Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
The largest radio receiver on earth is in New Mexico. It is a series of huge satellite discs on over 72km of railway lines. And all the dishes together form a single telescope the size of Washington D.C. It is called the VLA or Very Large Array. Now, the reason it is so big is that radio signals that travel a long way are very faint by the time they get to earth. So that gives us some idea of the sort of lengths that mankind will go to try to receive a message from space. The sad thing is though that many trying to hear a message from space have no time at all for the message about Jesus Christ that the God who created the universe has given us in His Word. And about this word, God says, “You do well to pay attention to it.”
But God hasn’t just spoken clearly and powerfully to mankind. He also has what we can respectfully call a VLE or a Very Large Ear that loves to hear prayer. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you … [For] if you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”
So, we have every reason to be a praying people. But as we noted last week, while we know that prayer is necessary and important, the sad truth for many of us is that a regular prayer life is hard to maintain.
So we began looking at Eph. 6:18 last week under the theme: Thankful Believers are Called to the Discipline of Prayer .
- We saw that prayer is the response of a thankful believer to the many mercies that are ours in the Lord Jesus Christ.
- But we noted also that it is right to speak of prayer as a discipline because prayer is a habit we need to develop and strengthen.
- We spent most of our time considering the context of v18, noting that prayer needs to begin and accompany everything we do as Christians.
- And then we spent a few moments seeing that “praying at all times” includes what we called times of formal, or hands folded/eyes closed, prayer, and what we called informal prayer – the spoken or unspoken word or phrase that we fire up to God in heaven as a response to things or situations we see or experience, and what we called a prayerful attitude – having God always in our thoughts regardless of what it is we are busy with. In these ways we can be “praying at all times.”
Well, this afternoon we continue our consideration of v18. We want to see that thankful believers are called to the discipline of constant prayer that is in the spirit, Assorted, unrelenting, and intercessory. And then we will end with some lessons from the school of prayer.
So first of all, thankful believers are called to the discipline of constant prayer that is In the Spirit. And we see this as we are told that our praying is to be “in the Spirit.”
- Once, when Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to His disciples, He said, the Spirit “will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” And what that means for you and me is that the work of the Holy Spirit is to teach us what is written in the Bible, to give us a love for what is written in the Bible, to remind us what is written in the Bible, and to help us to do what is commanded in the Bible.
- And Romans 8:26-27 says more about praying in the Spirit. Let’s turn there together ( 944). We read, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words.”
- Just listen to how one commentator explains these verses; he said, Three supernatural things happen here: First, the Holy Spirit creates within us the desire to pray. Second, “the Holy Spirit tells us what we ought to pray for. Apart from the Spirit’s assistance, our prayers are limited by our own reason and intuition. But with the Holy Spirit’s help they become informed by heaven. As we seek the Holy Spirit’s help, He will speak to us through His Word, which conveys [the mind of Christ] regarding every principle. Thus, in Spirit-directed prayer we will think God’s thoughts after Him. His desires will become our desires, His motives our motives, His ends our ends.” And third, the Holy Spirit supplies the energy that weak human beings need to continue in prayer.
- So to pray in the Spirit is to understand that we cannot pray apart from the Spirit, to let Scripture shape and fill our prayers, to seek the help of the Spirit when we are struggling to pray, and to know that the Spirit is praying for us.
- It is a helpful practice then to regularly ask the Spirit of God to help you pray.
- So, thankful believers then are called to the discipline of constant prayer that is in the Spirit. But secondly, they are called also to the discipline of Assorted And we see this as we read that we are to pray “with all prayer and supplication.”
- And boys and girls, assorted means different types or a mixture. Sometimes you can buy lollies that are all the same, like a pack of milkshakes or pineapple lumps, or you can buy assorted lollies, which means they are different lollies or different flavours. Well, our prayers should be made up of different parts or a mixture of parts.
- Let me explain: Many of you will have heard about the useful prayer acronym that is ACTS – A for Adoration, C for Confession, T for Thanksgiving, and S for Supplication. And we get that acronym from the shape of the Lord’s Prayer, from the content of the Psalms, many of which are prayers, and from the content of the prayers of the Bible. Our prayers are to include an assortment of adoration, confession, and thanksgiving, and supplications
- Now, we have already made the point that sometimes prayer is a single word, like Hallelujah! or Help me, Lord! that we fire off to heaven. So prayer doesn’t always have to include all these parts of prayer. But the discipline of varied prayer means that when we have time to pray, our prayers should usually include praise, confessions of sin, thanksgiving, and our requests.
