By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett – Asbury Free Methodist
Prayer – Part 2 October 17, 2021
Last week we started a new series on prayer. This morning, we are going to continue that series by looking at the question “Why Pray?” Most of us understand that prayer is a good thing. Yet, most of us don’t pray as much as we think we should. I think buried in that dilemma is some misunderstanding about prayer.
I hope that by the end of this series, you will see that much of what happens depends on your prayers. I am hoping that you will know how much God desires to answer your prayers. I am hoping to disarm the lies of the enemy that keeps you from praying. I am hoping that you will be motivated to pray, individually and corporately.
Here is a question that often comes up when we think about prayer. If God knows our needs, then why do we need to pray? That is a reasonable question. Today I want to give you six reasons why we need to pray.
If you have heard me preach before, you will know that my sermons have a point, but I usually don’t preach five-point sermons. But for this series on prayer, I am going to be preaching sermons with a lot of points. The reason I usually don’t preach this way is that it’s hard to remember a lot of points. In order to help with that, I want you to know that the manuscript for the sermon is on the website. I usually preach from one scripture passage, but in this series, I am going to cover many scripture passages in a sermon. The reason I am going in this direction for this series is that we have so much ground to cover.
So, with that disclaimer, back to her question, why pray? The first reason we pray is,
1. To reinforce our connection with God.
Jesus, talking about prayer, said – don’t be like the people who think they’re going to be heard because they use a whole lot of words for your father knows what you need before you ask him. Yet, when Jesus was teaching us to pray in the Lord’s prayer, he taught us to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.” God knows what we need, and yet we’re taught to ask for what we need. What is up with that?
Here is what you need to know. You were never designed to live life apart from your creator. So, God decided to tie our needs to prayer because our independent, self-sufficient old nature in us usually defaults to doing life apart from God.
One of the most important passages of scripture for understanding the Christian life is found in John 15:4–5 (NIV)
4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
As a follower of Jesus, you were meant to do life with God; Not apart from God. You were meant to stay connected to God, not live independently from God. So, God has so ordered our lives that much of what matters depends on our connection to God; It depends on prayer.
1 Corinthians 1:9 (NIV)
9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
God calls you to pray because he wants you to know that he is faithful. He calls you to pray because he longs for you to be connected to him in such a way where there is deep fellowship. God calls you to pray because he wants a deep, personal, ongoing relationship with you. That does not happen apart from prayer.
If you are far from God, and you wonder if God desires that relationship with you, listen to his words to people in a church that were not that connected to God.
Revelation 3:20 (NIV)
20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
God has called you into fellowship with his son. Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart because he really wants to have fellowship with you. That is what it means for him to come in and “eat with that person.”
Why pray? Because it reinforces our connection with God. The second reason we need to pray is,
2. To grow our faith
God often waits for us to ask for what we need so that we will properly value his gift when it comes. One of the ways our faith grows is through seeing answers to prayer. When we experience God’s provision, our faith is expanded.
John Calvin once said, “Good things that we do not ask for will usually be interpreted by our hearts as the fruit of our own wisdom and intelligence. That thickens the illusion of self-sufficiency the leads to overconfidence, and sets up failure.”
This, I believe, is at the root of so much anemic prayer in Canada. We live in a great country, in a great part of the country, where we have many good things. We often take those good things for granted, or worse, we take them as the fruit of our own wisdom and intelligence. When the big problems of life surface, the problems we know that are outside our control, we then turned to God. But we have already bought into the illusion of self-sufficiency so that when we go to pray, we have very little faith.
We failed to acknowledge that the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the clothes we wear ultimately come from God. We don’t pray about the meetings we’re going to have because we rely on our own skills. We don’t pray about what’s going to happen in our day because whatever happens, we will handle it. Often, we miss what God wants to do in our day. We live lives of self-sufficiency. When we do get bad news from the doctor or that phone call in the middle of the night, or our spouse is saying he or she doesn’t love us anymore, we are lost. Our self-sufficiency sets us up for failure. We haven’t relied on God for the small things, so how can we trust him for the big things.
But Jesus has a better way. He teaches us to pray about all of our lives. As we pray and as we reflect, we start to see the fingerprints of God. We see the meeting that went better than it should have. We see that coffee time with a friend has a deeper conversation than it might otherwise have had. We see our blessings more clearly. We see God at work more often, and our faith grows.
