David Jeremiah - Pray: Consult Your Creator
In 1909 young Leonora Wood volunteered to go to the Appalachian Mountains to teach in a one-room mission school. There, in the impoverished town of Del Rio, Tennessee, she became something of a living legend, thanks to her commitment to prayer. Leonora knew how to turn dreams into prayer, and prayer into dreams. Raymond Thomas was a foster teen who often stopped at Leonora's cabin in his knee-high clodhoppers and talked with her as she sat on the front porch, shelling peas or darning socks. Raymond's seemingly impossible dream was to go to college. "But how could I manage it?" he said, "I haven't got any money. I don't have any prospects. I've not saved anything". "Raymond", Leonora replied, "whatever you need, God has the supply ready for you. The money will be there for any dream that's right for you, every dream for which you're willing to work".
Raymond asked Leonora to offer a dreaming prayer for him and her prayer went like this: "Father, you've given Raymond a fine mind. We believe that you want Raymond's potential to be used to help you lift and lighten some portion of your world. Since all the wealth of the world is yours, please help Raymond find everything he needs for an education". Raymond Thomas did make it through college in four years, working 12 jobs to support himself and graduating with a bachelor of science degree cum laude.
He also served in World War II and later settled in Vienna where he earned a PhD in physics. He went on to visit 60 countries, master multiple languages, and network with some of the most important people in Europe through his job with the US Atomic Energy Program. Looking back on his life, Raymond said, "The fact that I could dream of going to college and achieve it proved something to me. Very simply, any right dream can be realized and prayer helps you know if it's right and gives you the power to stay with it". In other words, listen carefully: the way forward is to pray forward.
I think that's what Nehemiah would say too. He was one of the most effective leaders in the Bible, and his story unfolds in the Old Testament book that bears his name. Executives and entrepreneurs study his book endlessly because of the leadership lessons that are found in it. Nehemiah was a Jewish official, serving the Persian king in the city of Sousa, a thousand miles from Jerusalem. The Babylonians had destroyed Israel and Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and several thousand Hebrew settlers had gone back to rebuild the temple and reestablish a Jewish presence there. This was a deep burden for Nehemiah. He knew God's plan of redemption depended on the continuity of his people in their land. He understood that it was a matter of heartfelt prayer to make this happen.
One day, Nehemiah's brother and a few other men arrived from Jerusalem with this grim message: "The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire". This news hit Nehemiah like a blast. Slumping into his chair, he started sobbing, but out of his deep tears came earnest prayers and out of his prayers came a fervent dream. With God's help, Nehemiah would return to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls of the ancient city of his God. It seemed an impossible feat because Nehemiah was the king's cupbearer and a trusted advisor. The likelihood of King Artaxerxes releasing him, let alone financing the trip, seemed very far-fetched. But God, he'd already planted the dream in Nehemiah's heart just as he is planting fresh dreams in your heart today.
So you have to prepare your heart for God's plan. God's desires flourish in prepared hearts, just like seeds in a fertile ground. In the last message, I urged you to imagine your future. If you're saying, "Yeah, I wanna do that", but you're not certain what your dream is or what the next step forward is, then prayer is where you should start. Nehemiah saw a need that burdened his heart and he started to pray about it. I've studied the book of Nehemiah many times and there are two verses that tell us something about dreams, not the kind you have at night but the kind that guide you forward. Notice these two telling phrases: Nehemiah claimed that "God put it in my heart to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem". Later, he said: "My God put it in my heart to organize the people".
Nehemiah didn't come up with his dream for Jerusalem's wall by himself. His heart was receptive to the impressions God sent him. Let me tell you what I've learned. A prayerful heart is fertile ground for divine ideas. How can you be sure the dream in your heart is God's will and not yours? Well, you must humbly and specifically ask God to place his ideas for your life into your heart and mind. You do that through prayer. You pray and you ask the Lord to help you be sensitive to what he's telling you to do. And then you pray about the plans that he gives you day and night. No matter the hour or circumstances, pray. As God begins to give you impressions and thoughts about your future, continue to pray. Commit them to him in serious ongoing prayer.
And as soon as Nehemiah sensed the need for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, listen, he sat down and he wept and he mourned for many days and he was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. As his thoughts clarified and he better understood what needed to happen, he wrote out an earnest prayer. It's preserved for us in the book that bears his name. Here it is: "I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, you who keep your covenant and mercy with those who love you and observe your commandments, please let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, that you may hear the prayer of your servant which I pray before you now, day and night".
Nehemiah went on to confess his sins and those of his people. He reminded God of the biblical promises involving the children of Israel and he ended by saying, "O Lord, I pray, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who desire to fear your name; and let your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man". Who was this man? Oh, it was King Artaxerxes, the most powerful man on the earth. And even though Nehemiah was his cupbearer, he couldn't approach the king without risking his life. Only God could arrange the right moment, so Nehemiah prayed.
