Our son had a hockey game in a town in which we had not been before. Since we were late, I didn’t want to stop to ask directions. I reasoned, “how hard can it be to find an arena in a rural Canadian town?” Well, it was harder than I thought. After driving several of the streets, I finally found someone who lived in the town and asked them for directions and got to the arena just in time, with a very nervous hockey player.
On Tuesday, I was in Winnipeg and took the ink cartridge from my printer to a place in St. Vital mall which refills cartridges. They also sell a kit so you can refill the ink yourself. The guy at the counter told me that people buy the kit and then return it saying it doesn’t work. When he looks at the kit, he notices that the instruction booklet hasn’t even been opened.
Why are we like that? They say that men don’t ask for directions, but I think that sometimes we can all be like that. How many of you have read the instruction manual for your answering machine or your VCR? We would rather figure it out on our own or not figure it out than ask for help. There is something very independent in our spirit that makes it hard for us to ask for directions.
Last week we examined the importance of prayer. We learned that we have an invitation to pray and a command to pray. We learned that God has chosen to act in response to the prayers of his people and that therefore, our prayers are important. Yet do we pray as we ought? What will move us to prayer?
I. The Sin Of Prayerlessness
A. Why Prayerlessness Is Sin
This is much more serious than we think. Andrew Murray has written a book called “The Prayer Life” and in that book he talks about “the sin of prayerlessness.” Corrie Ten Boom has also said that prayerlessness is a sin. The Bible concurs with this serious statement. In Zephaniah 1:4,6 God says, “I will cut off…those who…neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.”
I suspect that all of us pray, but how seriously do we take prayer? How often and how much do we pray? Is it a priority in our life? We may tend to look at little prayer as merely a weakness, but as we see from God’s word, it is a sin. Why is prayerlessness a sin and not just a weakness?
Prayerlessness is a sin because it is disobedience to the command of God. Last week, we saw that God has not only invited us to pray, but has also commanded us to pray. Very simply stated, when we don’t do what God asks us to do, that is sin.
It is sin for other reasons as well. It is a rejection of what God has already done for us. If I wasn’t so much like them, I would be even more amazed at the actions of the Israelites. They had just observed God redeem them from Egypt and lead them through the Red Sea. There was no doubt that these events were done by the powerful hand of God as an expression of his love for them. Just days later, they found themselves without water. Did not run to God for help and thus affirm their joy at being redeemed from Egypt? No, instead, they complained to Moses. The story is found in Exodus 17:1-7. It seems to me that this action was a rejection of God’s goodness already demonstrated as they failed to go to God for help when they again found themselves in need.
Failing to ask God for help is also an indication that our life is lived under the power of the flesh rather than in dependence on God. Andrew Murray says, “A life lived according to the flesh and not according to the Spirit- it is in this that we find the origin of the prayerlessness of which we complain.” We recognize that a life lived in the power of the flesh is a life of sin.
Furthermore, when we depend on self instead of on God, we reveal the real problem and that is that we don’t trust God. In Matthew 13:58 we are told that Jesus “…did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” Lack of prayer is the sin of lack of trusting God.
B. Overcoming This Sin
So we see that not praying is sin. What can we do about that?
Andrew Murray says, “Many think that they must, with their defective spiritual life, work themselves up to pray more. They do not understand that only in proportion as the spiritual life is strengthened can the prayer life increase.”
We will pray more and overcome the sin of prayerlessness as we make our relationship with God a much greater priority in our life. If knowing God and having a friendship with God is what is important to us, we will soon find ourselves praying more.
Haddon Robinson tells the following story. “When our children were small, we played a game. I'd take some coins in my fist. They'd sit on my lap and work to get my fingers open. According to the international rules of finger opening, once the finger was open, it couldn't be closed again. They would work at it, until they got the pennies in my hand. They would jump down and run away, filled with glee and delight. Just kids. Just a game.
“Sometimes when we come to God, we come for the pennies in his hand.
"Lord, I need a passing grade. Help me to study."
"Lord, I need a job."
"Lord, my mother is ill."
“We reach for the pennies. When God grants the request, we push the hand away.
“More important than the pennies in God's hand is the hand of God himself. That's what prayer is about. When you go to God in prayer, the name that should come easily to your lips is Father.”
So the starting point of more prayer is to ask ourselves about our relationship to God. Spiritual renewal will move us to prayer. Are you open to God’s renewing work in your heart? We will be moved to pray when we trust God and when our hearts are turned to God.
