David Jeremiah - God Hears Your Prayers
I heard a story once about a mother who got a call from school saying that her young daughter was ill. She hurried to pick up her child and then she called the doctor, but the doctor's schedule was already overbooked that day. He could see the child the following morning, and in the meantime, he recommended an over-the-counter medicine to ease her symptoms. So, the mother tucked her little girl in bed and drove to the pharmacy, bought the medicine, hurried back to the car only to realize she had left her keys in the ignition and locked herself out. When she called her daughter to explain why it was gonna take more time to get home, the little girl told her to find a coat hanger.
"Mommy," she said, "I've seen it on TV. You stick this coat hanger down inside the window, you hook it on the handle, and the door's open". Well, the mother didn't know her little girl was so street smart, but she went back into the store and she got a wire hanger and she made an attempt to open the door, and she didn't do it. She couldn't figure it out. Finally, she was just frustrated and she just lifted her racing heart to the heavenly Father, and she said, "Lord God, I don't know what to do. My keys are locked in this car. My little girl's at home sick. I'm here with this stupid coat hanger. Please send somebody to help me".
She finished her prayer, and this car pulled up at the curb, and a passenger got out, and the man had a rough look. I mean, he didn't look like somebody God would send, but he was there. He hadn't shaved for days. It occurred to her that he might be homeless. But here's God's answer, so she said, "Sir, can you help me"? "What's the problem?" he said. "Well, I've locked my keys in this car, and I've got this coat hanger, but I don't know what to do with it". He said, "Lady, let me have your coat hanger". After bending the hanger and inserting it down inside the window glass, he opened the car door. Pretty scary thing that people can do that.
The mother was so overwhelmed that she threw her arms around this scruffy old guy and gave him a hug, and she said to him, "You're such a good man. You're such a good man". He said, "Lady, I'm no good man. I just got out of prison this morning". As he walked away, the mother lifted her hands up to heaven and said, "Thank you, Lord, you sent me a professional". You know, sometimes God answers prayer in unexpected ways, doesn't he? In fact, overcomers in our warfare against Satan always deal with the issue of prayer. Paul tells us to put on the armor of the Lord, and then at the end he says, "Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God". We learned those are the sayings of the Lord. And then he says: "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this and with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints".
Now, that's a mouthful. But prayer is our line of communication, our secret lifeline that connects us to our leader. It gives us his strength and direction every day. We don't get that without prayer, and this is why Paul devoted this little place at the end of this critical passage to discuss the importance of prayer. Paul slowed down, gave us a robust doctrine of prayer in 24 words, 24 words in that verse, and we have probably the most important passage of prayer in all the Bible. Let's begin by looking at the persistence of the overcomer's prayer. Notice what it says: "Praying always". Now, what does that mean? I mean, the Bible says, "Men ought always to pray and not lose heart".
Do we walk around like zombies, oblivious to our surroundings, mumbling mantras under our breath, praying always? No, it means we're always in contact with God. It means, like soldiers on the battlefield, connected to their commander with the radio, we're in touch with God. This is how we maintain our connection and learn to live in fellowship with him. If we live this way, we won't have to begin each prayer like this: "O God, we come into your presence". No, if you're in his presence, you can't come into his presence. "Lord, we come into your presence". If we live with an attitude of prayer, we're always in his presence.
A vivid example of "praying always" is in the character of Tevye, the struggling Jewish milkman in the classic stage play and film "Fiddler on the Roof". As he works and interacts with his family and neighbors, he carries on a running conversation with God. He's chatting with him like a friend. He talks about whatever comes into his head: his daughter's getting married, his lame horse, his poverty, his dreams. He pauses to carry on business and take care of needs, but the moment those things are done, he's back talking to God again. It's as if his life is his prayer, and the everyday things he must do are just islands in the stream that flows continually from his heart to God.
