The Power of Prayer

When we pray for others we don’t often know the outcome this side of Heaven. There were some women who prayed for me several years ago and I thought I should share the outcome of their prayer.

Around 15 years ago my mom went to a Christian camp in Montana. While she was there she came across a group of women who were serving at the camp. In the midst of conversation my mother mentioned that she had a son in Mobile, AL. She had always known that God had a call on his life and she had a burden to see him go to seminary. These women mentioned that their church had a seminary extension center. They then took the time for a special moment of prayer with my mother, asking God to birth a desire and work out a plan for me to go to seminary.

I was around 23 years old at the time and had absolutely no plans or ambition of going to seminary. At the age of 25 I was gloriously saved and had submitted myself to a group of men from my church for oversight and prayer. They came together after a year and confirmed my call to ministry but felt it essential for me go to seminary. Through these men, perhaps one in particular, God provided for the full cost of my first few years of seminary. (I could not have afforded it otherwise).

I attended seminary through the extension of the very same church that these women were from and eventually graduated in 2012!

Recently I was talking with my mother and she shared the incredible story I just outlined for you. She has always known God had a call on my life and she could often see my path clearer than I could at any given moment. She wisely takes everything to God in prayer and when her prayers are answered she quietly points back to God and in doing so she has proven to me over and over again that God hears our prayers.  I know this because for years my room was next to my parent’s room and I have silently witnessed her pray for many people and seen many things come to pass.

I know without a doubt that much of my life is a product of the faithfulness of a praying mom. When it came to praying for me to go to seminary, she enlisted the help of a few women from a particular church, that had a seminary extension. I ended up not only attending seminary, but attending through the extension center at the church these women attended. These women prayed a small prayer with my mom, but heaven was listening and they played a small but crucial role in seeing me go to seminary.

I am humbled and blessed that God would listen to the prayers of these women, that he would move on the hearts of a few men, that he would organize and orchestrate things so clearly that I could see His hand. In a very real sense my ministry is a fruit of their faithfulness. One of many I am sure.

Rescuing the Blessing

I grew up in a Christian home and so we always had a blessing before our meals. Somewhere along the line I became a bit antagonistic towards the blessing. I thought for sure that it was just a cruel and unusual way for our parents to delay a much anticipated meal for a few more moments. In those days I was hitting growth spurts and consequently was experiencing what I thought was “hunger” in a whole new way.

REscuing-1

Part of me wondered why we brought out this tired old ritual three times a day. We thanked God for food that I had seen my mother purchase at the grocery store. We often said the same tired prayers weather rhyming or just very short like, “Thank you God for our food, Amen.” We went for short whenever we could get by with it… After all we didn’t want our food to get cold.

When I was on my own I admit, I let the blessing slide, except for a few occasional pious moments in the college cafeteria, but that was mostly for show or obligation. In my coldness I never could really wrap my head around why we were thanking God for food that I picked up off a shelf or out of a cafeteria canister. And maybe that was part of the problem. Maybe calloused blessings come from those who don’t really know about their food.

In my mid-twenties things began to change. I was awakened to the reality that food doesn’t magically appear on a grocery or pantry shelf. While reading Genesis I came to the realization that God was the inventor of some pretty cool stuff… like taste buds. Not only had he invented taste buds but all the stuff that they can taste. I really enjoy coffee now (an aquired taste I know). Part of me chuckled at God hiding the coffee bean inside of berries like a well hidden Easter egg… can’t wait till they figure this out. Then there are things like tree nuts, peanuts (which aren’t true nuts), strawberries, and other fruit, not to mention bacon, steak, bacon, fish, bacon, etc. (oops almost forgot… bacon).

Not only did God invent all of these flavors that we can mix and match creatively in our dishes, but he also sustains them. Do you know how difficult it is to grow some of these things? I got into gardening back when I thought it would be easy… you almost need a chemistry degree if you want to get your soil PH just right. Then there are bugs you have to worry about and if not bugs, disease (my squash plants were almost wiped out because my neighbor’s squash had a disease… It was a sad year).

