Allen Jackson - It Is Time To Pray
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It's an honor to be with you again. Our topic today is one of my favorites. We're gonna talk about prayer. Prayer changes everything. When we pray, we invite God into the midst of our lives and our circumstances. When we don't pray, we leave God removed. We don't wanna do that. We want to become world-class at inviting God into the midst of our circumstances. At home, at work, with our friends, wherever it may be, God is as close as a prayer. That's an important idea. Grab your Bible and a notepad, but more importantly, open your heart.
You know, prayer is a topic, it feels to me like learning a language. If you've studied English, however many years you've gone to school, you've studied English every year you've been in school in one form or another. I like to learn. I could have been a professional student and the Lord probably given me that permission, but no matter how far I went in the educational process, I realized I still needed to learn more about the language. When I started to learn another language, I didn't know English well enough to learn the other language. And I feel that about prayer. No matter how much I have learned about prayer, I think, "Oh, there's still more I need to know or I would like to know or I wanna learn better. I wanna understand the subtleties of it".
And so I want to invite you away from the notion there's some things that we say that I think are very, very damaging. I hear men especially say, "I don't pray". Please don't say that. Take it out of your vocabulary. You can say, "I haven't prayed," or maybe "I haven't been a person of prayer," but I would invite you to begin to say, you know, "I would like to be able to pray. I'm open to prayer. I'm interested in prayer. I value prayer. I understand prayer's important. People who pray are valuable people in my life". There's many, many things you can say, but please don't just dismiss it by saying, "I don't do that".
Don't imagine prayer as a part of a public worship service that it's how you begin or end or transition. That's a very diminished view. I think it's an unfair, it's an inappropriate way to think about prayer. We try not to use prayer just as a transitionary thing. To imagine God as a transition piece is offensive to me. You know, we didn't value prayer, we'd have never given it up. We'd have never given it up in our homes, we'd have never given up the prayers around our food, we'd have never given up the prayers in our schools, we would have never given up the prayers in our hospitals, we would have never given up the prayers in our courtrooms. The lack of value we attach to prayer is screaming at us.
Don't blame politicians and parties and people with different worldviews. We attach so little value to it as they took it away, we could care less, it didn't matter that much to us. We care far more about our access to betting on our favorite sports teams. "Amen, Pastor". So the goal is simply to kind of open this portfolio on prayer and talk a little bit about what that would look like. And I want to start with the notion that the Bible attaches this tremendous significance to prayer. Prayer is an invitation to God, and when we fail to pray, so often we fail to extend the invitation. And there are things God will not do unless he's invited. Did you know that?
I'll give you an example: salvation. The provision for salvation in your life and my life was made through the atoning work of Jesus, his substitutionary death on the cross, his burial, and his resurrection. That's God's provision so that you and I could be a part of his eternal kingdom, that our sins can be forgiven, that we can be welcomed into the kingdom of God. We don't earn it, we don't buy it, you can't serve your way into it, it's not because you joined the right church or you read the right Bible. It's because of your faith in Jesus, right? The Bible says that you believe in your heart and confess in your mouth that Jesus is Lord, you can be saved. If you choose not to believe and you choose not to make that confession, you forfeit the opportunity.
Do you understand how stunning that is? God sent his Son as a sacrifice that no person would have to miss the kingdom of God, and hell will be filled with people. Never designed for them, never intended for them. It'll be filled with religious people and generous people and good people and kind people. See, prayer makes such an enormous difference. I've brought you a couple of specific examples from scripture: Isaiah 37. Israel is in a very difficult place. An enemy's approaching that they are powerless to defend themselves against. They are outnumbered, the technology of their enemies is superior to their own, they simply have no military solution. They will be defeated. And the king prays. And Isaiah is sent to the king with a message.
