The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Planning in Prayer’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 2/16/2014, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here: http://bit.ly/O8WkKV
Exodus 25-40 is one of the most challenging segments of the Bible to get through. In these chapters, God is describing to Moses how He wants the tabernacle constructed; and He’s doing so in painstaking, intricate detail. It’s incredibly easy to zone out and lose focus in a passage like this. Maybe tough reading like this even makes you think of ditching that one-year Bible reading plan altogether. After all, why would I possibly need to know how many cubits the altar of incense is supposed to be or what exactly the golden lampstand is supposed to look like? Is any of this text really relevant to my life, here and now?
Yes. Of course it is. The Bible is the full counsel of God, and without any part of it, no matter how seemingly ‘insignificant,’ that counsel is no longer full. So what’s the point of the tabernacle description? In Exodus 26:30, God tells Moses, “And you shall raise up the tabernacle according to its pattern which you were shown on the mountain.” God is telling us how intricate He is willing to get when it comes to detail during prayer. God is giving Moses instruction – in advance – so that he can carry out His will.
In order to fully understand the significance of these chapters, we need to remember exactly where Moses was when he was receiving this specific instruction from God. He was on Mount Sinai, the mountain of God, in God’s presence. We see a full description of Moses’ encounter with God on Mount Sinai in Exodus 24:
“Now the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. The sight of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel. So Moses went into the midst of the cloud and went up into the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” – Ex 24:16-18
Our equivalent of Mount Sinai is deep, intense prayer; that is where we experience God’s presence. God is willing to give us incredibly detailed description of many things that will happen in our lives during times of prayer; but we have to commit to hearing from Him in advance. When we do, He will tell us exactly where we are supposed to be, what we are supposed to do and how we’re supposed to do it.
Expect to Hear from God
As Christians, we should expect to hear from God. It’s Biblical. Jesus described hearing from God to His disciples like this:
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” – John 10:27
We practice hearing from God all the time at CityLight Church. In fact, every single ministry we have is based on the assumption that we should hear from God:
- God Encounter Fridays are designed for our members to share specific revelation they’ve received from God
- Healing Rooms volunteers expect to hear from God about specific details as to a client’s physical and emotional condition
- Missions Trips give our members the chance to minister to others as the Holy Spirit speaks to them
- Life Group Leaders pray and intercede for everyone in their Life Groups every week based on what God tells them about their life situation
We know we should hear from God, but the trouble is this: sometimes, when we really need to hear from God, He’s JUST NOT THERE! We’ve all had a sticky situation in our life when we really needed to hear from God. We hit our knees, pray our best prayer, and then wait and listen…but we get nothing. Nada. Crickets. Where is His voice when we need Him most? We don’t realize, however, that the problem isn’t that He doesn’t want to speak to us; the problem is we don’t want to listen to Him in advance. Let me explain.
If I tell you to go into a crowded room and pick out Bob’s voice, what’s your logical first question going to be? Who is Bob? What does his voice sound like? It wouldn’t make sense to go into a crowded room and pick out the voice of someone you’ve never heard before. Yet this is what many of us try and do with God. We wait until we’re in the middle of a tough situation before we stop and listen for His voice. Sometimes that’s too late. Instead, imagine that you’re in the middle of a subway station trying to pick out the voice of your best friend. It should be incredibly easy to recognize his or her voice because you’ve had numerous conversations before you step into a crowded area. This is how it should be with God.
Praying and Fasting
Jesus outlines the principle of praying in advance clearly to His disciples in Matthew 17. A man approaches Jesus and asks Him to heal his son, who is suffering from epilepsy. The man goes on to complain that he brought his son to Jesus’ disciples, but they were unable to heal him. Let’s take a look at what happens next:
“Then Jesus answered and said, ‘O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.’ And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.’” – Matt 17:17-21
First, Jesus rebukes the disciples for their unbelief. Then, at the end of the passage, we find something very interesting: ‘This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.’ Let’s start by looking at what Jesus is not saying. He’s not saying that the proper course of action for the disciples would have been to turn the boy and his father away until they had more time to pray and fast. He’s not telling His disciples they should stop in the middle of their ministry and pray and fast about particularly tough cases as they come up. Let’s think about this for a second. If you went to a church and came up for prayer after the service was over, would you ever expect someone praying for you to say, ‘Come back next week after I’ve had the chance to pray and fast about this?’ Of course not. Jesus is not telling His disciples that, in that specific instance, they should have withdrawn from the boy and his father to pray and fast.
What Jesus is saying is that the disciples need to pray and fast more in general. He’s making a commentary on their lifestyle when it comes to praying and fasting, as opposed to giving them specific after-the-fact instruction for that one instance. He’s telling His disciples that they need to pray and fast more in advance. If we incorporate prayer and fasting into our lifestyle as a consistent form of worship, we will have all the authority and power we could ever need when we actually find ourselves in a tough situation which requires a miracle. We need to pray and fast ahead of tough situations; never simply as a result of them. When we pray and fast in advance, our unbelief will be cured, and signs and wonders will follow us wherever we go!
If You Fail to Plan…
We all know that advance planning is important. Benjamin Franklin probably said it best: “If you fail to plan you plan to fail.” This is completely applicable in prayer. I’m a little less famous than Ben, but I’d like to propose a new Christian version of the quote: “If you fail to plan in prayer, you pray to fail.” We need to spend time praying and planning in God’s presence before we find ourselves in a tough situation if we expect to hear from God in the midst of it. Sometimes we can even avoid the tough situation altogether because God will give us a blueprint to follow in advance.