E.M. Bounds was a 19th century pastor who wrote a powerful book on the subject of prayer. I've read many of his books. Every page is kind of convicting so I can only read them in small doses, but E.M. Bounds called prayer, "spiritual energy". Here's what he wrote. He said, "What great things are accomplished by this divinely appointed means of grace? It brings things to pass which would never otherwise occur". Bounds said that "the story of prayer is the story of great achievements. Prayer is a wonderful power, placed by Almighty God in the hands of his people which may be used to accomplish great purposes and achieve unusual results". The Bible says it this way: "The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results".
Prayer is the divine energy that brings the power of God into the plans that he's given you. I don't know any short cut for this. God guides his children as they learn the joy of praying to him night and day. So prepare your heart for God's plan and pray about your plans day and night and then learn to practice spontaneous prayer. It's wonderful to have a leisurely hour on the patio for Bible study and prayer or to engage in a special extended time in prayer with friends at church, asking God for his favors. But sometimes, you have to pray instantly. Sometimes, you have to pray urgently, on the spur of the moment, and it's good to know that the Lord hears those prayers as well.
I urge you to learn to pray quickly, silently, and instantly. No one in the Bible mastered that skill better than Nehemiah. His book is peppered with short little prayers that were injected into his narrative. He knew how to pray spontaneously. For example, one day the king wanted a glass of wine so Nehemiah prepared it and here is Nehemiah 2:1-2: "I took the wine and I gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in the presence of the king before, and so the king said to me, 'Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart'".
Now, a little interpretation here. Nehemiah knew these words could have reflected genuine concern or they could have been his death sentence. Believe it or not, in that day it was a capital offense to be sad in the presence of the king. So watch carefully what Nehemiah did. He senses the urgency of the moment, verses 2 through 5: "So I became dreadfully afraid, and I said to the king", good move, "'May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?' And then the king said to me, 'What do you request'"? Now watch this. "So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, 'If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers, that I may rebuild it'".
I'm sure you noticed, here's the phrase: "I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king". In the twinkling of an eye, Nehemiah had his opportunity but he had to say exactly the right thing in the right way to move the king to his cause. His life was on the line, not to mention the desires of his heart. It was critical for him to speak wisely and for the king to react positively so Nehemiah shot up an arrow to heaven. Maybe it was just, "Help, Lord, help". Most of us know that prayer. We've prayed it on occasion. The Lord answered and soon Nehemiah was on his way to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. When you know how to earnestly pray day and night, then you will find out there's great power in spontaneous prayer as well.
One fateful day back in 2001, Lieutenant Colonel Dan Hooton was working on the first floor in the C Ring of the Pentagon. That's sort of in the middle of the building. He was preparing for a 10 o'clock meeting when a co-worker came into his office with news that the World Trade Center was on fire in New York. Hooton went to his boss's office where the television was on. He watched events unfold, then had a feeling down deep that he should get up and return to his own office. Along the way, he stopped to talk to someone in a nearby cubicle and suddenly, the whole room burst into flames. And Hooton was thrown 20 feet forward. His left leg was pinned to the floor beneath rubble and the walls were on fire. He yelled for his co-worker but heard no response.
He recalls, "At that moment, I said a short prayer, asking God to show me the way out". He pried his leg loose and saw some light in the distance and, crawling through an opening, he found he was trapped again and the room was full of smoke and so were his lungs. He said, "The room was like an oven and, at that moment, I thought I was going to die of smoke inhalation". He climbed over more rubble, saw a hand reaching out to him, and at once he was on the helicopter pad outside the Pentagon. He began helping others, not realizing he was bleeding from multiple shrapnel wounds. When he shares his story now, he credits his survival to God answering his simple words, "God, show me a way out".
Did you know that God answers prayers like that? When you're in the midst of following your dream and God has given you a plan and you're on your way to the goal, sometimes there are problems. There's no such thing as life without any challenges. There's the old statement that says: "If there's no friction, there's no traction". Every major dream I have ever had, everything God has ever done in my life, has been fraught with trouble and often, in the midst of it, you have to pray, "Lord, help me. Help me to know what to do. I don't know what to do but my eyes are on you".
So prepare your heart for God's plan, through prayer. Pray about your plans day and night, practice spontaneous, momentary prayer, and here's number four: prepare for God to do things his way. As God drops his seeds of aspiration into your mind and you pray over them, whether in quiet, extended prayer or quick, in-the-moment prayer, you're gonna have to learn to trust him for his own brand of success. You have to expect him to do things his way. Proverbs 16:3 says: "Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans". The word "commit" means to trust. God can be trusted with your dreams, to divulge them, develop them, sometimes delay them, and always drench them with his blessings.
