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John Bradshaw - Effective Prayer


John Bradshaw - Effective Prayer
John Bradshaw - Effective Prayer
TOPICS: Prayer

This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. I’m in Moldova, a little country in Eastern Europe sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine. It’s a quarter of the size of the state of Tennessee, has the population of the state of Connecticut, about three and a half million people. For 50 years, Moldova was a Soviet socialist republic. It was under communist rule as part of the Soviet Union. But a remarkable thing happened, the most significant political change of the 20th century. And it affected the life of every person here.

As far as European communism went, the winds of change really began to blow in the 1980s. In Poland, the solidarity movement, led by Lech Walesa, called for a series of strikes which crippled that country’s economy. In Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Romania, governments came under pressure to roll back the oppressive restrictions of communism. In previous times, the Soviet Union’s response would have been swift and severe. But this time things would be different. On November the tenth, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. It was a serpentine, 12-feet-tall, 100-mile-long barrier that separated West Germany from communist East Germany. East Germans celebrated, and that falling domino set off a chain reaction that led to the dissolution of communism in Eastern Europe. And by the time the dust had settled, the Soviet Union was no more.

But the story many people haven’t heard is how the fall of communism had less to do with Lech Walesa and protest and more to do with prayer. In 1982, in the city of Leipzig, a Protestant pastor named Christian Fuhrer began holding Monday evening prayer meetings in his church, St. Nicholas Church. Pastor Fuhrer conducted those prayer meetings in spite of the East German government’s strong opposition to religious activities. So the government pushed back, saying they’d do whatever they had to to stop what had morphed from simple prayer meeting to peaceful protests. But on October the 9th, 1989, eight thousand people gathered in the church, and another seventy thousand people massed in the streets outside. In the end, the government let them protest. The BBC later reported that East German officials said that they were ready for anything at all, except candles and prayer.

Exactly one month after that historic night, the wall came down. And so too did a whole series of atheistic dictatorships. So while there were certainly other factors involved, it can’t be denied that prayer played an incredibly important role in bringing about in East Germany and throughout Eastern Europe an incredible change, which not long before would have been completely unimaginable. So what’s the secret to effective prayer? Can anyone learn to pray effectively? Or do you have to be specially qualified to get your prayers answered?

It seems to me a former Soviet socialist republic is a pretty good place to ask, and then try to answer those questions. So what is prayer? A dictionary will tell you that prayer is a petition to, or communion with, God or another object. Now, for the purpose of this discussion, we’ll limit ourselves to the idea of praying to God. Someone once said that prayer is the opening up of the heart to God as to a friend. Now, God has asked that we pray. And He’s promised that He’ll answer our prayers. Now, listen to this: it’s Second Chronicles 7, verse 14. Solomon has just dedicated the temple to God. It’s in the tenth century B.C. And God spoke to Solomon and said this: "If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land". The Sovereign of the universe says, "I will answer your prayers".

And you notice He makes it nice and simple. There are very few conditions involved. God simply says that if you come to Him humbly, and if you turn away from sin, He will hear and answer your prayers. Now, over in the New Testament, we read this in First John, chapter 5, verses 14 and 15: "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him". John, the man who wrote the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation, a man who spent three and a half years as one of Jesus’ closest friends, says that if you pray, you can know that God hears you, and in knowing that He hears you, you can be confident that He will grant your petitions. Now, that has to be one of the most remarkable things ever written. So, how do you go about praying in a way that you can be certain your prayers will be answered? Tell you that in just a moment.

This is It Is Written. Thanks for joining me. The first prayer in the Bible appears in the third chapter of Genesis. The last prayer in the Bible is in Revelation, chapter 22, in the second last verse of the Bible, where John rights, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus". God wants us to pray. He wants to communicate with us. So how do you pray effectively? What’s the secret? I’ve come to Orheiul Vechi, a fascinating place about an hour from Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. Until 1991, Moldova was a communist land, part of the Soviet Union. Most people don’t know how significant a part prayer played in bringing about the end of communism. And this historic little place gives us an opportunity to reflect on prayer. They say the medieval town was built here around 700 years ago. Mongol invaders came through a little after that.

And then there was a time of peace under kings such as Alexander the Kind and Stephen the Great. There was a palace here at one time. Governors lived here. There was a mosque and a minaret from which the call to prayer was made. Ruins of an old Christian church can be seen. And today, there’s still a monastery here. The cave monastery goes back hundreds of years. It can’t have been easy to build. Monasteries are places of reflection. Some have been built in the unlikeliest of settings. In most every monastery, prayer is high on the list of priorities. Here at Orheiul Vechi, the monastery is run by the Eastern Orthodox Church. Monks actually used to stay in these little cells, once upon a time. Considering that the temperatures here can be absolutely frigid, that’s really something. It’s not unusual for monks, or others who live in a monastery, to withdraw from the world and give themselves over to working, to reading the Bible, and to prayer. You don’t see a monastic life modeled or recommended in the Bible.

