Today I finished a sermon series titled "Four Corners." The series looked at 4 essential aspects of a successful Christian life: Witnessing, Bible Study, Fellowship, Prayer. Each is more than worthy of a Blog entry, and I hope to do that soon, but tonight I want to focus on Prayer as that was most impactful.
Pastor Nelson took an unusual passage of Scripture to unlock the purpose and power of prayer - Genesis 18:17-33. Maybe it's looking at this subject from a fresh passage and perspective that really opened my eyes this time. I can't really re-type his whole message here - though I wish I could, it was so very very good! But I will give you the four points he brought out and how they impacted me.
1. Prayer does not bend the will of God, it is generated by the will of God. God knew from the beginning that He was going to Sodom & Gomorrah not only to judge the evil there, but also to rescue Lot and his family from the midst of it.
(Rabbit trail: It occurs to me as I'm writing this, that really, Lot was the only one of his family with any obvious sense of righteousness. Those that were saved with him were simply benefitting from God's mercy toward Lot. Much like the U.S. is blessed not because of its overwhelming godliness - duhh - but because God blesses and protects His children - the unbelieving are recipients of the overflow of God's grace and mercy poured out on the believing. . . .)
Anyway - the point is, God's will was not moved to save Lot by Abraham's prayer - rather, Abraham was moved to prayer by God's will to save Lot. It's interesting that Lot is the primary concern in this intercessory dialogue, but his name isn't mentioned once (more on that later).
2. Prayer should be persistent. Reference also the parable (can't recall the reference right now) of the neighbor pounding on the door till he gets what he's asking for. I like the way Tommy said it, God "delights" in persistent prayer. We should be like a dog with a bone - don't stop gnawing on it till it's done. Tommy said a true person of prayer is one who comes consistently and persistently before the Lord with a matter and doesn't let go of it till it is answered.
He also likened the person who prays occassionally or sporadically with someone who considers God as a genie - someone you come to only when you want something. That one left a few bruises on my heart for sure!
3. I'm not exactly sure what the title for this point was, but here's the gist: A person who knows the God of the Bible, knows how to pray. They may not always know *what* to pray, but the how will come naturally. Worship/Praise/Supplication will come from a heart that understands the character of God and will align itself to that reality.
The sequence goes like this: God determines something - God moves in the heart of His child to bring that Believer to prayer in this matter - the Believer prays with an intelligent understanding of God's character - God moves to accomplish His will - God is glorified by the participation of His child in accomplishing what He had determined to do.
This is really the point that got me. Did you catch that last line? "God is glorified by the participation of His child . . . ." When we do not pray, we rob God of glory due to Him! Herein lies the motivation for prayer - that we may humbly accept God's invitation to participate in the execution of His will in this world so that He might be more greatly glorified.
Throughout Scripture we are taught that we participate in God's dealings: "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it..." God elected, God called, God completes the sanctification process. We participate by answering that call and then through study of the Scriptures and application of its truths to our lives.
What an amazing God we serve! He is completely and totally sovereign, yet He chooses to allow us, the foolish and oft unfaithful, to work alongside Him in the accomplishment of His will!! Herein is the greater glory for Him - that He should condescend in such a way and that He would delight in doing so!
4. The last point was ever so comforting. Prayer is not dependent on the words of our mouth. Earlier I noted that Lot's name is not mentioned throughout this intercessory dialogue. The prayer of Abraham's heart - something too precious for him to speak outloud, is that Lot should be spared. God knew this going in to the conversation. Tommy referenced the passage (again I'm blank on the reference - sorry about that) where we are told the "Spirit intercedes for us with groanings".
The old saying "Be careful what you pray for - you just might get it" has, I believe, seeped into the common Christian concept of prayer. We feel we must watch our words ever so carefully - don't just pray that they'll be saved, pray that they'll be saved from their sin or God might just save them from bankruptcy or something instead! Sounds riddiculous, I know - and that example is a bit extreme - but I've heard this basic sentiment hundreds of times from Christians.
When we pray - as when Abraham prayed - God listens to our HEART. The Spirit brings before God the things we are not even sure how to express - and God hears those prayers - counts them as precious - and answers according to His sovereign will.
God is a good and kind and gracious and gentle and loving God. We are fortunate to serve such a Master :-)