It's what we read, Isaiah 37:21: "Isaiah the son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah," he's the king. "'This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Because you've prayed to me concerning the king of Assyria, this is the Word the Lord has spoken against him: "The Virgin Daughter of Zion despises and mocks you. The Daughter of Jerusalem tosses her head as you flee".'" It's rather poetic language. That's Isaiah, and he said, "My people will laugh at you while you run home". But the cause and effect in that, the message is very clear. Isaiah says, "God says to the king, 'Because you prayed. You could have hired mercenaries and you would have been defeated. You could have made a battle plan and you would have been defeated.'"
Hezekiah did a lot of things, he built a wall, he dug a water channel. You can walk through Hezekiah's tunnel in Jerusalem today, and it was because of the invading army. But because he prayed, God said, "I will deliver you". You know, when I read that, I'm gonna get, I wanna pray about more. I wanna become a pray-er. I wanna become one of those goofy prayer people. You know, I'll pray at the drop of a hat and I carry several hats. I'm gonna give you a way to pray in just a moment to make it easier, to open that doorway because we've left God out of too many places where we could have used his help. We need his wisdom or his courage or his boldness. Luke 11, this is Jesus: "I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you'll find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; and he who seeks finds; and to he who knocks, the door will be opened".
We could talk a lot about context, but the reality is the words are rather plain and the principle is pretty simple. If you ask, it'll be given. If you don't ask, you forfeit whatever might have been received. And if you don't knock, the doors stay closed. If you don't seek, you won't find it. Now, asking and knocking and seeking are all activities. They require energy and effort, and I find that I don't always get what I pray for in the way I pray for it or in the time in which I prayed for it. There's a lot of factors involved. But I promise you 100% of the time, when you leave the door closed, you forfeit whatever might be on the other side. And we've done that for too long, for a whole host of reasons. We haven't been encouraged, we didn't know. We thought only crazy people acted that way. Why do you bless your food? It's an expression of thanksgiving to the Lord. God, you've given me food to eat.
You see, we've had so much for so long, it never occurred to us, never, you know, when we imagine that our food's prepared in a clean place, in a safe place, and presented to us in a healthy way. Go to some places in the world. You will not have that imagination. All of a sudden, your blessing takes on a whole new thing. I've been in some very remote places where the water came out of a creek or a well or it was not from a public water system. And you look at the glass and there is particle matter floating around in it. And you're gonna have to drink it. All of a sudden, that prayer becomes a very focused experience with the Lord. "Oh God," right?
We've lived so presumptively. Bring your prayers back to those simple places in your life, when you put your head on the pillow at night: "God, thank you for the day. Give me a peaceful sleep". When you wake up in the morning, "God, thank you for a new day". When you get to work in the morning, "God, I thank you that I have a job I can go to". When you come home at night, "God, I thank you for a house full of people that make me crazy". I've given you this response before, but I wanna bring it back to you. I don't think we can over-stress it. Philippians chapter 4 and verse 6 says: "Don't be anxious about anything, but in everything," in everything. What's left out of everything? Nothing. "In everything". In every thing: in work, in recreation, in your relationships, in your business dealings. In everything, "In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus".
If you want a peace that is beyond understanding, that isn't just logical, it's not just based in facts, a calm assurance of God's unlimited power at work on your behalf, so that it gives you a supernatural peace in the midst of a storm, confronted with sickness or death, confronted with disasters, confronted with the things you didn't ever wanna hear or deal with or see, confronted with demonic activity, follow Jesus. That's what a peace that transcends understanding is. He can have demons shouting at him and he goes, "Oh, be quiet. Come out of him". He can interrupt a funeral and say, "Oh, don't cry anymore". And take the young man by the hand and say, "Sit up," and he gives him back to his mom. He can stand in the middle of the storm and say, "Oh, be quiet". A peace that transcends understanding. If you wanna live there, the pathway to that begins by "in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving," talk to God.