II. Our Desperation
What else will motivate us to pray?
A few years ago, someone came to our church looking for gas money and some food. Of course, we gave what we could. Later, I found out that he had done this in every church in town. What is our opinion of someone who is always looking for help. Don’t we become tired of such a person and although we may help them, they become a drain on us and our resources. As a result, our understanding becomes that asking for help is not a good thing. The sense that we should look after ourselves and be self sufficient is very strong in us. The problem is that we transfer that attitude to our relationship to God. We think that we should be independent and only ask God when we are really in trouble. With God, however, the truth is exactly the opposite. He wants us to ask Him. He wants us to be dependent on Him. Look at what the Scripture says.
In Psalm 147:10,11 we read, “His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” God doesn’t want us to become self sufficient, he wants us to live in dependence on Him. We will pray when we understand our utter dependence on God. It is usually not until we get into real trouble that we begin to understand this.
In the Bible, this idea is so often present. Many times people got to the place of desperation and when they got there, they cried out to God and he helped them.
There is a story in II Chronicles 13:13-18. The story takes place soon after Solomon stopped being king. His son Rehoboam had become king in his place, but because he was not accepted as king, Jeroboam set up another kingdom of the 10 tribes and there were now two kingdoms instead of just one. A few years later when Abijah was king of Judah and Jeroboam was still king of Israel, there was a war between the two kingdoms. The kingdom of Israel came against the kingdom of Judah. Israel had 800,000 soldiers, vastly outnumbering Judah which only had 400,000 soldiers. Abijah, the king of Judah spoke to Israel and told them that they should not fight against God and that he represented God. Israel did not listen and when the day of battle came, Judah, with her 400,000 soldiers found herself not only outnumbered 2-1, but they also discovered that Israel had one army in front of them and one army behind them. They were trapped in an ambush. What could they do in this desperate situation? Where would they turn in their trouble? II Chronicles 13:14 says that “they cried out to the Lord.” What happened next? We read in 15 that “God routed Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah.” Desperation, a hopeless situation moved the people of Judah to prayer and to receiving God’s deliverance.
God wants us to cry out to Him in our need. God desires that we ask for His help. It seems that when we get to the place where we know we need help and are in a desperate situation, we finally ask for help and God helps!
Psalm 107 is a wonderful Psalm about this very thing. When people become desperate, they turn to the Lord. In these verses some of their desperation is written about.
- 4,5 - desert, hunger, thirsty
- 10 - 12 - darkness, gloom, prisoners, rebellion
- 17-18 - fools, rebellion, affliction, near to death.
- 23-27 - sea in ships, waves lifted up, courage melted, wits’ end
In each of these situations of desperation we read that they responded by praying. In Verses 6, 13, 19 and 28 we read, “then they cried out to the Lord.” Charles Spurgeon says about this Psalm, “Not till they were in extremities did they pray, but the mercy is that they prayed then, and prayed in the right manner, with a cry, and to the right person, even to the Lord.” It seems, as he goes on to say, that “We pray best when we are fallen on our faces in painful helplessness.”
We could look at so many other situations in which this happened in the Bible. We could think of Hannah who desperately wanted a child, Hezekiah who prayed for health when he found out he was going to die and on and on.
When we know we can’t, we will be moved to seek help from the one who can.
But notice something else. As much as we consider constant asking as a weakness, God does not, in fact, He wants us to ask. Repeatedly such actions are rewarded, in fact, in every case when people cried out to the Lord in their desperation, God answered. So we conclude that it is good to express our desperation to God.
Bob Pierce the founder of World Vision talks about “God room” which he defines as “the gap between what was humanly achievable and what could happen only if God intervened.” Do we seek “God room” in our lives? Do we recognize the desperation in our lives for which we need His help? Who of us can live a pure and holy life? Are we desperate enough about this to be praying that God will change us? How many of us are experts at acting compassionately and appropriately in every situation? Are we needy enough to ask God for help? How many of us can minister in God’s name with complete effectiveness? Have we prayed about this? Who has wisdom to act with good judgement in every situation? Do we ask God for wisdom as Solomon did?
Contrary to the thinking of our North American society, “God doesn’t help those who help themselves: He helps those who trust Him.” “…prayer is the exercise, par excellence, of those whose hope is in God, not in themselves.”
Poor countries often have to go to wealthy countries for foreign aid to survive. Dwight L. Moody said, “Sooner or later we will need some foreign aid--the kind we get from prayer.”
Has desperation driven you to your knees? If you are not desperate about something, are your eyes really open?
