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Robert Jeffress - Prayer That Really Works


Robert Jeffress - Prayer That Really Works
TOPICS: Prayer That Really Work, Prayer

Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. As God's children we've been granted unlimited access to the throne room with the ability to place our request before God through prayer, and yet many Christians fail to realize the power and significance of this immense privilege. Well, whether you feel like God leaves your prayers unanswered or maybe you're not even sure what to say in the first place, I want to help you unlock the power of prayers in your life. My message is titled "Prayers That Really Work" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.

One of the greatest scandals in evangelical Christianity today is the fact that churches that believe in the inspiration of scripture that believe in the importance from reading the Bible and praying, those kind of churches are filled with Christians who don't do much of either. Let's look at our own church for a moment. We have a history here, 140 years of wonderfully standing on our belief in the inerrancy, inspiration, infallibility of the Bible. We say we believe that. We're willing to fight for that belief, but how much time did you spend this past week actually reading the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God? Or to the subject more in hand this morning, this subject of praying. We all say we believe that prayer is absolutely vital to maintaining our relationship with God. We believe that. And yet I think most of us today would be embarrassed to admit how little time we've spent this past week talking to our Heavenly Father.

Why is that? Why is it we say one thing that we believe in the importance of prayer but truthfully we pray so little? Perhaps my friend, Max Sanders, had it right when he wrote, "Most of us don't pray as much as we feel we should not because we were unwilling, but because we're uncertain how to pray, and don't understand why our prayers aren't answered more consistently". It's frustrating to keep doing something that you're not sure is working. How can you learn to pray effectively? How can you use prayer as the means to deepen your intimacy with your Heavenly Father? How can you tap into an experience God's supernatural power in your life? We're going to answer those questions in a brand new series we're beginning today, "Prayers that really work". And the basis for this series is perhaps the most famous prayer in history. It's a prayer found in Matthew chapter six. It's the prayer that we commonly call the Lord's prayer.

So if you have your Bibles this morning, I want you to open to Matthew chapter six. Now this prayer in Matthew six, is a part of a sermon Jesus preached, the most famous prayer in history. We call it the Sermon on the Mount. And in this sermon Jesus is basically rocking the world of the pharisees. He's talking about the Kingdom of God, and what he is doing is he's showing how the true coming Kingdom of God is absolutely opposite what the pharisees thought it would be. And Jesus turns the pharisees' expectations upside down. He talks about all kind of subjects, even dealing with worship. In Matthew six, he talks about the subject of giving, the subject of fasting. And for the pharisees, giving and fasting was more for show than it was for spirituality. But Jesus spent a bulk of his time addressing the subject of prayer in this chapter.

Why is it? Why did Jesus spend most of the Sermon on the Mount talking about the subject to prayer? Listen to this, for Jesus prayer wasn't optional, it was essential to his life and to his ministry. I want you to think about this. Jesus Christ was equal with God the Father and yet he felt it necessary to pray. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. He was absolutely sinless, and yet he prayed. Jesus performed a miracle after miracle and yet he prayed. Jesus Christ was absolutely devoted to making prayer the foundation of his life. It's because he knew prayer was essential. Now listen to this, folks. If Jesus Christ, the Son of God, sinless, perfect, worker of miracles, if Jesus Christ felt it absolutely necessary to make prayer a priority in his life, how much more essential is prayer for people like you and me?

Most of us treat prayer like an oxygen mask. Most of us go through our hours, our days, sometimes weeks without even thinking or talking to God. Nevertheless, we like to know prayers there and it's available to us just in case we get in trouble, just in case our backs rub against the wall, then we can yank, pull, and place that oxygen mask on our face and begin talking to God. But listen to this. Jesus said prayer is not so much like an oxygen mask, it's like oxygen itself. It's what keeps us alive. Satan isn't so much against your praying: what he wants to do is to corrupt, to twist, to pollute your prayer life. Think about this: the two single greatest battles Jesus ever had with Satan occurred while Jesus was on his knees praying to God. Do you realize that? Two greatest times of conflict with Satan occurred during Jesus' prayer time. Once while he was in the wilderness being tempted by Satan, the other the night before he died in the Garden of Gethsemane. Don't be surprised that Jesus wants to guard us against corruption in our prayer life.

And so what he does beginning in verse six or verse five, he shares with us two things, two errors we need to guard against in our praying. He says, "First of all, guard against hypocrisy when you pray". Look at verse five. "When you pray," and isn't it interesting, he doesn't say, "If you pray". To Jesus it was beyond his imagination that Christians would do anything but pray. He says, "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites". Now underline that word "Hypocrites". What's a hypocrite? When we think of a hypocrite, we think of somebody who says one thing and does another, don't we? That's our understanding of a hypocrite. But that's not exactly an act or a picture. The word in Greek here translated hypocrite referred to an actor on a stage. In Greek drama, the hypocrite was the one who wore a mask and played a particular part. An actor on the stage was performing actions. He was speaking words that were not his own, he was simply playing a role. He was playing someone else in his speech and actions. And that's what a hypocrite is.

