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“P” is for Prayer

"P" is for Prayer

Sermon Transcript

How much confidence do you have in approaching God? Can you share your needs, worries, wants, fears, hopes, etc. with boldness and honesty? Join Dr. Marty Baker as we take a look at 1 John 5:14-15 and understand what Jesus Christ has done for our confidence in approaching God.

During the wicked, spiritually compromised reign of Israel’s King Ahab, God raised up one prophet to confront the king and his evil wife, Jezebel.  His name? Who can forget it?  Elijah, the Tishbite.  How did he, a lone godly man, seek to awaken the king and the ten tribes of their abandonment of God, creation of a false priesthood with false prophets, and love affair with everything wicked as opposed to that which is holy, sound, and lawful?

He came on the historical scene with one offensive weapon: prayer.  In chapter 17 of 1 King’s, Elijah boldly appeared in Ahab’s throne room with a message. Even though the king had a mighty standing army and stellar fortifications, he and the nation would be brought to their knees with a dreaded three-year and six-month drought.  (1 Kings 17:1-2; James 5:17).  That rainless period, which God decreed to Elijah, would commence with the prophet’s prayer, and pray he did.  What did God do? He heard the prayer of faith from a man who believed in God’s Word, and northern Israel became a virtual dustbowl.  Did King Ahab repent? No.  He did, however, learn to fear the prayer of a man who walked closely with God.   Yes, when Elijah prayed, miraculous, jaw-dropping things happened in an attempt to wake up the wayward king, false priesthood, false prophetic school, and evil nation.

Elijah’s prayer life was so powerful thousands of years later, James, Jesus’s brother, wrote these words in his epistle:

16 The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (James 5).

He then applied these words to Elijah’s prayer concerning the drought. Of course, James also used those words for all saints, for they are built on a timeless truth: the passionate prayer of faith, which believes God’s Word always accomplishes much.

Do you believe this truth?  Can you look back over your life and pinpoint prayers with Elijah’s persona all over them?  Have you lived to see God move, at times, in profound ways when you prayed specifically about something?  Or, have you convinced yourself that prayer is not all the Scriptures say about it?

Writing some forty years after James, John, a member of the Lord’s inner core of disciples, closes out his first letter to churches in Asia Minor about the results of a rock-solid faith in Jesus.  Throughout this section, one central motif is apparent:

Solid Faith In Jesus Christ Leads To Powerful Living (1 John 5:6-15)

From verses 6 through 13, John gives us the first result of a sound, stable faith in Jesus:

Solid Faith Leads To Peace & Performance (1 John 5:6-13)

When you have unwavering faith in the person and work of Jesus your Lord, this naturally leads to inner peace that all is well . . . no matter what is going on in your life, and this peace translates into you living a mature, holy life.  Elijah is a flesh-and-blood example of these truths.  Even though the entire nation arrayed itself against him, he had peace with God which emboldened him to keep living in a godly fashion at a godless time.   The same is true for you.  The more you understand the reality that the Lord of glory died for your sin to give you the hope of forgiveness and eternal life, the more you will be humbled and motivated to live in light of His life and sacrifice.

In addition to this, John teaches us how . . .

Solid Faith Leads To Power In Prayer (1 John 5:14-15)  

I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the Fast and Furious movies.  Not that I approve of street racing, but I find an interesting common thread in them: nos.  What is nos? Nitrous oxide.  In each race, when the driver wants to kick his car into high gear, he hits the nos button on the steering wheel.  Instantly, the car explodes with G-pulling power and unbelievable speed.  Perhaps you need a nos kit attached to your vehicle for getting to the Pentagon, right?

What has nos got to do with John’s discussion about prayer?  Think of rock-solid faith like an influx of nos in your prayer life.  Show me someone with Elijah-type faith in God and His revealed Word, and I’ll show you someone whose prayer life is quickly kicked into another gear.  John talks about this in verses 14 and 15.

14 And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. (1 John 5).

“Confidence” comes from the Greek word for outright boldness,  parresia  (παρρησία).  What is our boldness?  It is, as John says, the firm belief that if we pray according to God’s will, He hears and acts accordingly.  Why does He, the Lord of glory with so much on His mind in running the cosmos, hear the likes of us?  Because of our boldness, our confidence is directed toward Him (this is denoted by the preposition pros, used with the genitive personal pronoun, auton).  Who shouldn’t be bold in prayer when the object of their prayer is He who created the cosmos (Col. 1:16-17), healed the Centurion’s paralyzed servant (Matt. 8), walked on the Sea of Galilee in a powerful storm (Matt. 14), turned water into wine (John 2), gave the man blind from birth new eyes (John 9), raised Lazarus from the grave (John 11), and raised himself from the dead after His brutal crucifixion (John 10:18).

