How Prayer Works!

By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett – Asbury Free Methodist

April 30, 2023

            Last week we started a series on prayer. I challenged you to pray 12 “Daily Bread” kind of prayers every day. How did you do? I am not going to ask for a show of hands – but this kind of discipline, if you learn it, helps you walk with God throughout the day.

            We are continuing our series on prayer today. I want to talk to you about how prayer works. I am hoping that you will be motivated to pray.

            I want to acknowledge upfront that much that happens in prayer is a mystery. As you know, God always answers prayer. Sometimes it is Yes. Other times the answer is “No.” At other times, the answer is “wait.” But why does God answer some prayers, yes, and not other prayers? There is a mystery in prayer.

            I suppose that is why there are so many different views about prayer. I have heard some people reason like this. God is sovereign. He is going to do what he is going to do. We can’t change his mind, so all prayer does is change our hearts to line up with what he wants to do.

            Have you ever felt like that? God is going to do whatever he is going to do, so why should I pray? But that doesn’t line up with scripture. James tells us, “We do not have because we do not ask.” Prayer, at least in part, seems to determine what God does.

            I have heard other people say that God doesn’t do anything on earth except through believing prayer. So, people don’t get saved, don’t get healed, or are left unprotected because we haven’t prayed. This puts a lot of responsibility on us – frankly, more than we can bear. But this kind of thinking goes against what the Psalmist says about the God who is in heaven and does what he pleases.

            So, how does prayer work?

            What are we responsible for, and what are we not responsible for? What do we have authority to pray for, and what are our limitations?

            Let me remind you about some of what we talked about last week.

Genesis 1:26–28 (NIV)

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

            God made humanity in his own image so that we could rule over the earth. In other words, humanity was made in the image of God and placed on earth to be God’s representatives. They were set on earth to rule in God’s place. In essence, he made humanity managers of the earth, with real authority to carry out that management.

            God was still the owner. But humanity became the resident managers. They were to rule over the world as God’s representatives. Of course, this was before sin entered into the world, so that rule would be good and pure. As you have heard, power corrupts, but this mandate to rule was given before corruption entered the world.

            You heard Psalm 8 read earlier. It says, “You made him ruler over the works of your hands.” We were made to rule.” But you know the story. We sinned. Instead of following God, we believed the lie of the Evil One. In so doing, we gave away our authority to rule.

            Remember when Jesus was tempted by Satan.

Luke 4:5–6 (NIV)

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.

            Satan says all authority was given to me, and I can give it away. You will notice that Jesus did not dispute the point. Satan was given authority here on earth by Adam at the fall. Three times in the book of John, Satan is referred to as “the prince of this world.”

            God made us to rule the earth. We listened to Satan and allowed him to rule us, so now he has limited rule on the earth.

            But then God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ. Part of what he did on the cross was win back the authority. So that is why when we get to the great commission at the end of

Matthew 28:18 (NIV)

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

            There has been a change. The prince of this world has been defeated. He no longer has authority. Jesus is the one with “all authority.” Now he exercises that authority through his disciples – his followers.

            Here is the overarching truth. From the time of creation, God has chosen to work through humans. We were created to be his representatives, his authority here on earth. We gave up that authority through sin. That authority is being restored through the work of Christ on the cross.

            God intends to continue what he started. He intends to work in this world through those who have come under the Lordship of Christ. He chooses to do his work through humans, through prayer, as they exercise the authority that he has given back to them.

            That is the theology – now let me paint a word picture for you.

            You are familiar with Walmart. Sam Walton was the founder of Walmart. He took his one five and dime store and made it an international chain. And in the process, he became a billionaire.

            Now imagine, if you would, an imaginary Walmart store. Sam Walton, the billionaire, built it, but then he turned the management of that store over to someone he trained. That manager had complete authority to run the store, to rule over the store.

            One day, the manager got an offer from one of Sam’s competitors. The competitor said that if you just do what I say and forget about what Sam says, you will be much happier. He decided to take the competitor up on his offer.