So, when we do get horrible news, we are already experienced with the activity of God in our lives; we can trust him now.
I was talking to one of my friends in Cuba last week. You need to understand that the people in Cuba are as well educated as we are. Most of them work harder than we do. Yet, they don’t have near as much as we have. My friend’s wife has ongoing significant health problems. She has run out of Ibuprofen. Even if they had the money, there is none on the shelves. They can’t get anymore. My friend tells me that they have enough to eat, but it is almost impossible to find protein of any kind.
When my friend, who is a pastor, calls a prayer meeting, people show up. There is no sense of self-sufficiency. Much of life is outside their control. But these are people of great faith. They have had to trust God for most things in life; They have seen God answer prayer again and again.
I am not suggesting that we should go through a famine. I am suggesting that we pray about all of our lives. The temptation in our country toward self-sufficiency is strong, but faith is better. I know that one of the things that needs to happen at Asbury is that our faith in God needs to grow.
The third answer to the question, why pray? Is
3. Prayer changes us.
God has a way of changing our attitude as we pray. You may remember the story of Peter in Acts chapter 10. The background of this story is that Jewish people did not go into the homes of non-Jewish people. To do so would make you ceremonially unclean.
In Acts chapter 10, Peter is in prayer. God gives him a vision and then tells him to go and minister to non-Jewish people. The first response of Peter to the vision was to say I can’t do that. But as Peter stayed in prayer, God changed Peter’s mind. That was the beginning of ministry to people like us.
I have found that prayer has changed my attitude in many different ways. There were times when I was waiting on God in prayer, where he didn’t seem to be answering. I found that part of what God wanted to do was change my own heart. There were times when God convicted me to pray for people who had offended me. God changed my attitude towards them.
I have often heard Psalm 37:4 (NIV) quoted
4 Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
One of the reasons God can make a promise like that is that prayer changes us. As we delight in the Lord, our desires and his desires have a way of merging into one another. Prayer changes us.
Prayer not only changes our wrong attitudes, but it creates the right attitude in us. Ephesians 3:16 (NIV) says,
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
When you spend time in prayer, God has a way of strengthening you on the inside. It is a wonderful thing to be able to walk with confidence in this world because you know the God is in you and the God is with you, and that you can trust him. Fear is banished, anxiety is diminished, and confidence rises because you know that God is near and you trust him.
That kind of confidence changes you. It allows you to walk into uncertain situations from a position of strength. You may not know what to do, but you know that God will come through.
I have seen that in my own life. If I had been pastoring through COVID 20 years ago, I would have been full of angst. We do not know what is going to happen in the future. Ministry has changed. Attendance patterns have changed. Giving practices have changed. There are a lot of unknowns. But I know this, God is with us. He will lead us onto the right path. He will give us the wisdom we need to figure out what we need to figure out. We can trust him. Because of that, I do not have a whole lot of angst about the future. I am trusting him to lead. Prayer has changed me.
The fourth reason we need to pray is
4. To keep us from falling into temptation
You may remember when Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane That he told his disciples in
Matthew 26:41 (NIV)
Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.
We are sometimes tempted because our hearts desire something that is different than what God desires. That is what the Bible calls “the flesh.” We are sometimes tempted by something the Bible calls “the world.” We Live in a world that takes no thought of God. The systems of our world, whether they be the health care system, the educational system, the government, or business, sometimes intentionally but most often unintentionally push us towards a life without God. The Bible also tells us that there is an enemy of our soul. He goes by various names: Satan, the devil, Lucifer. Sometimes our temptation originates from the demonic. Jesus experienced it; You will experience it too.
So, Jesus says watch and pray that you will not fall into temptation. Paul says and
“Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”
Prayer is the way to dawn your armor. Why pray? To keep us from falling into temptation
The fifth and final reason we need to pray is
5. Pray allows us to actively participate in the Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God is found anywhere where God’s ways are followed. So much of our world follows after the ways of the evil one. His goal is to steal and kill and destroy. But our God wants to bring life, true life, abundant life. The Kingdom of God is found where God’s ways cause this world and its people to flourish.
