If you remain in me and my words remain in you, then you will ask for anything you wish, and you shall have it. John 15:7

 

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Series: Learning to Pray Effectively

“A Personal Checklist”

Introduction

 

 

We’ve been talking about prayer for several weeks – Today I want to summarize those things we should develop to make our prayer life effective. 


I love living in Colorado. It is just such a great place to be an adventurer.

 

 

It is not at all uncommon for folks to be talking about their hunting rifle or bow. These weapons of war are still common implements in our culture here. Our house is full of weapons. We have rifles, our entire family loves archery so we each have a bow. I even have my Marine Corps NCO sword. 

 

 

Weapons become decoration if they are not used. Weapons require practice for a warrior to be battle ready.

 

 

In the Marine Corps, every Marine is a rifleman, every Marine is trained and shoots on the rifle range every year. In boot camp we spend 3 days sitting around a barrel. It is a white barrel with the shape of the black targets painted on it at the sizes appropriate for longer distances. We get down in each position, and a Marine learns to shoot, standing, sitting, kneeling and in the prone position. 

 

 

Before we are ever given a bullet we spend 3 days sitting around these barrels SNAPPING IN. Snapping in trains our body to get into positions that we are not accustomed to, and then by PRACTICING OVER AND OVER AND OVER, we start to develop muscle MEMORY. Muscle memory allows your body to begin to perform the function without even thinking about.

 

 

Now most of us have cushion memory. Our bodies match the cushion on our couch or chair.

 

 

 

 

I think Jesus gave us the Lord's prayer to serve as muscle memory. The starting point for us to develop the practice of prayer. It is instructional in the elements of prayer that it contains and easy to memorize so that we have a good starting point for prayer. 

 

 

That is what we need to do is practice prayer.

 

 

I think it is healthy for us to recognize that we are in a battle. We have been called as warriors to face the enemy of God on the battlefield and God has given us the greatest weapon for the battle. More effective than swords or bows or even rifles. We have direct access to the power of God. We must practice using that weapon.

 

 

The Bible teaches that we are to be

I.  Devoted to Prayer                                         

Those were Paul’s very words to the Colossians:  “Devote yourselves to prayer.” (Col 4:2)  To the Romans, he said: “Be faithful in prayer;” (Rom 12:12 NIV) to the Thessalonians it was: “Pray without ceasing;” (1 Thes 5:17) to the Philippians he wrote: “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil 4:6)  Jesus taught that, “at all times they ought always to pray,” (Lk 18:1) and He twice commanded: “Keep on praying.” (Lk 22:40; Mt 7:7)  The early church practiced what Jesus taught, The Bible says: “They were continually devoting themselves to ... prayer.” (Acts 2:42)

When we practice prayer we’ll develop muscle memory and it will be a natural response to daily life.  The Greek word translated “be devoted to” is actually a combination of two words: “strong” and “towards.”  What we are devoted to and practice will be a strong point in our lives. 

 

 

 

 

Why is it that so often we must be at the end of our rope before we turn to God in prayer?  It seems that many virtually have to be driven to pray by their problems and troubles. 

Foxhole prayers, that is what most of us resort to. We wait until the situation is desperate and then we turn to God and make promises we think God will want so He will help us. I’ll never drink/smoke/swear ever again! I’ll go to church every week! Just get me out of this mess.”

 

 

*** M*A*S*H*** clip 1

 

 

The Christ follower should never be driven to pray through desperation – prayer should be our natural response to daily life.  If we don’t pray every day, how can we expect pray to help us in a crisis.

Prayer is to be our highest priority.  The Apostle Paul never wrote a letter without urging the duty and privilege of prayer upon his friends.  We do not feel an urgent duty to pray like the early Christ followers did.  We live in an action-oriented society, and often consider prayer to be a passive pursuit.  How wrong we are.  Prayer is active. 

God says: “The effective prayer of a righteous person can accomplish much.” (Jas 5:16)  Prayer moves the heart of God to action on behalf of His people.  Prayer changes things.  Prayer was very important in both the life of Christ and in the life of God’s people.  It is never merely a passive pursuit.

 

 

**** M*A*S*H CLIP 2 *****

 

 

It is a funny line in MASH, but it was a cultural view of prayer that ROBS it of its true power.  Prayer is not the least we can do; it’s the most we can do. 

