Wednesday, September 07, 2005
The Key to Praying with Power
by Steve May
Today, as we conclude our series on prayer, we'll look at a story Jesus told that teaches the most important principle of all regarding prayer. This story teaches us the key to praying with power.
You heard the story just a moment ago when we read the scripture from Luke 18. It's about a ruthless judge who fears neither God or man, and a widow who comes to him repeatedly with the request, "Grant me justice." For a long he time he refuses to consider her request, but finally in exasperation he says...
(v. 4-5) "Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her complaining!"
Then Jesus said in the same way God will bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night.
Here's the principle—the key to praying with power; the key to getting results in prayer: Keep at it. Pray with persistence.
If you're asking God for anything, this is the most important principle involved in your prayer. And this is exactly where we most often drop the ball when it comes to praying. Too often, we pray for awhile, but when we don't get the answer we want fast enough, we give up. We tell ourselves "It must not have been God's will"...or we tell ourselves, "Maybe this prayer thing doesn't work after all"...or we tell ourselves, "Maybe God doesn't care enough about me to answer my prayers—he'll answer prayers for others, but not me." The fact is, none of these things are true—but we fool ourselves into believing them simply because it's easier to give up than to keep praying.
God answers prayer, but he doesn't answer every prayer immediately. There are some prayers that he answers only when we pray persistently. Why is that? Why does God want us to pray with persistence? Today we'll look at three reasons—three ways you benefit from persistent prayer. First of all...
1. Persistent Prayer Keeps You In God's Presence.
Just like the widow who kept coming back to the judge, day after day, standing before him, asking for justice, persistent prayer places us in God's presence, day after day after day.
There's something more important to God than answering your prayer: he wants to have a personal relationship with you. He wants you to know him intimately. He wants to be your best friend—your constant companion. Persistent prayer helps you develop and nurture your relationship with God.
One evening I was having dinner with a married couple, Kirk and Dianne, and they told me how they met. Diane was a realtor and Kirk was looking for a house. Diane said, "I had to show him at least a dozen houses before he found one he was willing to buy. We were looking at houses together 2 or 3 times a week, and we eventually fell in love. Fortunately for me, Kirk doesn't make quick decisions." Kirk said, "Fortunately for me, Diane doesn't give up!" Looking at properties together kept them in each other's presence long enough for their relationship to develop.
It works the same with persistent prayer. If you pray about something every day, that means you're spending time alone with God every day—and the more time you spend with God, the closer you get to God. That's why Jesus said in verse 6 that we're to cry out to God "day and night." It's why the Psalmist said...
Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. (Psalm 55:17)
God wants to be the central focus of your life. The purpose of prayer is not to get God to do things for you, it is to teach you to depend on him as your only source. Persistent prayer keeps us in God's presence.
2. Persistent Prayer Helps You Define and Refine Your Requests.
I firmly believe that anything you want you should pray for first. Anything at all. Does that mean you'll get it? No, of course not. But this is what will happen. As you pray for something earnestly and persistently over a period of time, you'll find that your request gets refined and re-defined according to God's will. In other words, if you're asking for the wrong thing, God will let you know.
You may begin to pray for one thing, but as you continue to pray over a period of time, and as you continue to seek God's will on the matter, your request will be transformed into a request that is pleasing to God.
A friend of mine named Ken told me that he was tired of living "hand-to-mouth", and began to pray that he would receive either a raise in salary or a better paying job. He came up for a performance review at work, and was told that even though he was doing a great job, there was no money in the company for raises this year. So, he began sending out resumes—after sending out dozens he had not received a single offer better than what he already had. During this time God began to speak to him about several areas in which he was spending too much money. Over a period of time his request changed from "Give me more money" to "Make me a better steward." He said that he was able to reduce his expenses $300 a month by cutting out unnecessary things, such as HBO, a gym membership (he rarely went), changed calling plans on his cell phone, began eating out less, and so on. Also, for all of his adult life Ken had had a car payment; every two or three years he would trade in his "old" car for a new one. This year, he decided to pay off the car and keep it—freeing up another $400. He said, "My income hasn't changed, but it's like I got an $8000 a year raise!" It began with a request for more money. Over time, the request was refined to "Lord, make me a better steward."
If God had answered his prayer immediately and he had been given a raise at work, it would have been just a matter of weeks before he was as over-committed as he had always been. Instead, because he prayed persistently, his request was re-defined into what he really need to pray for, and God was able to do a great work in his life.
When we first begin praying for something, we might not be praying for exactly the right thing, or for the right reasons. Persistent prayer improves our prayers; it helps us get on the right track.
It's hard (if not impossible) to pray persistently for something frivolous. The longer you pray, the more you realize: "This is silly; this isn't God's will."
Conversely, when you're praying for the right things, the longer you pray the more convinced you become of God's will; the more determined you become to keep praying for it.
Persistent praying helps you define and refine your requests so that you're ultimately asking for something that is consistent with God's will for your life.
3. Persistent Prayer Proves Your Faith.
Jesus ended this parable by saying...
(v. 8) "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"
In other words, will he find people praying persistently? Persistent prayers demonstrate faith.
Earlier in the gospel of Luke, when Jesus was teaching on this very same subject, he said...
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)
You've heard me say this before: the verbs "ask", "seek" and "knock" are spoken in the present indicative active voice, which means that it is an on-going action. In other words, "Ask and keep on asking"; "Seek and keep on seeking"; "Knock and keep on knocking". If you believe God will answer your prayer, you prove your faith by continuing to ask.
A friend dropped by to see me yesterday. He saw my truck in front of my office, so he knew that I was here. The outside entrance was locked, so he started pounding on the door. Due to my recent shoulder injury, he knows I'm not moving very fast these days, and he didn't expect to come rushing down the stairs in a matter of seconds, but he knew that eventually I would come open the door—so he kept pounding. I was on the phone, and he kept pounding. This went on for at least five minutes—every 30 seconds or so he would pound on the door or tap on the glass or shake the door handle. When I finally made it downstairs I said, "Are you trying to drive me crazy?" He said, "I knew eventually you would come down and unlock the door. I just didn't want you to think that I had given up and gone away." I said, "I need to learn to pray like you drop in on friends; I need to be more persistent."
When we have refined our requests and are asking for the right things, God will answer our prayers. Jesus said so.
(v. 7-8) And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly."
Wait a minute. Does that say "quickly"? Then why do we have to pray and pray and pray and ask and ask and ask seemingly forever? The answer is simple. "Quickly" is determined by God's timetable, not our own. "Quickly" doesn't mean we can snap our fingers and God will speed up the process; it means that God will answer our prayers on time. He's not late. He's never in a hurry, but he's never late.
The key to praying with power is found in praying with persistence. When you pray persistently you remain in the presence of God, and you are able to define and refine your requests according to his will, and you prove your faith.
Persistent prayer takes prayer out of the "plan b" category—the "last-ditch-effort" category—and puts it where it belongs: top priority in your life.
For the last six weeks we've talked about prayer as the ultimate lifestyle. We began this series with the verse...
Pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
And that is where we end it. Pray and pray and keep on praying. Persist in prayer; make it your lifestyle.