            The manager bought the idea and turned the authority of the store over to Sam’s competitor. He signed the papers abdicating his authority in favour of the competitor’s authority.

            Almost immediately, he realized he had done something wrong. Sam came calling, and he hid. But Sam already knew what had happened. He said I still own this store, but you have given the management over to my competitor. I will fix this problem someday. I could just close the store down. I have the right to do that. I am still the owner. But for my own reason, I don’t want to do that. But I think I can redeem the situation.

            Almost overnight, the store started to deteriorate. Counterfeit and dangerous products showed up on the shelf. The store started to get that run-down feeling. It was bad.

            Each department of the store had its problems. Because you see the evil manager installed his own managers over the different departments. Imagine yourself as manager of one of those departments – that is your sphere of influence if you would.


            Well, back to our story. Things just went from bad to worse. They carried products that Sam would never have put on the shelf.

            Finally, in Sam’s time, he came up with a plan. He told his son to take back the manager position in the store. It had to be legal, and it was a hard-fought battle. But eventually, because the Son was willing to give all he had, he bought back the authority to manage the store.

            So, now he had the authority to manage. But all his department managers were trained in the old management system. They still bought bad stuff and bad quality stuff.

            The competition was not happy about having to turn authority back over to the good manager, so he kept telling the departmental managers how to do their job. What to order, how to work.

            Now that a good manager was at the helm, he could start to transform the store back to what it was originally meant to be. He could start to exert his father’s will on the store.

            But his department managers had to buy into the process for that to happen. At the start, there were only a few who did, but it started to spread.

            Now there are some departments that come under the good manager. But there are still other departments that are problematic.

            Now I want to tell you how a good department is run. A good department manager knows that he has specific responsibilities. If he is responsible for children’s clothing, then he is not responsible for power tools. If she is responsible for sporting goods, then she is not responsible for flooring.

            You are not responsible for other departments. You can share best practices and what is working for you, but ultimately you are just responsible for your own department.

            A good department manager knows that it is the son’s job to manage the whole store. All they have to worry about is the responsibility that has been given to them.

            Now a department manager is responsible for keeping a good supply of sellable goods on hand. If they sell a table saw, they need to get another table saw into the store to meet the need of the next customer. Sometimes the demands placed on the inventory are incredibly high.

            Now the way to get good inventory is to order it from the head office. So, you put in a request through the manager, and he sends it on to his dad at head office. (In case you are losing the metaphor, this is called prayer)

            Now it is true that some department managers have found that requests put into the head office sometimes take a while to get back. In fact, some have wondered if they are even getting through. But the Son assures them that head office knows of the need and will come through for us at the right time.

            But there is a real problem if the requests stop being submitted. The inventory becomes depleted, and all that is left is the manager’s personality. Come into our power tool section. I’m sorry we don’t have anything to help you out in building your life, but hey, if you sit down and have a chat with me, you find I’m a really nice guy, and I’ll put a smile on your face.

            You wouldn’t serve many people that way. But as we keep on putting in requests, we keep on getting the resources needed. Now, of course, it is the Son’s prerogative to walk through our department and put in requests that are needed on his own. And sometimes, he does that.

            But that is not his way. He wants to teach his manager that they work as a team. They are part of the store’s success. He is even willing to lose business because he allows his department managers that much independence.

            Let me tell you a little about your department. It needs to be stocked with wisdom and compassion to meet the needs of your family. It needs to be stocked with spiritual gifts to meet the needs of your ministry. It needs to be stocked with peace and joy and love to meet your needs as your journey through life.

            On the back shelves it is helpful to have stocked some inventory that isn’t always needed, but sometimes it is essential. Things like courage and boldness and patience and perseverance. It is handy to have stocked some bible knowledge, so you know what the owner wants. You may want to have a generous supply of gratitude on hand as well as hope.

