Robert Jeffress - Developing a Praying Heart
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. During my years as a pastor, and in my experience as a Christian, personally, I've noticed that it's easy to make excuses when it comes to prayer. I don't have time. God already knows what I'm going to say. Or, it won't really change anything anyway. Well today, I want to challenge that mindset and share with you four compelling reasons why we should pray. Because prayer is absolutely essential to the health of a transformed heart. My message today is titled, "Developing a Praying Heart", on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
You know Jesus said we ought to pray at all times and never to lose heart. Paul said to the Thessalonian Christians: pray without ceasing. But that's easier said than done, isn't it? The fact is we don't pray as often as we should because prayer is hard work. Romans 15:30 even the apostle Paul said, "Strive with me in prayer". That word strive, agonizomai, it means "Agonize with me in prayer". Prayer is agonizing work. Sometimes it's because it's just hard to find time to pray. In those times that you are able to spend 5 minutes praying, you have difficulty concentrating on what to pray during those 5 minutes. Your mind wanders. And deep down you wonder sometimes: does your prayer make any difference at all?
Again, you're not alone. Paul, even Jesus himself struggled at times with prayer. I think at the bottom of our lack of prayer is the question: does prayer make a difference? I mean if we God is sovereign and has a will that governs everything that happens, how could my prayer change things? And yet all of my questions about the value of prayer melt away when I look at the example of Jesus Christ. To Jesus prayer was not optional, it was absolutely necessary for his spiritual survival. And if we are going to be a disciple, a follower of Christ, one of the marks of our life is going to be to develop a praying heart - a heart that makes prayer our first response not our last resort when we run into need and difficulty.
You know we're in a series called: The Seven Marks of a Disciple, and we've said that the essence of discipleship is a changed life that comes from a transformed heart. Who is responsible for transforming our heart? Be sure to get this right: only God alone can save us and forgive us: but once we are saved he and we join together in that operation of transforming our heart. It is a joint effort between God and us. Now we're talking about seven marks of a true disciple of Christ. The first mark is what we looked at last time: a transformed heart - one that has changed. But remember in biology, maybe you remember this. Your heart has four different chambers in it. Remember that? And for your heart to function properly all four of those chambers have to be doing their job correctly.
In the same way in our spiritual heart, if we're going to have an overall healthy transformed heart, there are six chambers in our spiritual heart that have to be functioning properly to produce that transformed heart into changed life we all want. Today we're going to look at the second mark of a disciple, which is the first of those six chambers. I call it: a praying heart. A praying heart. You know Jesus talked about the importance of prayer. He showed us the importance of prayer, first of all, by his own example. Remember in Mark 1:35 we find this description of what happened one day in the Lord's life, and I take it it's something that happened every day because it was a habit with him. The Bible says, "In the early morning while it was still dark Jesus arose and went out, and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there".
Jesus started off his day while it was still dark going out by himself to pray. Jesus was working, ministering until late at night. But to Jesus prayer wasn't optional - it was the secret of his spiritual life. Jesus prays. He taught us that by example. He also taught us that by exhortation, by his teaching. Turn over to a familiar parable in Luke 18. You remember the story. There is a widow who is being cheated by one of the religious groups: they were trying to take her house away from her, take advantage of her, and so she needed protection. She couldn't afford a lawyer and so she went directly to the judge who was described as a man who neither respected God nor regarded man.
And she kept begging this judge to give her protection. He couldn't have cared less. But notice what happened, verse 4, "He said finally, 'even though I don't fear God or respect man, yet because this widow bothers me I will give her legal protection lest by continually coming she wear me out'". Then notice the application Jesus makes in verse 6, "And the Lord said to his disciples, 'hear what the unrighteous judge said. Now shall not God bring about justice for his elect who cry to him day and night and will he delay long over them'"?
Don't make the wrong application - Jesus is not saying that God is like a judge who has to have his arm twisted to do what he really doesn't want to do for our benefit. What he's saying is if an unrighteous judge who doesn't care about this woman can be moved by her persistent pleading, how much more will your Heavenly Father who loves you do for you who are his children? Jesus showed us the reason we ought to pray, both by his own life's example and by his teaching. Well, you say, why should we pray? We parents know how we answer the "Why" question: because I told you so, that's why you need to do it. God could say: you're to pray because I told you so, but actually scripture gives us four reasons that prayer ought to be a regular part of our life. First of all, the Bible teaches that prayer develops our intimacy with God. It develops our intimacy with God.