"Praying always" means to always be in touch with God. You know, sometimes you don't have time to get ready to pray. If you see a car coming at you through the intersection, you say, "God help". But you better be in good fellowship with God when that happens, 'cause you don't have time to confess your sin and get things right when the car's coming at you, right? So, always being in fellowship with God. But it also means to pray persistently. God wants to teach us the persistence of prayer. God doesn't work on our time schedule. Did you know that, for God, everything is in the eternal present? So, God isn't waiting. It's all in the present. And at the right time, in the right place, for the right reason, God will answer.
One of my professors in seminary was a man by the name of Howard Hendricks. He was an incredible man, known by all of the Dallas seminary graduates as one of the great teachers of all time. My wife, actually, was his secretary while we were in seminary. One day, Dr. Hendricks came into our class and he said, "You know, my father's not a Christian". And he said, "I have prayed for him every single day for 40 years". And I was in class when he came in and told me that his father was very, very ill, probably gonna die soon, but that he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. Forty years he prayed for his dad. It's always too soon to quit, you guys. Don't quit just because it looks discouraging. "Oh, he won't even listen to us. He doesn't want anything to do with us".
Just keep praying, keep knocking on the door, keep seeking, keep asking, and God is there. God loves it when his children come knocking on his door persistently. Then notice the possibility of the overcomer's prayer. Here's what it says: "Praying always," and then this little phrase: "with all prayer". It's a little tiny word. The term has an expansive meaning. It means everything that can place in the basket, no limits, no exclusions, the entire gamut, the whole enchilada, everything, with prayer, all prayer. "Praying always with all prayer".
Stuart Briscoe said that when our children were small and we were trying to teach them to pray, we had three kinds of prayer: please prayer, thank-you prayer, and sorry prayer. In those kinds of prayers, prayers of petition, prayers of thanksgiving, and prayers of confession, you can fit everything in your life. Our goal as overcomers is to be able to reach out in prayer at any moment and immediately be in touch with God, and our whole life can be a prayer as we walk day by day with him. Don't sweat the details. Leave those to God. Just pray those please prayer, those thank-you prayers, and those sorry prayers, and God will hear you. Number three, the petition of the overcomer's prayer. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication".
Now, supplication means to ask. That's basically what the word means: ask. Of course, we come to him with worship, and of course we come to him with thanksgiving and gratitude, but, friend, you don't need to be bashful to ask God for what you need. God tells us we have not, why? Because we ask not. And if we don't ask, we have no reason to believe that we'll receive. God tells us that he has wired this universe to work by prayer, and prayer works when we ask. I have to tell you that, oftentimes, as I stand at the front of our church on occasion and people come to talk to me, they'll say, "Pastor Jeremiah, I don't know what to do. Can you tell me"? And then they'll unfold their story. And then I'll say to them, "Have you asked God about this"?
And they look at me like I've just asked them a question nobody should ever ask. And, "No, Pastor, that's why we're asking you". I say, "Well, why would you ask me when you haven't asked God"? I mean, God's at the top of the list. I'm way down here somewhere. Ask God. You can go right to the head of the class. Ask God. And, you know, it's a simple thing, but it's so interesting to me how many Christians there are who struggle with issues in their life, and it never dawns on them that they should ask God. The New Testament encourages us to offer these prayers. When Jesus taught his disciples the model prayer to pray, he filled it with requests, not only for ideals like the advancement of God's kingdom, but for our daily bread and our personal needs, like food and forgiveness and deliverance from evil.
The Bible says when you pray, pray for those things. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus invites us to pray prayers without holding back, and he promises those prayers will be heard and answered. James, who was the Lord's brother, tells us our failure to place our need before God explains why we do not have peace in our lives: "You have not because you do not ask". I remember preaching on Matthew 7 where it says, "Ask and it shall be given to you". Seemed like it was sort of simple, the word "ask". I thought it must be some English translation of a Greek word that was much more complicated than that. So, I looked up that word in all of the dictionaries. I looked it up in all of the translation helps that I had. And you know what I found out the word "ask" means? It means ask. That's what it means. It's a simple little word. It's a simple little word that means if you need something, ask for it.