- And knowing this is important because What part of prayer do you think we usually and easily spend the most time in? Requests. It comes very naturally to each of us to ask God for all sorts of things. What we find much harder is to spend time praising Him and thanking Him and confessing our sins.
- So in terms of praise, if you want to praise God more, one practical help would be to look at the Psalms that describe the attributes and works of God and then pray those things to praise God. Psa 99, for example, uses these words in reference to God – reigns, enthroned, great, exalted, awesome name, holy, forgiving, avenger, loves justice… You can pray these things to praise God.
- Thanks – make lists. The old hymn – “Count your blessings, name them one by one…”
- Confession: Westminster Confession of Faith 15.5 says, “No one should be satisfied with a general repentance; rather, it is everyone’s duty to endeavour to repent of each particular sin, particularly.” It is OK at times to ask the Lord to forgive all our sins, but it honours God and instructs our souls when we name and list our sins in our prayers. And this is because it gives us a greater understanding of what Jesus did on the cross for us.
- And as we seek to fill out our prayers in ways like these, our prayers will become more assorted.
- Thankful believers are called to the discipline of constant prayer that is in the Spirit and assorted. But we see thirdly that we are called also to the discipline of Unrelenting And boys and girls, unrelenting means to just keep on going. Energizer bunny! Well, we are to be unrelenting in our prayers as we see that we are to pray “with all perseverance.”
- And we have many examples of and teaching about unrelenting prayer in the Bible. Here are some:
- Earlier we read about Moses and the battle with the Amalekites. And you boys and girls will remember that as long as Moses had his hands up, Israel prevailed. But as soon as his arms got tired and dropped, Amalek prevailed. So finally, they put a stone there for Moses to sit on, didn’t they, and Aaron and Hur stood on each side of Moses and held his hands up until Israel had wiped out the Amalekites. So Moses’ intercessory activity or his ‘prayer’ on behalf of the Israelites was unrelenting.
- And then there is Hannah who for a long time was unable to have children. But she prayed and prayed and finally the Lord gave her Samuel.
- And then there is the parable of the persistent widow that Jesus told. A widow kept going to a judge to plead for justice until he finally gave her what she sought because he was tired of her many visits. And Jesus prefaced that parable with these words, “He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray.”
- Earlier I quoted the words of Matthew 7 that say, “Ask and it will be given you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” Well, literally, those words are “Ask repeatedly, over and over again, and it will be given to you, keep seeking, repeatedly, and you will find … knock continuously, over and over again, and the door will be opened to you.” Our prayers are to be unrelenting prayer.
- One example of this is the prayers of Monica. In AD 354, she gave birth to a son. He was raised in the church but embraced an immoral lifestyle in his young teenage years. For twenty years Monica constantly prayed for his conversion and always lived near him. Finally, in his early 30’s, he came to faith in Christ in the Italian city of Milan. After his baptism, he left with his mother for home. Near Rome, Monica said to him, “I have no further delight in anything in this life…There was one thing for which I desired to linger a little while in this life, that I should see you a Christian before I died…Why am I still here?” Five days later she caught a fever, and nine days later she died. But Monica saw her unrelenting prayers answered. Her son was Augustine. He became the Bishop of Hippo and one of the most influential theologians of all time.
- Now, what we have said about unrelenting prayer does not mean that so long as we pray repeatedly or get enough people to pray the same thing that we will definitely get what we ask for. There will be times, even though we might not understand how this can be so, when it is better that we not be given what it is that we are asking for. The foundation of our prayers ought to be the knowledge that God has promised to cause all things to work together for the good of those who love Him. But neither may we minimize the plain truth that our Lord would have us learn – that there is a power in unrelenting prayer. God very often delights to answer persistent prayer.
- Thankful believers are called to the discipline of constant prayer that is in the Spirit, assorted, and unrelenting. But lastly we are called also to the discipline of Intercessory And intercessory prayer is prayer on behalf of others. And we see this in that our prayers are to include “supplication for all the saints.”