Even though fruit literally grows on trees, trees are complex systems in and of themselves that often require diligent provision and maintenance. If the frost hits middle Florida at the wrong time of year the Wall Street Journal will report it and your orange juice will cost you more. When hail falls from the sky, pro-longed droughts occur, and other “acts of nature” we see it reflected on the super market shelves both in cost and volume (supply and demand I guess). You stop eating your sandwich with tomatoes because Wendy’s can no longer sell it to you at a decent price with a tomatoes slice on it. 

But does that register when we pray? Do we see all of these things as in the hands of God? Do we thank him for the taste of bacon (because I don’t know if it’s really that smart to ask him to bless it to your body). Do we thank him for inventing this really weird beast with four stomachs that makes really tasty meals like steak and brisket (sorry if you’re a vegetarian)? Do we thank him for the ability to work and provide for those we love? Do we thank him for those who have provided for us, when we were too young or unable? Do we thank him for the ability to taste?

Recently I read Psalm 104 as part of my devotional reading plan. Part of it stuck out to me and reminded me to rescue the blessing from becoming a hurdle to get past to a divine moment to be savored:

	You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
		and plants for man to cultivate,
	that he may bring forth food from the earth
		and wine to gladden the heart of man,
	oil to make his face shine
		and bread to strengthen man's heart.
(Psalm 104:14-15 ESV)

 

The First Thing You Should Ask When Approaching God

The first petition in the prayer is “Hallowed by your name.” This is not in the language of a statement, but a request. Everyone knows that we pass around petitions when we want folks to sign their name to something that we will be presented to a governing body. It can be a petition to remove the coke machine from the cafeteria lobby or it can be a petition for congress to address an issue. The idea is the same. It is a request. After the introduction the model prayer becomes a list of six petitions. These are the sorts of things that should be at the top of our prayer list. These are the sorts of things that we should ask from God.

The first thing Jesus lists has to do with the name of God. The word “hallowed” simply means holy, set apart, special, revered, honored. Perhaps the best synonym for this word is “glorified.” You could read this petition as, “May your name be glorified.” The implication of this are profound. The very first thing that we are to ask God for is more glory for his name!

I don’t think you can utter this with sincerity without first looking inward and asking, “do I glorify God?” Do my actions point to Him? Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has already told those in attendance:

Matthew 5:16 ESV In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

There is a contrast here between the deeds of a disciple and the deeds of a hypocrite. Hypocrites perform their works in the hopes that you will give THEM praise. Those who follow Jesus recognize that all Glory, all honor, belong to GOD ALONE!

We should honor God with all that we do in His name. There has been much done in his name that does not bring Glory and Honor to him. Folks have picketed funerals, held up signs that “God hates fags.” Armies have waged wars in the name of God. We should be careful what we say and do in the name of God. Just because we use his name, it doesn’t guarantee that God is with us. Many people who have done things in his name will find themselves kicked out of the kingdom because they never really knew the king (Matthew 7:21)

One of my favorite phrases is, “I don’t have the answers, but I know who does.” This simple response to a friend in crisis has a way of pointing them back to the truth. This was what Joseph said to Pharaoh when he had a dream that needed an interpretation. This is what Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar when he had a vision that needed interpreted. Both men put the glory back on the father and said, “We are powerless, but we know the one who has the power.” This was a way of bringing both kings to glorify God.

By the way, there is something in our hearts that rebels against this notion. Apart from the wonderful work of Jesus in our lives we are very self-centered individuals. We want the glory. Often we make ourselves the center of prayer. The first petition out of our mouth is for something we want. It’s not even for something we need. We beg God for a raise, a promotion, peace to cover over the anxiety in our hearts, we come upset over how we’ve sinned against him again. We offer prayers to him like he is a genie and he has to grant us wishes. I think a large part of our population miss God because they have this preconceived notion that God is like a generous grandpa who is supposed to give us what we wish for without asking too many questions. And so those kind of prayers go unanswered they give up and assume God isn’t real because he didn’t clean up the mess they made. It’s not a prayer aimed at Heaven, it’s not a prayer centered on God’s glory rather it’s focused and motivated on an exchange. “I pray, you give.” It’s how a consumer mindset hijacks prayer. It’s also arrogant because we assume that this is how God operates. We don’t consult him. We don’t go to his book. We don’t seek him out. We simply make demands. We’re like children accusing our parents of unusual cruelty because we’ve been ordered to eat our green beans or even worse we’ve taken a gun and blown a hole in our leg and complain to the surgeon that it’s his fault that we are in so much pain.