Have you discovered intimacy cannot be mandated with another person? Even with your own mate, just because you go through a wedding ceremony, you have a marriage certificate, you make certain vows and exchange rings, that doesn't mean you are instantly intimate with one another. Intimacy takes work. You have to work to achieve it. You have to work to maintain it. The same thing is true in our relationship with God. When you move away from God and you don't talk to him, there's going to be that barrier, that lack of intimacy. You know Martin Luther once said: to be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.
A second reason for praying is prayer unleashes the power of God. Prayer unleashes the power of God. Can you imagine Jesus telling this parable from Luke 18? Imagine Jesus gave a different ending to this story. Imagine that ending went like this: and the unrighteous judge responded to the woman, 'although I have no intention of protecting this widow from her adversaries, her constant pleading with me has developed our relationship'. Would that motivate you to pray? This woman keeps pleading for help and the judge says: well, I'm not going to do what you ask me to, but I sure feel a lot better about you. No, the reason she went to the judge is she wanted him to do something, and the same is true for us as well. Getting to know the judge was not the purpose of her pleading, she wanted to get the judge to act on her behalf.
And the Bible teaches that many times that is a proper motivation for praying. We want God to do something. We want God to do something that he's not going to do unless we ask. Remember James 4:2, "You have not," why? "Because you ask not". There is a connection between our asking and God answering. One commentator says it this way: the message is clear - history belongs to the intercessors who pray the future into being. I love that line: people who pray the future into being. That's why we pray. Andrew Murray said it this way: prayer is the power by which that comes to pass which otherwise would not take place.
A third reason we pray is prayer protects us with the peace of God. Prayer protects us with the peace of God. If you ever have the opportunity, I know some of you have, to go to the ancient city of Philippi, through the ruins of Philippi. They will always take you to the hole in the ground where Paul and Silas were in chains and in prison. They had been arrested for preaching the gospel. And remember in Acts 16 it says, "Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns, and the rest of the prisoners were listening". I bet they were listening. They probably thought: these guys are out of their gourd who in the world could pray and offer praise to God while they were facing what could be their execution? And of course what happened? The earthquake came, and they were suddenly released from prison.
I want to tell you the way I always understood that passage, I didn't realize I'd gotten it backwards. I got it completely backwards. Their prayer and praise was not the result of their supernatural peace, it was the cause of their supernatural peace. You know where I get that? Turn over to Philippians 6:6-7 because 10 years after that event in Philippi, Paul wrote a letter to the Philippian Christians. And you know where he wrote that letter from? It wasn't the comfort of a pastor's study, he was, once again arrested, in prison: facing what could have been the execution of his own life. He was waiting for the verdict to come down whether he was going to live or die.
Verse 6 he said, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus". Paul was saying: just as I am chained to this Roman guard who is watching over me, when you pray and talk to God instead of worrying, when you pray the peace of God will guard. That word there, that Greek word refers to a Roman sentry that Marches around something to protect it. When you pray, God's peace will March around your minds and guard your minds against worry and those what-ifs. You see it here: prayer is not the result of our peace - prayer is the cause of our peace in difficult circumstances.
Fourthly, why do we pray? Because prayer aligns our will with God's will. Prayer aligns our will with God's will. Prayer is the primary means by which God transforms our heart, specifically our will. You know the greatest battle you and I face in our life is this: is it going to be God's will or my will that gets done on earth? That's the big battle, isn't it? Am I going to follow God or am I going to follow my own inclination. A. W. Tozer said: the hard work of prayer is getting yourself into a state of mind in which you prefer the will of God over your own. You see prayer is not about getting my will done in heaven, it's about getting God's will done on earth, and specifically in my life. And that's a battle. It's a battle to get to that place where we say: I'd rather go God's way than my way. Unless you think you're the only one who struggles with that, even Jesus the perfect Son of God struggled with that.
Now, I don't understand it, God the Father, the Holy Spirit, Jesus are one, the triune of God, but I also know what Luke 22 tells us: that the place Jesus sweat great drops of blood was not when he was doing battle against the pharisees, it wasn't even on the cross, it was in that Garden of Gethsemane, the night before his crucifixion. When in Luke 22:42 he poured out his heart, said, "Father, if thou art willing, allow this experience to pass from me". At that moment Jesus' will, he didn't want to go to the cross: not just for the physical horror, but the spiritual horror of bearing the sins of the world and being alienated from his father. That's why he said: Lord, if there is any other way, take this experience from me. But then quickly after one comma, he adds, "Yet not my will, but your will be done". When we pray, the more we pray the shorter that lapse of time between our will and God's will.
