Robert Jeffress - Heavenly Communication - Part 2
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. I don't know of many Christians who are completely satisfied with their prayer life. Most of us feel like there's some room for improvement. So how do we cultivate the meaningful prayer life we long for? Well, just like any other skill, learning to pray takes practice. It requires concentration, effort, and dedication. Today, I want to share with you four characteristics of a successful prayer life. My message is titled "Heavenly Communication", on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the single most revolutionary thought I've ever encountered about prayer. Prayer is a continuing conversation with God. You and I were created with spirits to have that continuing conversation with our Creator. A successful prayer life is, first of all, consistent. Secondly, it is energetic. Look again at verse two. He says devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it. In Ephesians 6:18, he says with all prayer and petition pray at all times in the spirit. With this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints. What does he mean, stay on the alert, to be energetic? I think there're two implications of that. First of all, stay focused in your prayer life. Write that down, stay focused. Prayer is intense, difficult work that requires us to remain focused. Jesus was focused in his prayers, and so should we be. To be alert is to, first of all, stay focused in our prayer life, but secondly, it also means to stay sensitive to the needs in ourselves and others.
That's what it means to be on the alert. Be on the alert for special spiritual needs in your life and in the lives of the others around us. There are two ways to view our life. One way to view your life is to see it just as a series of unrelated circumstances that end when you die. But the other way to look at your life is to see it as God describes it, as an intense spiritual battle. Ephesians 6 says that we're all in a struggle in this world. But as Christians, our struggle is not against flesh and blood. That is, it's not against other people. It's not against circumstances. We are in a life and death struggle, Paul says, against the unseen forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. And those who stay spiritually sensitive are those who realize that we are constantly in the spiritual battle, and that is why we are continually talking to God about it, asking for his intervention. Let me just mention to you three ways that this spiritual battle manifests itself in our lives, first of all, in our personal life.
First Peter 5:8 says be of sober spirit, be on the alert. For your adversary the devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. For us to stay sensitive in our prayer life means we need to be aware of the battle that's going on in our own soul, the battle between good and evil, between God and Satan. We need to stay sensitive to any chinks in our spiritual armor that could be an entry point for Satan to gain victory. When we keep alert in prayer, it means to keep alert about the battle that's going on in our own souls. This spiritual battle sometimes manifests itself also in the lives of others around us. To stay focused and to stay sensitive in prayer means to be aware of the spiritual needs of those around you: your children and grandchildren, your mate, your friends. Stay sensitive to those needs. Be asking God to intervene in those needs. Also be aware that Satan is a destroyer and a divider. There is nothing more he would like to do than destroy, ruin, those relationships you have with people who are important to you. Be on the alert about that. Stay sensitive to that. Be praying about that.
Thirdly, this spiritual battle, not only is waged within us and in people around us, it is also fought, thirdly, in the church itself. Do you realize God created the church? He created this church. This church is to be a force of God in this city and in this world. And that means there is an intense struggle that goes on between good and evil, between God and Satan. We need to be praying, praying intensely, that God's will would be done. That's what it means to stay on the alert, to be alert to the spiritual needs of those around us. That ought to characterize our prayer life. A prayer life that is effective is one that is energetic, it's alert. Thirdly, Paul says a successful prayer life is one that is marked by thankfulness. We ought to be thankful in our praying. Look at verse two of chapter four. Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.
Have you noticed, have you stayed in a hotel lately? On the console in the room, the telephone console, there's a button that says service express. And what is neat about this button is all you have to do is press it. 24 hours a day, you just press it and somebody on the other end is always there. And you hear them pick up the phone, and they say, "Well, Dr. Jeffress, can I do something for you"? Yes, I would, this is sure nice. Let me think about it for a moment. No, usually when you call, you have something in mind that you want them to do. I've got a garment that needs to be cleaned, a suit that needs to be pressed. My most frequent request is I need a milkshake delivered to the room, you know? But it doesn't matter what you ask, they're always on the other end. They're always answering, and they're always there to fulfill your request. Now many of us treat prayer just like that. We treat prayer like the service express button on a telephone. And we figure that God is on the other end of the line, always there, 24 hours a day, to do whatever we ask him to do. We forget sometimes that when God does answer our request to say thank you for his answer. And that's what Paul is saying here. He's saying when you ask God to do something, and he responds, don't forget to thank him.
