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The Power of Personal Prayer
Relational prayer with God will cause you to STAND FIRM, part 6
Students ask the best questions and they shoot straight. They do not take anything for granted and they dig below the obvious to get at the issue. This is true when it comes to prayer. When you meet with students, what questions do students ask when it comes to prayer?
#1 WHY SHOULD I PRAY?
If God knows everything and has sovereignly pre-ordained every event, then why pray? Because prayer is primarily meant by God to effect a change in you. At the same time, there is a real sense in which prayer is effective, because it is God’s ordained means by which He carries out His plan. God takes pleasure in granting the requests of His children because He then receives their praise.
Like Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:11, “And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed upon us through the prayers of many.” God’s ultimate ability to answer our prayers and the fact He works concurrently with our prayers provide an incentive for believers to bring their petitions to Him.
As one writer said, “If you find yourself exercised with benevolent desires for any object, there is a strong presumption that the Spirit is exciting these very desires, and stirring you up to pray for that object, so that it may be granted in answer to prayer.” So answered prayer is made possible by the doctrine of Divine Concurrence: God is inclined to act at a time when His children call unto Him fervently (James 5:16), repeatedly (Luke 18:1 to 8), and from pure motives (James 4:3).
#2 WHAT KIND OF PRAYER IS ANSWERED BY GOD?
Listen carefully–each of these statements is supported by Scripture. God answers prayers which are . . .
in keeping with the will of God (1 John 5:14 to 15)
made in faith (Hebrews 11:6, Matthew 17:20)
made by a person who has confessed and given up sin (Psalm 66:18, Isaiah 59:1 to 2)
made under the direction and power of the Holy Spirit (Jude 20)
made by a person who has forgiven others (Matthew 18:21 to 35)
made by a person who is in harmony with others (Matthew 5:23 to 24, 1 Peter 3:7)
made in the name of Jesus, which means it is in harmony with His purpose and concerns (John 14:13, 15:16)
persistently offered (Luke 11:5-8)
and asked for unselfishly (James 4:2 to 3)
#3 WHY DO WE PRAY IN JESUS’ NAME?
The phrase, “in Jesus’ name“, is not some kind of incantation to sanction a prayer, like putting salt on your fries. Rather, saying, “in Jesus’ name” refers to praying in the will of God. When you ask “in Jesus’ name” you are saying your prayers are, or hope they are, in full and complete submission to God’s revealed will in His Word.
That necessitates your sins are confessed so God can “hear” your prayers (Psalm 66:18), you are truly asking in faith, believing God can do what you ask, and that you will await His answer.
#4 WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN MY PRAYERS GO UNANSWERED?
When your prayers at times remain unanswered, you’re given opportunity to . . .
1 review your reasons for asking
2 evaluate your spiritual condition, and
3 check the nature of your request
#5 WHY IS PRAYER SO IMPORTANT?
Prayer is crucial because prayer is how you maintain a relationship. Prayer indicates you are filled with the Spirit and living in humility. Prayer demonstrates you see God as great and you as weak. Prayer reveals you are truly depending on Christ moment-by-moment. Prayer means, like a child, you are depending upon your heavenly Father.
Open your Bibles to the book of Philippians chapter 4 and embrace this truth. Relational prayer with God will cause you to STAND FIRM. And let’s review what we’ve covered in the first five verses of the chapter. In Philippians 4, Paul is teaching Christians in Philippi how to live spiritually stable.
The Philippians are experiencing persecution from Romans, pressure from doctrinal error, even partitioned disunity from two women–and they need to know how to live strong in difficult seasons, times of confusion, experiences of great loss and disappointment. Paul wants the Philippians to stand firm in the Lord, to act like men, to be courageous, to be at peace and to be bold for Christ in the midst of adversity.
So Paul commands them in verse 1, STAND FIRM. Then for the next nine verses he commands them seven ways, which when followed in dependence upon the Spirit of God will result in them standing firm no matter if the building of life is burning down all around them–they will not panic.
The first quality of standing firm was found in verses 2 to 3, calling you to pursue relational harmony. You are to be a peacemaker, addressing relational tension with others. Obviously, when you cultivate an environment of harmony, you create a stable setting. On the other hand, disunity in the church destabilizes people.
