Ralph Borthwick took off from the Wycliffe base Yarinacocha Peru. He was transporting a team of Gospel workers into the mountainous jungles. The weather was fine at take off, but without warning he was swallowed up in the worst storm he had ever seen.
Curtains of water cascaded over the plane, leaking in around the canopy and panels of the fuselage. Turbulence shook the little, single-engine amphibian so hard it seemed the rivets would pop out. There was nothing but static on the headset, and the rain got worse, like someone turning on a firehose to the windshield. Borthwick felt as if he were in a submarine rather than an airplane as water spewed in from every seam and crack, drenching both him and his instrument panel. Then came hail, beating against the windshield like bullets. At the worst moment, the engines failed. Apart from the pounding rain and howling wind, there was nothing but silence. The droning of the engines had stopped.
As Borthwick struggled to retain control of the aircraft, he suddenly remembered the verse he and his wife had read just the day before at their breakfast table—Psalm 50:15: “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”
During all the time of his emergency, Ralph realized he had not yet called on God. Now, with death seemingly only seconds away, he began to pray: “Father, if You still have work for me and my passengers, please bring on the engine.”
At once, he thought of something. He had not yet pulled the little handle that would shut off outside air to the engine, the carburetor heat. He tried to dismiss the thought, for that wasn’t something one would normally do in an emergency. But the thought came to him with force, and he reached down and jerked the carburetor heat handle, at the same time pulling back on the stick.
With a mighty roar the engines screamed to life. Borthwick shouted “Praise the Lord!” and, at literally the last second, he pulled his plane out of the dive and Ralph Borthwick lived to fly again.
I dare say that most of our prayers aren’t quite that desperate. And I would also say that many of our prayers are not nearly that effective. We’d like for them to be, but, if we’re honest, we’ll have to admit that they just are not. Why? Well, maybe its because desperate times call for desperate prayer, and that may describe you this morning. Church may not be something you’re all that accustomed to attending, but your life is falling apart, and out of sheer desperation, you’ve shown up here. It could be your finances that are in ruin. The bank’s about to foreclose and you’re about to lose all you’ve worked for. Sickness has stolen your health and the diagnosis doesn’t look good. Your marriage is falling apart and you are afraid that your spouse is about to leave you. You’re here because you are desperate. If that’s you, I want you to know something this morning. God has you right where He wants you. It could be your very desperation that will drive you to the relationship that can change your eternity, turn around your life, and bring great glory to Him. If you’re here, and you are desperate this morning, listen. God’s got you right where He wants you.
Or you may be here and you’re discouraged. You’re a believer and you may have been one for a long time, but you are not so sure that prayer “works” anymore. Frankly, you’ve bombarded heaven with prayers that seem to be falling on deaf ears. It’s gotten to the point that you really wonder why you even bother praying. The fact is, you may have even stopped out of your discouragement. Here’s what you need to know: God wants you right where He has you. You see, your situation, every single circumstance of it is a part of His plan in your life. Nothing that has happened to You has taken Him by surprise. He will use your situation for His glory by either delivering you from your circumstances or delivering you through them. If you’re discouraged this morning, God wantsyou right where He has you.
And, quite frankly, while some of you are discouraged, part of your discouragement can only be blamed on you. See, along with the desperate and the discouraged, we have pray-ers in this room today who are disabled, and they really need to listen too. Now, by disabled, I mean many people pray, but they don’t put feet on those prayers. If that’s you this morning, here’s what you need to know: God wants you where He can use you. Prayer is not a passive activity. Actually, prayer is one of the most demanding things you will ever do. Well, I should say, effective prayer is one of the most demanding things you will ever do.
And it is effective prayer that I want you to learn about this morning. I can think of no better story than the one in 2 Chronicles 20. There we hear of what happened to a King named Jehoshaphat. He faced a difficult situation and he did some amazingly effective praying. You and I can learn from his example what the ingredients of effective praying really are. In the first place, effective praying requires:
DIV 1: DESPERATION
Now there is no doubt that desperate was one word that really describes Jehoshaphat. Vv 1-2 read:
It happened after this that the people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat. 2 Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria; and they are in Hazazon Tamar” (which is En Gedi).
Notice if you will that the people of Israel faced a powerful threat. Three different nations came against them: the people of Moab, the people of Ammon and “others with them besides the Ammonites.” His enemy is described to Jehoshaphat as “a great multitude.” The threat was powerful.
