Scott Jones – Gilbert Campus Pastor
There’s a great Bob Dylan song, later covered by Guns N’ Roses, and then Avril Lavigne, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. Awesome song, no matter what your generation. It’s really a song about frustration, that things aren’t working out quite like you planned. And so there’s this sense that you’re “knockin’ on the door of heaven” but no one’s answering. The truth is we’ve all felt that way at one time or another. And when we turn to the One that could do something about it, he’s not responding. It’s one of the mysteries of prayer. God is sometimes silent in the time when we need him to be the most vocal. So what do you do?
The truth is, some of us quit praying. We quit knocking. But when we do we miss out on so many things that we could experience in our relationship with God. So maybe a little reminder of the importance of prayer in our lives is due. Whenever I write or speak about prayer I have a sense of anticipation and dread. I’m excited about it because I really do believe in prayer and I want my life and your life to be radically different because of our understanding and practice of this discipline and privilege of the Christian life. But like you I don’t pray enough. And I don’t want to feel bad or guilty about not doing something that is in reality a joy and a privilege to communicate with the God of Heaven.
But I do want to be inspired to pray more, to find more joy, more power, to know God more deeply, to be changed in my character, to have a sense that I am tuned into the will of God and living out the purpose that he created me for. And I think you do too. When we knock on heaven’s door, it reminds us that prayer is an encounter between us and Almighty God. Whatever we believe happens in that encounter will influence how and how much we pray. It’s not that we don’t pray at all, but many of us don’t experience an effective prayer life.
If we don’t experience success in prayer or even know the rewards of prayer, we’ll probably not persist long enough to see the fruit of it.
So in this post I want to give us 5 rewards of an effective prayer life. And hopefully these rewards will serve us better than guilt, and the Holy Spirit will create within us a desire to prayer more and differently than we do today so that the rewards of prayer will be ours as well.
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:1-4)
No sooner had the church began than its explosive growth created administrative issues within the church. The apostles knew that this issue of pastoral care had to be addressed and so they appointed leadership to oversee it. But notice what drove them to keep from doing it themselves. They could not let anything in the exciting and fantastic growth of the church to distract them from prayer. They knew that prayer was the foundation of their life in God and the fuel that enabled them to be in tune with him, to experience his power, to know his will, to be prepared for crisis, to withstand temptation. The priority of prayer was a non-negotiable. They knew something that we need to discover or rediscover.
The highest level of spiritual leadership knows that of all things that could be done there is one thing that must be done. We have to make prayer a matter of first importance.
Okay let’s talk about these five rewards of an effective prayer life.
1. We will see more answers to prayer.
Jesus told his disciples…..
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:12-14)
When Jesus ascended to heaven, he gave his followers the Holy Spirit to serve in his name, to carry on his mission. In order for the mission to be carried out, there are things that need to be done¾things that cannot be done with human resources. And God ordered the world that way so we would have to ask, so that God could reveal his power. And he would get the glory.
You see, at the heart of prayer is the glory of God. Prayer ultimately is not for us. It’s for him. It’s how, in response to our asking, that he shows he is real, he is able. Prayer is the means that God uses to put his glory on display. And if we can learn to pray in “his name” that is in keeping with his character, what moves the mission of making disciples forward, of what brings glory to God, we will see many more answers to prayer. Do you want more answers to prayer? An effective prayer life will yield it. Jesus promises that.
2. We will have wisdom to endure trials.
God says trials have the potential of producing spiritual maturity. I say potential because trial alone does not do it. Persevering in the trial does. Many people don’t pass the test. What makes the difference? Wisdom. How do you get wisdom? Prayer.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (James 1:2-5)
The command to pray for wisdom that James gives here means we keep asking for wisdom in the midst of trial. God allows trial to get us to pray, to call upon him because we don’t what to do, how to handle it. But in prayer, as we ask and listen, God speaks to us. He may reveal the purpose of the trial. He may reveal a path we are to take. He may tell us what to do or say or what not to do or say.
