HOW TO PRAY WHEN YOU CANNOT PRAY
Here are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, January 5, 2020.
Bible Passage: Romans 8:26-27 and Various.
I'M NOT A GIANT IN PRAYER
I'm not a giant in prayer. There are days when I just don't want to talk to God. I'm not mad at him, I just don't have anything to say that I didn't say already. Go ahead and judge me if you want, but I know I'm not alone. Some of the greatest Christians have faced the same obstacles to prayer. For example: Martyn Lloyd Jones, who is sometimes called the greatest preacher of the mid-twentieth century, wrote: "Everything we do in the Christian life is easier than prayer." John Bunyan, the 17th century English preacher and author of Pilgrim's Progress, wrote: "When I go to pray, I find my heart so reluctant to go to God, and when it is with him, so reluctant to stay with him ..."
Every Jesus-follower wants to connect to God, but there are days when prayer feels beyond us. There are many obstacles to prayer. Sometimes, we're too ... Busy. Distracted. Disappointed. Stressed. Bored. Hurting. Tired. Weak. Confused. Empty. Oppressed. Angry. Confident. Ashamed. Misinformed. Undisciplined. Do you relate to any of those?
What I'd like to do today is give you some very practical help to overcome the obstacles to prayer. If you follow this teaching, you'll find a way to pray when you can't pray.
MAXIMIZE THE VALUE OF PRAYER
My goal in life is to do what matters most. Time is short, why waste it? I live by the idea that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. If praise and worship are a form of prayer (I believe they are), then prayer is the main thing. Here are two reasons to maximize the value of prayer and make it the main thing in your life:
The privilege of prayer. Prayer is communication with God. We speak to God. And God speaks to us. The concept sounds so normal, but think about it for a second longer: we have the ability to talk to God. What? There's a worship song that goes, "Who am I that the highest king would welcome me? I was lost but he brought me in. Oh his love for me." How is that even possible?
(Ephesians 3:12) In Jesus and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
Jesus died on the cross to give us access. In Jesus, we are welcome to approach God in prayer and praise and intercession and confession and every other form of communication with God. Prayer is the absolutely amazing, blood-bought, right and privilege of every Jesus-follower (Ephesians 2:14-18; Hebrews 10:19-22).
The power of prayer. Prayer matters because prayer has present and eternal impact. It honors God. It changes us. It transforms the world. It sharpens our focus on eternal values. It reminds us that we are not God. It keeps us humble and grateful. There are some things that only happen by prayer: his name is kept holy, his kingdom comes, his will is done, our needs are met, our sins forgiven, our faith endures through trials, and we are delivered from Satan (see the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:9ff.).
I could go on: by prayer the wayward child turns from sin to Jesus; she is born again and filled with the Holy Spirit. Only by prayer. You can buy a car without prayer, but it takes prayer to fire up a heart for God. It takes prayer to heal the sick. It takes prayer to raise up more workers for the harvest. Only prayer heals the land and restores a nation to God. Prayer stops the enemy at the gate. Prayer protects your family and builds the church and advances the gospel to the world.
Why does prayer have such power? Because God answers prayer. Prayer isn't psychological; it's supernatural. Prayer isn't wishful thinking; it isn't a calming practice; it isn't a mind game. Prayer is my mouth to God's ear. God hears and answers. In fact he is more willing to answer than we are to ask. That's where the power comes from.
(Psalms 86:6-7) Hear my prayer, Lord; listen to my cry for mercy. 7 When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me.
(Isaiah 65:24) Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.
When we believe in the power of prayer, we'll find time to pray. When we believe that prayer is the only thing that stands between what is and what could be, we'll break through our busyness and boredom and brash self-confidence and we'll find time to pray. Believe it: there is power in prayer.
If we make time to pray, it will be become a habit. If we continue the habit of prayer, it will become a lifestyle. And when it becomes a lifestyle, many of the obstacles to prayer are removed. Even in the worst of times, even when there are no words, your heart will turn to Jesus. And that is prayer.
Now, let's turn to to a method of prayer that has worked for me.