III. God’s Initiative
But there is one more thing that will lead us to prayer. If God has chosen to act in response to the prayers of his people and if God has a plan that he wants to bring about through his people, doesn’t it stand to reason that God himself will at times move us to prayer?
A. God’s Initiates Prayer By Revealing Need
The book of Nehemiah tells the story of Nehemiah’s trip to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Israel had been in captivity in Babylon already nearly 70 years, but, some people had already returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Nehemiah was in Babylon as a servant of King Artaxerxes. As he was serving, his brother came back from Jerusalem with a report about how things were going. Nehemiah heard that things were not going well and that there was trouble. He learned that the city walls were in ruins and the gates burned. When he heard this report Nehemiah found that he really cared. He was moved deeply in his heart and was moved to prayer. God answered the prayer by allowing Nehemiah to get permission from the king to make a trip to Jerusalem to direct the rebuilding of the walls. The report, which God made sure Nehemiah heard, prompted Nehemiah to pray.
A similar event takes place in Genesis 18:16-33. God has just announced that Abraham will have a child in a year. As the angels are leaving Abraham, the Scripture reports God’s thoughts, “shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do.” God told Abraham that he was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Suddenly Abraham was deeply concerned because his nephew Lot lived there. What did Abraham do? He prayed. What had moved him to prayer? God had moved him to prayer by telling him about his intentions for Sodom and Gomorrah. As a result, Lot was taken out of Sodom before it was destroyed. Once again, we see how information about a situation moved Abraham to prayer. Ben Patterson in the book, “Waiting” writes that in “prayer… God… takes the initiative.” “When (challenges) things like that happen to us, we can rest assured that God has taken the initiative with us in prayer.”
One of the things that I am trying to learn to do is to pray about situations as soon as I hear about them - whether on the news, when I hear a story or when I think about a certain person - believing that God is prompting me to prayer. If you find yourself caring about a situation, perhaps God is trying to prompt you to pray.
B. God Initiates Prayer Through His Word
Another way in which God initiates prayer in us is through His Word. In Daniel 9:1-4, Daniel has been reading the book of Jeremiah. He must have been reading Jeremiah 25 because there he would have learned that God had indicated that the exile to Babylon would last for 70 years. When he read that and realized that God moves in answer to prayer, he began to pray. His prayer is one of confession and asking God to restore his people, which of course, God did do, in answer to Daniel’s prayer.
As we read Scripture, it can prompt us to pray about the things we read there. As we read about faithfulness in marriage, we can pray about our marriage and the marriages of the people in the world. Jesus Himself said in Scripture that we should pray for workers in the harvest field. Have you ever allowed this Scripture to prompt you to pray.
Another idea is to pray Scripture. I have tried to do this few times lately and it is very meaningful. John Maxwell in the book “Partners in Prayer” speaks about this idea and recommends it highly. He advises that in order to pray Scripture we read a passage and as we read it, we personalize it in prayer. The blessing of praying Scripture is that we don’t have to wonder whether it is God’s will.
We will pray when God moves us to prayer, either by stirring our hearts with some need or moving our hearts through His Word. Of course, if we are to be moved by God, we will need to learn to listen to God - which we will examine next week.
This week, CKY featured a 10 year old girl who played soccer as their sports star of the week. She was so good that her coach said that other teams were double teaming her. When a team does that, what is their purpose? They are trying to take away the effectiveness of the other teams most powerful offensive weapon.
If you have ever played chess you know that if you can ever get the other persons queen, you will likely win. The queen is the most powerful weapon you have on the chess board because she can go anywhere. If she is taken out of the picture, victory is almost assured.
If our enemy, the devil, can take away the most effective weapon we have in the battle of the Christian life and in the work of serving Christ, how can we have victory? The weapon which we have, which is our most powerful and effective weapon is prayer. If Satan takes it away, we are rendered powerless.
Has Satan taken the weapon of prayer away from you? Someone has said, “When we work, we work, but when we pray, God works.” Let us pray that God may work in a mighty way among us.
E.M. Bounds said, "It may be laid down as an axiom, that God needs, first of all, leaders and workers in the church who will be first in prayer, people with whom prayer is habitual and characteristic, people who know the primacy of prayer. But even more than a habit of prayer, and more than prayer being characteristic of them, church workers are to be people whose lives are made and moulded by prayer, whose heart and life are made up of prayer. These are the people - the only people - God can use in the furtherance of His kingdom and the implanting of His message in the hearts of people."