So you have to understand God opens doors and he closes doors. He arranges circumstances and sometimes he creates trajectories you didn't even expect. In Nehemiah's case, the king granted him letters of safe conduct through the empire, along with provisions for the walls and the gates. Nehemiah said, "And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me". And Artaxerxes sent a military convoy to accompany Nehemiah to Jerusalem because the Jews had a lot of enemies in Judah. When Nehemiah got into Jerusalem, Nehemiah wanted to keep his dream a secret until it was time to rally the Jews, so he saddled his horse in the darkness and inspected the ruins of the city by moonlight.
And the next day, he gathered the people and he said, "'You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste and its gates are burned with fire? Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem that we may no longer be a reproach,' and I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me". Nehemiah declared with confidence: "The God of heaven will help us". I believe with all of my heart that the God of heaven will grant success to his children who seek for his will in their lives. Remember, success doesn't mean health, wealth, fame, or fortune. When God uses the term "success", it means the fulfillment of his plan for your life. And you have to trust him, however that unfolds, if you want to move forward.
So prepare your heart for God's plan, pray about your plans day and night, practice spontaneous prayer, and prepare for God to do things his way. And then I want to add this: plead for overcoming strength in overwhelming moments. Have you had any overwhelming moments lately? If you're praying your way through what God wants you to do, that doesn't mean you won't have any trouble, that doesn't mean you won't have any problems.
The devil will hurl his forces against God's unfolding work in your life, but let me tell you something, friends. Don't be bullied. Don't be intimidated. Never let yourself be discouraged. The devil will try to push you off the road but the one to whom you pray is the one before whom the devils tremble. God will give you overcoming strength for overwhelming moments. That's what he did for Nehemiah and, get this, he and the residents of Jerusalem finished the wall in 52 days. They rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 52 days. Only God could have done that. Believe me, you can't go forward in life without drenching every step in prayer.
One of the greatest ships of all time was the RMS Mauretania, built in 1906. It had a distinguished career, captured the world record for crossing the Atlantic, served the British Navy during World War I, and even today, many of the furnishings of the Mauretania are woven into the interiors of some of the world's most exclusive buildings. Hidden away in history is this interesting fact: The Mauretania was built by prayer. The naval architect who constructed it would not put in a single piece of that great ship without definitely asking God to help him, and he would not receive any part of the machinery without having the consciousness that it had to be received from divine acceptance. Thus the greatest ship in the world has been built by making prayer a working principle of life.
So let me ask you to do that. Make a working principle in your life your prayer. Ask God for overcoming strength in overwhelming moments. Go forward in his power. Remember, it's not your dream God wants, it's you. Then could I just add this final kind of postscript to all of this? Praise God for what he does. You have one more opportunity to make prayer a part of your future. You have the privilege of praising God for his work in your life. Nehemiah and the Jews in Jerusalem finished the walls so quickly they had time on their hands so what's next? Well, let's have a Bible conference. With the security of a walled city, the Jewish settlers felt safe going about their lives and, furthermore, one section of the wall near the water gate formed like a new public square.
So the word went out. All the people are to come to the water gate and Ezra the priest stood on a platform built for the occasion and he praised the God of heaven, and the crowd lifted their hands upward and shouted, "Amen, amen". And when the wall was dedicated, great choirs marched along the parapets leading in worship and "on that day, they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off". There's not anything in the world like the joy of watching God form and fulfill his plans for your life. And it only happens as we step toward our dreams in his presence through prayer.
I began this message by telling you about the inimitable Leonora Wood. Let me end with a special prayer composed by her daughter, Catherine Marshall. This prayer was inspired by her mother and was included in Marshall's book, "Adventures in Prayer". Both Catherine and Leonora are in heaven now, but I'm sure they'll be thrilled if you make their prayer your prayer. Here it is:
Father, once, it seems so long ago now, I had such big dreams, so much anticipation of the future. Now, no shimmering horizon beckons me. My days are lackluster. Where is your plan for my life, Father? You have told us that without vision we perish, so, Father in heaven, knowing that I can ask in confidence, what is your expressed will to give me? I ask you to deposit in my mind and heart the particular dream, the special vision, you have for my life. And along with the dream, will you give me whatever graces and patience and stamina it takes to see the dream through to fruition? I sense that this may involve adventures I have not bargained for, but I want to trust you, God. I want to trust you enough to follow, even if you lead along new paths. So, Lord, if you have to break down any prisons of mine before I can see the stars and catch the vision, then, Lord, begin the process now. In joyous expectation, amen.
And I guess I would say to you as they would say to you, "I dare you to pray that prayer. I dare you to bring God into your life and make him the focus of what you do and who you are. He's your Creator and when he gives you a dream, you have to consult with your Creator and he will lead you to the realization of everything God puts in your heart to do, amen".