THE BASIC TRUTHS ABOUT PRAYER
We begin with the disciples at Jesus’ feet saying, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). So, it’s really a spiritual discipline to learn from Him. We could say, “Prayer is simply talking to God from the heart,” and while that is true, it’s also true that you only learn to pray while praying, and, as we pray, we say what they once said, “Lord, teach me to pray.” We are in the school of prayer. And we realize that there is nothing too small to pray about and certainly nothing too big. So, really nothing is more important than our prayer life. To be honest, what a person is on their knees is really all there is about that person.
Additionally, the most significant thing about prayers is not the answers we get, rather it’s surely this: the one who prays as he should pray will then live as he should live. Prayer produces holiness.
A simple reality is the one who prays alone is never alone and he who talks to God in private will end up talking about God in public. Making prayer the language of your heart means you have learned the language of eternity. Let’s learn that language and use it until we are there!
And oh how we need to return to believing prayer as a central focus. We see it in the early church, “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). From David Brainerd’s diary we find the same spirit, “I set apart this day for prayer to God, and spent most of the day in that duty.” When was this true of us?
If we take God seriously at His word, we will soon learn to give ourselves to the kind of prayer that asks Him to move in powerful ways in the nations in this generation; and that, of course, is heaven-sent renewal and revival. History teaches us that all the great moves of God can be traced back to one someone starting to frequently and fervently pray, to a single kneeling figure hidden away, asking in faith.
Prayer always initiates a spiritual dynamic, allowing the Spirit to come in a fresh way in the full and phenomenal flow of His power. Others have said there is no awakening without the activity of the Holy Spirit’s presence; so then, prayer is vital. But, let’s take a step further back before we go forward, to a very basic truth.
Prayer is God’s idea, and we pray in response to His Word, His intentions, His initiative and promise. That’s the foundation to prayer. We must repeat it clearly and convincingly: It is God’s idea, not ours! Prayer is a response of obedience, so that for that very reason exclusively we can pray expecting God will always hear and then answer us—that answer will be to His glory and our good. God’s answer to prayer invariably comes as a response to earnest and even extraordinary prayer, yet sometimes He says, “No!” Sometimes He says, “Yes,” other times, “Wait,” and then, “No,” He has something better. The upper room was a place where, for ten days the 120 devoted themselves to prayer—which is extraordinary because it indicates persistence and passion to pray.
In 1860, people still speak of the powerful spiritual awakening that came to Ireland. You can find godly people describing how it began when God moved on the hearts of a handful of people with an awesome burden to pray believing God. This continued as burdened people sought God’s face until, like a thunder, God rent heavens. Much that was wicked and evil then seemed to melt like candle wax before a blowtorch! This story can be repeated again and again across history’s pages. We pray, “Lord, do it again!”
But, in order for that to happen in any generation, a burden will have to lodge deep in the heart of at least one, and then others will catch the vision to pray until the outpouring comes. This is the divinely ordained method that has often been used by God. That is, when any move of heaven is seen or sensed, fervent prayer has preceded it. Always!
We see it in Scripture, there is promise and response. Promise remains only a promise until we claim it and act upon it and fervently, faithfully pray. Awaken prayer warriors, awaken heaven!
Robert Law reminds us that “Prayer is a mighty instrument, not for getting man’s will done in heaven, but for getting God’s will done on earth.” So, when we pray, we realize that God powerfully answers the requests which He inspires, so in reality we are bringing our will into His will, His perfect will. Simply this: effective prayer comes from a person who wants what God wants. The Holy Spirit will skillfully and even subtly teach us to pray in the will of God, and that certainly can be and should be our experience.
But we must mention the need for added help for prayer. This kind of praying passion comes after God’s Spirit moves in our hearts first. It seems this is something which the Lord himself breathes into us. Also, it seems that some prayer promise or a discernment is made clear and evident to us by His Spirit. From God, we sense a deep need and a controlling impression—with a particular freshness and sense of purpose. We feel a sense of obligation, an urgency, and impressive demand which may at that time be personally and profoundly experienced.
This is where Spurgeon’s comment is so very useful, “Only the prayer that comes from God can go to God.” That is, God leads us to pray, but never make the mistake of trying to predict when and why or even how God is going to answer a prayer of faith from our lips. There is the warm statement of William Temple, who said, “When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I do not, they don’t.” Leave it to God, for when prayers are prayed, God is set to work as He wills for His glory. We wait expectantly in prayer.
And we must resolutely settle the issue and say with confidence that we cannot doubt the effectiveness of prayer any more than we can deny the law of gravity. But, as indicated, if God impresses us to pray about a matter, we can feel doubly confident and assured that He desires to answer that prayer and give His blessing!
We may be even mildly shocked as we sense we now pray with great boldness. In such times as this, it is even that we are given “a greater faith” by this inner compulsion. This is the authentic work of God which may be beyond our immediate understanding, yet, it is all done by the Spirit. One can agree with Lloyd-Jones, who said, “We could not pray at all were it not for the Holy Spirit.”
Let’s call it a Biblical term—this is the quickening activity within our hearts and is the clearest indication of our prayer’s being in the will of God. We have assurance before it actually comes. Yet, we should not be surprised if God leads us to moments of sheer desperation with a burden beyond us to endure until we have “unloaded that burden.” Why is this? It’s because, I believe, complacency is the tomb of prayer. Great men of prayer like Hudson Taylor and George Müller and E. M. Bounds speak with a greater understanding of this supernatural urgency of a prayer life. Maybe, it’s beyond words!
For me, I feel it’s a mistake to try to explain why I feel prompted to pray about a certain person or a certain matter—I have learned just to do it instantly and continually until I have faithfully pleaded. That’s my simple response to this profound dimension about intercession. So I say, resist and guard against any attitude that undermines this instant response to pray for others. The comment of William Law comes into play, “There is nothing that makes us love a man so much as praying for him,” and we realize that being experienced in speaking to God about people is far more important than being experienced in speaking to people about God!
I find, prayer is labor, but it is not work. After we pray with an urgency, we may feel expended and even exhausted. Yet, in the end it is not something I do, it is something I am; expect that to happen. Yet, even with all of this considered, let’s admit, “If you have never had difficulty in prayer, it is absolutely certain,” said Lloyd-Jones, “you have never prayed.” Satan hates prayer! Evan Roberts once told how when he withdrew to pray, he had a vision of Satan deriding him and laughing with ridicule in defiance of him as he prayed—spiritual warfare!
“It strikes me,” said Spurgeon, “that conflict is the principle feature of the Christian life this side of heaven,” and certainly we never win in prayer without facing resistance just as Evan Roberts described. Yet, we must be “continuing instant in prayer” (Romans 12:12). We must persist when Satan resists us.
Thank God, prayer is sometimes a flow, and at other times it is a battle against darkness. The simple answer is, pray on, regardless. There is a fight of faith; even if you have felt a burden or claimed a promise, there are seasons when there is a real resistance and struggle. I agree with Lloyd-Jones, there can be conflict of evil spirits in prayer and there can be a deep wrestling with the resisting forces. Pray on, pray on! As the old timers said, “Pray till you pray through.”
Ravenhill covers the whole subject in one sentence, “The self-sufficient do not pray, the self-satisfied will not pray, and the self-righteous cannot pray.” Which are we? None, I hope!
These are simple but profound insights about true prayer that I have collected, and they are important in anyone’s life. These are the lessons God taught me about prayer, and I share them as a way of helping us all grow as prayer warriors.
We give Billy Graham a final word, “Heaven is full of answers to prayers for which no one ever bothered to ask.”