There are some things about prayer that are fundamental, but you need them in your portfolio. It begins, you begin to build a foundation. You know, once upon a time, I went to college and I had intended to go to graduate school but I started out studying basic sciences. You need to know fundamental biology and fundamental chemistry before you can look at more detailed processes. And if you're gonna learn to pray prayers of intercession, if you're gonna be able to make a difference in spiritual conflict, if you're gonna stand against principalities and powers, that's more than "let's pray". But that also requires of you the willingness to learn some fundamentals. And so I brought you just a few. It's not an inclusive list, by any means.
But in Luke 11 and verse 1, it says, "One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. And when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples to pray.' And he said to them, 'When you pray, say: "Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come".'" Jesus gave us a very important principle. When we pray, who is it we're addressing? Almighty God, he's our Father. You know, Jesus, one of the things that the New Testament teaches us is that one of the revelations that Jesus brought us that was unique to him was he let us know God as our Father. He wasn't a prophet telling us about Almighty God. It wasn't a miracle, telling us about an all-powerful God. The Son was uniquely qualified to give us a revelation of the Father. And it changes everything about that relationship you have with God. So, when we pray, we address our heavenly Father.
Now, you don't have to do it in a formulaic way. Sometimes I'll pray to Almighty God because it helps me to be reminded that he is almighty. And sometimes, I'll pray to my heavenly Father. I'm not, and this is my preference. I know other people make choices, but this is mine. When I'm talking to the Lord, I don't refer to him in overly casual terms. I'm not trying to pick a fight with anybody, time is too short. I don't have time for the controversy. I'm not interested in it. But I'm not, like, you know, "Bubba". I'm not, and this is, again, this is my personal, I'm not overly comfortable with Papa. I don't think when I see God in all of his glory, and I tell you there's a couple of places, you know, when the people in scripture see an angel, almost always the first message is "Don't be afraid," 'cause the person that's seeing the angel's terrified. They're not going, like, "Hey, dude, good to hang".
I mean, John, the apostle who was so close to Jesus, his closest friend, perhaps, in his public ministry, when he sees him in the Revelation chapter 1, he falls on his face like he's a dead man. So, "heavenly Father," there's a sense of family in that. There's a casualness in that, but I'm not suggesting a formula. I just want you to understand to whom it is you're praying. All paths don't lead to the same place. It's the uniqueness of Jesus that is essential in this. You see, without Jesus, we have no revelation of God. It's why Muhammad and Buddha and a higher power are not the same as the God of heaven and earth, the Creator of heaven and earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Jesus's Father. Apart from Jesus, we have no story left. The Jewish rabbi, it's part of our debt to the Jewish people. I'm wandering.
In John 16, Jesus is teaching his friends and he said, "Until now, you've not asked anything in my name. Ask and you'll receive and your joy will be complete". We've been given permission to use the authority of Jesus's name. That's stunning to me. That's just stunning to me. So I pray to my heavenly Father, to Almighty God, to the Creator of heaven and earth, and I approach you in Jesus's name. I'm not coming in my authority or my goodness or my righteousness. I have no standing apart from Jesus because it's in him that I'm the righteousness of God in Christ. He bore my sins that I might be justified, acquitted, declared not guilty. So there's a very clear understanding.
Now, that's important because almost always when you begin to pray around anything of significance, the adversary will remind you of what you're not. Remind you of the way you drove on the way to church or the attitude you had about somebody you saw while you were walking into the building. Or something. He is an accuser and he will accuse you, and you need the ability to separate the accusation that is directed against you and understand the authority on which you are approaching the throne of God. In Hebrews it says we can approach the throne of grace boldly in our time of need because of who our high priest is. You see, the reason you can take a prayer and offer it to God is your high priest is Jesus of Nazareth. You don't need me to bless your prayer. We're so egalitarian in the way we think, we've lost sight of that.
You see, before Jesus, you couldn't fire up a fire in the back yard, you couldn't light your fire pit and offer your sacrifice to God. You had to take it to the priest. You needed an intermediary. You needed someone who had given attention to what it meant to be sanctified, set apart for the purposes of God. Somebody who kept themselves clean. But the good news of the gospel is that every person can approach the throne of grace because of our great high priest. So when we pray, we pray to our Father in Jesus's name. So it is, eliminates any sense of pride or arrogance or swagger. You with me so far? It's important, okay? Philippians 2 kind of adds a component to that. Speaking of Jesus, it said, "God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that's above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven, on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father".