            Depending on the field you are in, you may need to specialize in discernment or strength or contentment.

            So how is your department stocked? Have you been filling out the request forms and sending them to the manager, who forwards them to the head office? Or are you trying to get by on personality?

Much of what happens is your responsibility. God gave you the authority to manage that which he has made you a steward of. But your ability to manage your life well will always be resourced from head office.

            The resources of our management are mostly spiritual. Instead of filling out forms, we say prayers. Instead of asking for power tools, we ask for the spiritual power to build whole lives. Instead of ordering clothing, we order in robes of righteousness. Instead of ordering a car alarm, we order  a hedge of protection.

            What you need to understand is that a lot of the job is in your hands. Unless you put the wheels in motion, the wheels are not going to be put in motion. Your department will lack inventory.

Or to put it as E.M. Bounds puts it.

            Our prayers release God’s hand to do what he would not otherwise do.

            God wants to do much more in your life than he is doing. He is just waiting for the fervent prayer requests to be forwarded on a consistent basis.


            As you look at your life, how is the department that you are managing doing? Do you have a lot of the inventory that you need, or is your department sparse?

            Let me give you a way to restock your department.

1. Choose a godly character trait. What is it that you are lacking?

2. Pray daily, that God will give you that trait.

3. Renew your mind by meditating on eternal things – set your heart on things above.

4. Confess any known undealt with sin. Keep short accounts with God

5. Confess any unforgiveness and deal with it. – Unforgiveness hampers the supply chain like nothing else.

6. Ask someone to pray for you.

7. Learn and memorize Bible verses about your character trait.

8. Keep in step with the Spirit.

(The sermon manuscript will be on the website tomorrow afternoon if you want to review those steps)

            I know we tend to pray about the external things. We need money, or health, or relationships, or direction. Those are certainly valid prayers. Often God calls us to pray for those kinds of resources. Often he calls us to pray for others so that they will have his resources. But, underneath all those things you need a heart full of Godly character traits. It is as you are living out the life of God in you that you are going to be most content. Are you praying about God’s work in your heart?

            Let me sum up this sermon. God has made you a manager, a steward, over your life. But you were meant to resource your life by ordering from head office through the store manager. You were meant to resource your life through prayer.

            If you don’t pray, your life will be under-resourced. You will need compassion, but that comes as you ask God for it. You will need strength and humility, and righteousness. That comes as you pray for it.

            So, take some time each day to pray for what you need. We looked at this verse last week, but I will remind you of it again this week.

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.

            That, my friends, is the way to manage your department. That is the way to manage your life. How much are you praying about your life? You are resourced through prayer.

Sermon Questions – How Prayer Works

April 30, 2023


1. What is on the top of your gratitude list this week?

2. What are you praying about this week?

Digging in

3. Read Genesis 1:26-28 and Psalm 8. What are we created to do? What does that say about the authority we were meant to have on Earth?

4. Read John 12:10-31. What does this tell us about Satan?

5. Read Luke 4:5-6. What does this tell us about Satan?

6. Read Matthew 28:18. What does this tell you about Jesus? What does this tell you about Satan after the cross happened?

7. The sermon used the metaphor of a Walmart Store. We are each responsible for our own department. We order the things we need for our department by submitting requests to head office. When we fail to submit requests, the supply in our department becomes sparse. Does this metaphor help you? Why/Why not.

8. Ways to restock your department

1. Choose a godly character trait/ needed resource. What is it that you are lacking?

2. Pray daily that God will give you that trait.

3. Renew your mind by meditating on eternal things – set your heart on things above.

4. Confess any known undealt with sin. Keep short accounts with God

5. Confess any unforgiveness and deal with it. – Unforgiveness hampers the supply chain like nothing else.

6. Ask someone to pray for you.

7. Learn and memorize Bible verses about your character trait.

8. Keep in step with the Spirit.

What step do you find easiest to do? What step do you find most challenging? Is this something you could put into practice?