And the threat was somewhat anonymous. While some of the people involved in the threat were known, it seems that the writer hints that there was an unknown element to this threat because he says that they are coming from beyond the sea. The threat was powerful, it was anonymous and it was imminent. He concludes “and they are in Hazazon Tamar (which is En Gedi). En-gedi was an oasis in the desert located only 35 miles from Jerusalem. This mighty, powerful, anonymous threat was closer to Jerusalem than Raleigh is to us.
No wonder the bible says in v 3 that Jehoshaphat feared. Literally that means he was in a state of feeling great distress and deep concern about his circumstances. In the truest sense of the word, Jehoshaphat was desperate.
And have you ever notice that desperate people tend to pray? You see, some people in our country would agree with what FDR said when he gave his famous speech after assuming his office during the Great Depression. You remember what he said? He said that “the only thing to fear was what? That’s right! Fear itself. In other words he was saying, “Fear is the enemy. Don’t get desperate and certainly do not do anything desperate.”
I want you to know this morning that while FDR’s advice may have made political sense, it is the opposite of what we must do if we are to pray effectively. We spend most of our lives ignoring the danger we’re really in. Have you noticed? We don’t go to funerals because we don’t want to think about the inevitability of death. We won’t balance our checkbooks because we’re afraid we’ll be out of money! Like ostriches, we spend most of our lives hiding from truth because we can’t handle the desperation.
I really see this on airplanes. Why do you think alcohol is so popular in mid flight? It’s because if a person gets wasted enough, the plane may go down, but they won’t care. For me its different. I don’t drink, so I do the only thing I can do. When we take off, I close my eyes and grab ahold of my seat. Think of it! Do I really think that not seeing the wing come off on take off will keep me safe when the plane goes down? Wrong!
But that’s the way we are, not just in planes, but in life. We try to live without sensing the desperate danger we are in. And because we don’t feel the desperation of our lives apart from God, we aren’t very effective in our praying.
Come on, Christian, admit it. Our lives are pretty good. We’re saved, we’re spiritually fat and happy. We settle into our “American” Christianity. We’re wealthy, at least compared to most people around the world; we’re comfortable; we’re in a routine and Satan, so often, has us lured to sleep. We don’t realize how desperately bankrupt we are. That’s the way it was with Jehoshphat and Judah. They were spiritually bankrupt and now their past sins were catching up with them. Their situation was desperate, and they knew it. Which, by the way, is why their prayer was so powerful.
So my question for you, my Christian brother or sister, is this: How can we wake up to our desperation? If effective prayer’s first ingredient is desperation, how can we get desperate enough to pray effectively?
Well, we must simply realize the threat. The threat is powerful. Our enemy isn’t some physical nation that simply attacks us with physical weapons. No! The Bible says in 1 Pet 5:8 that Satan is like a roaring who prowls around looking for someone whom he can destroy. Christians, we are at war with an enemy who takes no prisoners and gives no quarter and we will begin to pray effectively when we realize that the threat is powerful.
And the threat is anonymous. Our enemy lkes to hide his schemes and cloak them in such a way that we find ourself sucked into thing we would have avoided had we been awake. We pray effectively when our prayer alerts us to the deception of our enemy.
And the threat is imminent. Satan takes no breaks and he gives none. The attack is constant, and if the attack is constant, our prayers must be as well.
But here’s the good news. God loves to answer desperate prayers! In fact, those are the situations in which He shines!
Which can be reassuring to you today if you came to church desperate. Maybe you’re here and you’ve never committed your life to Christ but you came here with some pretty desperate stuff going on in your life. Can I tellyou that you can begin to pray effectively today? God will help you, but His help begins with you acknowledging Who He is and what He did for you. You see, you may have some real bad things going on in your life, but the truth is that no danger you face is as bad as the eternal danger you face apart from God. You are one breath away from eternity and that is the most desperate place you could possibly be if you don’t know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. Today the most desperate prayer you could pray would be, O God be merciful to me, a sinner, and save me. O, but the greatest news you will ever hear is this: God loves to answer desperate prayers like that!
You see, the first ingredient of effective prayer is desperation. Here’s the second: Effective prayer requires
DIV 2: DEPENDENCE
Jehoshaphat takes three actions that show his dependence on God in this story. He begins by recognizing Who God is. V 3 says:
And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. 4 So Judah gathered together to ask help from the Lord; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord. Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, 6 and said: “O Lord God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You? 7 Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever?
His dependence begins with fear. You see, Jehoshaphat knew he did not have the resources within himself to win the victory and He turns to God. H recognizes Who God is. He is the God of Heaven Who rules in complete authority over this world and has always taken care of His children.
How some of us need to hear that today! If you take nothing else from this message, would you please hear me say with Jehoshaphat, O Lord God of our fathers, You are God in Heaven; You rule over all the kingdoms and nations and In Your hand there is power and might so that no one is able to withstand You! Effective prayer requires dependence and that dependence begins with realizing just Who this God we worship is!