A second quality to stand firm is to cultivate a spirit of joy–in verse 4, where the internal transformation of Christ in your heart from salvation shows forth in words and actions of rejoicing. This rejoicing creates a huge level of stability in your life, regardless of what’s happening to you or around you.
Thirdly, spiritual stability comes to the humble person who is willing to accept less than what they deserve. Verse 5 says, “Let your forebearing spirit be known to all men.” When you expect nothing and demand nothing, you will be more stable. As you rightly assess your sinfulness, you realize you don’t deserve anything.
So when you get nothing, or you’re ignored, unappreciated, even abused, you’re still stable because you know you don’t deserve anything anyway. Therefore, you’re never disappointed, even when you’re mistreated, hated, rejected, even persecuted. And you’re so thankful for your salvation you don’t expect anything beyond that.
Fourthly, spiritual stability demands resting on a confident faith in Christ. Verse 5 says, “the Lord is near”, and verse 6 adds, “be anxious for nothing.” It’s true, the Lord is near in the sense of His Second Coming, but here the meaning of “the Lord is near” is in terms of His presence. And because “the Lord is near”, we’re not anxious for anything. The only cure for anxiety is Christ Himself.
And right now, the people or circumstances causing you worry were literally given to you by Christ in order for you to live dependently on Him–not for you to grind your stomach into an ulcer of anxiety, but for you to trust your Savior and friend, Jesus Christ.
Don’t ever forget, Christian–the way you deal with problems, temptations, hurts, and difficulties is a reflection of your view of God. If you understand who the Lord is . . . all His power, all His promises, all His resources, purposes and plans toward you–and you also understand He’s always near, then you will not worry.
If you understand God is yes loving, yes wise, but also completely sovereign–that He is controlling everything in your life to accomplish His glory and your good. If you understand nothing is beyond the purview of God’s control . . . if you understand He’s orchestrating everything for His eternal purposes–then you’ll rest in confident faith. You will STAND FIRM.
But there is something more you need to stand firm and Paul lays it out in verses 6 to 7—read it aloud. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6 to 7). From 800 miles away, under house arrest in Rome, Paul writes the Philippians to embrace . . .
#1 The COMMITMENTS to relational prayer
To STAND FIRM, there must be a strong relational commitment in your prayer life. You must be committed to intimacy with Christ and to pursue closeness with Christ–not only by reading, meditating, and studying the Scriptures, but also maintaining a close relationship bond with Christ through prayer. Relational prayer with God will cause you to STAND FIRM. What is relational prayer? It is . . .
First ‘Instead of’ WORRY prayer
Remember how verse 6 begins, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Instead of being anxious, the Lord says depend on Him in prayer. In verse 6, the Greek word but is a strong, single word contrast. Paul says, “Not this, but this.”
Don’t be anxious, but pray. Don’t focus inward, focus upward. Don’t worry about circumstances, but cast your cares on Christ. Christian, talk to Jesus about it. He wants you to so much, He actually commands you here. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer.” Come into the presence of God and open your heart to Him, just as if God did not know all about it.
The cure for worry is not inaction, it’s prayer. The antidote for anxiety is not apathy, suppression, denial, or human solutions—it’s prayer. The remedy for worry is to pour your heart out to God in prayer.
Good moms love it when their children run to them in their trouble. Good moms understand and their children know where to go for sympathy and help. Moms are able to take the edge off of difficulties and provide a type of peace. So many of you are good moms. Like that, God loves to hear you pour out your woes to Him in prayer.
Spiritually stable people react to trials and difficult tests with prayer. Prayer is the antidote to worry and the cure for anxiety. Relational prayer with God will cause you to STAND FIRM. Stable believers do not keep anxious thoughts bottled up inside. Firm Christians do not think God doesn’t care. Mature believers do not try to figure out solutions on their own—stable saints go to God in prayer.
Look at verse 6—simply, Paul says to the Philippians, instead of worry, pray. Paul refers to three kinds of prayer in these verses–do you see them? Prayer, supplication and requests with thanksgiving. One commentator believes this is describing adoration first, then request, and finally thanksgiving. But the main point here is don’t worry–pray. How much?