Here John states explicitly why we should be bold in prayer.  The risen Lord has promised to answer our prayers as they relate to His will.  Note that he didn’t say we can have confidence that God will answer prayers directly associated with our will and desires.  Concerning this I agree with Pastor Charles Swindoll’s observation:

“Prayer is not wishful thinking, hoping against hope, dreaming big, or desiring to fulfill the longing of the flesh. God’s not a heavenly genie who operates at our beck and call, and prayer isn’t the Christian method of rubbing the lamp to get God’s attention.  We must never fall into the unspiritual and dangerous trap of regarding prayer as a convenient method for imposing our will on God or bending His will to our wants. Rather, prayer is a means of submitting our will to His.”[1]

This is illustrated when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the evening Judas betrayed him.  As a man, he knew what crucifixion meant, and He agonized as he prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matt. 26:39).  Yet after this, He added those memorable, instructive words, “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). Such is always the way of powerful prayer.  It always focuses not on our will but on the Father’s will, which is more meaningful and loftier than ours.

What is the Father’s will? His will is clearly articulated in His living, inspired, and inerrant Word.  Permit me to give you a brief overview of God’s will so you can have boldness when you pray, knowing that He will answer these types of prayers.

God’s will is for us to be devoted to prayer when we, or some saint close to us, are in a spiritual battle.Knowing He was about to bear the sin of all humankind on the cross, Jesus wrestled with this before the Father in the Garden that fateful evening.  But before he committed to heartfelt, passionate prayer, He specifically asked Peter, James, and John to keep watch and be in prayer with Him (Matt. 26:41; Mark 14:33). They chose to sleep instead.  When He returned after praying and found them asleep, He wasted no time confronting them, “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour (Matt. 26:40)?” He then gave them the command again, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Matt. 26:41). We know how they fared after Christ’s arrest.  They all frantically and fearfully ran in different directions, and Peter went on to deny Jesus three times in a row without hesitation. Had they prayed, things would have turned out differently for them.  What about you? What adversity are you facing?  What trail are you in? God promises to strengthen you so you will stand firm and steadfast to Him no matter the outcome, but you must pray . . . even if it means staying up late one night.

God’s will sometimes calls for hard times, not easy times to shape and hone the soul.  Think of Paul.  He asked God to remove his thorn in the flesh three times, which was probably failing eyesight due to contracting malaria on his first missionary journey.  How did the Lord respond? His will was not to remove the thorn but to leave it in Paul’s life to keep his pride in check and teach him about the wonder of His grace in tough times.

 7 And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me-- to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me (2 Cor. 12).

Paul’s prayers led him to understand God’s will and to live victoriously and joyously in light of that divine will.

Is it wrong to pray for God to bring healing where there is disease?  No. In James 5, the Lord’s brother tells us to call the elders to anoint us with oil and pray for us when we are sick.

14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him (James 5).

Sometimes these prayers offered in faith do bring healing, but sometimes they do not.  I’ve been in many prayer sessions with saints we, elders, have anointed, and I’ve seen God dramatically heal.  I’ve also seen Him not heal.  Either way, the prayer for healing has to be prayed in light of  God’s plan and purposes for our lives. As we see with Paul, sometimes this means the adversity will stay to achieve loftier goals, goals which will echo eternity and goals that will grow us into His likeness.

Concerning prayer as it relates to adversity, we’d do well to listen to the lives of other saints who’ve learned the value of the trial:

"We are always in the forge, or on the anvil; by trials, God is shaping us for higher things.” H. W. Beecher.

‘Whenever I find myself in the cellar of affliction, I always look about for the win.” Samuel Rutherford.

“No faith is so precious as that which lives and triumphs in adversity.” Charles Spurgeon.

“Bless you, prison, for having been in my life. The meaning of earthly existence lies, not as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn.[2]

Prayer for healing is always in order, but it must always be seen about God’s greater will for us.  Sometimes His will is to heal, as in the case of King Hezekiah’s prayer when he was near death (2 Kings 20:1ff), and sometimes he intends to leave the malady, as in Paul’s case, to shape and hone the eternal soul into His holy likeness.

God’s will is for us to live holy lives and to gain mastery and victory over our carnal, evil desires.  Paul says this much in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4:

3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification (1 Thess. 4).

God’s will is for us to live sexually pure lives, not to be driven and controlled by our sexual lusts, be what they may.  If you see someone other than your wife or husband and guilt is eating away at you, pray for God to help you in this, and He will, for this is His will.  If you struggle with your sex and gender and are tempted to adopt the rudderless concept of gender pushed by society, the Lord will most certainly hear your cry for help in your dysphoria.  If you, as a young Christian person, are doing more with your girl or boyfriend than you should outside of marriage, then praying for God’s help to stop and conduct yourselves as you should is something you should immediately do. Why?  Because He promises to answer prayers like these associated with His stated will.  Yes, have bold confidence in prayer that the Lord of glory will come to your aid and assist you in resisting your powerful sexual desire to gain mastery over your body.

God’s will is for you to grow in spiritual wisdom, so you live a wise life.  James mentions this in the opening words of his letter:

5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind (James 1).