Do you know what? Our kids don't have a problem with that. Our grandkids don't have a problem with that. I heard a story about a little boy who went to bed one night. His father was home, taking care of the kids, and his father wasn't used to the bedtime routine that most moms are pretty familiar with. So, his father was downstairs and he thought the children were in bed and he could enjoy his television program. Pretty soon, he heard his little boy at the top of the stairs, saying, "Daddy, I need a glass of water". So, he goes up there and he gets him a glass of water. A few minutes later, guess what? "Daddy, I gotta go to the bathroom". So, he goes up. And this goes on two or three times. "Daddy, I need a glass of water". Finally, the father had had it. He said, "Young man, you get yourself back in bed. Don't you let me hear your voice again. The next time I hear your voice, I'm gonna come up there and give you a licking. I'm gonna come up and give you a spanking". It was real quiet. Then he heard his little boy say, "Daddy, when you come up to give me a spanking, could you bring me a glass of water"?
I mean, you know, that's the way it is, isn't it? That's the way we are. Our kids can teach us a lot about being persistent, amen? Amen. And do you know what? They're not embarrassed. They don't have any embarrassment. God wants us to be to him as our Father as our children are to us as their father. Ask for what you need. So, the petition of the overcomer's prayer. Then let's notice the power of it. The power of the overcomer's prayer is in the next phrase. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit". What power drives our prayer? It is the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us. The Holy Spirit wrote the Word of God, and it's the same Holy Spirit who lives in your heart and lives in my heart, and because he's the one with the Father, because of this, he knows your intent when you pray. He takes your fumbling prayers and reshapes them to reveal the deepest needs that are underneath the surface of your words and presents them perfectly to the Father in heaven.
Isn't that incredible? The Bible says in Romans 8, "The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the heart knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God". When you pray, the Holy Spirit is involved. And here's the beauty of prayer. Who is prayer addressed to? To the Father. Who prays the prayer? You do. Who's in your heart? The Holy Spirit. Where does the prayer goes next? It goes to the Son of God, who is at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for the believer. Did you notice that the Holy Trinity is involved every time you pray? The Holy Spirit in you, Jesus Christ interceding, and the Father on the throne, hallelujah.
Well, let's talk about the precision of the overcomer's prayer. Here's the next phrase. I'm just teaching this verse one phrase at a time. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end". What does it mean to be watchful? Well, maybe it means to be awake. Did you ever fall asleep when you were praying? Come on, now. It's all right to be honest. I'm not telling anybody. Paul transitions from describing the Christians' armor to the subject of prayer. Notice how he retains this military imagery. He does this because we face a real enemy. To be up and awake means the battle is engaged. To be watchful means we got our eyes open. Overcomers will understand that the enemy wants to attack you with distractions and doubts and temptations so that you don't pray.
So, guard your prayer time. Keep your prayers constantly flowing. Prioritize prayer as you plan your schedule. Encourage everything that feeds and fosters your prayer life, and focus your prayers as you can. Get a plan for your prayer. Don't be willy-nilly at praying. Don't just pray whenever you feel like it, 'cause I promise you, you won't feel like it as much as you should, and then prayer doesn't get done, and when prayer doesn't get done, a lot of other things get done that shouldn't get done. But if you don't know exactly what to pray for, don't avoid prayer or hesitate to pray. Trust that the intention of your prayer will be heard and understood.
Here's what Colossians 4:2 says: "Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving". What does it mean to watch and pray? It means to take prayer seriously. Don't let it be an add-on to your life. Make it important in your life. Watch and pray. I think sometimes it also means pray and then watch for what God's gonna do when you pray. For a long time, during my sickness years ago, I was writing in my journal every day, and I would write my prayers out. And I still do that a lot. I type 'em in my computer. But you know what happens when you do that? When you write your prayers out and you go back and look at them and you watch, you see what God does when you pray.