Philippians 4:6 says pray about everything. Don't worry about anything. Tell God your needs, and don't forget to thank him for his answers. You know why it's so important for us to regularly lace our prayers with gratitude to God? First of all, God's not different than we are as parents. He delights in hearing words of gratitude from his children. But gratitude's important for what it does for us as well. Every time we thank God for something he's done in the past, it is a reminder of God's faithfulness and it gives us courage for the future. Great illustration of this is in Joshua chapter three and chapter four. Remember the story, the children of Israel were passing through the Jordan river, and God miraculously dammed up the river upstream so the children of Israel could pass with the Ark of the Covenant? And Joshua four says when they got to the other side, God said, "Now I want you to take 12 stones and I want you to build a memorial of these stones so that in the future, when people ask, 'what are these stones for'? You can always remind them of what I did for you".
They were to be stones of remembrance. That's a biblical principle, to always remember God's past faithfulness. Some of the most effective stones of remembrance we have are answered prayers in our life to constantly thank God for what he's done in the past for us to keep those things at the forefront of our mind. Doing so, not only delights the heart of God, it gives us courage for the present and for the future. Fourthly, successful prayers are to be purposeful, Paul said in verse three. Paul said, remember verse two, devote yourself to prayer. Keep alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving, verse three, praying at the same time for us as well that God will open up to us a door for the word so that we might speak forth the mystery of Christ for which I've been imprisoned. Paul said I want you to pray that we have opportunities, even while I'm imprisoned, to share the Gospel. I'll talk about that more next time. But the point here is that Paul said I want you to pray specifically.
If you're going to have a successful prayer life, it means praying specifically. Do you know what the problem most of us have in our prayer life is? Most of our prayers suffer from a case of severe bless-itis. You know what bless-itis is. Lord, bless this, bless this, bless this. Bless tommy, bless Timmy, bless the pastor, bless the church, bless, bless, bless, bless, bless. Nothing could be more trite or ineffective than just praying, Lord, bless, bless, bless. How do you ever know if God answers that prayer? I mean, how do you know if God has blessed the person or not? See, I have a sneaking suspicion the reason we pray in trite generalities rather than specifics is we want to give God a way out. And more importantly, we want to give ourselves a way out. We are afraid to pray specifically because we're afraid God won't answer our prayers and that we'll become disappointed in God. And then we'll begin to doubt God, and eventually we'll drift away from God. And so to save ourselves from that problem, we don't pray specifically. We just pray in generalities, never really expecting God to do anything. But Paul says if you're going to pray powerfully, that means praying specifically.
Isn't that what James said in James chapter five? He said in verse 16 the effective prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much. And then he gives an illustration of an effective prayer offered by a righteous man. He says in verse 17, look at Elijah. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours. You know what that means? It means he wasn't any holier than you or i. He's just like us, just a normal guy. He was a man with a nature like ours, and yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and didn't rain on the earth for three and a half years. And then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. Elijah prayed a specific will, that it would not rain so that God would be glorified, so that Israel might understand their sin and the results of their turning away from God. Elijah prayed specifically, and Jesus said that is the sign, Paul says, James says, of an effective prayer. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Or think about Jesus, how he prayed.
Remember in Matthew 26:39, Jesus said in Gethsemane, Lord, let this experience pass from me. Here's a specific request, God, I want you to find another way to accomplish the redemption of the world so that I don't have to go to the cross. Lord, if it be your will, let this cup pass from me. But then he went on to say not my will, but your will be done. Now that is a perfect model of praying, telling God exactly what you want, sharing with God the deepest desire of your heart but then saying, God, more than anything, I'm trusting that your will is the best way. That's the prayer of faith. When you say, Lord, if this be in your will, bring this to pass, that's not an escape clause, that is the ultimate expression of faith. It's saying, God, this is what I really want, but I trust you so much I'm going to trust you to do what's best in this situation. You see, there is no blanket promise in the Bible that God will answer every request.