USE A METHOD OF PRAYER
Over the years, I've tried a lot of ways to make prayer a habit so that it becomes a lifestyle. I've definitely not perfected this, but here's what works for me:
Time: I schedule time for prayer in my planner. I know that doesn't sound very spiritual, but if I don't do it, other things crowd it out. My best time to pray is before I get into other stuff. That way, my mind isn't distracted, so I schedule it first thing after breakfast and caffeine. Pick the time that works for you. I know people who pray in their car on their commute to work. Other people do best at night. There's no special holy time to pray. Don't let anyone tell you it has to be at 5 am. I tried to copy Martin Luther who got up at 4:00 every morning to pray. He said that the busier he got, the more he needed to pray. I set my alarm for 4:00 for a week and it was a total disaster.
Tools: I use two primary tools to help me pray: the Bible and my prayer journal.
The Bible: The book of Psalms is a prayer book. You can find topical lists of psalms online and I've included one at the end. Basically, there is a psalm for every mood, situation, crisis, or whatever you are going through. Also, the prayers of Jesus (for example, John 17, Matthew 6:9fff.) and Paul's prayers for churches are helpful.
There are various ways to use the Bible for prayer. One is to simply read a passage as a prayer to God. Another way is to rewrite the passage in your own words and pray it. Another way is to find a promise or a theme and claim or intercede for that.
My Prayer Journal: I've been most consistent in prayer when I've used a prayer journal. There's no right or wrong way to do this, so do what works for you. My journal begins with a reminders to love God and love people: contentment and compassion are the two pillars of my life. Then, I have a graphic: "dream big dreams; pray big prayers." My daily affirmation is at the front of the journal: "Today, I put Jesus first. I am blessed and highly favored. His grace is sufficient for me. Therefore, I walk in love and mercy. I choose faith over fear. I stay positive and confident and I rejoice with thanksgiving."
Next is my daily warfare prayer (I've included this at the end) that is a statement of who I am and what I have in Jesus Christ. The devil can't argue with that. Then, I have Psalm 145. It is a hymn in praise of God for his mighty deeds; such as his compassion, love, goodness, grace, and patience towards us. This is followed by an excerpt from Romans 8 that reminds me that I always live in God's love. And then my daily gratitude list. And on it goes, with prayers for family, church, and world. I use a combination of Bible passages, graphics, my own written prayers, and prayers from other sources.
I'm constantly adding stuff because it keeps my prayers fresh. Some days, I use just one page. Other days I read and pray through several pages and passages.
Sometimes, people who don't use a prayer book think that it stifles authenticity and spontaneity. However, my experience is the exact opposite. Having a book of prayer stimulates my mind and heart. When I'm tired or empty, it gives me words to say. I confess that I'm often speechless before God for one reason or another and having a Bible passage gives me meaningful words to say. It saves me from saying nothing or saying something stupid. Praying through my journal keeps me on track with God's heart and agenda.
Everything we've discussed so far assumes that we are able to pray. However, there are times and circumstances that make it impossible to pray; for example, when we are asleep or under anesthetic, when we're very sick, in traumatic situations. What then?
REST IN THE MYSTERY OF PRAYER
The mystery of prayer is a wonderful assurance for everyone who struggles to pray. The mystery is described in Romans 8:
(Romans 8:26-27) The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God's people in accordance with the will of God.
The mystery of prayer is that the Holy Spirit never stops praying for us. He prays even when we don't or won't or can't. The Spirit is always asking the Father to protect and provide for us. He's asking God to give us everything Jesus secured for us. And his prayers always align with God's will for our lives, so God hears and answers.
Think of this: There's no way to pray for everything and everyone that matters to us and/or the Lord, but we don't have to despair because the Spirit already has it covered. He so strongly relates to our struggles that he groans in prayer for us and he prays exactly what the Lord wants us to pray - even when we haven't prayed it. Amazing!
