we say or the special way we say them or even how often we say them. We hear people say that there power in prayer or that prayer was powerful. The truth is that the prayer itself has no power the power is in the person we pray to.

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 not a guarantee against suffering.
John 16:33 (NLT)33 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)5 “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.

  • 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.

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.

Matthew 7:7-11 (NLT)7 “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.8 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.9 “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead?10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not!11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

1 Timothy 2:1-5 (NLT)1 I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.3 This is good and pleases God our Savior,

  • Prayer grants us the opportunity to present our requests to God.
  • Prayer 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 us to come to Him in prayer. There’s a scripture we read here every week that speaks to that;

2 Chronicles 7:14 (NLT)14 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.

We know that God is Omniscient, and that He knows what we need before we ask, but we are still told to ask and to be persistent in our asking. Jesus gives us an example of persistence in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Matthew 26:36-44 (NLT)36 Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.”37 He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed.38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”39 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”40 Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?41 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”42 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.”43 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.44 So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again.

Jesus also talks about persistence in prayer when He told the parable of the widow and the evil judge.

Luke 18:1-8 (NLT)1 One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up.2 “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people.3 A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’4 The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people,5 but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”6 Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge.7 Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?8 I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”

There are other places in scripture where we are told to be persistant:

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

Ephesians 6:18 (NLT)18 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)6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

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 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)6 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)22 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.

If you’re facing extreme stress, perhaps even life-threatening or tragic circumstances the Bible says that he “comforts us in all our trials.” .

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (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.

Jesus gave us an example of this too when He was in the Garden praying before He was arrested and crucified.

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. If we pray for wisdom, God will guide us to make wise decisions. He will show you what to do and help you with your decisions. There was a young lady who in her testimony said “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

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

Isaiah 58:11 (NLT)11 The LORD will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.

You can trust Him with the days ahead, for He has promised to guide you.

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.”

In His model prayer He also said that we should ask God to protect against temptation.

Matthew 6:13 (NLT) And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT)13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

We Pray For Forgiveness of sins

Matthew 6:12 (NLT) and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.

2 Chronicles 7:14 (NLT)14 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.

Psalm 51:1-2 (NLT)1 Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins.2 Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin.

That entire Psalm is a prayer for forgiveness.

That’s just a few of the benefits of prayer. .

Pray Without Ceasing and In All Circumstances

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.

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.

Philippians 4:6 (NLT)6 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)2 Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.

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

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.
When Paul wrote this to the believers in Thessalonica he was talking about an attitude, a consciousness of 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.

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, our friend, 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 on;

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.

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.

Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)10 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 a while 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 ever blessed 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

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