Publication: Pastoral Letter, September 2004
Dear Friend in Christ:
I am certain that you realize that these are very significant times, and great issues are at stake in the world and in the United States. In the light of that, I am writing to you about the question, “Can we influence God to intervene in these and other more personal issues?” We all want to see the power of God, but….do we have power with God?
Several years ago, my friend Derek Prince wrote a book called, Shaping History Through Prayer and Fasting. In that book, he cited examples of how praying people had influenced the future. This raises one of the most profound theological issues: How much is history predetermined, and how much is left to us? This is a question that I will not and cannot answer, as my friend Michael Peters recently said, “We must not view God through a theological grid – He doesn’t fit.”
My “grid” or point of view is that God is Sovereign, Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent. He is before and above all things, and Creator of all things. So what can I say to Him that will change things?
God’s sovereignty notwithstanding, He is the One who calls me to pray and I have observed in the Bible that proper prayer is effective (see James 5:16). Early in life, I was introduced to effective prayer. My parents were faith missionaries and often “prayed in” the food and finances. I heard them pray with tears and faith. Before I learned theology, I learned about effective prayer. Later on, I heard them pray for me. I respected and even feared their prayers. I have no doubt that their prayers saved my life.
Charlotte Parker has written an excellent book on prayer: The Holy Spirit Helps Us Pray for Our Children. In her book, she cites the example of St. Augustine’s mother, Monica, who prayed for her son for 16 years before he came to Christ. By her account, Augustine was “a sinful, evil, and mutinous person.” At the age of 16, he had a mistress and had a child out of wedlock. Later he joined a heretical religious sect, but Monica continued to pray; she would not let go; Augustine came to Christ, became a Bishop and great theologian. His effect upon history is incalculable.
The great models of prayer – Abraham, Hannah, Elijah, the Apostles and above all, our Lord_teach us that prayer can be effective. We need effective prayer in this hour of history.
My father used to tell a story about a minister’s prayer meeting. One by one, each minister prayed. But then, when the last one prayed, heaven came down and filled the room. After the meeting, he was asked, “How is it that your prayers seem to touch God?” “Well,” he said, “When you prayed, you plead your case; when I prayed, I just threw myself on the mercy of the court.”
Jesus said something similar when He cited the example of the Pharisees and the publican (see Luke 18: 9-14). The Pharisee justified himself; the publican asked for mercy. Jesus also cites as ineffective those who pray only to be seen, or those who prayed long prayers and thought that length added effectiveness.
Ineffective prayer is not relegated to yesterday. The fact is that millions of people believe in prayer and are praying regularly without effect. If one considers how many people in the United States believe in God, attend church and occasionally pray – and then consider the overall condition of our nation and our families – then we have to conclude that there is a tragic amount of ineffective prayer.
I heard a story about a contractor whose job it was to tear down an old church building. He said tearing down the building wasn’t so difficult; it was hauling off all the old prayers that were stuck in the attic that took so long.
Does the church need once again to learn how to pray? What is hindering us from affecting our culture through our prayers? The Scriptures tell us that there are many hindrances: sin, unforgiveness, pride, division, insincerity, criticism of others, and plain neglect of prayer. If we hope to be effective with God, who knows our hearts, we must resolve to deal with these issues and any issue that the Holy Spirit names to us.
TEACH US TO PRAY
In Luke 11:1, we are told that one of Jesus’ disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” In 1965, I was led to study the prayer life of Jesus. The disciples heard the Pharisees and Rabbi’s pray and they heard Jesus pray. They knew that there was a difference – a great difference. Things happened when Jesus prayed. The measure of prayer is not length, prose, or eloquence; it is results. Jesus’ prayers were effective. When Lazarus was raised from the dead, Jesus said as He began His prayer, “I thank You that You have heard me.” Jesus started with the conclusion. Jesus had confidence in the Father’s response before Jesus made His petition. Of course, I believe Jesus had prayed in the Holy Spirit before He came to Lazarus’ grave and knew the Father’s will.