This will be seen in how we treat people. People are respected and encouraged, and not manipulated. The Kingdom of God will be seen in how we use money. In the Kingdom of God, money serves the purposes of God; the people of God don’t serve money. The Kingdom of God will be seen in our relationships. Love is the primary rule. It shows up in how we live out our sexuality; we don’t use people. The Kingdom of God shows up in how we do business; how we treat others.
Can you imagine living in a place where the poor are valued as much as the rich? Can you imagine living in a place where the environment is flourishing, businesses are flourishing, people are flourishing because they’re following God’s ways? That is the Kingdom of God.
One thing I know from working closely with people for a lot of years is that people’s lives are messy. Addictions are real. There is love, but often people’s lives are filled with anger and bitterness and unforgiveness and sometimes hatred. We judge each other, and we are completely unaware of the log in our own eye. In our town, so many people are plagued with a failure to flourish.
Prayer allows us to actively participate in the Kingdom of God and in the purposes of God. It allows us to see what it means for our lives to flourish and for the lives of others to flourish. It allows us to cooperate with God as we pray for the different aspects of abundant life to settle in our hearts, our families, our church, our community.
I have often found that our vision of the gospel is far too restricted. Here is what Paul says about Jesus.
Colossians 1:19–20 (NIV)
19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Did you catch that? He is reconciling all things to himself. He is not just reconciling people. He is Reversing the curse of the garden of Eden. That curse affected the environment, our health, our personal relationships, our community relationships and of course, our relationship with God himself. In prayer, you are inviting the Kingdom of God to invade not only your heart but our community. You are cooperating with God in prayer to see His Kingdom come, and His will be done. You are cooperating with him as he reconciles all things to himself.
In prayer, you are going to receive specific directions for living and for ministering. As we follow the promptings of God, we are going to see him cause our hearts and those around us to flourish. Apart from him, we can do nothing. With him, and through our connection to him, amazing things are possible. Why pray? We want to see his Kingdom come and his will be done.
Prayer matters. It reinforces our connection to God. It grows our faith. It changes us. It keeps us from falling into temptation. And we get to actively participate in the Kingdom of God. Prayer matters because God hears our prayer. Prayer matters because God does what he would not otherwise do because his people pray.
So, here’s my appeal to you. Pray! I am praying that many of us will up the time we spend in prayer and the intensity of our prayer. I am praying that we will learn to pray together. Prayer is the work of the people of God. Prayer is the work of the church.
So I’m going to give you a few moments, and I want you to think about three things. If you are convicted that your prayer life needs to improve, let me ask you these three questions: what time of the day are you going to pray? For how long are you going to pray? Where are you going to pray? I want you to think about that, and I’m going to ask God to speak to you. We are going to give you a few moments of silence to pray about that.
Sermon Questions – Why Pray?
1. What are you thankful for today?
2. What has been your biggest challenge in this past week?
Digging In – The big question is, “If God knows our needs, then why do we need to pray?”
Reason One – to reinforce our connection with Jesus.
Read John 15:4-5 – What does this passage have to do with prayer.?
Read 1 Corinthians 1:9 – What does this passage have to do with prayer?
Read Revelation 3:20 – What does this have to say about prayer?
Reason Two – To grow our faith
John Calvin once said, “Good things that we do not ask for will usually be interpreted by our hearts as the fruit of our own wisdom and intelligence. That thickens the illusion of self-sufficiency the leads to overconfidence and sets up failure.”
-How does the place we live in set us up to be self-sufficient?
-Do you pray about your day? Could/does that help with self-sufficiency? Why/Why not?
Reason Three – Prayer changes us
Read Acts 10:9-20 – How did Peter’s time of prayer change him?
Read Psalm 37:4 – How can God make a promise like this?
Read Ephesians 3:16 – How is Paul hoping to change through prayer? What would that look like in real life?
Have you ever been changed through prayer?
Reason Four – To keep us from falling into temptation.
Read Matthew 26:41 –
What are good ways and bad ways to pray about temptation?
Reason Five – Prayer allows us to actively participate in the Kingdom of God.
If God answered our prayer for “his kingdom to come and his will to be done,” what would that mean for:
What would our prayers look like if we actively participated in the kingdom of God through them?
How much prayer do you believe you called to pray a day at this point in your life? Do you have a plan to do that?