Isaiah lived in a society that had experienced decent economic growth for its time. Then when the king died he saw a vision of God in the temple and all he could utter in his presence was:

Isaiah 6:5 ESV “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

The first thing he could utter from his mouth wasn’t, “Man this is awesome!” but a very real prophet of God all he could think was that his mouth had not done justice to the holiness, the glory, the worthiness of God. I wonder if we were to truly grasp the glory of God if we would not have the same utterance. It’s not like Isaiah cussed. He was a prophet and he had treated the name of God casually and when we saw a very real manifestation of the presence of God he couldn’t help but utter a curse on his own head.

Does it surprise you that God cares so much about his name? I mean you care about your name right? I’m fortunate to have one of those simple names that almost anyone can say, but I remember this one time when my wife and I had started dating we went to go see her grandmother. And for the life of me, she could not get my name right. She kept calling me “Jeremy.” At this point a little back story is helpful. Jeremy was the name of one of her’s Ex-boyfriends. Every time this sweet lady said Jeremy part of me was very offended. I had to take a moment to calculate whether or not she was doing it on purpose or if she was truly a forgetful woman. (Now that I know her, there is a very good chance that she did it on purpose).

If you and I can get that way over our name being misrepresented, pronounced wrong, or forgotten, how do you suppose God ought to be over his name that is to be the most highly respected name in the whole universe? Do you think he’s glorified when we let his name slide like a curse word? Is he honored when we use his name to mock others? Especially the name of Jesus when the bible says that at His name every knee will bow and that there is no salvation in any other name.

One of the joys of my job is that I get to coach students on how to impact their campus with the gospel. I’m at three or four schools each week. One week I was at one of our local schools and a student was in the club and he was saying things like, “Oh my G___” and using Jesus’ name as a cuss word. We quickly jumped into a conversation about what it means to “Not use the Lord’s name in vain.” Which is also one of the ten commandments. This particular day was a leadership meeting and we were meeting to establish which students would lead in prayer, and the other various aspects of the club. This student wanted to pray. And we quickly got caught up on the Model Prayer. I said, “Man you can pray, but only if you are repent of how you use have used God’s name. When Jesus teaches us to pray the very first thing we are supposed to ask God for is that his name would be glorified and I don’t see how you can do that while using his name as a cuss word.”

Prayer Involves Community

We are not alone. We do not get to call God, “My” Father as if we had an exclusive relationship. He has saved many sons and daughters. Those who have come to him in faith, belong to him in community. There are no lone-ranger Christians. We are compelled even when we pray to recognize that we belong to God…together.
The “our” here is a large collection of folks. In the context of this prayer it encompasses people from every tongue, tribe and nation (Rev. 5:9, 7:9). It includes men and women (Gal. 3:28). It includes those who have been outcast (Lk 16:19-31). Those who were sexually immoral, those who worshiped idols, those who have committed adultery, those who were homosexuals, those who were thieves, those who were alcoholics, and former con-artists… anyone who has died to self and picked up to follow Christ (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
This is precisely the point where Christianity and radical Hinduism are extremely different. We say there is no karma, just sin. Repent and be saved. They say there is karma and what you’ve done in a previous life has set you up for whatever suffering you get in this life. So the high cast and the low cast people are not equal. Within Christianity everyone is equal. We were all sinners. We all come by the blood of the lamb.
Realizing this we acknowledge that we do not act in isolation. Our actions have consequences that affect the greater body of Christ. We will give an account to our Father about how we have treated our spiritual siblings and others. Earlier in this larger section of scripture known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mat. 5:23-24).

