The Interceders Encourager No. 5
How Should We Pray?
Do you sometimes wonder why your prayers do not seem to be answered? There could be many reasons for this, but when it comes to praying for revival, there are some very important things we can learn from four stories in the gospels.
Jesus said, "Suppose one of you has a friend who suddenly arrives on your doorstep late at night. He`s been travelling, and you`ve got no food to offer him. This was in the days before supermarkets were open all night, before fridges and freezers had been invented, and everybody was very poor, by our Western standards of today. Imagine yourself in that position. You have no food in the house, so you go to another friend of yours, and ask him for some food for your guest. But he has locked the door of his house, and gone to bed. So when you knock on his door, and ask for his help, your friend calls out to you, "Don`t bother me. I`ve locked everything up. We are all in bed now. It`s too late now. Go away."
"Now," says Jesus, "if you are really determined, you will not accept that answer. You will go on asking and knocking until, in desperation, your friend gets up and gives you as much as he can. I tell you," says Jesus, "though the man will not get up and give you what you ask because he is your friend, he will get up and give to you because you go on asking, and don`t give up."
The word that Jesus uses here for the attitude that you show is used only once in the whole New Testament. It means:
a) being unreasonably urgent and demanding;
b) being so concerned and so desperate that you do not care what other people think or say;
c) being so determined that you show no sense of shame in what you are doing;
d) persevering until you become troublesome;
e) not accepting no for an answer.
Then Jesus goes on to say,"I am telling you," (and the words used emphasise the authority of Jesus as the Son of God,) "this is how you are to pray. You must go on asking, seeking and knocking, with the same persistence, urgency and determination. So often these words of Jesus, "Ask and it will be given to you," and so on, are taken out of context. We need to understand what Jesus meant. Not "ask, seek and knock, and you will get what you want," but "I am telling you, with my authority as the Son of God, that if you go on asking, seeking and knocking like that man, without caring what other people think or say, without any sense of shame, not accepting no for an answer, believing that what God has promised, He will do, then," says Jesus, "what you ask for will be given to you, what you are looking for, you will find, and the door you are knocking on will be opened."
May I remind you of the men and women in Lewis, in Scotland, who made a covenant with God, that they would continue to pray back the promises of God until He answered. They prayed hour after hour, night after night, with their faces to the ground, beseeching God that He would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would shake at His presence.(Is.64:1) They determined to be watchmen for the Lord, who would give God no rest until He established the church, and made their Jerusalem the praise of the earth.(Is.62:6&7) They prayed that God would pour water on the thirsty land, and floods on the dry ground, that He would pour His Spirit on their descendants, and His blessing on their offspring (Is.44:3). As they prayed, God dealt with them until they were clean, holy vessels, rightly related to Him, until they came to the end of themselves and the beginning of God, until they had the confidence to tell God that because He had promised, that He had to answer their prayers, for His honour was at stake. They proved the truth of Luke 11:9, and God wants us to do the same.
Jesus also told the story of a woman who had a financial problem. She was a widow, which meant, at that time, being poor and defenceless. Somebody had oppressed her, and taken away from her what should have been hers. She went to a judge to ask him to rule in her favour, but the judge didn`t care about her, and wouldn`t listen to her. He was callous and heartless. But the widow didn`t give up. She asked the judge again and again, until, in the end, he got tired of her coming, and gave judgment in her favour. "Listen to the judge", said Jesus."He was unjust and didn`t fear God, yet He gave justice to the poor widow, because she was so persistent. So will God not avenge and vindicate His chosen ones, who cry to Him day and night?" "Of course He will", said the Son of God. "He will avenge them and vindicate them quickly. He will answer their persistent prayers to Him."
The word translated "cry" that Jesus used, is a Greek word that expresses calling out with emotion and intensity. It is the same word used of Blind Bartimaeus, who cried out to Jesus to help him. As a blind person, in those days, there was no hope for him at all. He couldn`t work. The future was completely bleak. And then he heard that Jesus. the miracle healer, was passing by. So he called out,"Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." Can you imagine the sense of desperation that he felt? It was his one chance of escaping from the terrible life of misery he had to endure. The people near him told him to keep quiet.They rebuked him for crying out, but he would not be put off. In fact, their rebukes made him cry out all the more.(Lk.18:39)
This is how we should behave. Nothing should put us off our calling out to God. Even if other people won`t join us, or oppose us and tell us not to bother, the opposition should make us even more determined. Bartimaeus` persistence paid off, for Jesus heard him calling out, and told others to bring the man to Him. Jesus then asked Bartimaeus what he wanted. Of course he knew what Bartimaeus needed. He could see that the poor man was blind, but he wanted the beggar to spell it out. Jesus knows what we need, but He wants us to be definite and precise in our prayers. Pray for what God has promised, and because you know that God has promised it, you can ask for it with confidence; but not just ask for it, but cry out for it with the same earnestness and sincerity and persistence that Bartimaeus showed.
The Greek word for "cry out" is the same as the Hebrew word used by Hosea, when He expresses the frustration and the longing of God towards His people. "I long to redeem them," says the Lord, "but they speak lies against me. They do not cry out to me from their hearts, but wail upon their beds." " ."(Hos.7:14) How typical that is of people in all generations. They complain about everything, but will not call upon God in sincerity and earnestness. Let us make sure we are not among the wailers, but
among the warriors, the prayer warriors who will call upon God and cry out to Him to act.
In 1905, in China, Jonathan Goforth, the Canadian missionary, having heard about the revival in Wales, and having read Finney`s Lectures on Revival, determined that he would find out what the spiritual laws were that governed a spiritual harvest and the giving of revival, and that he would obey them, no matter what the cost. He began intensive Bible study of the Holy Spirit, making notes in the margin of the wide margined Bible he had specially bought for the purpose, while praying long and hard
for the Holy Spirit`s wisdom and power. He also joined with others for the Spirit of God to visit them. In February 1906, he went to a large religious fair, where he spoke to a large crowd of unbelievers. As he explained,"He bore our sins in His body on the tree", conviction of sins came upon everyone listening.
Jonathan asked all those who wanted to repent and surrender their lives to Christ to stand up, and almost everyone did so. Turning round to ask one of the Chinese evangelists to take over, he saw them all standing in a row, with amazement and awe on their faces. "Brother", one of them whispered to him,"HE, for whom we have waited for so long, has really come."
After this, Jonathan travelled to many places, just using the notes in His Bible that the Holy Spirit had given him, and everywhere he went, he saw revival, with the most hardened and rebellious sinners
convicted of their sins, and confessing them openly, many becoming co-workers with him.
The last Bible story we are going to look at is that of the Canaanite or Syro-Phoenician woman, who came to Jesus, asking Him to heal her demon possessed daughter.(Mt.15:21-28) We read that she cried out to Him,"Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David." The Greek word used here is a different word, meaning to cry out with a loud voice. When she cried out, Jesus didn`t answer her, but, like Bartimaeus, she wasn`t put off, and carried on calling out. But she had a bigger hurdle than Bartimaeus to climb over
as she was a Gentile, and even the disciples of Jesus said to Him,"Send her away, for she keeps on calling out." Jesus seemed to reinforce this when He said, "I wasn`t sent for people like her, but only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel." That would have put most people off, but not this woman. She
realized it was time for more drastic action, so she broke through the crowd, fell down before Jesus, and worshipped Him. "Lord, help me," she implored. But even then her troubles were not over, for Jesus said, "It isn`t right to take the children`s bread and give it to the dogs." This seems a very hard saying, but He was emphasising that His earthly ministry was to the people of God who had been prepared for centuries for His coming, or should have been. But she was not put off even by this, for she answered,"You are right, Lord, yet even the puppies eat the crumbs that fall from their master`s table."
Jesus was overwhelmed by her faith and determination. "My," He exclaimed, "your faith is really wonderful." (literally, you have mega faith!) "Let it be done for you as you wish." Her daughter was instantly healed.
This woman, like the other people we have been looking at, is a perfect example of how we should pray.
a) She cried to the Lord from her heart, with all the intensity of feeling that she could.
b) She made herself look silly and stupid, in order to get what she wanted.
c) She didn`t care what other people thought or said or did.
d) She carried on pleading, and wouldn`t take no for an answer.
e) She continued to believe in Jesus, so that even when He seemed reluctant to say yes, she wouldn`t accept it, but went on believing in Him.
So we need to ask ourselves, do we pray like that? For Jesus shows, by His teaching and by His response to people asking Him, that if we want to see God granting our requests,
i) we have to cry out in sincerity and earnestness;
ii) we have to pray in desperation, and be so concerned that we do not care what anybody else thinks or says;
iii) we have to be shameless in our praying. even if it means looking stupid before other believers;
iv) we have to persevere, and go on asking, seeking and knocking, and not be put off by anybody or anything. In fact, any opposition should make us even more determined to carry on.
v) we must not accept no for an answer, for we are believing that what God has promised, He will do.
Therefore, we can ask in confidence, and expect to receive.
The last Greek word that we thought about is the same as the Hebrew word used in Psalm 3 v.4, where the psalmist says,"I cried to the Lord with my vow, and He heard me from His holy hill." When we cry out like that, with a vow that we will not give in, and will persevere, God will hear us, and will answer us.
Daniel Nash was an American who lived in the early part of the 19th century. He prayed with such persistence and intensity that people thought he was mad. He locked himself away in a room to pray, and hardly ate or drank. People were concerned for his health and sanity, but he didn`t care. God used him to bring about the greatest revival in the history of the world, as regards the effects on the community, that at Rochester, in the state of New York, in 1830-1831. The awesome sense of the presence of God
was so all pervading, not only during the revival meetings, but for years afterwards, that ten years after the crusade meetings had finished, the crime rate in the city was less than a third of what it had been before the revival. That was amazing enough, but what made it even more incredible was the fact that during that same period, the population of the city increased threefold. Daniel did not attend a single meeting, but just cried out to God to come down in power. Shortly after the meetings ended, Daniel died. The world has never seen anything like it before or since. This is conclusive proof of the difference that one person`s prayers can make, when that person prays in the way that Jesus has shown us.
If you feel you are not able to pray in this way, then ask the Holy Spirit to have his way in your life, show you any sin that needs to be cleansed and put away, and give you the sense of urgency, the sense of desperation that these people had. Everything is possible. He is able, by the power at work in us, to do for us far more than we can ask or think, (Eph.3:20), so ask Him to do it. He is waiting to do it for you.
Jesus, Thou sovereign Lord of all, the same through one eternal day,
Attend Thy feeblest followers call, and O instruct us how to pray.
Pour out the supplicating grace, and stir us up to seek Thy face.
Jesus, regard the joint complaint, of all Thy tempted followers here,
And now supply the common want, and send us down the Comforter.
The Spirit of ceaseless prayer impart, and fix Thy Agent in our heart.
Come with Thy Pleading Spirit down, to us who for Thy coming stay.
Of all the gifts we ask but one; we ask the constant power to pray.
Indulge us Lord in this request; Thou can`st not then deny the rest.
The Spirit of interceding grace, give us in faith to claim;
To wrestle till we see Thy face, and know Thy hidden name.
From strength to strength go on. Wrestle and fight and pray.
Tread all the powers of darkness down, and win the well fought day.
Let us do it.