 

 

Prayer is the greater ministry, not the preparation for the greater ministry.  There are many things we can do after we pray, but there is really nothing that we can do until we’ve prayed.  John Bunyon said: “You can do more than pray – after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”

 

 

Unfortunately, for many today PRAYER is often more of an afterthought than a priority.  We make our plans, our choices, and our decisions about various things in our life – and then we think, “Oh – I should’ve prayed about that!”  Too often it’s only after we’ve exhausted every other avenue that we remember to pray. 

 

 

One of our goals is to have a church filled with prayer warriors – where every member makes prayer their top priority in life.  One of the problems we face in making daily, constant prayer a priority is our emotions.  We live in a culture that bases their behavior on how they feel.  In many subtle ways we hear the message that our feelings are the most important and that it is hypocritical to do something you don’t feel like doing. There’s a good Hebrew word that describes the feel-good philosophy: “Hogwash.” 

 

 

It is never hypocrisy to treat people better than you feel about them – or to do what is right, even if you don’t feel like it.  That is not hypocritical; it is self-controlled obedience to the Lordship of Jesus!  There are too many Christians who are hooked on their feelings rather than bound by their faith –

 


If we wait until we feel like praying, Satan will see to it that we seldom pray.  Constant, regular, faithful prayer is a matter of discipline, each day deciding to do what is right, what is required.

When it comes to prayer, feeling is not the most important thing.  Feelings are fickle, easily influenced by health, morale, weather, and mood.  Prayer is too important to be put at the mercy of our feelings.        

Is prayer a priority in your daily life?  If we are too busy to pray, we are too busy – period!  Martin Luther wrote: “I am so busy now that I find if I did not spend two or three hours each day in prayer, I could not get through the day.  If I should neglect prayer but a single day, I should lose a great deal of the fire of faith.  It is well to let prayer be the first employment in the early morning and the last in the evening.  Avoid diligently those false and deceptive thoughts which say, ‘I will pray an hour later; I must first perform this or that.’  For with such thoughts a man quits prayer for business, which lays hold of and entangles him so that he comes not to pray the whole day long.”

 

 

Prayer is always getting nudged aside, neglected, or perfunctorily performed.  Many of us feel we just have too much to do to have time to pray.

Prayer must be the daily habit of the follower of Christ.  A habit has been defined as an act repeated so often it becomes involuntary.  There is no new decision of mind each time the act is performed.  Jesus prayed.  He loved to pray.  Often praying was His way of resting.  He prayed so often it became part of His life.  He had developed muscle memory to the point that his prayer time was like breathing – involuntary. 

Sadly lacking in the lives of countless Christians are good devotional habits.  If prayer is indeed the ultimate weapon with which to crush Satan, one must certainly develop proper prayer habits. 

For many years the Korean archers have been some of the best in the world. In the Olympics they are always in the finals and always do well. Their archers spend two years practicing before they ever pick up a BOW. They use a rubber loop or a string loop and they practice the movements of loading an arrow, raising the bow, drawing to anchor. They practice for hours each day, developing muscle memory. So when they begin to use a bow and arrow their body knows exactly what to do and they can focus on a good shot and their muscles will go through the process allowing every shot to be the very best.

Have we practiced our prayers enough that our bodies know what to do? Our mind is practiced and relaxed in communicating with our Father? Is the habit of prayer ingrained in our being?

 

 

Do we value prayer as highly as Christ did – realizing that our prayers influence God to act in ways that He may not act without our prayers?  Are we following Christ who was always busy, was never too busy to pray?  Again and again we see Jesus breaking away from the crowds, from the routines of life – even arising before dawn – to spend time alone with God in prayer.  

The invitation He made to His apostles is an invitation He still makes to us.  Mark tells us of the time when so many people were coming and going that the Lord and His disciples didn’t even have time to eat, so Jesus said to them: “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while ...”  (Mk 6:31 NASB)  When we get too caught up in the busyness of life, we need time to come away and be with Christ. 

Are we taking advantage of the constant access we have to God’s throne of grace through our Lord Jesus Christ? 

Once we have settled the issue of being devoted to daily, habitual prayer – developing our prayer muscle memory, then we need to consider our approach in prayer.  There are several

II.  “checkpoints” that will help us to pray.

First, we need to

A.  Check Our Focus.

When we come to God in prayer is our heart settled and still - focused on Him?  Do we come in faith - believing that the God we approach is the God He has revealed Himself to be, or is He a little God of our own imagination?  Are our prayers rooted in and founded upon the character of God - confident that He is good and wants to help us; that He is all-loving, with our best interests at heart; that He is all-wise, and knows how to help us; and that He is all-powerful, able to do anything we ask?

Are our prayers connected to His word?  Do we spend time listening to Him speak to us through Scripture as well as speaking to Him? 