Who doesn’t need wisdom for living?  Should I marry this woman or not? Should I date this man I met on E-Harmony? Should I leave my children in the compromised school system?  Should I remain as a teacher in the public school system with their highly ungodly, sinful requirements? Should I report to my superiors what I’ve seen on the job, or should I keep quiet? What should I do to gain victory over a habitual, embarrassing sin that so easily trips me up? Pray for wisdom; the Lord will quickly give you what you need. Why?  He will answer because this type of prayer is always wedded to His will for us. Who’s ready to ask for some wisdom for the day?

God’s will is for you to pray with faith in His ability to act in relation to His will.  The Scriptures are pretty clear we, as saints, are to pray with faith, believing God can answer our prayers.  It was our Lord who said,

“22 And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive” (Matt. 21).

How is your faith in God when you pray? Is it firm or shaky?

At the Last Supper, Jesus gave this promise to the disciples:

“13 And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it”(John 14).

Does “whatever” mean “whatever”?  Scripture must align with Scripture; hence, this statement must be interpreted in light of what John says in 1 John 5:14-15.  We can and should ask God for great things, even big things in faith, knowing He can pull them off with His omnipotence.  But we must also humble ourselves knowing His will is what will prevail, not ours.

I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating, so the Lord gets the glory.  I struggled as a student from Kindergarten through third grade.  When my parents moved and I attended a new school in third grade, the teacher made me come up to the chalkboard and write the word “surprise” for all to see.  When I spelled it “surprize,” she sat at her desk and said, “Martin, it says in the notes I received from our former teacher that you can’t spell, and your misspelling of this word today before the class proves she was right. You can take a seat.” I have never felt more humiliated and frustrated.

Later they pulled me out of class and tested me to see if I was mentally, audibly, and visually challenged.  Again, that was humiliating because no one else at my new school was yanked out of class for special tests.

The Sunday before I started my fourth-grade year in 1967 (I believe it was September 3rd), I trusted Christ as my Savior and Lord.  It was the best decision I ever made. Sitting in class the next day, I prayed a simple, childlike prayer of faith in God’s ability to help me, “Lord, you know I am not that smart, and that school is hard for me.  Now that I am yours, could you give me a new brain?”  I asked because I believed He, the Creator, could re-create my brain, and He answered.  Why? He responded because I asked in faith and because my faith coincided with His will for my academic life. I’ve lived my life since then to give Him the glory.

What great thing do you need to ask God for?  Ask Him in faith, knowing it can happen if He so wills it.

In the 1800s, a godly ship captain went to sea, knowing his wife was about to give birth to their firstborn child.  While out on the ocean, far from home, he was overcome with how his life was about to change with this child.  So, he sat down, penned a prayer for his wife and unborn child, and put it in safekeeping in an oak chest in his quarters. Unfortunately, he never made it home, for he died at sea.

The Navy gave his grieving wife his chest, but she never bothered to open it.  She eventually gave it to her son to open when he turned 16.  At 16, the son joined the military like his father and, sadly, went on to live a life of sexual debauchery and drunkenness.  At the age of 54, while he lived in sin with a woman, he decided that now would be a good time to open that old chest and see what was in it.

He found the letter from his dad at the bottom of his belongings. It was neatly folded and held together with a red ribbon.  Within a few minutes, he opened the letter and slowly read, “The prayer of Captain Mitchell for his wife and child.”  What did his dad pray for? He prayed that his wife and son would always possess a fervent love for Jesus Christ.

Loving sin more than he loved his father’s words, the young man closed the letter and told his live-in girlfriend he vowed never to read that prayer again.  But the prayer had put a hook in his heart, and though he could lock the letter deep in the oak chest, he couldn’t lock up his convicted heart.[3]

What did the convicted sinner do?  He placed His faith in His father’s Savior, Jesus Christ, and he went on to marry the woman he lived with and became a man known for moral uprightness.  And to think it all came about because of a written prayer of his father, a prayer the son didn’t know about until he was middle-aged, but which God knew about and willed to answer at the right time.  Parents, be encouraged.  A prayer for a child prayed in faith was heard by God, but it took 54 years for Him to answer.  And God answered it because it was His will to do so.

Is their power in prayer? You bet.  There is power because you are speaking with the Lord of glory.  Your bold faith, coupled with His great will can accomplish much.  Do you believe it?  God isn’t going to grant you anything you ask for because you might, as James notes, be asking for things with the wrong, sinful, selfish motives (James 4:3). He will, however, grant you those things which are grounded in faith and are directly related to His will for your life. You must, therefore, be prepared to work this wording into your prayers, or at least have it as a mindset as you approach His throne: Lord, not my will, but your will be done.

[1] Charles Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights: 1, 2, & 3 John, Jude (Carol Stream: Tynale House Publishers, 2018), 131.

[2] Mark Water, The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000), 18-20.

[3] Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Expository Encyclopedia, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 174-175.