The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Powerful Prayer’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 1/4/2015, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here: http://bit.ly/1FwUYSV
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. – James 5:13-18
There is tremendous power in prayer. James instructs the early church to pray in all circumstances. Paul exhorted the church to, “…pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). Even Jesus Himself waited until He heard His father’s voice to act (Jn 5:19). There are 508 passages in the Bible that mention prayer. We know it’s important!
So then why are so many Christians reluctant to enter into prayer? Why do so many Christians fall short of the wonder-working power God wants us to have in prayer on a daily basis? When you go to pray, does it feel like you’re partnering with God to change eternity? Or does it simply feel like you’re grudgingly crossing an item off your to-do list? When you finish praying, do you feel refreshed and full of life? If not, I want you to know that God has better for you.
So many Christians in the church don’t know how to pray. Perhaps more importantly, we don’t know why we pray. When we have an understanding of both of these things, our prayer lives will be transformed. God will start to use us in ways we never could have imagined.
How We Pray
David Yonggi Cho is the founder and Pastor Emeritus of the Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea. He recently came under scrutiny for tax evasion. My intent is not to comment on the allegations or to agree or disagree with anything in the news. When great men and women of God stumble, we must support them. We must help them to walk again. Pastor Cho has many invaluable lessons on prayer, and I rely on his resource, Prayer that Brings Revival, to examine the three main types of prayer.
The Yoido Full Gospel Church has over 750,000 members. It was founded in 1958, and immediately cultivated a culture of prayer. Fewer than 50 members met in a tent for church services, worshipping on straw mats. The church members immediately committed to all-night and early-morning prayer meetings.
By 1964, the church grew to 3,000. But God was not done yet. In 1969, Pastor Cho signed a contract to build a 15,000-seat sanctuary. The total cost of the land and construction would be 800 million won. The amount the church had in the bank? One million won; 1/8 of a percent of what they would need to finish building.
Talk about great faith! This is a church that knows how to lean on God to accomplish the miraculous! Half-way through construction, the Arab oil shock hit the economy. The won plummeted in value, and the cost of building materials skyrocketed. Many members in the church found themselves out of a job. But Pastor Cho and his church never stopped praying and believing God. Pastor Cho used to pray on the unfinished concrete foundation of the new property. On numerous occasions, he cried out to God so passionately that he passed out – right there in the middle of the construction project!
The building was fully completed in 1973. When the church had nothing, they prayed. And now that the church has so much, they continue to pray. Wouldn’t we all be blessed if we attended a church that was so committed to prayer?
Types of Prayer
Pastor Cho outlines three types of prayer: petition, intercession and devotion. The prayer of petition involves asking God for something we need. Please note that I am intentionally emphasizing the word need, in contrast with the word want. When we pray to God for the things we need, John tells us that we can expect to receive what we ask for. When we pray for things we want, however, the result does not carry the same guarantee.
Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. – 1 John 5:14-15
So, do you need healing? Take it to prayer. Financial provision to carry out God’s calling on your life? Pray! Food, shelter and clothing? Lift your needs up to God through prayer. He does not desire that any of His children should lack the things they need. Ask, and you will receive!
The next level of prayer is intercession: asking God to act on behalf of someone else. We see a perfect example of intercessory prayer as Abraham asks God to withhold His destruction from the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah:
And the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.” Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. And Abraham came near and said, “Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? – Genesis 18:20-24
Abraham pleaded for the lives of the people inside the city walls. God preserved a city that was overrun by sin, and destined for destruction, because of Abraham’s intercessory prayer! We can change events when we pray.
We can change spiritual climates and create supernatural atmosphere, where mercy is exercised and grace is demonstrated through signs, miracles and wonders. When my wife and I lived in an apartment in Battery Park City, looking north over much of Manhattan, I remember spending hours praying that God would spare our city despite all the wickedness in it – not because we deserved to be spared, but because He is a Good God! When we pray, God listens. Are you interceding for your city?
The third and final level of prayer is devotion. Prayers of devotion do not fulfill a certain need, or address a specific lack. Devotion means worshiping God because He is so miraculous! It means building intimacy, and getting to know God Himself: not because you think He is the means to the end, but because He is The End!
The prayer of devotion is the most life-giving type of prayer we can pray. Whereas petition and intercession involve making a request for God to expend heavenly resources, devotion entails our own sacrifice: the highest praise we have to offer.
Yet despite the fact that prayers of devotion are so life-giving, most of us don’t even get there in our prayer time! A study by Lifeway Research from August, 2014, found that among Americans who pray, 74% pray for their own problems and difficulties. But only 37% pray for God’s greatness! Only half of the people who pray prayers of petition also pray prayers of devotion! No wonder we find ourselves dreading times of prayer, and feeling lifeless when we finish praying!
We see David offering prayers of devotion all throughout the Psalms. He reminded His soul to praise and honor God, even when it was the last thing he wanted to do. David recognized that God is our reward; He is the prize.