Now, it’s true there were times that people came aside for periods of spiritual devotion. But they were connected to active ministry for others. The six weeks or so that Jesus spent in the wilderness after his baptism were immediately prior to the beginning of his active earthly ministry. In Mark 6 and verse 31, Jesus said to his disciples, "Come apart by yourselves into a deserted place and rest a while". Jesus could see they needed rest. They needed time with him to be strengthened for the ministry he called them to. Does God hear prayers prayed in a monastery any more clearly than he hears prayers prayed in the middle of a bustling city? Does God hear the prayers of a monk or a priest or a minister any more clearly than he hears the prayers of a construction worker or a taxi driver? Absolutely not. The key to successful prayer is...to pray. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you are: if you’ll pray, God will hear your prayers.

Now, there’s a common mistake that far too many people make when it comes to prayer, and that is thinking that prayer is all about getting. Now, it’s true, when you come to God in prayer, it’s okay to do your fair share of asking. But prayer is so much more than coming to God with a shopping list. Prayer is communion. It’s communication. It’s spending time in God’s presence so that you and God are on the same wavelength, so that God’s thoughts become your thoughts, and so that you are strengthened to live a Christian life in the very center of the will of God. I got an email a couple of days ago from somebody asking about a difficult temptation he was facing. As a matter of fact, he said it was beating him and he was feeling crushed, and he couldn’t get the victory over a certain sin. And in that email he said, "But I don’t read my Bible, and I don’t pray".

Well, ladies and gentlemen, there it is. He wasn’t praying. So of course he was being defeated. If he had prayed, well, he might not have got that shiny red truck that he was wanting, for example, but he would have been strengthened to meet the trials that were coming into his life. Prayer would have made the difference. Now, while it’s a good thing to pray in a peaceful place, it’s good to get away from it all, it’s good to be someplace that you’re not going to be bothered, what you need to know is how you can pray wherever you are and still be heard by God.

There’s no special place that you must pray in order to be heard. You can pray anywhere at all and anytime. Prayer is where your desires become molded to the will of God. In fact, prayer is more about you trying to find out what God’s will is on something, rather than trying to bend God to suit your will. And prayer is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. You can pray all you want, but your dog might still die and you might still lose your job. But if you pray, you’ll be strengthened to meet the trials life brings your way. So how’s your prayer life? God is waiting to hear and answer your prayers. I’ll be back with more in just a moment.

Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. People come to monasteries like this one in Moldova to pray. Prayer is fundamental to the Christian experience. In fact, you cannot really call yourself a genuine believer in God without habitual, personal prayer. Prayer is where your mind meets with the mind of God. Prayer is like breathing the air God breathes. It’s like downloading God’s thoughts into your own. Now, remember Psalm 66, verse 18, which says, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear". Now, that does not mean that God doesn’t hear the prayers of sinners. If that were true, none of us would be heard. But what it does mean is that if we choose to cling to sin, and refuse to surrender it to God, we’re really telling God that we’re just not serious about his will being done in our life.

As John Bunyan, who wrote "The Pilgrim’s Progress," said, "In prayer a heart without words is better than words without a heart". Consider the Lord’s Prayer with me. It’s the model prayer given in the Bible. The disciples came to Jesus in Matthew, chapter 6, and they said, "Lord, teach us to pray". And what prompted them to make that request was what Jesus had been talking about immediately prior to this. Jesus warned them against praying like the hypocrites, who prayed so that other people would see their religious devotion. Now that word, hypocrites, is translated from a word that means an actor. Insincere prayers, just acting the part, aren’t getting anyone anywhere. He went on to say in Matthew 6, verse 6, "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly".

Private prayer should be private. When you’re pouring out your heart to God about what’s nearest to you, you want to have a place to go to pray that’s your own space. That’s important. And notice that Jesus in that passage suggested that God will answer your prayers. You find that thought expressed all the way through the Bible. In the next verse, Jesus said there’s no place in prayer for what He referred to as vain repetition. That’s saying the same prayer over and over and over again. You see, when it comes to prayer, what God wants us to know is that prayer is a meeting of minds and hearts. God wants to hear what’s on your heart. He wants to hear from you in communication about what’s important to you. Simply regurgitating a learned prayer doesn’t really constitute true prayer. I’ll give you a case in point.