Second COMPREHENSIVE prayer
But in everything by prayer and supplication–literally in all, pray about everything. “You mean the girl I like, the class I hate, that habit I need to break, my hope for a raise, that person who bugs me, my need for a mate?” Tell God [say it] everything, in all–pour out your heart to Christ in every detail. Tell God every motive, confess every uncertainty, discuss every hurt.
Tell God comprehensively everything. That is partly why Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, walk all day with the Lord relationally, and do that by . . . “pray without ceasing.” Prayer is any form of reverent conversation directed at the Triune God. Supplication is the humble cry for the fulfillment of needs that are keenly felt.
Some of you think prayer is trying to talk to God in Thee’s and Thou’s, seeking to impress God with your accurate and doctrinal vocabulary–you’ve heard it. “O thou in whom so much doth dwell, upon whose throne hath been placed in a most highest authority; incline thine ear toward thy most humble servant, and grant that thy many abilities may be manifestly endowed upon my future. And mayest thou harkeneth what didst shalt evermore twain asunder.”
No, it should be, “Lord, praise you for your sovereign control, your never failing love, and your graciousness. I am so glad I can come into your presence and not be afraid. I am so grateful to be your child. Thank you for being my Father. Thank you for saving me, forgiving me, for loving me.” You see, relational prayer with God will cause you to STAND FIRM.
“Lord, I am struggling trusting you with this job change, and Lord I am fearful my oldest girl is now questioning her faith. I am afraid, Father. I think I am afraid of what people will think about me if my daughter walks away, but more Lord, I am concerned about my girl’s soul. And this job issue worries me about providing for my family. Can you help me to trust You?” Like that.
I think about that father who said this to Jesus in Mark 9:24, “Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief.’” Prayer is honest, genuine talk about everything. Is that really what Paul says here? Sure–what is the context? Anything and everything you’re tempted to worry about. There is nothing too great for God’s power and nothing too small for God’s Fatherly care. Paul says pray about everything that might worry you, and pray . . .
Third THANKFUL prayer
Verse 6 continues, “But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.” Instead of having an attitude of rebellion against what God allows in your life, you are to trust Him, “casting all our anxiety upon Him.” You should not regularly come to Him in prayer when you’re doubting, questioning or blaming Him, but pray with thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is expressing gratitude. But it implies humility before an all-powerful God, and a submission before the God whose will is always the best. Why? Because relational prayer with God will cause you to STAND FIRM. And relational prayer is characterized by thanksgiving. Read Colossians 4:2, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.”
Thanksgiving in prayer comes by being aware of what God has done for us in Christ. No true believer will fail to be thankful when he takes the time to remember what God has done, is doing and will do in the future—for you! You can be thankful for God’s presence, His constant provision, His forgiveness of sin, His never-failing promises, His irresistible purpose and all of His incredible attributes.
How can you not thank Him when He promises no temptation is too great for you to handle, that everything happens in your lives for His glory and our good to make you like Christ. Even suffering is given to strengthen you. You will start to worry when you forget God’s wisdom, power and goodness. You will start to fear when you think God is not wise enough, good enough or strong enough to prevent disaster. But thankful prayer releases you from fear and worry, because it affirms God’s sovereign control over every circumstance and that His purposes in your life are good.
Think about it–the more you remember your specific testimony, the more you will pray. Dare to ponder the events Christ orchestrated to bring you to saving faith. Think about the people the Lord brought your way. Imagine the tragedies the Lord has shielded you from. No matter what the outcome of your prayers, you can be thankful. And prayer is to be . . .
Fourth REQUESTING prayer
Verse 6 adds, “Let your requests be made known to God.” Request means “askings”. Paul literally says, let the “askings” of you be known to God. You say, “Paul doesn’t mean that”–yes he does. Why? Because relational prayer with God will cause you to STAND FIRM.
Pray like me: “Lord, I want a Mercedes, and you know my heart, Lord–I want this car because it’s safe for my family. And of course a convertible would be nice. Well, okay Lord, I also want this car to gain status, to talk to all my friends who have cool cars, that now I have a cool car too. Okay, so maybe Lord you should give me a Tesla.
“Well, yes Lord, you’re right, I’m being materialistic, wanting a car like that with my income. I probably couldn’t even afford an oil change. And it’s true, Lord, I would be so paranoid about getting a scratch on it, I would never drive it. And yes, Lord–I would certainly be that guy who takes up 2 to 3 parking spots just to prevent a ding.