One mark of a disciple is developing this praying heart, a heart at which prayer is our first response not the last resort when we face a difficult situation. In these final moments that we have together I want to talk about some practical ways - four ways - you can develop to transform your heart into a praying heart so you can experience that changed life you want to experience. Would you jot these down? These are very simple principles, but they really could revolutionize your prayer life.
Principle number one: don't complicate prayer. Don't complicate prayer. You know we get this idea if we could just come up with the right words, the right vocabulary, and use those words in the right sequence that somehow it's kind of abracadabra - we're going to make God do something he wouldn't otherwise do. The right words in the right order in the right amount of time - Jesus said: forget all of that. Matthew 6:7, "When you are praying, don't use meaningless, repetition as the gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words". Verse 8, "Don't be like them, for your father knows what you need before you ask him". He's not this distant deity that we have to coax into doing something he doesn't want to do - he loves us.
Jesus said, "You know what father among you having a son who asks for bread will give him a snake instead"? We don't do that, "And if you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father do for you"? And that's why when we pray, we ought to keep it simple, to tell God not what we think should be in our heart, but is actually in our heart. Doesn't mean God always answers the way we ask him to or at the time we think he should, but if God delays his answer or if even God says 'no,' it's not because he hates us or doesn't care about us - it's because he loves us. Keep your prayers simple.
Number two: use a pen and pad to enhance your prayer life. What do I mean by that? I mean sometimes writing out your prayer is a way to stay focused in your prayers. Well think about it, some of the most effective prayers in the Bible were written prayers. I mean the Psalms are full of prayers that David wrote out. Sometimes writing out your prayers are a great way to concentrate your prayers, and even if you don't feel comfortable doing that, at least keep a list of things that you're praying for. I've told you before I keep a prayer journal in which I record the things that I am praying for. It allows me when I'm praying and I am praying, I actually keep my eyes open and I go down that list, the things I want to talk to God about and you know what keeping a list does for you? It also not only allows you to focus, but it also allows you to record God's answers to those prayers, and some of the most encouraging moments in my life have come when I've looked back and I've seen not only what I've asked God for, but how he has answered those requests. So use that pen and pad to focus your prayers.
Number three: begin and end your day in prayer. You know how you begin a day and how you end a day really determines the success or failure of that day. Everything else is kind of fluff in between. If you want to have a successful day, begin the day, your first note in the morning is one of prayer. C. S. Lewis once observed: the moment you wake up each morning, all of your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals, and the first job of each morning consists in shoving them all back. In listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. Before your feet get out of bed and hit the floor, take a moment to talk to God, to ask him to bless your day, to pray for your family, for your church, to ask for wisdom in the decisions you're confronting that day.
Begin the day in prayer. Secondly, end the day in prayer as well. Our last thought before we drift off to sleep ought to be a prayer to God: God, thank you for the day you gave me. Lord, I acknowledge that I failed here. I'm sorry for this, I messed up here. Forgive me. Keep me and my family safe throughout the night. Awaken me in the morning and give me the desire and the ability to do your will. Our last thing we think about at night ought to be a prayer to God.
Fourthly, how do you enhance your prayer life? Redeem those random moments in your life. Redeem those random moments with prayer. I don't know if your life is like mine - I imagine it is. It seems like you're constantly going from one thing to another thing, one meeting to another meeting, one assignment to another assignment: but there is always that in-between time when you're driving, when you're waiting in line at the supermarket, or at the post office: and we take those in between times, and many times we just fritter them away. We think: well this isn't important time, what's important is that next big thing I'm doing: and yet we can use that in between time, redeem it, and use it for good: specifically for prayer. Turn that into a habit.
You know, Friday, Friday morning I was in D.C. I was walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, and I started reminiscing. I was taking a little stroll down memory lane in my mind. And I thought to myself: why am I doing this? I've got 5 minutes I could be talking to God. I was able to take 5 minutes and redeem that random time. If we do that, that's the way we develop a healthy prayer life.
Thomas Kelly once said: there is a way of ordering your mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeking, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs, but deep within behind the scenes at a more profound level we may also be in prayer, adoration, song and worship, and a gentle receptivity to divine breathings. And therein is the secret to develop what I'm calling this praying heart, and here's the secret: the more we pray, the more we want to pray. The more we develop that prayer muscle and pray, the more we find ourselves praying.
You know I read about a famous Hollywood actress who was walking down the red carpet to a gala event, and she fainted. Collapsed right there. All the press got around her, other people, and she quickly came to. Somebody said: what happened? She laughed and she said: I forgot to breathe. Forgot to breathe? How stupid is that? No more stupid than forgetting to pray.