And what place do we give to adoration and praise as we approach Him?  Are we more concerned about what we want as opposed to the worship we give Him? How grateful are we as we come to Him - are we expressing thanksgiving along with our requests?  We need to check our focus, coming to Him confidently and boldly, yet reverently - entering the glorious and awesome presence of the living God as His children - focusing not on the answers we seek but on Him who loves us.

Next, we also need to

B.  Check Our Attitudes.

What is our motive in coming to Him?  Are we seeking to build our relationship with Him, to develop our intimacy with Him?  Do we come, as both Paul and Jesus came, in the simplicity of a child to his father, crying “Abba” (Daddy)?  (Mk 14:36; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6) We don’t need to impress others with our language or our piety - and we certainly can’t impress Him!  Do we come in humility, acknowledging our absolute dependence upon Him, our need for Him and His provision in our lives?

 

 

As we check our attitudes we may ask, “Are we using self-centered, self-seeking, self-absorbed prayers – or are we seeking instead to honor and glorify Him in both our praise and petition?  Have we put away any attitudes and unforgiving spirit toward others, resolved any marital or family conflict, and removed those relational hindrances to our prayers?  Do we bully God in our prayers, making demands of Him and expecting Him to do our bidding?  Do we think of Him as divine vending machine - or do we trust His wisdom and love enough to accept the answers He gives and to wait on His timing?

And - what about our desire for what we ask?  Do we really want what we ask?  Do we keep on asking and seeking - or do we give up too soon, impatient at His delay? 

Do we pray for a while ... and then quit ... because we aren’t fervent enough, urgent enough, earnest enough to keep at it? 

 

 

Satan has one word to say about prayer: “Don’t.”  He will allow us all sorts of other spiritual indulgences - going to church, reading Christian books, listening to Christian radio - but no prayer!  

The Of course, pat, little prayers are OK - the ones we memorized and rattle off without thinking - very cute, but signifying no heart-felt devotion.  These prayers don’t bother him a bit, in fact - he likes them.  But he will do anything to keep you from real, honest, fervent, gut-level prayer.

How fervent are we in our prayers?  Are they cold, life-less formulas - religious rituals we go through - or is our prayer fervent in spirit, from the root of our hearts and not merely the roof of our mouths?  Prayer should not be thoughtlessly performed as another duty of the Christian life, rather the time of prayer should be exciting to us for it brings us into the very presence of the King of Kings. 

Do we ever wrestle and agonize in sincere, persistent prayer?  Jesus told two parables, the stories we talked about last week, the story of the neighbor who knocked to get bread and the widow who nagged the unjust judge. Those stories teach us the importance of being persistent in our prayers. (Lk 11:5-10; 18:1-8)

Prayer, must come from the heart.  Possibly this was what astounded the disciples about the prayers of Jesus.  His prayers were warm with feeling; they were the expressions of intense desires.  Sometimes we’re not too sincere, but pray more out of obligation. 

The prayer in Gethsemane was so earnest that, “His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.” (Lk 22:44)  Jesus did not enter into prayer lightly.  It was a vibrant experience for Him.  There are good reasons why effective prayer depends on sincerity.  What father would feel obligated to give a gift to his son when he knew that it really made no difference whether he received it or not?  So God is not impressed when we routinely ask for things we do not really want.  Are we sincere in our prayers?  The poet had this introspective thought:

I often say my prayers,

But do I really pray?

And do the wishes of my heart

Go with the words I say?

I may as well kneel down

And worship gods of stone,

As offer to the living God

A prayer of words alone.

For words without the heart

The Lord will never hear;

Nor will He to those lips attend

Whose prayer is not sincere!

Lord, show me what I need

And teach me how to pray,

And help me when I seek Thy grace

To mean the words I say.  - John Burton

Is the posture of our heart right with God as we approach Him in prayer?

In addition to checking our attitudes, we have also learned to

C.  Check Our Character.

Is there hidden, unconfessed sin in our lives blocking prayer’s effectiveness?  Are there idols in our hearts - something or someone we value more than God - taking His rightful place as King in our lives?  Perhaps we need to begin with a prayer of confession: seeking His forgiveness, committing ourselves to be obedient and faithful to Him. Is Christ and His word abiding in us?  Are we cooperating with God - both living and praying in accordance with His will and seeking to ask and do what He desires?  Are we full of compassion and generosity,  do we desire to minister to and meet the needs of others?  To pray well we must live well, so we must check our character to make sure there is nothing in us that blocks our access to God.