The Spirit is not the only member of the Godhead who prays for us. Jesus is also interceding on our behalf:
"Though Jesus’ work of sacrificial atonement was finished on the cross, His work of redemption did not stop there. He was raised for our justification and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God to intercede for us. We can be confident of our salvation because of Jesus’ promise, “I will pray for you.” We have a living hope and a living Savior, one who is praying every day at the throne of God that our faith will not fail." (https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/the-intercession-of-christ)
(John 17:11) Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.
(Hebrews 7:25) He is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Picture Jesus and his Spirit praying for you and rest. You don't have to come up with all the right words and intercede for everything. You can rest in the mystery.
Prayer is such a great opportunity for every Jesus-follower. We should do all we can to cultivate it as a daily habit and then as a lifestyle of spontaneous and scheduled conversation with God. If you follow my method, I believe you'll experience the overwhelming delight of meeting with God.
There is so much to say about prayer. Please join me next Sunday when I plan to teach on how to pray audacious prayers that make an impact.
THE USE OF PSALMS IN YOUR PRAYERS
In the past, God's people prayed the Psalms every day, not out of mindless ritual, but because the Psalms give voice to our deepest experiences, feelings, and longings in words breathed out by the Holy Spirit. Jean Calvin remarked that the Psalms help us understand the anatomy of the soul. Paul wrote that singing the Psalms flowed from being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:19). There is a psalm for every situation:
Thanksgiving & Praise: Psalm 57; Psalm 92; Psalm 95; Psalm 100; Psalm 107; Psalm 136; Psalm 103-107, 111-118, 134-139, 145-150.
Submission to God and His Wisdom: Psalm 1; Psalms 4 & 5; Psalm 8; Psalm 19; Psalm 119; Psalm 131; Psalm 133; Psalm 139.
Comfort and Encouragement: Psalm 4; Psalm 16; Psalm 23; Psalm 91; Psalm 121.
Longing for God: Psalm 27; Psalm 42; Psalm 73; Psalm 84.
Confession of Sin: Psalm 32; Psalm 38; Psalm 51; Psalm 130.
Hurt, angry, threatened, betrayed: Psalm 35; Psalm 59; Psalm 69; Psalm 70; Psalm 109.
Temptation, Laments, Complaint: Psalm 3; Psalm 6; Psalm 13; Psalm 22; Psalm 31; Psalm 73; Psalm 77; Psalm 88; Psalm 102; Psalm 142; Psalm 143; Psalm 77.
Outreach, evangelism, global missions: Psalm 67; Psalm 98; Psalm 138.
PETER'S DAILY WARFARE PRAYER/AFFIRMATION
Father, today, I cover myself with the cleansing, renewing, restoring, life-giving blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Holy Spirit, please bring all the power and benefits of Christ's person and work into my life today:
His life by which he offered his perfect obedience and righteousness in my place. Today, I'm clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
His crucifixion by which my guilt is removed, sin is rendered powerless, and I am included in the New Covenant with all its promises. Today, I'm loved, forgiven, and free in Christ.
His resurrection by which I am justified and restored to you, and I enter into new and everlasting life with you. Today, I'm fully alive and fully accepted in Christ.
His ascension by which I am seated on the heavenly throne with Christ, high above his enemies, and I gain his victory over Satan, the powers and principalities, and demonic spirits. Today, I'm an overcomer in Christ.
His enthronement and intercession by which I have the right to come boldly to the throne of grace to find henlp in my time of need. Today, I have all I need in Christ.
Pentecost by which I am filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered for transformation and ministry. Today, I live and serve in the fullness of Christ.
His return by which I am filled with all hope in my inheritance in glory and the renewal of all things. Today, I am steadfast, rejoicing in hope.
I am blessed, protected, and empowered by God and his might. Therefore, I stand firm.
In light of such marvelous realities, I renounce every sinful belief, thought, attitude and activity in my life. I am not my own; I belong to God. Therefore, I will honor God with my life.
I refuse to be discouraged. I will not quit. I will not give in. I stand complete in Christ. I am content in all God's provision in Christ. I have more than enough. I choose to be positive and confident. I choose to live with gratitude and joy. I pray and proclaim all this in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!