1 John 5:14 says, and here is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, we know that he hears us. All of God's promises are bordered by the perfect loving will of God. We understand that. But just because we don't know whether something is God's will or not when we pray it, doesn't mean we shouldn't ask for it. Jesus asked God to do something that God ultimately did not do. God didn't provide another way of escape for Jesus, but that didn't keep Jesus from asking. Sometimes God says yes, as in the case of Elijah. Sometimes God says no, as in the case of Jesus. Or think about king Hezekiah, 2 kings 20. Remember Hezekiah the king became ill. Isaiah the prophet came to him and said, "You're going to die, Hezekiah". But Hezekiah refused to allow the prophet's word to be the final word. He went to God and said, "God, I don't want to die. I want to have a longer life. Please extend my life". The Bible says God changed his mind. I don't understand that. That's above my pay grade to understand, but God granted Hezekiah 15 more years of life. What I do know is this. God responded to Hezekiah's request. Hezekiah asked and got answered, and yet you go to the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 12. Paul had a physical malady, a thorn in the flesh.
In 2 Corinthians 12, it says Paul asked three different times, "Lord remove this from me". And each of those three times God said no, and Paul wrestled until the day he died with that unanswered prayer in his life. Sometimes God says yes. Sometimes God says no. But we are to always pray. In Luke 18:1, Jesus taught his disciples why they should pray at all times, and not lose heart. Jesus said we are to pray, not just when the answer seems possible and logical, but when the answer seems totally impossible. We are to pray at all times and leave it to God to do what is best. Let me close today with three practical applications from this message. I always want to give you something you can walk away with that will make a difference in your own relationship with God. Let me give you three applications of this message to make your prayer life more effective. First of all, let me encourage you to set aside time every day to pray, a time when you're going to have that appointment with God. Remember, it doesn't have to be 30 minutes or an hour, but begin small, but begin having a time with God. And I know the excuses.
People say, "Well, you know, we're not like you, pastor, we have a real job, and we can't be praying all the time. I'm just too busy to pray". Ladies and gentlemen, if you're too busy to pray, you're too busy not to pray. Martin Luther said one time, "I have so much to do today, I better spend an extra three hours in prayer". After all, any activity without God's blessing on it is really futile, isn't it? We need to make time every day to pray. It doesn't matter when it is: morning, lunchtime, evening, but set that appointment with God. Secondly, make a habit of praying before each new activity. This is a way, if you're not used to it, to getting into a regular ongoing conversation with God. Begin every new activity in prayer. Before you go into a meeting, pray. Before you make a telephone call, God help me know what to say in this call. Before you take an exam, well, especially before you take an exam, Lord, help me. Before you go to bed at night, Lord, thank you for the day that you've given me. Before you begin a new activity, just have a habit of talking to your Heavenly Father about it.
And then thirdly, and this is so important, learn to keep a prayer list. Keep a prayer list. This is the single most revolutionary practice I've had in my own prayer life, that is to keep a record of the things I'm talking to God about. I have sheets and sheets of paper that have a line right down the middle, 8.5 x 11 piece of paper. On one hand it says, my requests, the other column is listed, God's answers. And I make my request, I put the date by it. And then when God answers, whether it's yes or no, I put the answer on the right-hand side. You know what that does for me? Two things, first of all, it helps keep me focused in my prayer life. I have the same problem you have. I'm, when I'm praying, I'm thinking of a million different things I ought to be doing, telephone calls I need to make, arguments I'm having with other people, what I could say. All those things come into my mind. But having that prayer list keeps me focused.
And so when I kneel down by the couch, I have that prayer list with me. I keep my eyes open. By the way, God is not impressed with your eyes being closed, okay? It's okay to have your eyes open. And I go through that prayer list as I talk to God about these different things. But that prayer list, also, is my own private stones of remembrance. Because as I look back and see the things God has done for me, it gives me something to thank God for. But it's also a reminder of God's past faithfulness. Let me ask you this morning, do you desire to enjoy the same kind of intimacy with your Heavenly Father that Jesus enjoyed with his? Would you like to experience the same power, supernatural power, in your life that Jesus experienced every day of his life? Then you have to have the same devotion to prayer that Jesus had. Devote yourself to prayer, keeping alert in it, with a spirit of thanksgiving.