A hypocrite is somebody who is playing a part. He's playing like someone he is not. So Jesus said, "When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites". Don't just simply be playing a role. Of course he had in mind here of the pharisees. How did they pray? Jesus said in verse five, "For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners". That's how pharisees pray. They stand. Though there's nothing wrong with standing. Throughout the Bible, people stood when they prayed. Sometimes they knelt when they prayed like we do here. Sometimes they were prostrate on the ground when they prayed. There's nothing wrong with standing per SE. He said they stand in the synagogues. Again, nothing wrong with praying in the synagogue. The synagogue were the local places of worship when people couldn't travel to the temple. Nothing wrong with praying in the synagogue. Said, "And they pray on the street corners".

That word translated street corners refers to not just some side street but a wide boulevard where there were lots of people, a busy intersection. The Jews prayed at nine and 12 and three in the afternoon. And many times they might find themself in the middle of the street at nine, 12, or three. If you find yourself in the middle of a busy street, you ought to pray: pray as quickly as you can. "Nothing wrong with that," Jesus said. Now what was the problem? It wasn't their location in praying, it was their motivation in praying. Why did they do this? Look, in order that they might be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their rewards in full. Now Jesus said, "When you pray," look at verse six, this is how you're to do it, "But when you pray, go into your inner room, close your room, and pray to your father who is in secret, and your father who sees what is done in secret will reward you".

Now some people take these words literally and they use it as an excuse for not praying in public. Now they don't understand that when Jesus spoke many times he used hyperbole, exaggeration to make his point. He wasn't saying, "Don't ever pray in public". In fact, look at the Bible, there are many times that the Bible commands and commends public praying. Solomon prayed publicly when he dedicated the temple. Nothing wrong and everything right with doing that. Jesus prayed publicly before he fed the 5.000. In acts 12, we find the early church meeting together and praying publicly. In 1 Timothy 2, Paul talks about how we're to pray publicly. There's nothing wrong with praying publicly. What Jesus is concerned with is not our location, but our motivation in praying. Now let me add this, when we do pray in public, we need to be very careful about our motive in praying publicly. It's very easy to start praying for the ears of other people who are listening and trying to impress them with our spirituality rather than praying for God.

D.L. Moody said it this way, he said, "Keep your public prayers short and your private prayers long". Yeah, guard against hypocrisy. You're not playing a part to show how spiritual you are when you pray. And secondly, notice what he says, "Guard against ritualism". Guard against ritualism. William Barclay notes that the Jews had 18 different prayers that they would pray by rote according to the particular situation. I think that's what Jesus had in mind in verses seven and eight when he said, "When you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them, for your father knows what you need before you ask him". This word translated meaningless repetition literally is the word "Babble". How did the gentiles pray? They babble. They use spiritual mumbo jumbo when they pray. They think if they can pray long enough and loud enough, somehow they're going to make God listen and answer their request.

Lot of people today pray that way. The Buddhist, for example, spin wheels containing written prayers thinking that's how a prayer will be answered. Other faiths lights candles thinking that lighting the candles causes your prayers to ascend before the face and the ears of God. Other people, Christians chant words over and over again, or they pray as long as they can thinking if they just pray long enough, maybe God will answer. Jesus said, "Don't do that". Don't pray like the gentiles pray, with meaningless repetition. Now today, as we come to a conclusion, I wanted to give you three brief and very simple applications for this message, okay? We've been talking about it in verses five to eight how not to pray, how to guard against the things that will corrupt your conversations with God. How do you guard against hypocrisy? How do you guard against ritualism in your prayer? Three suggestions. Number one, begin and end everyday in prayer. Begin and end everyday in prayer.

Now hear this, we need more than just a few short prayers to sustain our prayer life and keep our relationship with God intimate. We need regular times that we set aside to spend with God. But I also know that even good intentions sometimes aren't fulfilled. I mean we may plan to spend time with God, but an emergency, an interruption may keep us from doing so, or so we think. Don't fall into the trap of thinking unless you can devote an hour or two to prayer, but there's no use in praying. That's a subtle trap. Many Christians they read stories about Martin Luther and others who prayed three or four hours in the morning before they ever went to work, and we think, "Gee, I'm doing good to find five or 10 minutes to pray. And if I can't pray like that, why even pray"?

Now even if you can't devote long portions of time in a day to prayer, you can at least begin and end everyday in prayer. For example, in the morning, when you awaken, before your feet get out of bed and touch the ground, spend a few moments talking to God, asking God to guide you throughout the day, give you wisdom, use whatever encounters you have in that day for his glory, pray for your family. You can do that right before you ever get up in the morning. And then at night, before you drift off to sleep, make the last thing you do to be having a conversation with God, reviewing the good things that happened in the day, asking God to protect you and your family throughout the night. I think this is what C.S. Lewis had in mind when he wrote, "The moment you wake up each morning, all 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".