But Jehoshaphat’s dependence takes him further. He not only recognizes Who God is, he claims God’s promise. Look at verse 8:
And they dwell in it, and have built You a sanctuary in it for Your name, saying, 9 ‘If disaster comes upon us—sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine—we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your name is in this temple), and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save.’
Do you know the promise the this frightened king is recalling here? It’s the very promise that God gave to Solomon at that famous worship service when the temple was dedicated. It’s that same verse we quote when we talk about revival: “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked way, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” It’s as if Jehoshaphat is saying, “OK, God. You said if we would humble ourselves and pray and seek your face and turn from our wicked way, then you would hear and heal. Ok, Lord we’re here, we’re humble, we’re praying, we’re seeking, we’re turning. WE CLAIM YOUR PROMISE!”
Listen, Christian, you can claim the promises of God! In fact, truly dependent believers to it all the time. How peppered with scripture are your prayers? How often to you tie your request to a specific promise of God’s Word? Jehoshaphat declares his dependence by recognizing who God is and claiming His promise.
And he does one more thing: He asks for God’s specific help. Look at v 10:
And now, here are the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir—whom You would not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them and did not destroy them— 11 here they are, rewarding us by coming to throw us out of Your possession which You have given us to inherit. 12 O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.
Jehoshaphat is too desperate and too dependent to leave this to chance. He needs deliverance too much to just throw up some generalized “God help me” prayer. He gets specific. Look at v 12. He says, there: “O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us;” He specifically asks God to intervene and then he concludes with this great phrase: “Nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”
Wow! Now that’s dependence! It’s almost as if He’s saying, “Lord, I’m the leader of this nation and I know we are in great danger, but I can’t do anything about it. All I’m doing is telling you what I need and looking to you. I’m like a little boy with no money who just asked the grocery clerk for a candy bar and I’m just standing there looking expectantly and just waiting.” That is the key to effective praying. I must be dependent on the Lord.
And that really is the issue for you if you’re here today without the Lord. Look, I know you pray. Just about everyone does when things get bad enough. Just let the plane start diving and even the most ardent atheist will shout, “O God.” I know you pray, but do you depend? See, I rather doubt that you do if you’ve never been born again. For one thing, if you’ve never surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, you know that and you know that He’s asking you for your life, so since you’re not willing to surrender, you also know that you can’t expect a whole lot from God. And since you’re not surrendered and since you’re not dependent, your praying isn’t very effective. Listen, little “cover your bases” prayers don’t usually go very far. The most effective prayer you will pray if you’ve never become Christ’s follower is the one that makes Him the Lord of your life.
And Christians, what about us? You know, I’ve observed a couple of things about myself and prayer. I tend to talk about prayer a whole lot more than I actually do it. And as bad as that is, I tend to do it a whole lot more than I really believe it. And that’s why, so often, my praying is ineffective. I pray, but I don’t believe. I pray, but I don’t depend.
There was a small town that had been “dry” historically. For those of you who may not be from around here, that simply meant that there was no alcohol served, nor sold in the city. But all that changed when a local business man saw a money-making opportunity. He opened a tavern and was doing a pretty good business.
Of course, local pastors were upset. They could see the coming moral decline and began to call on their people to pray. Finally a group of Christians from one local church were so concerned about the bar that they planned an all-night prayer meeting asking God to intervene and shut down this din of sin.
Not long after that prayer meeting, a thunderstorm came up and lightening struck the tavern, it caught on fire and burned to the ground. Well what do you think the bar owner did? He sued the church! That’s right! He claimed that the prayers of those Christians were responsible for his bar burning to the ground. Of course, the church hired a lawyer who went to court and argued that they were not in any way responsible for this tavern owner’s misfortune.
The presiding judge, after his initial review of the case, said, “No matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear. The tavern owner believes in prayer and the Christians do not.”
Christian, I know you pray, but do you believe? Do you really depend on God? You might say, “Yes, Rusty, I do depend and I do believe when I pray but, still, nothing is happening.” Well, theirs is one more element to effective prayer. You see effective prayer requires desperation and dependence, but it also requires:
DIV 3: OBEDIENCE
In response to their prayer, God sends them a message. V14 reads
14 Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. 15 And he said, “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. 16 Tomorrow go down against them. They will surely come up by the Ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the brook before the Wilderness of Jeruel. 17 You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you.”