You see, we live a fluid life. We pray over here and we forget what we prayed, then God answers. And we don't even remember that we prayed for it. Watching and praying is connecting the prayer with the answer, saying, "Lord God, I ask you..." "Look what God did". And you know what happens when you do that? It builds your faith because if you prayed here and God answered here, and you pray here, guess what? He's gonna answer here. So, watch and pray. Make prayer part of your daily routine. Make it a part of your journaling. Make it a part of the notes you keep in your little black book or your little pink book or whatever color your book is. And then notice number six: the perseverance of the overcomer's prayer. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end," and it says, "with all perseverance".
To pray effectively is to persevere, no matter how soaring or earthbound your prayers may feel. No matter how focused or failing or frantic you feel, the more you pray in all circumstances, the more you align your will with God's, which will mean more visible answers. And here's what I've done some days. I have it in my journal. "Dear Lord, I don't know where you are and I don't feel like praying today, but I know I am called to pray, so I'm going to pray the best I can. I'm going to do what you've told me to do, and I'm gonna trust that somewhere out there you're there, and maybe I'll figure this out later".
Be as honest with the Lord as you can when you pray. You know how I learned that? Have you ever read the Psalms and seen how David prayed? I mean, he prayed honestly. He prayed, "Lord, how long are you gonna wait before you answer me"? Someone once told me the Psalms all begin with a sigh and they end with a song. Isn't that true? You start out with David and he's in the dumps and you wonder, "Where in the world did this come from"? But he tells God what's in his heart. He prays honestly. He tells God he's struggling with his prayers, and then somehow, through it all, God breaks through. We can't just stop praying when it doesn't feel right to pray anymore.
I tell myself this a lot of times: "Jeremiah, you gotta soldier through, man. You gotta keep going. You gotta pray even when you don't feel like praying, 'cause if you don't pray when you don't feel like praying, there'll be a lot of times when you should pray that you don't pray", and that's what I'm saying. Be persevering in your prayer. And then the purpose of the overcomer's prayer. Here's what it says next: "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with perseverance and supplication for all the saints". Pray for all the saints. Young men and women enlist in the armed forces for different reasons, but once they're serving, their dedication to those who serve with them is one of their deepest commitments.
So it is in the Christian life. Our love for each other becomes a prime motivation for action and prayer. And this is why Paul urges us to engage in supplication for all the saints. And Jesus set the example when he prayed, "I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those who You have given Me, for they are Yours". And Paul regularly prayed for the churches he visited. He made mention of them always in his prayers. Job's three friends, remember them? They angered God with their presumptuous judgments, but we read, "The Lord restored Job's losses when he prayed for his friends". And so, when we pray for each other, everybody in the body of Christ is praying for everybody else in the body of Christ.
And although I may be praying for you instead of for myself, I don't need to worry about my needs being met, 'cause while I'm praying for you, you're praying for me. This is called reciprocal prayer. And Paul said, "Praying always for all the saints". If we all did that, we'd never have to pray much for ourselves, 'cause we'd know everybody else is praying for us and we're praying for them. How many of you know life gets so much better when you get your eyes off of you and get your eyes on God? Somebody once told me that the best definition of humility is this: Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It's just thinking of yourself less, you know?
And sometimes we need to do that, to pray in humility before God. Well, let's look at the practice of the overcomer's prayer. Are you prepared to pray effectively? Do you feel confident in your ability to pray as you should? If not, don't give up. Prayer is something you can learn. You can learn to pray. I learned to pray. Professor Don Whitney of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary offers excellent advice: "If you've ever learned a foreign language, you know that you learn it best when you actually speak it. The same is true with foreign language of prayer.
There are many good resources for learning how to pray, but the best way to learn to pray is just to pray. Just get alone in a room and pray. Sometimes it's best to pray out loud. You won't fall asleep as easy when you pray out loud. But just pray out loud to God". I heard this story of a great conductor who was walking down a street in Manhattan when someone stopped him and asked how to get to Carnegie Hall. And he said, "Practice, practice, practice. That's how you get to Carnegie Hall". And that's the way it is with prayer. The best preparation for an overcoming spiritual life is just to pray, pray, pray.
