Charles Stanley - Putting Prayer First
Jesus said a lot of things in the gospels, lot of subjects He dealt with. But the two subjects He dealt with above everything else were two things that all of us should have in our life every single day. And there are a lot of verses and I won't go through all the verses, but of all the subjects He talked about, prayer was number one and faith was number two. You can read the gospels throughout and you will find that these are the two things Jesus talked about. And it's interesting, of course, that the fact that He talked about them, He also practiced them, naturally.
And I would ask you this question in your own life. But if you look in Mark chapter one for a moment, and look at that thirty-fifth verse and then I want to ask you a question about your prayer life. So be thinking about it for a moment. Scripture says in this thirty-fifth verse, "In the early morning, while it was still dark". Now, so we're talking about maybe four or five o'clock in the morning, somewhere thereabouts, probably, maybe six, "Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there".
So He didn't just get up and start praying. He went away to a secluded place where He couldn't be found, "Simon and his companions searched for Him; and they found Him, and said to Him, 'Everyone is looking for You.'" And so they interrupted His prayer. So let me ask you a question. Where does prayer fit into your daily schedule? Is it on the way to work? Is it your prayer at breakfast? Is it the afternoon? Is it the evening? Where does prayer fit into your daily schedule? You say, Oh, well I'm praying all the time. No, no, no, no, no. I know you can be in a spirit of prayer, but if you're on the expressway doing eighty miles an hour, you're not in the sense of prayer.
How much time and at what point in your life do you set aside each day just to talk to God? And you don't want to be disturbed either. Do you ever go to your bedroom or some other place, shut the door and say , You know what? I just need a little private time. Think about this. God has given you a whole life. You've got twenty-four hours in every day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days of the year, two years, ten years, twenty years, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety years. In other words, all these years, how much time in any given twenty-four hours do you set aside just for you and God to talk about your life or the things that concern you?
The primary reason for weakness in a person's Christian life is prayerlessness. Primary reason for needs unmet, prayerlessness. Primary reason people will treat their husband or wife, the way they do that's not right, it's prayerlessness. In other words, prayerlessness is a sin against God because of what the fruits are. You don't talk to God, you don't give Him a chance to speak to you. You just get up in the morning and take off and get yourself dressed up. You want to be sure you look just right. And you want to get to work on time; want to do a good job. Come home; be sure the mail is right and your TV programs there.
In other words, mm-mm-mm-mm-mm-mm-mm, and where is God on your schedule? You say, Well, where is it on your schedule? I write it down every day and I put prayer first. You say, Well, after all these years, you still writing it down? Yes, we're all busy. That's first. That's foremost because everything else that happens the rest of the day is affected by that. He wants time alone. Would you not agree that He deserves undisturbed time alone with you? He's the source of every breath. The source of every single gift. He's the source of every good thing that comes your way. God desires time with you. Because, these are the times when God gives us clear direction. He answers our prayer. Our faith grows. We make request and God answers our request.
Prayer is an essential part of a life of every single believer. But prayer must be also joined by faith. If there's no faith, then nothing's going to happen. In other words, do you have faith to believe, or do you experience this faith? Do you believe in your heart that what you ask God to do for you, God is committed to doing? Now you say, Well, ask what? We're going to come to that in a few moments. Not just ask any old thing, but ask anything that you choose to ask that is listen, that is compatible with the teachings of Jesus, the life of Jesus and a godly life. That is, a person can ask God for things that absolutely are totally out of the will of God for their life.
And so, when the Bible talks about what we ask for, things that fit the life of Jesus and things that fit your life as a follower of Jesus. There are things in people, that people pray for in their Christian life that have nothing to do with what God's plan for their life is. And oftentimes a person will say, Well, I've been praying to God to give me a new car. I've been praying for a new house. I've been praying for this. Well, what you been asking for? Why are you asking it? Are you believing Him for it? How big a house you want? One bigger than you need. That is, when you and I are praying, here's what God does. He sifts our prayer. You can start anywhere you want to start, but because He loves you, knows what's best. Because He wants the best for you, is going to choose the best. He may give you what you ask, but it may not be when you ask for it. It may not be the size or the shape or whatever it might be. God is going to answer our prayer according to the wisdom of God; according to the love of God; according to His care for us, but answer our prayer. He loves to do it, because it's who He is. He's a God of love and goodness and mercy.
And the reason we don't have is because of what James said, because we ask not. Many people do not feel they are worthy of asking for God to do something for them. When you trusted Him as your person Savior, you had instantaneous access to the throne of God to ask for, that your needs might be met and the desires of your heart. He says He delights to give us the desires of our heart. Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. If you're not delighted with Him; you're not happy with Him; you don't want to spend any time with Him; you're not interested in Him with only what you need or what you desire, then you cannot expect God to give you what you want. He doesn't promise to do it.
And so, prayer is a vital part of our everyday existence. And with that prayer also is faith. Because it's one thing just to talk around to God. It's something to talk to Him, personally, and believe that He will do what He says. And this is why I say this is the anchor. You can float around all day long talking about God this and God that and yes, I believe Him, but are you anchored anywhere? And the verses of scripture about prayer in the Bible ought to anchor us. That is, here's what You said, Lord.
So I want you to turn to this eleventh chapter of Mark and look at a passage for which there's some question that people oftentimes bring up. And in this eleventh chapter of Mark, Jesus, for example, has cursed this fig tree and the next day they came by and Peter was all excited. He said, "Look, this fig tree," has, "withered from the roots up". And Jesus, listen, Jesus' response to this awesome sense of what's happened to this tree. Jesus simply said, in the twenty-second verse, "Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him".
You say, Oh, I've often wondered about that mountain business. We're coming to that. "Therefore I say to you all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. Now that says exactly what the original language says. Watch this, verse twenty-four, "Therefore I say to you all things for which you pray and ask, believe," You're asking believing and because you have believed Him, "believe that you have already received them". That is faith says, Thank You, God. I know it's done. Will that be true about everything you ask Him for? No, but there are some things you and I ask Him for that is the will of God for our life, and we trust Him, we can thank Him that it is as good as done. That's what He's saying. Thank Him, "Believe that you have received them, and they will be granted to you".
So when I think about the emphasis Jesus placed on prayer in our life and the fact that He was up, listen, He didn't get up once a week every morning, but He was out early every morning before He faced the day, before He even faced His disciples. Dad, I'd say you'd be wise for you to be up early in the morning talking to God before the rest of your family gets up. Or your wife, the mother, she gets up before the rest of the family gets up and spends a little time at least talking to the Father. Look, that's setting the course for the day. That's the direction for the day, the compass for the day. You're telling God what you feel like you need for the day and you're asking Him to give you direction, wisdom and guidance; and to care for your children and all the rest, your husband or your wife, whatever it might be. That's what Jesus was doing. And He was talking to the Father about His disciples; talking to the Father about the Father's will for His life. But He was up early every morning before anybody else was out there, He had a place.
So I ask you, Do you have a place? Do you have a time? Do you believe that God answers your prayer? Do you ask Him about things that are concerning you? And when you ask Him, do you get up from your knees or whatever you choose to do, do you pray in faith believing that what You have asked of God, He's going to do? You say, Well now, I don't know that I always deserve. That has nothing to do with it. It has to do, listen, you and I will never deserve the grace of God. That's what it's all about, grace. It's not what we deserve. But He, listen, God doesn't turn a deaf ear to one of His praying children.
Somebody says, Well, I don't know how to pray. Let me show you how in a quick, just a quick moment. Heavenly Father, thank You for listening to me. I don't do very well at this, but I want You to teach me how to pray. But here's what's on my heart. And on and on and on you go. Anybody can do that. Anybody can talk to God. You say, Well, I don't feel like I deserve it. That's not even the issue. There's nothing in this Bible about God hearing prayers where people deserve it. Look at Peter. He denied the Lord Jesus Christ in the most critical moments of His life. He had to repent of it. Did he quit praying? No. Did God forgive him? Yes. The issue is not how you pray and the issue is not where, but the issue is do you pray? Do you give Him any time at all in a given day and tell Him what you're thinking, how you're feeling, what you need? And just blessing Him and praising Him and giving thanks that you're where God has placed you at this point in your life.
Maybe you're going through a very difficult time. And I remember last week two ladies said to me at two different times what they were suddenly discovered that they were going through. It's been on my heart all week long to pray for them; because that's all I can do, is pray for them that God would strengthen their faith. That He would encourage their hearts. That I say, God, You can heal them without a doctor. You can heal them, Father, and answer their prayers. And You can heal them any way You want to but God, I'm trusting You to heal these two ladies and the need that they have. All of us know somebody who needs to be prayed for, amen? And all of us need to be prayed for. I don't know of anybody who's so independent, they have it all together, they don't need God. Every single one of us do.
There are people who leave to go to work in the morning and never come home. There are things that happen that are tragic to us. It's somebody's time to go home to the Father. We all need to pray. The Father needs private time with His children, not because of what we say to Him, but because of what He needs to say to us. So I ask you this purposely again, Do you have a time with Him? Is anytime He can count on with you? Do you have a place? All of us need direction and counsel every day of our life. We need to hear from the Father.
So, when I think about that and I think about what He says in this passage, I want you to go back to this mountain-moving business because people will say, Well, I, you know what's that all about? Twenty-third verse, "Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him". What He was saying is, listen, this is how powerful God is. God is able to move heaven and earth to answer your prayers. And that is exactly what He's able to do. He's able to do it. And He's simply saying here, "Have faith in God". There's nothing too difficult for God.
I have a couple of statements. One of them simply says this. The greatest possible difficulties can be removed when a person has faith. And that's really what Jesus was saying about moving this mountain and casting it into the sea. Look at that. The greatest possible difficulties can be removed when we have faith in God to work in our behalf. That is, nothing's impossible with God. So He wasn't talking about dirt and sea. He's talking about the gigantic things that we face in life, God can handle any and every single one of them no matter what they are. And I could probably say there are many of you who could give testimony of things that God has done in your life you never expected Him to do. Brought you through situations and circumstances that you'd probably given up all hope.
Looking at mountains in your life, you'd think there's no way I'll get through this. He's brought you through it time after time after time. Did you take time to thank Him? After He got you through that mess, did you just go your merry way, or did you spend more time than ever before talking with Him and listening to Him and just loving God? If you're married, it's one thing to live in the same house together under the same roof. It's something else to love each other. It's a whole different situation. And when I think about we've been saved by the grace of God. We're in the Kingdom. Our name's written in the Lamb's Book of Life. But He wants fellowship with us. He loved us enough to die for us. And the reason we don't have to worry about whether He answers our prayer or not is because if He died for us, He can certainly take care of any need that you and I have. And we should spend all eternity praising Him and thanking Him for all the things He's done. So look at this passage and people get hung up on the mountain business. He's simply saying no task in harmony with God's will is impossible to be performed by those who believe and not doubt.
The second statement I want you to get. No task in harmony with God's will, not just anything, is impossible to be performed by those who believe and not doubt. Whatever God commands you to do, remember this. He, with the command, He promises the power, the wisdom, the knowledge, the understanding to help you get through that no matter what. This is the kind of God He is. What does He say? Ask and it shall be given you. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened to you. It'll work. Watch what I do, because as a father watches for his son, takes care of him, I'm watching over you. The Father is exactly what He says He is. He's our Heavenly Father, looking after us, providing for us, supporting us, protecting us, caring for us, giving us direction. He has a will for our life, a plan for our life; and He's willing to reveal it if I'm willing to diligently seek it.
Now, sometimes God will show you the next step and you think, Well, that couldn't be it. The next step is the next step to the next step which is the step you're looking for. When God tells you to take the next step, because you can't see around the corner, you can't stop with that. You just say, Okay, here's what You want me to do now. Watch this. If I can see my way from the beginning to the end, I do not need faith. When He asks us to do something and we can only see the next step, that's faith. He will show you what to do.
Now watch this. Are you listening? Say amen. God has already planned the best for your life, the best. Doesn't make any difference who you are. Listen. He's not a God who plans second best for anybody. It's a best for you; it may not be the same as the best for somebody else, but He's got your interest at heart. And He gave us an example of Himself praying, being alone with the Father; teaching His disciples to pray. Now, if you walked out of here today and somebody said, Well, what did you get out of that sermon? Oh, I don't know something about prayer. I don't want you to get but two things. Give Him time and give Him a place where you and God can meet every day and watch what happens in your life.
Now you're not a Christian maybe and you say, Well, how do we start? You start by asking the Lord to forgive you for your sins. You don't have to name them. You can name them if you want to; but you need to ask Him to forgive you of your sins. And one of those sins that you have neglected Him, lived your life according to your will. You've messed it up badly. Or maybe you think you're doing pretty well and your pride's gotten the best of you.
You need to ask Him to forgive you of your sins and repent of them. That is, turn away from them. And surrender your life to Jesus Christ. And tell Him that you want His will in your life. You're surrendering to Him and you're asking Him to save you based on what He did at the cross by shedding His blood at Calvary. And then find you a place in your house, your apartment, somewhere. Find you a place. Make a time. Decide when it's going to be. And then remember this. For prayer to be effective it's got to be anchored in the Word of God. You say, Well, I don't know what to pray for. You just start reading the Word of God and He'll show you what to pray for.
Remember this is the anchor. You put the Bible down, watch this, your prayer is going down with it. Because the devil will fill your mind with other things, unless you keep the anchor foremost in your life. Because what's God doing in His Word? He's speaking to your heart. It's amazing how you say, Well, Lord, you know, I don't know exactly where to read at this point. And I just flipped it open, it says, Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen that you may live; and I'll make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies of Hallelujah! And somebody says, Well, I don't know where to read and I could just flip through my Bible and give you a whole lot of wonderful verses. So you say, Well I don't know where to read. Listen, God knows what you need. He'll take you right to the place. You read the Psalms, the Proverbs as a starter or in the gospels or whatever it might be, but here's the anchor.
Now watch this. You cannot, you cannot, cannot, cannot live a godly life with a closed Bible. It doesn't happen. But when you open the Word, what you're saying is Lord, I don't know exactly where to start, but it's interesting, Lord, You'd lead me to this, this verse, Those who love Your law have great peace and nothing causes them to stumble. Now I didn't plan that verse. I just opened to it. God's going to guide you if you let Him guide you. And my prayer is that you will take to heart this message. It'll affect your whole life.
Father, how grateful we are for Your Word that anchors us in the storms; that reminds us in the peaceful times You are what our life is all about. And we pray that every person who hears this message, would begin to realize it's not going to happen apart from the Word. And that You're so willing to meet every need of our life. We love You and we praise You and we bless Your holy name for all that You are to us. In Jesus' name, amen.