Jesus has the ultimate authority. So it doesn't matter what array of unclean spirits you're standing against. You're not wrestling with them. It's not about your ability to quote scripture in retaliation to somebody that's speaking to you. It's not about my wisdom or your wisdom. It's not about my stored-up merit points. You know, we get this goofy imagination that if we go to church so many Sundays in a row or read our Bible so many days in a row, it's like trading stamps. That's not what gives us a standing. We come in Jesus's name, the name that is above every name, that every knee must bow to. When we pray for those in authority over us, they may have more political power. They may have more financial power, they may have more economic power, they may have more military power. The Assyrians had military power that far exceeded anything that King Hezekiah could marshal. And God said, "Because you prayed, I'm sending them home".
I've visited Israel and I've talked to many Israelis. You know, today they have one of the finest militaries in the world, but when the nation of Israel was just emerging, that was not true. They were outgunned, outmanned, out-resourced. And I've talked to multiple people who would tell stories from encounters where they would see their enemies throw open the tops of their tanks and run in the opposite direction. They say, "We were completely, there was no way we could have been victorious until the enemy fled the battlefield". And they'd capture some of 'em and they'd say, "Well, we heard the noise of hundreds of tanks approaching and we knew we had no hope, so we ran for our lives". I mean, I've heard variations on that story over and over again.
You see, greater is the one who is with us. Church, we have not valued our faith enough. We haven't even given enough credence to God to invite him in. Then when we do, we pray these anemic prayers, "Well, God, just whatever your will is". Get to know your Bible well enough to know what God's will is. We know so little about the will of God, we don't even know how to pray with confidence. And it's important to understand that we have a heritage of faith. It's widely denied and too frequently denounced, but the blessings we have, the freedoms we have, the liberties we have, the abundance we enjoy, the reason our children have a life that's different than most of the children on planet Earth, is because of the impact of our faith in the culture in which we live.
Now, that influence is plummeting on a daily basis. But I gave you a couple of quotes in your notes and I could have brought you several more. But the first is from James Madison, 1814. Not many of us were alive when he made this statement, but it was after the British had burned the Capitol in Washington, D.C. He said, "In the present time of public calamity and war, a day may be recommended to be observed by the people of the United States as a day of humble adoration to the great Sovereign of the universe, of confessing their sins and transgressions and of strengthening their vows of repentance".
That's the president of the United States in a time when defeat and victory was not clear, calling the nation to humility and repentance. And we can jump forward several years. This is Ronald Reagan, 1984. More of you were alive for this. Listen to what President Reagan said: "America needs God more than God needs America. If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, then we'll be a nation gone under". You see, it's our heritage. There are those that would like to deny the heritage or separate you from it, but when you talk to the Lord, what you're asking him to do is to restore what has been a part of our story. And in that, then we have some responsibility.
God, we have not been good watchmen. We have been distracted. We have pursued other things, and we come in humility, not because we deserve it but because you're a God of grace and mercy, a God who delights in restoring. And we ask you once again to allow us to be one nation under God. One people bound together, not by the color of our skin or the language that we have spoken or the nations from which we have come.
We are a nation that has been bound together under the authority of God. And that has been the secret of our freedom and our liberty. If we imagine anything else, we will lose both our freedom and our liberty, amen?
Let's pray. Why don't you stand with me? I think we ought to say the Lord's Prayer. When Jesus's disciples asked him to teach them to pray, that was Jesus's response. I think we dismiss it. We think, "Oh, it's a Catholic prayer". Baloney. Do the Catholics pray the "Our Father"? Yes, but the evangelicals say the Lord's Prayer, and they all came from the Boss. Let's say it together:
Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For yours is the Kingdom and the glory and the power for ever, amen.