Now that was a great promise, but it was not necessarily an easy one to follow. They were not to draw up a battle plan. They were simply to show up and watch. Now that sounds good until you start thinking about what that meant. These people of Judah were supposed to go to the battle field against a much larger, stronger enemy, just stand there, and do nothing. Now, folks, that would take some faith. Maybe that’s why it goes on to say in v 20
So they rose early in the morning and went out into the Wilderness of Tekoa; and as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper.”
The king admonishes them to believe God. I’ll say! They’d have to really believe God to show up in this situation. But the great wonder is, that’s exactly what they do. And in their example we find another truth about prayer. Notice what they did: When they were threatened, they prayed; when they prayed, they believed; because they believed they obeyed. They marched out into the fray with their worship leaders at the head of the troop, praising God for the victory ahead of time.
O, but don’t miss this: It was when they obeyed that God moved! I don’t believe there would have been a victory without their obedience. This is where we so often miss out on effective prayer. We fail to see how God wants to use us as the answer, very often to the very prayer we are praying. God wants us to obey and in our obedience He will often show up to answer our prayers.
One person wrote:
Several years ago I was a part of a small group with a friend who was working with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Georgetown University. As we shared prayer requests at the end of one of our meetings, my friend said their ministry needed a computer, and I said I'd pray for him. I started praying that God would provide a computer, and then I felt as if God interrupted me. It's hard to describe the tone I heard from God. It was stern but not unkind. It was as if the Holy Spirit whispered these words in my spirit: Why are you asking Me? You're the one with the extra computer!
So I quit praying midsentence and decided to do something about it. I told my friend I had a computer that I wanted to give him. And I became the answer to my own prayer.
This is why prayer is a two-way conversation. The God we pray to wants to speak back to us, very often leading us specifically to the answer to the very prayer we may be praying. He often moves on our hearts to become the answer to the very prayer we are praying to Him. Effective prayer requires our obedience. Now I know that part of the reason we may be praying is because the problem is much bigger than we can handle and I know we may feel absolutely powerless to overcome this problem or deal with that issue. Still, I believe that many times, in fact I would say most of the time, God will, if we’ll spend time in His presence, begin to move us to do something about the issue we’re praying about. He may not show us the complete answer, or how to completely handle the problem, but He will reveal to us the next step we should take. Listen, it is at that point that you hold in your hands the key to successful prayer. It all comes down to this question: Will you obey God or not?
And if you’re here today and you’ve never really had a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I want you to know that effective prayer for you means doing something. When the Jews asked Jesus what they had to do to go to heaven, he replied: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” That is the action that will make your prayer effective: Trusting Christ with your whole life.
Hey, for just a moment think with me. What would happen if Chistians began to be involved in effective praying? How could your life change if you began to practice powerful prayer? Would it mean that people that you’ve been praying for for years finally come to know Jesus? Could it mean that the wayward son or daughter you’ve prayed and prayed for turns around? Might it mean that the spouse that is so cold to you now begins to warm to you? Could it mean that you might find the strength to forgive that person whom you’ve been trying to forgive for years? Could it be that your cold, cold heart which, for so long, hasn’t felt close to God could have that fire it used to have? It all comes from effective prayer. From people who are desperate enough to pray, depend, and obey.
J. Hudson Taylor was the first missionary to inland China. From the time he received his calling as only a teenager, he made it his philosophy to move men through God by prayer. In order to prepare himself for his calling, he moved from the comforts of his home in Barnsley of Yorkshire to Drainside Hull, a depressed, poverty stricken area made notorious by the stinking, filthy ditch running through it. Taylor worked with a doctor to accumulate some medical knowledge and to prepare himself for the loneliness and dangers of living in a strange land with only God as his companion.
He soon learned he could trust God with his last penny. He’d been called out late one night to witness to and pray over a sick woman with starving children. As he tried to pray, his words choked in his mouth because he realized that in his pocket was a silver coin that would answer his prayer and temporarily relieve their suffering. "Hypocrite!" he heard his heart condemn him. "Telling people about a kind and loving Father in Heaven -- and not prepared to trust Him yourself, without your money!" So Taylor reached in his pocket and gave them his last coin. Now he had only one bowl of porridge between him and poverty! As he ate that last meal he remembered the Scripture, "He that gives to the poor lends to the Lord."
But the next day he received a package. In it was a gold coin -- worth ten times the silver coin. Taylor cried out triumphantly, "That's good interest! Ha! Ha! Invested in God's bank for twelve hours and it brings me this! That's the bank for me!
You see, he was desperate, for he gave away his last coin; he was dependent because he had no other means of income; and he obeyed because he gave it away. And because he was desperate and because he was dependent and because he obeyed, his prayer was effective. Are yours?