Your prayers matter.
“God does nothing but by prayer, and everything with it.”John Wesley
Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.Colossians 4:12 NIV
There’s a particular kind of power in our connection as members of a local community of faith. The prayers of Epaphras in Colossians 4:12 showed us the importance of a “one another” mindset in prayer. Here are just a few of the lessons we’ve learned:
- One reason God plants us in church families is to give us a spiritual connection or a community that can keep us protected by praying for us.
- The connection He gives is a covenant connection. It gives us elevated authority to pray for the people in our group.
- This connection exists whether we know it or not.
- This kind of prayer is not a “one-off.” It’s an ongoing responsibility.
- There is a “labor” or effort of some kind involved.
- Without some form of mutual prayer for one another, it’s possible that we’ll fall short of the will of God in some parts of our lives. That includes healing.
The word, “Prayer” conjures up different pictures in our minds depending on our experience. Many of us have a traditional, religious understanding that may hold us back in the area of healing. We often adopt the practices of whatever group we were part of as new believers as our own model and never grow beyond that. Some of us recite memorized prayers. Similarly, many of us have learned or created prayer habits which we follow without thinking. I’ve been taught variously that my prayer should always begin with praise, that it must always start with repentance, that I must be sure to remind God that I am unworthy, that to be in faith a prayer must contain thanksgiving, that it must end “In Christ’s Name”, and that if it doesn’t last one hour it’s not really worth the trouble. I could go on. All of these may be appropriate in some situations, but none of them is appropriate for all.
The Bible describes many different kinds of prayer, each with a specific purpose, and none with a rigid formula. We tend to focus on the one or two we’re familiar with, repeating them in every circumstance, and miss the benefit of all the rest. It’s time we expanded our horizons a bit. We’re going to look at 2 kinds of praying in particular. Both are types of what is sometimes called “intercessory” prayer.
Intercession, despite the implication and practice in some church groups, is not reserved for the super-spiritual. This type of prayer can be used by every Spirit-filled, Spirit-led believer to bring healing help to other Christians. We’ll look first at how to help the sick person who’s struggling to receive their healing: What do we do when someone doesn’t seem to be getting better? After that, we’ll move on to what I call “watching prayer.” This is a kind of prayer that sees problems ahead of time and intervenes before the enemy can unleash his attack. We want to learn to live in a way that is not just a response to what the enemy does. We are designed to be the aggressors in this battle. The devil is reacting to us, not the other way around.
Before we dig deeper into intercession for the sick, it’s important that we have a good foundation concerning prayer in general. Of course, the seminal New Testament teaching is what we commonly call “The Lord’s Prayer.” Matthew’s version is in Matthew 6:9-15, “Our Father which art in heaven,” and so forth. Most of us can finish that prayer nicely without thinking much about it. For our purposes, let’s take a look at the verses just before this prayer example. Jesus was in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, and He was teaching some important principles regarding prayer as it was designed to function. Notice His words:
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.Matthew 6:5-8 NKJV
Jesus gave 2 warnings. He first warns the religiously smug among us to be careful about motives. Public prayer is OK, but praying publicly to impress other people is not. If self-promotion is your goal, it will also be your only reward. I think we all catch ourselves trying to sound a little extra spiritual when we’re called on to pray in front of others. It’s human nature. If you pray differently in public than you do in private, ask yourself, “Why?” Jesus seems to indicate that the Father is particularly responsive to prayers made where no one can see. It’s almost as if there’s a premium on intimacy over form. God wants intimate conversation, not structured religious performance. The effectiveness of my prayer life can never grow past what I pray in private. What does my Father see in my “secret” prayer life?
The second warning concerns praying like the “heathen.” To the almost exclusively Jewish audience at the Sermon on the Mount, this would have meant anyone who is not a Jew. The warning, I think, extrapolates to Christian prayer: Don’t pray things over and over again in an attempt to appease God or nag Him into action. In any area where you find yourself repeating the same prayer or rehearsed “confession” over and over, take a moment to listen to what you’re saying. A few years ago, the Holy Spirit pointed out to me that my prayer before meals had become a religious ritual. I recited the same words over every meal. Often, I couldn’t remember whether I had prayed or not. Why? Because I wasn’t paying attention, I was just parroting words.