I am fascinated by the fact the Jesus, the Son of God, prayed to the Father in the Holy Spirit. He was involved in the mysterious divine inner conversation. God speaking with God. We can observe this on occasions in Scripture, even when He was transfigured into His glorious radiance, or when He walked on the water after all night prayer. What mysteries! Sometimes it is appropriate to be speechless.
Is it any wonder that the disciples asked, “Teach us to pray.” Now that is effective prayer! Obviously, He did teach them because they also became effective – and they affected the world, even to this day.
In response to their question, Jesus said, “Pray this way: ‘Our Father….”
Andrew Murray wrote a classic book, With Christ in the School of Prayer. Our copy of this great book is five generations old, given from a great grandmother to my wife’s grandmother in 1898. The book gives us instruction from our Lord’s model prayer and other lessons from the New Testament. It is a standard for prayer.
While I cannot thoroughly examine Murray’s work in this brief letter, he has much to say about “Our Father.” I would point out that prayer is not a religious matter, it is a relational matter, and effective prayer begins there. It is also a matter of knowing the Father – and being known of the Father.
Recently my friend Michael Coleman and I were discussing the difference between knowing the Father and being known of the Father. It is the difference between seeking the power of God, and having power with God. He gave me this illustration which he had heard from a pastor….
This pastor, in the Washington, DC, area, had among his members a professional football player. The player was well-known with many fans. The pastor went to a game and afterwards many fans were calling the player’s name. Some fans wanted to go to the dressing room, claiming to know the player. In all the clamor, the player looked up and saw his pastor. He knew his pastor, called him by name, and invited him to walk with him.
The real question in prayer is not, “Do we know God?” It is, “Does God, our Father know us?” How can He know us? Of course, He does know us, but He also calls us to open ourselves – our innermost self – to Him. The effective people are the open and honest people. Effective intercessors do not hide themselves from their Father in Heaven.
Effective intercessors are not always the most personally or outwardly righteous. The Publican was not; Peter was not; David was not, and Paul was not. But, they all had one thing in common: when they prayed, they told the truth about themselves. They were not afraid to be known of God. Therefore, they had power with God. Anyone who prays as though they were talking to someone who does not know them will be ineffective. Anyone trying to impress God or others will be ineffective. And anyone who doesn’t approach God as the Father will be ineffective. There are no substitutes for openness, humility, the laws of God, sincerity, and faith.
ACCORDING TO HIS WILL
I have often prayed with my friend and pastor, Ken Sumrall. Ken has been a great example of persistent prayer. What has stood out to me has been his praying according to scripture. More than once I have heard him pray a verse of scripture, and say, “Lord, you said in your Word….” God is faithful to His Word. He is the Covenant God. He doesn’t obligate Himself to our word, but to His own. His will is revealed in His Word and the Holy Spirit has come to help us and lead us to His Word.
Praying to the One Who knows us, with the words He gave us, in the Holy Spirit Who helps us, is the key to being effective with God. Now, much more needs to be said about praying according to His Word and praying in the Holy Spirit. I urge you to pray in the Spirit – and pray in the language of the Spirit when your intellectual approach is not getting through (see 1 Corinthians 14:14).
Effective prayer is not a religious invention; it is an invitation. God Himself has called us to pray (see Joel 2:15-17).
We are, in fact, called to participate with Jesus in the divine fellowship, where we can know and be known (see 1 John 1:1-10). We can enter into heavenly places and touch not only the future, but the Father Himself and eternity. If we can shed tears of repentance, we will shed tears of joy.
But perhaps, as we think of God the awesome, incomprehensible One, it would be appropriate to say, “Lord, I don’t know how to pray…teach me once again.”
As you pray in this critical season, pray for the United States and our leaders. Pray in humility and faith. And, please pray for CSM. We are in a most crucial and strategic period. I just sat with a number of outstanding young men for twelve hours teaching them our first course for the new school of ministry, Covenant Institute. It was a blessed and landmark time. This school and many other CSM projects are challenging us greatly in terms of energy and resources.
If the Lord leads you, please remember us in your budget this month. We are living by faith from day-to-day. Thank you for your faithfulness.
Scripture References: James 5:16; Luke 11:1; 1 Corinthians 14:14; Joel 2:15-17; 1 John 1:1-10