“Plus, the majority of my church family, Lord, would rejoice with me to have a nice car like that, but Lord, I know those new people will automatically judge me as one who serves Christ for the wrong reasons. You know Lord, maybe you could help me be content with my eleven-year-old Camry.”
Talk to the Lord about everything. Ask the Lord about your school, your friends, your grades, your parents, your children, your schedule, home, car, clothes, kids, a potential spouse, your wife and husband–ask the Lord to answer prayer. When you see answers to your prayers, you will pray more. It’s important you keep track of your prayers. Keep a record to remember what God does through your praying. Develop some memorial prayers.
Fifth INTIMATE and CONSISTENT prayer
Philippians 4:6 to 7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
“Be made known” is literally “personal knowing to the God.” Every word of Scripture is God-breathed and speaks, and the main verb of these two verses, “be known”, declares two truths. First, “be made known” is continuous action telling us to . . .
1 Be PERSISTENT in prayer
Keep on continually praying, no matter what. As you turn to Luke 18:1, you’ll read a parable where our Lord calls you to never quit prayer. I have let prayer fade in my life in the past, and this parable says don’t. Verse 1, “Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.” It’s the story of an unjust judge and a persistent woman who kept coming and begging him to avenge her. He refused, until she wore him out with her persistence and he gave her what she wanted.
Now you say, “Wait a minute! Does this really connect to our prayer life?” Sure–look at verses 6 to 8, “And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; 7 now shall not God bring about justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? 8 I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily.”
God is going to make things right, for His own glory and for your good–so be persistent. Be persistent in prayer. You’re to keep asking and not give up. I don’t know if you think about prayer like that, but when you believe something will honor God and glorify Christ, you just have to storm the gates of Heaven. You have to wrestle with God–that’s right.
Prayer is a matter of grappling with God, proving to God the deepest concern of your heart and pouring out to God what you believe would honor Him. Because relational prayer with God will cause you to STAND FIRM.
When you read the Psalms, what do you hear David saying over and over? Psalm 69:13,16,17, “O God, in the greatness of Thy lovingkindness, answer me with Thy saving truth. 16 Answer me, O Lord, for Thy lovingkindness is good; according to the greatness of Thy compassion, turn to me, 17 And do not hide Thy face from Thy servant, for I am in distress; answer me quickly.”
You don’t hear David saying, “O Lord, I have a request–now whatever You want will be fine when You get around to it.” No! Prayer is a persistent, courageous struggle. You may even come out limping a little bit–Jacob did. Ephesians 6:18 adds, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” But the main verb, “be known”, also indicates . . .
2 Be INTIMATE in prayer
Keep on praying personally. The verb “be known” is from a word indicating personal, intimate knowing. Not the knowledge of facts, but the knowledge of relationship, because relational prayer with God will cause you to STAND FIRM. You are not talking to a machine or a force, but to your Savior, Redeemer and friend. He’s the one who commands you to ask, to seek and to knock. He commands you here to make your prayers known to Him personally!
Jesus told Martha not be divided of mind, but to be like Mary and sit at His feet. Jesus is pressing you and loving you when He tells you in 1 Peter 5:7, “Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” Respond to worry with relational prayer.
Cast your care upon the God who knows the number of hairs on your head, whose thoughts towards you are so vast they exceed the sand on the seashore. This is the Savior who died for you. Paul says talk to Christ, person-to-person, face-to-face, saint to Savior, Christian to Creator, sinner to Sovereign, slave to Master, child to Father, goofball to God. What will this kind of praying lead to? First we had the commitments of relational prayer and now . . .
#2 The COMFORTS of relational prayer
Paul says to the Philippians, our Lord blesses your praying in two amazing ways . . .
First An INDESCRIBABLE peace
Verse 7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension” [literally, peace which is excelling all mind]. Once a sinner has made peace with God in salvation, only then can he or she experience the peace of God in sanctification. Once you make peace with God through the Gospel, you can enjoy the peace of God in your growth.