Words spoken without the heart and mind engaged are wasted motion. You can train a parrot to say the “Our Father,” but that’s not prayer. I find it ironic that Jesus gave this warning immediately before He gave us the most mechanically repeated prayer in all the world. We have taken His prayer and made it into the very thing He was warning against. Oh, me! Take time to engage with God when you pray. He’s listening, so make the effort to say something that has meaning.
Jesus’s final thought before the Lord’s Prayer is at the heart of what I want you to see: The reason that you don’t have to pray something over and over again is that your Father in Heaven already knows what you need before you ask. You are not informing Him of anything, you are asking Him to intervene. It doesn’t do any good to keep asking. You can’t just wear Him down like a kid begging Mom for a candy bar. Now here’s the question: If God loves me, and He knows what I need, then why do I have to ask Him at all? The ramifications of that question have been debated for centuries.
Why pray? Some say that God’s will is always done, but He wants us to humble ourselves and ask Him as an acknowledgement of our dependence and submission to Him. Others repeat the old saw that, “Prayer doesn’t change God, but it changes me.” The assumption is that God is going to do His will no matter what, but in some mysterious way our asking gives Him the opportunity to make us better people.
Prayer certainly can be a place of change for the one who prays. It can also be a place of humility and consecration to His revealed will. But there is also a prayer that is a petition to God to rectify a situation, provide a need, or to assist in some other tangible way. We all do it. We all ask Him to do stuff. We all believe He intervenes in our lives in response to our prayers. But if He knows the need and He wants to meet it, why do we need to ask?
A quick reality check tells me that God’s will is not always done. In spite of a lot of our religious tradition, the Bible says that we have to ask or He may not act!
You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.James 4:2-3 NLT
Apparently, in some cases, the God who knew the need didn’t provide it because He was not asked to do so. In other cases, selfish motives prevented an answer. In either case, the problem was not that God didn’t will it. The problem is failure to ask, or wrong motives when we do ask. These verses make it clear that need alone doesn’t cause God to act. If it did, the world would be a much different place. Need abounds. Hunger and poverty and disease are the norm in most places. Why doesn’t God just stop it? Here’s the startling truth: In many situations, God has designed the system so we must ask Him before He can move on our behalf. Need doesn’t move God. Prayer does.
To understand this, let’s go back to the Garden of Eden for a minute. After creating all the rest of the world and declaring it “good,” God made humanity in His image. God then described what “imaging” Him would mean.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.Genesis 1:26-27 ESV
The image of God includes bearing His nature. It means having a part in the business of running God’s creation. Running the world was never meant to be a “one man show.” God wanted His family to join Him in the enterprise, and He gave them the necessary ability to do the job. His image includes male and female. It includes free will. It includes dominion over the works of His hand. God gave man authority, and He has never taken that authority back. We are supposed to be co-laborers with God in the business of establishing His Kingdom on earth. Unfortunately, in the fall, Adam and Eve corrupted the plan, gave place to the enemy, and began the long story of redemption. This didn’t change the purpose, nor did it change the authority of humanity in the earth. God gave us dominion. We still have it!
Here’s the point: Your prayers are important!Our prayers are necessary for the will of God to be done in the earth. He designed the system that way from the beginning. He gave humanity dominion in the earth. Through their disobedience, Adam and Eve stepped out of the original plan, but God didn’t withdraw His design. Though the nature of mankind was corrupted through sin, his position as an imager of God remained intact. God is not a man that He should lie (Titus 1:2). Therefore, before He intervenes on behalf of mankind in the earthly realm, a human with dominion has to ask Him.
Next Steps: Find time to get alone to pray every day. Listen to your prayers. Are you truly conversing, or just rehearsing? Speak to your Father as if He is listening and He cares. He is, and He does. Take time to pray for people you know who are hurting. When you pray, remind yourself that your prayers are important. Say it out loud until begin to believe it, then pray as if it’s true. It is: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:6 NIV)”
God’s response to the tragedy of Eden (Genesis 3), the corruption of mankind (Genesis 6:5-6), and the rebellion of the nations at Babel (Genesis 11) was to choose a man and his family. He initiated a covenant with Abram that would change the world. The covenant promise was that “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3 ESV) We are part of the fulfillment of that promise. In our next lesson we’ll see how God responds when His covenant people place a demand on His covenant promise.