In my life I must have prayed the Lord’s Prayer, oh, thousands of times. Because as a child we were taught to pray that prayer over and over and over, and again and again and again. But think about it. You’d be far better off praying that prayer once, and thinking about it, and reflecting on it, really getting something out of the experience, than you would saying that prayer a hundred times without giving it any thought. And then Jesus said in Matthew 6, verse 9, "In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name". Now, who are you praying to? You’re praying to your Father. And that ought to give you confidence and assurance. And involved in that little phrase Jesus taught was the idea of praise. You’re to praise God when you pray. Praise Him for who He is, for what He is, for what He’s done, for what He means to you. Just that can keep you busy praying for quite a while.

Verse 10: "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven". We’re to pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, the setting up of His eternal kingdom when Jesus returns. You see, prayer focuses your mind on the important things on the big picture. And notice we’re to pray that God’s will is done. Now, you and I both know that we don’t always see our prayers answered the way we wish they were. And maybe that’s because God knows you don’t really need a raise right now. Or you can actually get by without fine weather this weekend. And that’s fine. But what about when your child doesn’t recover from cancer, or Dad doesn’t come back from the hospital? What then? Well, the fact is, that’s life. That’s life in this sinful world.

Now, it’s not God’s will that children should suffer or that parents should die. That’s not God’s will at all. But what is God’s will is that you’re saved into His eternal kingdom, that you spend eternity with God. And people who spend eternity with God are people who’ve learned to say, like Job said, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him". Now, we don’t always get what we want. Our prayers aren’t always answered the way we wish. But we can trust God anyway, and say, "Thy will be done". Matthew 6:11, "Give us this day our daily bread". God wants us to ask Him for what we need and for what we want. But we need to remember, God’s not Santa Claus. He knows what’s best for us in every situation as He considers the big picture. But He does want us to pray big prayers. John Knox, the great Scottish reformer, didn’t just pray for the salvation of a family member or a neighbor. He prayed to God and said, "Give me Scotland or I die". He prayed for the salvation of a country.

In Second Kings, chapter 13, a king came to the prophet Elisha. Elisha said to him, "Strike the ground," which the king did, three times. Elisha was upset. He said, "If you had pounded on the ground five or six times, God would have given you complete deliverance from Syria. But you only pounded on the ground three times". You see, God understood the king’s timidity in striking the ground as an expression of a lack of faith. God wanted to do more for the king. And often God wants to do more for you. Pray big prayers. Now, if you’re praying for a bigger house and a nicer car, well, you want to be careful about that. Sometimes that might be appropriate, but far too often it’s just greed or ego. But do pray big prayers, really big prayers, and know that God is big enough to answer them. In verse 12, the model prayer goes on: "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors".

First, it’s important to pray for forgiveness. If you’ve sinned against God and you have, then confess that sin. John wrote directly about this in First John 1, verse 9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". There’s your assurance right there that God will forgive your sins. That’s settled. Don’t doubt that. But notice that caveat "as we forgive our debtors". So how’s that working out for you? If you harbor unforgiveness toward others, you’re essentially begging God not to forgive you. Pretty simple. Verse 13: "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen".

Your battle with sin, your temptations, your struggles, that’s all material for prayer. Talk to God about it. Appeal to God. Wrestle with God. Paul prayed about healing three times, and then God told him to pray about that no more. But as the great man of faith George Muller said, "The great point of prayer is never to give up until the answer comes". Amen. So today, little Moldova is a free country. You could create a politics for that. Or you could recognize that God on His throne hears the prayers of those who pray. Pastor Christian Fuhrer said, "Without the church, it would have been like all other revolutions before: bloody and unsuccessful". He could have said, without prayer. What would your life be like without prayer? Or should I be asking, what would your life be like with prayer? Take time to pray. God is waiting to hear from you.

Let’s pray together now:

Our Father in heaven, we thank You today for the privilege of prayer. I thank You that you are a prayer-answering God, and that You are willing, eager to do in answer to prayer those things that You have placed on our heart. Father, right now I know there’s someone needing a miracle. This man, this woman, this young person, needs to see You intervene in a powerful way. We are praying for this. We know that Jesus has said, "Ask and it shall be given," and we are asking. He said, "Seek and you will find". We are seeking through prayer. So, Lord, grant our heart’s need. Grant what You know would be best for us in the plan of salvation and in the overall flow of eternity. And, Father, I’m praying right now for that one who needs to give his or her heart to You. I pray for surrender. I pray for conversion. I pray for salvation in so many lives. So we praise You and honor You, and again we thank You that You hear us, and that You act in our behalf. And we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

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