I spent much of my Christian life thinking of prayer as a responsibility. Time in prayer was something I knew I should do every day, but for the longest time it wasn’t something I wanted to do. Then I went through a season where God asked me to extend my time in prayer. I would literally set my kitchen timer for 60 minutes, and not allow myself to get up off my knees until I heard the timer go off! At first it was a struggle; but what came out of that experience was one of the most life-giving revelations I have ever received.
Prayer is a privilege. It is our reward. When I thought of prayer as something I had to cross of my to-do list, I was depriving myself of my reward. My prayers were lifeless. But now my prayers are full of joy.
Prayer is our window to intimacy with a Loving Father. Yes, He communicates instructions and allows us to ask for practical things; but more importantly, He reveals His character. He shows us glimpses of His glory, which allow us to trust Him more completely and invite Him into the most secret places in our souls. Prayer – intimacy with God – is not simply a means to an end; it is the end. It is not a way to get what we want in life, but a way to get to know the God who makes our life worth living.
Why We Pray
Understanding the bigger picture – the ultimate reason behind why we do what we do – can often give us the courage to take small steps of faith along the way. When we understand our reason for praying in the first place, “What should I pray?” becomes an irrelevant question. Instead, our only worry will be, “When do I get to pray next?”
Prayer helps us to understand God. When we know God’s will, we can believe that what He says will come to pass. We carry it out with confidence and passion. Then, we can speak out and declare his will and change the trajectory of our lives!
Daniel prayed and fasted for weeks as he sought to understand God’s will. Then, God sent an angel to pay him a visit:
Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. – Dan 10:12
We see an amazing progression here: a call and response between Daniel and God, and between heaven and earth. Daniel did two things: he sought to understand God’s will, and he humbled himself. God did two things in response: He heard Daniel’s prayers, and then inspired heaven to act because of them. God mobilized a ministering angel to do battle on behalf of Daniel; and when we pray to God in the same manner, He will mobilize heaven for us!
God is looking for men and women to partner with Him in prayer. God is looking for men and women who will agree with Him, and pray that His will would come to pass on this earth. God is sovereign and omnipotent; He can do whatever He wants. But we see over and over again in Scripture that His preferred method of operation is partnering with men and women who are willing to embrace His will and pray it out until it comes to pass.
We see this pattern repeated over and over again in Scripture. When the people of Israel were enslaved by the Egyptians, God didn’t act unilaterally to bring them up out of slavery. First, He made contact with a man named Moses:
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.” So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” – Ex 3:1-4
When Moses saw the burning bush, he had a choice. He could have kept walking, head down, and ignored that God was trying to speak to Him. Yet we see Moses make the conscious decision to turn aside and look (v 3).
Once Moses made the decision to pay attention to what God was trying to say, everything changed. God made His will known to man. He called Moses to lead His people out of captivity. Could God have simply moved the Israelites up and out of Egypt and into the promised land? Of course. But He didn’t. He chose to partner with a man who would His will over His people.
God is looking for prayer partners. We see Ezekiel make the same realization as he addresses the failure of Israel’s leaders to listen to God:
The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,” says the Lord God. – Ezek 22:29-31
God was seeking for someone to stand in the gap, and pray for the nation of Israel. If a righteous man or woman had agreed to partner with Him and pray, God’s wrath would have been spared. But He found no one who was willing to partner with Him.
Now someone might say, “God doesn’t need me! He can just do whatever He wants to do!” But this is faulty logic. God created the earth so that He might walk with mankind on it. We see in Genesis 3:8 that God’s purpose in designing the Garden of Eden was to walk with Adam and Eve, “…in the cool of the day.” Recall that a relationship with God should never be a means to an end for us; it should be the end goal. Similarly, a relationship with us is never a means to an end for God; it is His end goal! We are His portion (Deut 32:9). God doesn’t need your help to do something on earth; He wants your help because your partnership is the only thing He desires!
We have an amazing invitation from God: He invites us to speak, and promises He will listen. Jesus gives this same invitation to the Church at Laodicea. This was the lukewarm church: the body of believers which had lost sight of the power of their prayers. Jesus told them to come up to a higher level:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. – Rev 3:20
God is knocking. He is inviting us into His throne room to boldly approach Him and make our requests known through prayer. He is inviting us to offer our undying love and affection to Him through prayer, knowing that He considers our praise the ultimate sacrifice.
One of Satan’s chief goals is to convince us that our prayers don’t have power. He is well aware of the power we have when we pray to the Father, in the name of Jesus. He is well aware of the power that comes when we pray not only with understanding, but also in tongues.
As we pray, the world will start to change to be conformed into God’s image. All of hell will know that Christ’s body finally understands its strength; and all of heaven will be mobilized to respond to our prayers. We must pray. Because if we don’t, who will?
“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” – Martin Luther
– by Pastor Mike White
© Michael D. White and CityLight Church, 2015. 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.