When we pray, we are to recognize that we are not in isolation, our actions for and against our spiritual siblings count. Some of you have hindered prayers because you have grievously sinned against your brothers. It doesn’t matter how great your speech is, or how eloquently you can present your requests to God. When your fellowship is broken with your brother/sister in Christ then you will have difficulty in real prayer… I’m sure you could still get out a bunch of words, but authentic prayer comes from the heart. The Apostle Peter writing in first Peter pleads with husbands to honor their wives so that their prayers won’t be hindered (1 Pet. 3:7). There is no us vs them in the family of God…just us.

Model Prayer: Prayer Begins With a Relationship

When Jesus teaches us how to pray, the first thing off of his lips in the model prayer is the word “Father.” When we pray, we get to call God, “Father”. The word for father here is “pater” which is a special term. It’s one of the first names a baby will learn to say with meaning. Many language groups tilt the things in the dads favor and we have words like “papa,” “da-da,” and in the Hebrew “ab” or “abba.” So in these languages the word is reduced to even the first syllables a child can pronounce.

We know from the very beginning that prayer is simple. We begin by calling on God like an infant learns to call on her daddy. She can’t say much, but she is thrilled to say it and her father is thrilled to hear it.

It’s popular these days to talk about “all of God’s Children,” assuming that we all belong to Him. But the bible is abundantly clear that you don’t become a child of God by just being born into the human race. You have to be born again! You have to be adopted. You have to be brought in. This is a personal title! Only those who belong to God have the right to call him father. It’s not a right afforded to those who do not know him. I know this sounds harsh, but It’s not my idea. Jesus makes the distinction. Check out what he says to the Pharisees in John 8:

John 8:42-44 ESV Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. (43) Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. (44) You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

By the way, this was a message delivered to the religious insiders. The Pharisees in this passage were far from God! They were putting on a mask, a façade. They had all the forms of godliness in their language, but they didn’t know God. Their deeds, their giving, even their prayers were for show. They didn’t love God, they loved themselves. They had taken worship that was meant to be given to God and made it a commodity to curry favor or prestige with others. Even while they were calling out to God with pomp and energy, their prayers did not reach Heaven, because they were not aimed at Heaven. Jesus repeatedly warns his audience that there will be many religious insiders on the outside of the kingdom and many outsiders will come in.

The problem is that we are too often like these Pharisees. We take good things and pervert them. We turn giving from an act of worship to a form of control. We turn the leadership aspects of church into a pride issue. We take a few verses about wives submitting to your husbands and use that to get our own way. We have all believed lies, even the most religious among us. We have all embraced a different father. The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2 says that we were all by nature “sons of disobedience” and “Children of wrath.”

So who can call God father? Only those who come to him in childlike faith, get to call God, father. The apostle John tells us in the gospel of John:

John 1:12-14 ESV But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (13) who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (14) And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

From this we learn that Jesus was God’s son in a special way (ie he is the very essence and being of God) and those who belong to him by faith are adopted sons and daughters. The Apostle Paul states:

Galatians 4:4-6 ESV But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, (5) to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (6) And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

The first real question we have to ask ourselves when we go to God in prayer concerns our relationship to God. Have we embraced the gospel? Have we responded by faith to the work of Christ in our lives? Do we approach him simply as a child approaches her father?

Why I Stopped Ignoring the Lord’s Prayer and Started Using it to Disciple My Kids

I need to confess something. I used to have an antagonistic spirit toward the Model Prayer (or the Lord’s Prayer) as many call it. I knew it was in the scripture, but I felt like it was something that was foreign to me. I went to a Christian school from fourth through seventh grade and I’m sure that maybe I learned it there. It wasn’t something we recited in the home, it wasn’t something we recited at church, and I’m pretty sure the only reason I memorized it was because it was part of my school work.

So it sat dormant in the back of my mind. I think I also had a prejudice against it because I felt like the words became hollow when everyone said them in unison. I wondered if God would even hear the prayers of those who repeated these words. I mistakenly thought prayer was a one sided communication. I was supposed to just tell God what I needed and he was supposed to provide. I didn’t realize that prayer was one of the key ways that God changes our hearts.