It would have done Moses no good if he started to build the tabernacle without specific instructions. God promised He would anoint the craftsmen and artisans of Israel with all the wisdom and expertise they could ever need to build the tabernacle, along with everything in it. But Moses was the guy with the plans. God communicates the blue prints to us in advance of construction day.
We follow this principle in everyday life all the time but ignore it in prayer. Would you ever let someone remodel your kitchen without showing you plans first? No. Would you ever let your kid go to a school where they didn’t have a curriculum and you had no idea what they were going to teach?! Of course not. What about that meeting at work? If you know you’re in charge, would you ever go in without an agenda? I don’t think so. So then why do we try and go about our daily lives without hearing from God in advance? We wait to find ourselves in a situation where we really need prayer before we hit our knees. God wants better for us; and we should want better for ourselves!
Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That
The most common answer I get to the question, ‘Have you prayed about that,’ is the response: ‘I don’t have time to pray.’ We don’t pray in advance because we don’t have time in our schedules, but then we wonder why God doesn’t show up and speak to us as if we had prayed in advance.
There’s a parallel argument with tithing. Very rarely do people just have an extra 10% lying around to give to God every week. It’s not easy to tithe; and that’s exactly the point. That’s the reason tithing builds faith. Committing to tithe means you’re trusting God for increase, knowing that even though the money’s not there now, God will prosper your remaining 90% when you commit the first 10% to Him. We have incredible testimonies at CityLight from people who have committed to tithe: they get checks in the mail, insurance settlements for tens of thousands of dollars, and double-digit raises from work. When you honor God, he honors you. That should never be the reason we honor God, but it’s a Biblical principle that always holds true.
The same argument holds for your time. You probably don’t have time to hunker down and pray first thing in the morning; and that’s exactly the point. When you devote your first fruits to God, He will bless the rest. When you pray to Him first, your entire day will be blessed. If that sounds a little supernatural, then good: because it is.
We all have ‘wasted’ time in our days. God can take that time and use it for good when you honor Him with prayer. How about that ‘nap time’ after lunch where you just zone out and can’t concentrate on anything? He can redeem that when you use it for prayer. That chunk of time at the end of your day where you’re just so fed up with everyone around you that you can’t even stand it, so you sit down on the couch and zone out? He can redeem that time. Those five minutes here and ten minutes there wasted on fights, arguments and disputes – especially with the people you love the most? Those don’t have to happen. We all have time in our days that can be redeemed; when we honor God with prayer in advance, He will redeem that time and make it productive instead of destructive. When we pray to Him first thing in the morning, He’ll help us to avoid those wasted spaces all together.
When I was a freshman in college, I took Psych 101. It was taught by Dr. James B. Maas, who is the author of a book called Power Sleep. His theory was that every person needs an average of over nine hours of sleep. Knowing that sounded impossible for most people, he developed an argument (supported by evidence) that if you get the required amount of sleep, you will be so much more efficient throughout the rest of the day that you’ll have time to do everything you need to do. What’s more, you’ll feel better rested and more satisfied through it all.
The same principle holds in prayer. Nobody really has extra time to devote to prayer. But when we make a point to place a priority on prayer, God will redeem the rest of our day. When we have a blueprint for everything God wants us to do in advance, we can be so much more efficient in everything we do – especially in tough situations – because we will already have heard from Him!
Establish a Routine
Praying first will change your day. Time spent in prayer is always time well spent. Jesus prayed first thing in the morning, and so should we:
“At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him. Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” – Mk 1:32-35
In this passage, Jesus basically hosts an awesome revival meeting. Everyone in the city brought their sick and demon-possessed to Him, and He healed them all. Most of us would have considered our work done. We would have slept in the next morning. Yet Jesus gets up well before the sun rises, goes off on His own, and prays. We learn His secret. It’s only because He spends so much time in prayer, becoming intimate with the Word and Will of God, that He is able to walk in such authority and power. He is the Son of God, and He makes time to listen to His Father. Here the Bible shows us the effect before the cause; the result before the work.
Every morning when I go to pray, I put a blank sheet of paper in front of me. As ideas come to me – plans, conflict resolution, hopes and dreams – I write them down. This has a dual purpose. First of all, it allows me to plan my day. God sets my schedule. I know that might sound too good to be true for those of you who work in a secular career, but please just try it. Whether at work or at home, your day is going to run so much smoother if you let God set your schedule. Second, it clears my head and gets my to-do list out of the way so most of my time in prayer can be spent in prayer or worship. This is the best kind of prayer: exaltation and praise that honors God for His greatness. More than anything else, the blank sheet of paper establishes expectation. When I write the title ‘Prayer, Sunday, 2/16/2014’ down on that paper, it means I expect to hear from God. I’ve never finished praying and seen that sheet blank.
It’s also important that we don’t forget to listen. Personally, I think 1/3 to ½ of time spent in prayer should be listening. We love to ask God questions: Can You do me a favor, or can I have some advice? Yet, if we’re honest, we rarely listen intently for answers. God isn’t interested in a one-sided relationship, where we talk at Him instead of to Him. He wants to respond, but we need to give Him the chance.
Jesus calls us all prophets:
“…among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” – Matt 11:11
As such, we should expect to hear from God. We are the couriers of His Word, and when we hear it accurately and speak it out over a situation, the atmosphere changes. Amos 3:7 says that God “…does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” God’s desire is to fill us in before things happen, so we don’t have to learn the hard way and miss out on destiny. Let’s position ourselves to hear God’s voice. Let’s get plans from God before we need them; never after.
-by Pastor Mike White
© Michael D. White and CityLight Church, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael White and CityLight Church with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.