This peace is an inward tranquility of soul, a confident trust in God’s flawless wisdom, a resting under His infinite power and a calm in the storms of life. Isaiah says in 26:3, “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You.” Jesus says in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
Christian, never forget–the peace God gives you is supernatural. It’s indescribable. It is a sweet dessert the non-Christian can never taste. And our God not only gives this perfect peace, our God also maintains this inner peace. Peace is the smile of God reflected in the soul of every true believer. Peace is the heart’s calm after Calvary’s storm.
Peace is the firm conviction that God who spared not His own Son will surely also along with Him, freely give us all things. This peace is hidden to the unsaved–the non-Christian is totally unable to comprehend this peace. The unregenerate are as ignorant of this peace as a blind man is to a glorious sunrise.
Paul says this peace surpasses all comprehension. God’s peace given to His children transcends human intellectual powers, human analysis, human insights and human understanding. God’s peace is superior to human scheming, human devices, and human solutions. His ways are unsearchable and His ways are unfathomable.
The point is this–God’s gift of peace will do far more than any clever planning or calculating on your part. The real challenge as a Christian is to not eliminate every unpleasant circumstance in your life, nor to spare your kids from trouble–that’s not the goal. The target is to trust in the good purpose of our infinite, sovereign, loving, wise God in every difficulty.
Those who honor Christ by trusting Him will experience the blessings of a sweet peace, because relational prayer with God will cause you to STAND FIRM. God is pointing at some of you right now. The moment the trial hits or the testing comes, your first response is to figure out how to get out of it. But God says, “Come to me in prayer–trust in me to lead you through it.” Why should I? Because of the second comfort of God’s peace.
Second A PROTECTION of heart and mind
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, [here is the second comfort] will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6 and 7).
Picture yourself in Philippi, on the edge of the Roman Empire, with a huge military presence and soldiers who are always on guard duty–this is a familiar scene. So Paul uses the same word, guard–just as soldiers guard and protect the city of Philippi, so God’s peace guards and protects your heart and mind, referring to your emotions and thoughts, summarizing your entire inner person.
Christian, you do not depend on your mind to fend off worry–that’s what the world does through artificial meditation, yoga, chanting, motivational speakers, techniques. No! To fend off worry from your heart and your thoughts, you pray! Relational prayer with God will cause you to STAND FIRM. And don’t miss the final truth at the end of verse 7–look at the last three words. This supernatural peace is exclusively available only “in Christ Jesus”. Paul means to tell you this supernatural peace is only found in connection with Christ. See it, “in Christ Jesus”.
Okay visitor, lost person, so-called Christian–hear me today. Look up here. You must get under the protection of Christ today. You have no peace and you will have no true peace because God hates your sin. You are being judged, and after death, you will be condemned for living your life your way, in rebellion to your Creator and not the way He designed for you.
And you intrinsically know what I’m saying is true–you will be judged. You should be worried, you should be anxious, you should be terrorized. You have only one hope and that is to turn to Christ to be forgiven for all your sins in repentance and to put your life in His hands by faith. And if He chooses, He will be gracious to you and internally transform you, give you a new heart that will be at peace with God so you might experience the peace of God now and peace forever in Heaven.
And Christian, because you’re in Christ–no event, no circumstance, no trial or no person can crack the impregnable castle of God’s peace in your heart. If you’re not experiencing His peace, start to pray–stop ignoring prayer. Start with seven minutes–read just one Psalm and pray for seven minutes.
Move on to praying each line of the Disciples’ Prayer, “Our Father, who art in Heaven.” Move on to praying A.C.T.S., Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. Write a “P” on the back of your hand and pray every time you see it throughout the day. Every time you worry, train yourself to hear a trumpet calling you to pray instead.
Remember Daniel, who prayed to God instead of the king, casting him in a den of savage lions, but instead of worry, Daniel demonstrated peace. Remember the Lord Jesus Christ, who as the God man, was a man of prayer. You need to pray–prayer means you worship Christ, relying on His Spirit, believing He is sovereign and are trusting in His Word. Prayer means you understand you are a child who desperately needs to continually hold the hand of his heavenly Father. Prayer means your relationship is current.
The end of verse 7 calls you to start praying–why? Because Paul says at the end of verse 7, you are “in Christ Jesus”. No one can dislodge you from God’s supernatural peace because you are safe and happy in Christ, under the guard of His supernatural peace. Let’s pray.