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Engaging in Prayer

Over the past few weeks we’ve been looking at “Engaging with God”. We started by giving a basic definition of worship – and that is simply saying ‘Thanks’ to God for who He is and what He’s done. And as we express that thanks, we realize how great our God is and how He is infinitely more He is than anything we could ever imagine. And that causes us to approach God with an attitude of humble submission.

Now a lot of what we’ve talked about so far has been kind of the prep work of engaging with God. Adjusting our perspectives – changing our attitudes. And of course, doing all those things is all part of the process. But today I want to get down to the meat of the issue. I want to talk about actual actions. Day by day, real life engaging with God. Like we talked about at the beginning of this series – becoming interlocked, like a jigsaw puzzle piece with our God.

Because I think that’s really what each of us want. We want to connect with God. We want God to be as real and active in our lives as He was with the heroes of the Bible. We want God to actually make a difference in our lives.

I guess I can’t speak for you, but I’m not content to stay like I am forever. I’ve got too many faults and flaws in my character. I want to engage with the One who created me, so that He can make me into the person He intended me to be, so that I can do the things that He intended for me to do. I want to engage with God.

And unless I’m wrong, I think that’s what most of you want too. So how do we do it? Once we’ve got that attitude of thankfulness and humble submission before God, then what? How do we engage with God on daily, real-life basis?

Well, the answer probably isn’t as complicated as we might think.

My wife and I met at camp. We were both camp counselors there for the summer of 1999 and so we spent the summer working together. By the end of the summer, I had determined that I wanted to get to know this girl some more. But we had a problem. Well, maybe not so much of a problem as an obstacle. Both of us were heading off to Bible college within a few weeks of camp ending. I was headed to northern Saskatchewan and she was heading to northern Alberta. If we couldn’t be with each other or see each other, what would become of our relationship then!?

Well, actually, it flourished! Through regular emails, lots of letters, and the occasional long-distance phone call, we dated each other from a distance and it was great! It didn’t matter that we only got to see each other every once-in-a-while. As long as we were constantly communicating in some way, shape, or form, our relationship grew!

And that’s exactly how we engage with God on daily, real-life basis! Constant communication.

God communicates with us in a number of ways. The primary way He speaks to us is through His Word – the Bible. It is in the Bible that God reveals Himself to the human race. But He also speaks to us in other ways –  through different people, books, nature, music, events, circumstances – God has all of Creation at His disposal to communicate with us.

We, on the other hand, have just one simple, yet effective way of communicating with God. That is what we call prayer. It is prayer that allows us to fully engage with the God of the universe.

So how does it work? How does prayer help me to engage with God? How will praying impact my life?

Well, let’s look at the lives of two individuals, one from the Bible and one from more recent history, and see how they engaged with God through prayer.

The first person we are going to look at is Jesus – after all, who would be a better example of engaging with God than Jesus Christ, the Son of God? If you read through the Gospels, you’ll find that Jesus was praying all the time.

But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. Luke 5:16

About eight days later Jesus took Peter, John, and James up on a mountain to pray. Luke 9:28

One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night.  Luke 6:12

Now, wait a second… Jesus prayed to God all night!? When was the last time you prayed to God all night? I don’t know about you, but I usually spend most of my nights sleeping. But here is Jesus, so wrapped up in praying to God, that He either forgot to go to sleep, or He purposely fought the urge to sleep because what He was doing was so important.

Now, in my life, very rarely am I involved in something that is so important, so urgent, that it trumps my need to sleep. But it has happened occasionally. One of those times was when my children were being born. Another time, (and I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this), was when my wife, her brother, and I were playing a computer game together and we stayed up until 4:00am trying to beat the computer – which we eventually did, by the way. But when have I ever stayed up all night, because I was caught up praying to God?

But that’s exactly what Jesus did. And this isn’t the only time either.

After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. Matthew 14:23

If you read a little further, you see that on this occasion, He only prayed until about 3:00am when He came down and started walking across the lake.

It seems to me that Jesus seems to know something about prayer that we don’t. Why would anyone stay up all night or even until 3:00am praying, unless they were convinced that it was absolutely essential. Absolutely worthwhile.

And perhaps that’s our issue. We’re not absolutely convinced that prayer really works. If we really believed in the necessity and the effectiveness of prayer like we say we do, I think we’d spend a lot more nights in prayer.

Leonard Ravenhill, author and evangelist of the last century, wrote a book called “Why Revival Tarries”. And in this book, He talks about prayer and the lack thereof in the church and I just want to read a couple of paragraphs of that book for you.

“No man is greater than his prayer life. The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying. The pulpit can be a shopwindow to display one’s talents; the prayer closet allows no showing off.

Poverty-stricken as the Church is today in many things, she is most stricken here, in the place of prayer. We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few prayers;… many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere.”

So maybe we need some convincing. Or perhaps we just need a few reminders of the power of prayer. One of my “Heroes of the Faith” is a man named George Mueller.