You say, "Well, my prayers aren't very pretty". God doesn't see it that way. God sees your prayers as beautiful. So, pray the best you can. You say, "Well, I'm pretty awkward at praying". When people get in a small group, usually somewhere along the way, people pray, and sometimes they have a time at the end of the small group where they have a little prayer time. So many guys, especially, who go to small group with their wife and they never prayed out loud in their lives, and the thought of it terrifies them. The thought that somebody's gonna put them under pressure in a small group, or you go around in a circle and it comes your time and you just, you don't know if you're gonna live through it. And we try to say, "Well, if you don't feel like you wanna pray, just tap your neighbor, and they'll pass you by".
But then, I have to tell you, on more than one occasion, I've had guys come and tell me like they just won the Olympics or something. "Dr. Jeremiah, I was at small group last week and I prayed out loud for the first time, and I gotta tell you, it was unbelievable. I was unbelievable". How do you pray? You just pray. Pray the best you can. "Lord, it's me". I've heard all kinds of prayers. "Lord, it's me and here I am again". And I love those prayers because they're so honest and they're so real. They haven't learned Christianese yet, so they pray in normal terms like I think God would rather have us pray. Do you get what I'm saying?
So, here's Paul's instruction to us. At the end of the armor of the believer, after he's told us we're to take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and wield it against the enemy, it's almost like he takes a step back and he says, "Oh, by the way, praying always with all prayer and supplication". Don't ever stop praying. Don't ever put prayer over here. Put prayer here in the center of your life.
After becoming England's prime minister, Winston Churchill grew concerned about the ability of his war cabinet to work effectively if Germany attacked from the air, as they were expected to do. He wanted to know how the central core of the military could function with 600 tons of bombs falling all around it. Strategists devised evacuation plans for those in power, but Churchill didn't want to flee London, so they came up with another scheme: a series of storage rooms beneath the Office of Public Works building was refitted into a top secret military command post. Located between Parliament and Number 10 Downing Street, this building was the strongest structure in the city. Workers reinforced it with additional concrete, and they installed state-of-the-art systems to make sure unimpeded communication could continue, even if London were bombed.
In May of 1940, Churchill visited his underground bunker and he declared, "This is the room from which I'll direct the war". Pointing a stubby finger at the desk, he added, "And if the invasion takes place, that's where I'm gonna sit, right there in that chair. And I'll sit there until the Germans are driven back or they carry me out dead". For the next five years, these subterranean rooms were the nerve center for the war; their existence, a tightly guarded secret. Communication flowed in and out of them in steady currents, and from here, Churchill guided the conflict, called allied leaders, and growled out his famous radio speeches to the nation. From here, Churchill had direct access to the whole world.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 6 to enter into our closets and pray to our Father in secret. And he was referring to the storage rooms in Israeli homes in the first century. In those days, houses were filled with children and animals, and there was little privacy, but most houses had a room for storing supplies. It would've been a small room, cluttered and unheated, but it was a place where you could find a few moments of peace and quiet for prayer and for the believer, Jesus said, "A humble spot like that provides direct access into the presence of God. It's a secure communications complex where prayers can be rendered and rewarded".
So, as you practice prayer, you'll find many ways to fill your life with it. Pray in the ways that come naturally, then grow and get better in your practice of prayer. Fill your life with the joyful discipline of praying without ceasing. This is how to prepare yourself for communication with your commander as you engage in life's daily battles. You're gonna go into the war tomorrow when you get back home. You're gonna face the challenges of the secular group out there that hates God, hates Jesus, and probably doesn't think too highly of you, but before you go out into that world, go down into your prayer closet. Make sure you're in contact with Almighty God, and then you don't go out there by yourself. You don't go by yourself. You go with him.