Fourth, we need to

D.  Check Our Content.

Do our prayers match the examples we’ve seen in Scripture?  Is there adoration, confession, thanksgiving - as well as supplication?  This is a helpful acrostic many use to keep their prayers balanced.  The first letters of those words spell: ACTS - providing a good outline for prayer’s content.

Do we pray only for ourselves - or is there intercession for the needs of others?  Are we balancing the physical and the spiritual in our prayers for both ourselves and others - or do we spend more time on the temporal than we do on the eternal?  Are we praying for the Church of Christ - its spiritual growth, its unity and love, its leaders, its growth and expansion in the world? 

Do we regularly pray for the salvation of friends, fellow-workers, and family members - longing to see men and women come to friendship with Christ?  And - what about government leaders, new Christians, those who are suffering, and - yes - even our enemies (or was that included with the government!).  We would do well to examine the content of our prayers.

There is one final area regarding the effective practice of prayer: we must be

III. Watchful and Alert in our prayers. 

Jesus encouraged us: “Be on the alert, praying at all times for strength ...”  (Lk 21:36 NEB) Peter says: “The end of all things is near. You must be self-controlled and alert, to be able to pray.” (1 Pet 4:7 TEV)  “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Pet 5:8) 

Paul speaks similarly to the Colossians.  He commands: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.” (Col 4:2)  The Greek word for alert literally means wakeful, not asleep.  Paul may be using it literally, and telling us not to go to sleep when we pray.  You remember the apostles in the garden with Jesus don’t you? (Mt 26:40) Three times they fell asleep while praying with Him!  Jesus didn’t condemn them, but He did command them - “Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mt 26:41)

There are times in our life when we want to pray - but are simply worn out physically.  We begin - but we can’t keep our eyes open or our head from nodding - and we find ourselves actually dreaming and saying things totally unrelated to our prayers.  At such times, just tell the Lord that you are too tired and you’ll catch Him later.  Don’t try to pray then - He understands - and knows our needs before we even ask.

This is also a call to spiritual alertness.  The phrase, “Watch and pray” is used in Scripture for the spiritual energy and watchfulness needed in our prayer lives.  When Nehemiah was rebuilding the walls and gates of Jerusalem, he said: “We prayed to our God, and because of them we set a guard against them day and night.”  (Neh 4:9 NASB)  Can we do any less as we build our spiritual lives amidst the constant onslaught of the enemy of our souls?  When Paul finishes listing the armor of God we are to put on, he concludes with these words: “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all saints.” (Eph 6:18)

We must be on the alert with prayer. 

 

 

Our journey through life is too long, the territory too treacherous, and there is too much at stake to put our lives on autopilot and go to sleep. 

The word “watch” speaks of guarding our mind against wandering thoughts.  We have all, on occasion, tried to pray and found ourselves thinking about everything under the sun.  We can always count on our minds wandering when we really try to pray.  Satan, at a time like this, becomes very active.  We should give ourselves constantly to prayer, guarding against wandering thoughts.  No thought is ever louder in our minds than the one we’re trying not to listen to.  We discipline our attention and concentration through watchfulness.

There is no power in dull, listless praying.  If there is no fire on the altar the incense will not rise to God. (Ps 141:2) Real praying demands spiritual energy and alertness, empowered by God’s Spirit within us. 

 

 

For our prayers to be effective we must be devoted to prayer, constantly checking our focus, our attitudes, our character, and our content -- staying alert and watchful against the enemy of our souls.  Let’s each recommit ourselves to be faithful and devoted to prayer.

Would you bow your heads with me?

Lord, thank You for these reminders from Your word …

Confess each point – and ask for God’s help.

 

 


 

Series: Learning to Pray Effectively (Part 4 of 5)

“A Personal Checklist for Effective Prayer”

Introduction

I.  Devoted to Prayer Rom 12:12; 1 Thes 5:17; Phil 4:6; Lk 18:1; Lk 22:40; Mt 7:7; Acts 2:42; Jas 5:16; 1 Cor 3:16; Mt 21:13

Devote yourselves to prayer” (Col 4:2) 

 

 

II.  “checkpoints” that will help us to pray

A.  Check Our Focus

 

 

B.  Check Our Attitudes Mk 14:36; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6; Lk 11:5-10; 18:1-8; 22:44

 

 

             C.  Check Our Character

            

             D.  Check Our Content

 

 

III. Watchful and Alert 1 Pet 4:7; 5:8; Col 4:2; Mt 26:40-41; Neh 4:9; Eph 6:18; Ps 141:2

Be on the alert, praying at all times for strength.”  (Lk 21:36)