Perhaps that's what the Psalmist had in mind when he wrote in Psalm 5:3, "Every morning, I will tell you what I need, and I wait for your answer". Suggestion number two to guard against ritualism and hypocrisy, write out or vocalize your prayers. Vocalize or even write out your prayers. Have you ever had this happen? I've had it happen to me. I'll be praying in my mind talking to God. And as I'm praying, suddenly I began thinking about the agenda for staff meeting on Tuesday. I want to remember to write something down. Or I think about an argument I had with somebody the hour before. Or I think about something that I need to be doing and pretty soon my attention has been divided. How do you keep from dividing your attention and remain in focus? One way I found is to actually vocalize your prayers. If you're alone, don't just think the prayer, actually speak it out loud. It'll have a way keeping you focused. Even better, write out your prayers. If you keep a spiritual journal or at your computer or whatever, write out your prayer to God.

Somebody asked me just this week that said, "Pastor, what do you think of those people who stand up when they're praying in public and they pull out a sheet of paper and they read a prayer"? You know, I've been brought up in a tradition where people, they, "Oh, if you read a prayer, that means you're not sincere, that means you're mechanical, you're artificial". Nothing can be further from the truth. The fact is written prayers many times are more sincere, more heartfelt than people who just get up and trying to wing it in their prayers and fall into those spiritual banalities I was talking about. I said a few weeks ago, think about it, "If David had not written our his prayers, we wouldn't have the Psalms today". Many times writing out your prayer helps you to focus on what you really want to say to God and talk to him about.

Just imagine, you received an invitation to go into the oval office and spend 10 minutes with the president of the United States. 10 minutes with the president. Do you think you might think through what you're going to say to him before you got in there? You think so? If you had 10 minutes to talk to him about any subject you want to talk to him about, make any request you want to make, don't you think you might jot down a few notes before you went in there? Think about this, when we pray, we're going into the throne room of heaven itself to talk to the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Out of respect to him, doesn't it make sense we would think through what we want to say to him before we start talking? Vocalizing, writing out your prayers keeps you from hypocrisy and ritualism. And then number three, make God the focus of your prayers. Make God the focus of your prayers.

In this book "A Testament of Devotion", Thomas Kelly writes, "There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at the same time. On one level we can be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting the demands of life. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship, and general receptivity to divine breathings". I think what he was talking about, Thomas Kelly, was, what Paul was talking about when he said "Pray without ceasing". When Paul said that, he wasn't talking about praying with your eyes closed, walking around in a constant conversation with God. What he was saying was there is a way to praying your spirit while going through the activities of every life: to live life on two different levels at the same time.

Years ago, there was a man named Frank Laubach. Frank Laubach is the father of modern literacy programs today. The literacy programs we use to teach people to read and write were developed, by and large, by this man named Frank Laubach. He was also a devoted Christian. And he took those words of Thomas Kelly about living life on two levels. When he was 40 years of age, he made this pledge, he said, "For the rest of my life, whatever time I have left, I'm going to challenge myself never to go more than one or two minutes without thinking about God". And so he developed some games, he called it the games of minutes. He wrote a book about it, about how to train yourself to go not more than one or two minutes without thinking about God and talking to God in prayer. Here are some of his suggestions.

Number one, in a social setting, whisper God or Jesus quietly as you glance at each person near you. Practice double vision as Jesus does. See the person as a he is, but also see the person as Christ wants him to be.

Second, at meal time, have an extra chair at the table to remind you of the presence of Christ. As you see it or touch it, remember his words, "Lo, I'm with you always".

Number three, while reading a book or magazine, read it to Jesus. Ron Rider asked, "Have you ever clicked on an email or opened a letter and read it with Jesus, realizing that he smiles with us at the fun, rejoices with us in the successes, and weeps with us in the tragedies? If not, you've missed one of life's sweetest experiences".

Number four, when problem solving at work, instead of talking to yourself about the problem develop a new habit of talking to Jesus about it. After all, this is what Peter did with his problem of sinking. As Laubach says, "Many of us who have tried this had found that we think so much better that we never want to try to think without him again".

And finally, keep a picture of Christ, or a cross, or a word from scripture some place where you will see it just as you're going to sleep. Allow God to have a last word of the day. And then let your eyes and mind begin there in the morning.

As Laubach writes, "As we open our eyes and see a picture of Christ on the wall, we may ask, 'now, master, shall we get up'"? And if you're not a morning person, you may need a definite word from the Lord on that question. Some of us whisper to him our every thought about washing and dressing in the morning, about cleaning our shoes and choosing our clothes. Christ is interested in every trifle, because he loves us more intimately than a mother who loves her child. That's the essence of what real prayer is. Prayer is not some theological formula to reach a distant deity who may or may not be there. Instead, prayer is an intimate conversation, covering every detail of your life with the one who truly loves you the very most. John Bunyan said this, "Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ Jesus". Now that's the kind of prayer that really works.
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