- Congregation, it is appropriate and necessary that we pray for ourselves. But if you have spent anytime at all studying the prayers of Paul that are recorded in the Epistles you will have noticed that while he requests prayer for himself, a vast proportion of his recorded prayers are for others. Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, etc, prayer after prayer for others.
- John Macarthur says, “The spiritually healthy person is devoted to the welfare of others, especially fellow believers. On the other hand, the root of both psychological and spiritual sickness is a preoccupation with self.” So praying for others is an evidence of spiritual health!
- So this is why the Waltons work hard each week to prepare the prayer calendar in the bulletin. This is why we make the Voice of the Martyrs Newsletters available to you with their lists of persecuted believers. For these things help us make “supplication for all the saints.”
- But notice also that we are to make supplication for all the saints. You see, there will be times when we are at odds with other people in our church family. It maybe that we have different views or practices or personalities, or it may be that there is specific conflict between us.
- Well, in any other human society, we could just ignore each other or move to a different sports club or choir, or whatever it is. But this is the church of Jesus Christ. So the Bible gives us specific ways to deal with sin and conflict between brothers, such as Matthew 18.
- But there is also the general call in Scripture, such as in Philippians 2:3, that we “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
- Romans 14 deals with the situation of Christian brothers and sisters who have different opinions about what foods may be eaten or what days may be observed. And the command given there is that we not despise each other but instead welcome each other. And the word welcome does not mean tolerate but seek out and invite and show hospitality to and pray for. And the call to welcome your brother is because God has welcomed him. If you understand that you are an imperfect sinner who is saved by grace alone, then you will be gracious to other imperfect sinners for whom Christ died.
- And this is the type of selfless attitude that makes the church unlike any other humans society.
So thankful believers are called to the discipline of constant prayer that is in the spirit, in that it looks to the Holy Spirit in every way, that is assorted, in that it includes Adoration and Confession and Thanksgiving and Supplication, that is unrelenting, in that we are persistent and always looking to the Lord for strength to persevere in prayer, and that is Intercessory, in that we make pray for all the saints.
Well, let’s finish then with five short lessons from the school of prayer. And I have borrowed and adapted these from several sources, but especially Don Carson’s Book, A Call to Spiritual Reformation.
- Much prayer is not done simply because we do not plan to pray.
Those things that are important to us we schedule in our diaries. Have you ever forgotten to go on holiday, for example? So we need to consciously set aside time for prayer. And at the very least, make it your custom to begin and end each meal with prayer. For then there will at least be six times a day when you pray!
- Adopt practical ways to impede mental drift
And I am sure that every single one of us knows about the problem of mental drift when it comes to prayer. We can quickly find ourselves thinking about 100 other things rather than concentrating on prayer. Praying out loud is one practical way to stifle this tendency. Some people find it helpful to pace around the room or even go on a prayer-walk. Prayer lists are a useful tool. It can help also to have a prayer journal where you write down what you pray for and even record the answers to your prayers.
- Read about prayer.
I would be happy to recommend several books about prayer to you. You will find books on prayer in the church library. Ask others if they have found any books particularly helpful. (Donald Whitney’s book – Praying the Bible)
- Develop prayer partner relationships at different periods in your life.
If you are a bloke, find another bloke to pray with and if you are a gal, find another gal to pray with. And this doesn’t mean you always have to be together to pray. But you can discuss together what you will pray for and you can talk about praying together, to encourage each other.
- Use prayer lists.
It is hard to remember all the things that you would like to pray for and that you ought to be praying for. So prayer lists are very helpful tools. And there are even apps to help you maintain prayer lists that you can keep with you on your smart phone. You can have one list for family, one for missions, one for church members, one for urgent needs, one for areas of godliness that you are eager to grow in, one for stubborn sins that you are eager to be rid of, one for evangelistic contacts, one for civil authorities, one for church leaders, etc…
Well, as we conclude, let me stress again the answer of the Catechism that describes prayer as “the most important part of the thankfulness that God requires of us.” Ultimately, the thing that will motivate us to pray more is thankfulness for God’s mercies to us in Christ. So may it be that our prayers become more constant, more in the Spirit, more assorted, more unrelenting, and more intercessory than they have been. And all God’s people said? Amen.