George Mueller lived in England in the 1800s and at that time, England was full of homeless children living in terrible conditions. So Mr. Mueller decided to do something about it. In 1834 he and another friend founded the Scriptural Knowledge Institution in Bristol, England, and their purpose was to establish Orphan Homes for the many homeless children in Great Britain.

They had no money and they determined that they would never ask any man for anything. They would only present their requests to God and trust that God would provide for them.

And so for 64 years, that was how George Mueller operated. In that course of time, he cared for and educated over 18,000 children; started 117 schools which educated over 100,000 children; distributed hundreds of thousands of Bibles and tens of millions of religious tracts; supported about 150 missionaries; traveled over 200,000 miles as a missionary himself; and shared the Gospel with over 3 million people around the world. And in all that time, he never asked for one penny from anyone, his children never missed a meal, and he never had a debt. All of that was accomplished through prayer alone.

Now do you think that that George Mueller felt connected with God? Do you think God was real in His life? Absolutely. George Mueller was a man who was deeply engaged with God.

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James 5:16

Do we believe that? Do we REALLY believe that? When you pray, do you believe that your prayers are powerful and effective? Sometimes I don’t think we do. Often, I think we see praying about as effective as making wishes at a wishing well.

There is a story of a pastor who was making his regular rounds at the local hospital. As he was walking down the hallway, an unfamiliar lady in one of the rooms called out to him, asking him to come in.

“Me?” he asked.

“Well, if you’re a preacher, I want you.”

“Well, what would you like me to do for you?” He asked.

“Why, pray for me to be healed, of course!” said the woman, as if she was almost disgusted with his inquiry. Why did He have to ask? If you are sick and in the hospital and you call for a preacher, you’re calling for someone to pray.

So He prayed. She stretched and jumped up and yelled, “I’m healed! I’m healed!” And unquestionably, she really was healed.

The pastor went back to his car in parking lot – his heart pounding, his pulse racing – leaned his head against the steering wheel and said, “Lord, don’t you ever do that to me again.”

We laugh at this guy because He didn’t really think that God would answer his prayers. He didn’t believe that the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective.”

Think about this: If you knew that for the rest of your life, for every hour you spent in prayer, one person would be saved from a Christ-less eternity – how would that change your prayer life?

Do you believe that your prayers are powerful and effective? If so, what are you doing about it? Are you engaging with God and advancing the kingdom through your prayers? If not, why not?

After all, God has assured us in His Word that he hears our prayers and He will answer them.

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:14-15

So if we know that prayer is powerful and effective, and we know that God hears us and  we know that He delights in answering our prayers, then why, oh why, do we not pray so much more than we do?

My first thought is that we forget. We forget how important it is and how powerful it is. And we get distracted by life and all it’s busy-ness. Satan convinces us that we’re just too busy to spend that kind of time in prayer and that even if we did, God probably wouldn’t answer anyway.

So we settle for five minutes here, and five minutes there. And because we only pray a little, God is only able to answer a little. And that means we only see God at work a little and our relationship with Him only grows a little.

But what would happen if we start to pray more? If we prayed more, God could answer more. That would mean we’d see God at work more and our relationship with Him would grow… more!

The more we pray, the more God can answer. And the more God answers, the more real we see Him in our lives. In my experience, nothing strengthens my relationship with God more than seeing God answer my specific prayers.

It is my desire that each one here would be able to see God at work in your life in a very real way. So to that end, I want to give you three practical suggestions that you can apply to your prayer life.

#1. Pray a lot.
Do the Jesus thing and pray until 3:00am once in a while. That might not work very good all the time, but give it a try once. Or do the Daniel thing and pray three times a day. Or better yet, do the 1 Thessalonians 5:17 thing and

“Pray without ceasing…”

Give God lots of opportunities to answer your prayers and show Himself to be real in your life. Pray a lot!

2. Pray alone.
Jesus frequently went off by Himself to pray.

After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray.  Matthew 14:23

Jesus also instructed his disciples to pray in private.

But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. Matthew 6:6

This is something I need to work on. I pray with my wife each day. I pray with my kids each day. I pray with different people throughout the week. But I need to spend more time by myself in prayer. This is where you can get really personal with God. You can say exactly what’s on your mind – and God doesn’t get offended. So take the time to pray alone.

Maybe you need to get up early. Maybe you need to stay up late. Maybe you just need to skip that tv show and go for a walk alone with God. But find the time to pray alone.

3. Pray together.
Just as important as praying alone is, we also need to pray together.

They all met together and were constantly united in prayer. Acts 1:14

Part of our mandate as a church is to pray for each other and build each other up. And the ten minutes we allot for prayer time in our Sunday morning service isn’t nearly enough. We need to regularly meet together with other believers in small groups and pray for each other. If you’re are not part of a small group that meets regularly to pray together, I challenge you to find one and get involved. If you don’t know where to look, talk to me and I’ll try to point you in the right direction. If you can’t find one that suits you, we’ll start a new one. But let’s start praying together.

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