I was speaking to a person recently who just lost their job. And it was huge blow. They had a job that was hard to replace. And at first they didn’t know why the trial was happening. But in asking and listening to God, God revealed that he let it happen to get this person’s attention that they needed to work on a character issue that they would not face unless they lost their job because of it.
You may be in a trial now. Or maybe you just came out of one. Or maybe one is around the corner. Wherever you are, when you’re next trial comes, let prayer bring you the wisdom to grow in the trial and not just let it happen to you.
3. We will have courage to face opposition.
In the first days of the early church, there was tremendous opposition to the message of Jesus. When two of his followers, Peter and John, were telling people about the resurrection, they were thrown in jail and threatened not to talk anymore about Jesus and his resurrection. They had a choice to make. While they were in jail people were praying and this is where they landed.
Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:29-31)
Now clearly something supernatural is taking place here. And we don’t know exactly how it works. But here’s what we know: God supplied boldness through the Holy Spirit because of prayer. We should pay very careful attention to the connection between the filling of the Spirit and prayer. We pray for his filling and he gives us what is needed for the situation. In this case it was courage. Praying to God for courage is a prayer in keeping with Jesus’ name, his kingdom, his glory. God wants us to pray that prayer. God wants to answer that prayer.
We need courage too don’t we? Many of us are fearful of talking about our faith, about taking a stand― at work, at school, in the neighborhood, with family. We fear people and their rejection more than God. But there’s no sense in beating ourselves up over that and feeling guilty. The real movement is to pray―to be in constant prayer that we would have courage and trust that God will be with us when it is our time to speak up.
4. We will have power to overcome temptation.
On the night of his betrayal, Jesus took some disciples to the garden to pray. Luke records it this way.
When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (Luke 22:45-46)
Jesus recognized the power of prayer in overcoming temptation. He knew he needed to pray so that he would not be overcome with the temptation to not go to the cross. Listen to that again. Jesus needed to pray so he wouldn’t give in to temptation. He knew that his disciples would be tempted to deny him, to abandon him. He knew prayer was the only thing that would save them. Do we realize that?
You may be worn out from temptation. Maybe in a place where you feel you are really under attack. Things are being thrown in front of you in the spiritual realm that are so compelling, so alluring, that you feel a physiological pull. You just want it to go away. But it won’t.
God’s invitation is to cry out to him in prayer for strength, for power, for more desire for him than for lesser things.
Okay, one more thing. If we have an effective prayer life…
5. We will see God do miracles.
Just hearing the world miracle creates a level of skepticism, I know. Many of us have never seen a miracle, or at least what we consider a miracle. I don’t know if you agree with me but we’ve almost been conditioned not to expect miracles. But I wonder if we could return to be a people who expect God to do the miraculous. He does. And he will. But how? Remember the story in Mark 9 of the man whose son was possessed by a demon? He asked the disciples to drive it out but they couldn’t. Jesus arrives on the scene and hears the story.
When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” (Mark 9:14-29)
The disciples had driven out demons before. And maybe they took it for granted that they would be able to do it again. But this particular demon was so powerful that it required a greater spiritual authority than they approached the situation with¾a spiritual authority that comes only through prayer. They had not given themselves to prayer in such a way that prepared them to take on the significance of this spiritual battle and see the miracle that was in the wings.
Why don’t we see God do more of the miraculous? Could it be that we haven’t spent the time with God in prayer that puts us in line with his miraculous work? We want miracles. We want to see people that we love come to Christ, shattered marriages to reconcile, a boss to change from tyrant to servant, our children to stay sexually pure till marriage, a radical behavioral change, a financial reversal, a healing. What is your miracle? Are we willing to give ourselves enough to prayer to see it?
E. M. Bounds reminds us “God’s acquaintance is not made hurriedly.” It will take time. It will take commitment. It will take sacrifice. But I think we will find it’s worth it.