Everything changed for me when I had kids. I wanted my kids to know God the way that I know God. My life was radically changed when I was about twenty-five years old and I haven’t quite gotten over it. I knew that the model prayer must be important. Who better to teach my kids how to pray than Jesus, right? At this point I thought I had it all figured out. I was praying my way for a while. I never thought to go back and look at what the Scripture says about prayer. I never thought to go back to this prayer that I had memorized. I never thought that this was anything more than a tool to use with my kids.

So I started teaching Miss R, my oldest, when she was about three. And Mr.N, my youngest, learned to say it as soon as he could talk. In fact we have a video of Mr.N saying the Model Prayer when he is about two years old. He’s recited it nearly 1000 times in his little lifetime now.

Not long into the journey something happened. I forget the spark that caused it all, but one day one of my kids was struggling with bitterness and I said, “Remember how Jesus teaches us to forgive in the model prayer,” and I shared the story of the unmerciful servant. Then one of my kids were concerned for someone and I said, “Remember how Jesus teaches us to ask God for our daily bread.” Then one day one of my kids was struggling with an injustice in their world, and we saw that the Lord’s prayer teaches us to ask for Jesus’ kingdom to come.” Then one day my daughter is consumed with her sin and as I pass by her door at night I hear her praying, “Dear Jesus will you forgive me for my sin just like I ask in the Lord’s prayer?”

I began to meditate deeply on the Lord’s Prayer, going over it again and again in my mind. Thinking through the implications and tangents to other scripture passages and I was amazed to realize that there was a lot more to the Lord’s Prayer than I had thought. I was the one guilty of repeating things without thinking, but with sincere meditation this has become I guide for me in how I pray.

One of the ways that the Lord’s Prayer effects us is it acts like a tuner. I have a guitar. I don’t play much but someone gave me a guitar… and a tuner. The tuner is helpful because the guitar is very prone to getting out of tune. You put the tuner on the end, play a note and then adjust accordingly. It works great when I use it. This prayer is like that. Our lives get out of tune. We begin to lose focus. We think life is really all about this thing or that thing and somehow we miss God in the mix. This prayer teaches us how to adjust our attention, our focus. Is your life filled with anxiety? Go to God in prayer like Jesus teaches us to and you will find peace in the midst of a troubled night. It tunes our hearts. It checks our actions. It exposes our secret motives. Most of all it focuses us on the supreme value of Knowing God.

Join me as I dig into the Model Prayer over the next few weeks. I’ll be sharing brief exposition with practical application. I won’t be blogging every day on this topic, but will be blogging frequently. Check back often to get the latest.

How to Pray for Your Pastor

In the book of Malachi a scathing indictment is issued against priests who cut corners and received less than acceptable sacrifices from the people.  The priests were called to a special office of mediation between the people and God which made the charge against their office even more significant.  In Malachi 2:5-7  God reminds the priests about the covenant he had established with them through their fathers.

My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.
(Mal 2:5-7)

Pastors are not priests.  The pastoral ministry is significantly different than the ministry of Old Testament Priests especially considering the work of Christ.   Christ offered himself as the perfect sacrifice and now stands as the mediator between God and men (I Tim. 2:5, Hebrews 9:15, 12:24).   (This is one reason why many protestants stand so staunchly against the Roman Catholic notion of priest as mediators and mass as a perpetual offering of sacrifice.)

4 Ways to Pray for Your Pastor

Though Pastors are not priests, there are aspects of their ministry that parallel the duties of the priests in Malachi’s day.  Pastors are responsible to teach and oversee the body of the church. (Piper does a fantastic job of fleshing this out so I won’t belabor the point.)  It is from examining Malachi in this light that I have pulled application from the failure of the priest in Malachi into four ways to pray for pastors.

. . . . . . .

So here is how I pray for myself and the other pastors I know:

  1. To stand in fear and awe of God’s name
  2. True instruction to be found on his lips
  3. To walk with the Lord in peace and uprightness
  4. To turn people away from iniquity

Related Links: