Charles Stanley - The Priority of Prayer
How often do you pray? What do you pray about? Do you have confidence that when you pray and talk to God He's going to answer your prayer? What is it that motivates you to pray above everything else? Probably not good times, but fear, pain, suffering, heartache. And then let me ask you a question: What do you think hinders you the most from praying? You want to pray and you start to pray and then you say, "Well God's not going to answer that. I've prayed so many times He hasn't answered my prayer".
So sometimes we just doubt His Word. But you know one of the greatest reasons people do not pray? It's real simple. It's called S-I-N, sin. And when you have sin in your life, ongoing sin in your life, you're not very prone to want to get into the presence of a Holy God and talk to Him about your life unless you are willing and ready to lay it down and get right with God. Because when we pray, we're talking to a Holy God. And talking to a Holy God in the presence of God and sin, those two things just don't fit. And prayer is the most important thing we do. Talking to God, the Sovereign God of the universe, who has all power and all knowledge. Who knows what you think and what you feel and what you're going to ask before you ask it. But to come to Him having avoided the Lord Jesus Christ.
If you've never trusted Him as your Savior, you can forget the praying until you trust Him as your Savior. You may have some kind of god in your life, but apart from Him, you will never reach the one true eternal God. He will hear you if you're willing to ask Him to forgive you of your sins and trust Him as your personal Savior, then He's wide open to hear you. Prayer is the most important event in our life. And one of the shortest verses in the Bible is a very clear verse found in First Thessalonians chapter five, verse seventeen. And if you'll turn there for a moment, and I'd like for us just to read a few of these verses here, just to sort of get us ready for this. And the Apostle Paul is writing to the Thessalonian Christians and let me remind you of this. The days in which he writes his epistles were in the days of Rome.
We think things are bad here in our country now, this is nothing compared to the kind of life they had to live and the kind of domination and power and threats and ruin and heartache and atrocities, and all the things that they had to face. Listen to what Paul says, beginning in the sixteenth verse of First Thessalonians chapter five. He says, "Rejoice always". Now if we had to stop right there, I'd think, "No way," but then he says, "Pray without ceasing". What does that mean? I'm coming to it. Then he says in verse eighteen, "In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus".
Let me clarify something. He said, "In everything," in the midst of it, in the circumstances, in the situation. I don't have to, I don't have to give thanks for everything that comes my way, hurt and pain and suffering, but in the midst of it I am to give Him thanks in it. "In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit," by sin, "do not despise prophetic utterances," when you hear the truth, "examine everything carefully, hold fast that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely, and may your spirit and your soul and your body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, who called you". What an awesome text of Scripture. But what I want you to notice, he says, "Pray without ceasing". What in the world does he mean by that?
So, the title of this message is "The Priority of Prayer". Now a priority means it has a position of some importance. That is, all of us have priorities in our life. A person who doesn't won't amount to much in life. We have priorities. And the priority of our life should be prayer for this, he says, "Pray without ceasing". I'll explain that in just a moment. But here's what he says. It's not something that you add on to your daily life, that is, you've got twenty-four hours in a day and I'm going to spend five minutes talking to God. It's something more important than that. It's talking to the Heavenly Father. And so, when we think about the priority of prayer, the very word priority means it has a position of importance. It's not a place of indifference in our life. And it speaks of frequency.
So what does it mean to pray without ceasing? Does that mean that you just go around mumbling all the time, "Jesus help me, Jesus help me, Jesus, God bless this, God bless that; give me this and give me that". No, it doesn't mean that at all. It means a continuous reoccurring of something, not something that happens continuously, but continuously reoccurring. For example, you wake up in the morning and you ask the Lord to give you direction for your life, and to help you and strengthen you, to give you wisdom. And you go about your family, cooking breakfast or whatever it might be. And you're getting your kids ready for school, "Lord, I pray that You'll protect them today". You get in your automobile and thank Him for giving you a safe trip to your job and on your way you think about somebody you're working with that you're having a problem with and you talk about it. So, it's reoccurring, but it's continuously reoccurring.
And you think about this. Think about it, in any given day, how many times you and I need to ask Him to give us direction and help us, to strengthen us, to give us guidance, to provide something we need. That's what Paul means when he says, "Pray without ceasing". It's a way of life. It's a part of our daily life. We go to bed at night praying, we wake up praying, we're praying all during the day about different things that concern us. So, what I'd like to do is distinguish between true prayer and false prayer, because there is a difference. And God doesn't answer false prayers. And when I think about what that means is simply this. God does not answer the prayer of people who have rejected His Son. I think about what Jesus said, "No one comes to the Father but by Me". That's to go to heaven or to pray.
And so, true prayer involves my heart, not just my mouth and my feelings, my heart. That is, what is my relationship to God? And I think about this also. Most of the people who pray, they carry on a monolog with God. "God, here's my need," and they go on and on and on and on and talk to God. Watch this, and turn around and walk off and they never listen to God. You know why? They don't expect Him to answer, because sin deadens your expectation for a Holy God to hear and answer your prayer. That's false praying. That's not true praying. False praying, false praying is talking to God based on what I think I deserve and what I think God ought to think about me. True prayer is based on a sense of humility, that we're not accepted on the basis of our conduct. We're accepted on the basis of His mercy. We're accepted on the basis of the truth of His awesome Word of what He'll do.
And so, most people's praying's false praying. It's a monolog. What, it's all about them. True genuine prayer is a dialogue. So that, there are times when we do the talking and then we need to listen. The issue is this: Talking to Him, listening to Him, that's what God wants. He wants not only for you to talk to Him; He wants you to listen to Him. He wants to give you clear direction. He wants to answer your prayer. He wants to provide what you need. But if you don't listen to Him, then you're no better than you haven't even pray. "Lord, I need this. I need that and I need the other. Thank You very much. In Jesus' name". Mm-mm-mm, that's not the way He operates. Because what that says is, "I'm telling You, but I can handle it". Or, "You handle it for me. I appreciate it". That's not prayer and that's not the way God wants us to operate.
So, ask yourself the question, you know, how often do you pray? Is it specific? Is it a monolog or is it a dialogue? And Paul said to the Romans, listen to this, "Devote yourself to prayer". And he says in Colossians the fourth chapter, "Devote yourself to prayer". What does devote yourself to prayer mean? It's in an imperative tense which is a command. Devote yourself to prayer means you set aside time for it. You're serious about it. It is a priority in your life. Devote yourself to prayer. Give it in uninterrupted time. Think clearly about what you're talking to God about. Be serious about it. Not something you add on. You see, for most people prayer is an add on. It's an add on to doing this, doing that, doing that and before I go to bed, I want a little quick prayer. No. You've got to give Him time. You've got to have a relationship with Him.
And so, when he says, "Devote yourself to prayer," devote yourself means you set aside a time. That is the priority of prayer means I place importance on it. I place a position, it's first in my life. Every single one of us can start the day off with prayer. Amen? You can. Now you may not, but you can. Before you get out of bed, you ought to be talking to God. You don't know whether you're going to be able to get back in that bed again or not. Life is uncertain. And yet, God is so certain. He wants prayer to be a priority in your life. And that is my prayer, that you would do the most important thing you'll do in your life every day and give God the time that He deserves. Listen, to do what? To set you up in a position to bless you the way He wants to bless you. To have you in the right place doing what He wants to do in your life. Giving you the very thing you're asking for in the way He wants to do it.
So you have to ask yourself the question. Do I love Him enough? Do I care enough? Do I believe that He wants to do that in my life? Now what I want to do is I want to give you a list of things to think about. And that is when I say that prayer's our most profitable activity. Prayer is the method by which God meets our needs. "My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus". He comforts us in time of trial and heartache, how? Through prayer. Prayer is a time of comforting. He assures us of His presence and is willing to help us.
Thirdly, it's a channel through which we build an intimate relationship with Him, which we just talked about. When you're being quiet and listening to Him, we build intimacy with Him. We sense His love, we feel His love. It's like He puts His arms around us. He strengthens us in time of temptation. You find yourself being tempted by something or somebody or some situation or some opportunity and you say to God, "And the Bible says, 'No temptation taken you but such as common to man, but God will enable you.'" It's in prayer. "Lord strengthen me. Don't let me see that. Don't let me think about that any more, just block that out of my mind, God". He will answer that prayer.
Then, of course, think about this. If we confess our sins to Almighty God, if we confess our sins to Him, He's faithful, listen to that, He's faithful, He's trustworthy, He's always there. Faithful and just. That means He has the right to forgive because He died on the cross, paid our sin debt. "He's faithful and to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". That's a promise we have from God. And so all of us have prayed and asked Him to forgive us. Not on the basis that we deserve it, but because He promises that He will forgive us. Likewise, it's our source of guidance for direction. For example, we have decisions we have to make. And He says, "He will guide us with His eye upon us". And so, if I want God's guidance, I need to take time in prayer and listen to Him. "Lord, what are You, what would You have me to do"? And oftentimes, we would be heading in the wrong direction.
Now watch this carefully, you listening, say, "Amen". You better listen. If you're praying and all of a sudden you think, "Well this is what I think I ought to do," and you get a little static, that's what I call it. Little static in your heart. Now if you know what I mean, you've been praying. If you don't know what I mean, you haven't been praying. We've all got static at times. You think you, this is the thing that you ought to do, and yet, something deep down inside is what we would say that's the Spirit of God saying, "No, no, no, no". When you shut that off, you've said to God, "I'm not interested in Your opinion. I've asked You for it, but You don't agree with me what I want to do, so I'm going to do it anyway".
People make tragic decisions by muffling the voice of God. If you'll think about it, your whole life, your whole life is dependent upon all these things we've said about what God does for us, we're all dependent upon Him. Your next breath. Any one of us could die in the next moment with a heart attack. We're dependent upon Him for every single thing in life. And therefore, prayer ought to be, not a tack-on, not add-on, but a major part of our life. Then I think, for example, we need God to help us understand His Word. And I don't, I think I could say, I don't ever open this Book to read a passage of scripture that I don't say, "Now, Lord, speak to my heart. I'm not asking You to give me a message for somebody else, I want You to speak to me about me. If there's something You want to do in my life, I want You to speak to me. This preaching is not all about me, it's about You getting Your Word to all of us. But, I want You to begin with me. There's something in my life You want to clean up, some sense of direction, whatever it might be".
And so we have to be honest about those things. "Lord, speak to my heart about Your Word. What are You saying to me"? Then, for example, prayer is a shield against anxiety and worry. All of us could think about something to worry about. Prayer's a shield. You know why-how it's a shield? In the midst of our pain, or our hurt, or our fear, God reminds us that He's a God of grace and He has everything under control. And somehow He's going to work it all out no matter what happens. All of us go through those things, and all of us need the shield that prayer provides. We receive courage and confidence when we're facing challenges.
And I think back in my life how many challenges I've faced. I couldn't begin to number those, but you know what I've discovered? I never got on my knees before any challenge that God didn't reassure me that somehow in some way He was going to work it out. And I've been through some tough times, but He's always been there; always to shield and protect us, listen, lest some burdens could be so huge and mighty and heavy, they would absolutely break us and shatter us. But He's there to put a shield, because He's going to control how much you have to face. He controls the weight of the burden. He controls the time of the burden and He controls the source of the burden. And for His children, He has limitations to those loads, whatever they might be. Then, for example, when you and I need emotional healing or physical healing, what is the first thing we should do? Say, "Lord, I don't know what this is about. I want to ask You to give me guidance and direction".
And sometimes we get bad news, sometimes we get good news. And I can remember when I fell, I remember the first thing came out of my mouth. "God, what are You up to"? Which is a good example of praying without ceasing. I was immediately recurring in my prayer. "God, what are You up to"? I didn't even think about what I felt. It's where I was, lying on the floor, sort of helpless. And, "What are You up to"? Because I knew that He, I couldn't fall unless He permitted it. And did I like it? None of it. I didn't like any of it. But you know what? I knew He was in control. I knew He'd bring me through it. I knew He'd be faithful no matter what. That's the kind of God we serve.
How foolish to try to live in this world we live in and ignore the one true God and the only God who can help you. Think about this: You can't face any situation that He doesn't know all about. He knows all about it before, during and afterwards. Because He loves you, He's a God willing to help you if you're willing to cry out to Him and ask Him to give you direction. And He's a God who will give you the, watch this, the energy, the strength, that's what power's all about, energy, strength to face situations and circumstances. And that's what the Holy Spirit is all about. He who is within you will empower you and strengthen you and enable you, and gift you with whatever is necessary to bring you through whatever you're facing in life. And then, the last thing I would say about that is this.
Think about this: Because you're a child of God and because He's the God of this whole universe and controls and rules over all things, you, you as a follower of Jesus Christ, you have the privilege, you have the opportunity, you have the power so to speak to touch anybody anywhere in the world, because it's this holy triangle. Here you are; here's the person you're praying for and here is God. You talk to God. God sees them. What does He do? He answers your petition. You get blessed. Only a follower of Jesus has the power to touch anybody anywhere in the world with the grace of God.
Now can you tell me why prayer should not be a priority? It should be a priority in our life. Now, my friend, listen carefully. You may have everything in the world anybody could ever want, but if you don't have Christ in your life, you're missing the most important person in your life. Secondly, if you are a believer in Jesus, and you don't have a strong prayer life, you're missing out on what God has for you. He has the best for you and He will use you if you will allow Him, and that requires time with Him. Are you going to listen to this message and develop a new relationship with God? Are you going to ask Him to forgive you for being prayerless?
Missing opportunities, missing blessings, missing wonderful things that God has in store for you because you've not prayed. And are you going to ask God to forgive you for that? And tell Him that beginning today, or beginning tonight, whenever it is, "Lord, teach me to pray. I humble myself before You, Lord. And I want to get into Your Word, and I want You to lead me to read what I need to read, and You speak to my heart. And Father, teach me to pray and to become a valuable vessel in Your Kingdom". And I can assure you one thing. He will answer that prayer.
Father, how grateful we are that You're patient with us. Willing to teach us, willing to grace us with the blessings, willing to dialogue with us, to speak with us and have us speak with You. I pray the Spirit of God will seal this message in the heart of every person who hears it today, tomorrow and years to come, here and around the world. In Jesus' name, amen.