Praying With Christ One HourErwin W. Lutzer | December 31, 2006
Selected highlights from this sermon
The time of Jesus’ crucifixion was drawing near, and He needed to pray, so He took three disciples with Him. These three ended up wasting the opportunity and slept.
We all face struggles when it comes to prayer. But we need to remember that it is a privilege to pray—to have fellowship with the Creator of the universe. Let’s not waste the time we have—pray constantly and fervently.
Let’s bow together in prayer.
Father, I ask in the name of Jesus that this message might transform people forever so that someday we may be able to stand in heaven and say it was this message that inspired Your church and Your people to a ministry and a life of prayer. We look to You to do that because we can’t. We ask only that You might open every heart. Take away all the resistance and all the distractions, and make this a message from Your heart to us today. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
The question that I begin with today is very simple. If your priorities are reflected by your schedule, if somebody were to look at your schedule, how important would they conclude that God was to you? If it’s true that our schedules reflect our priorities, how important is God to us today? How much time do we spend in His word and in prayer?
Jesus was going through the convulsions of an emotional earthquake. He was about to become sin for humanity. He was about to be identified with sin. He was about to be crucified. And the agony that He experienced in Gethsemane was not agony that came about because He feared crucifixion, horrendous though that was, but that was a means by which people died by the thousands in those days. But the agony that He was going through was one of being separated from the Father, and there in Gethsemane He settled the issue, and He asked three of His disciples to come and to be with Him as He prayed.
The text is Matthew 26 beginning at verse 36.
“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’ And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee (that would be James and John), he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’ And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’” We read just that far for now.
Let me tell you the purpose of this message. I hope it’s very clear. It is to motivate you to accept an invitation from the Lord Jesus that He gave to Peter, James and John to pray for one hour with Him.
One hour a week is today’s challenge - maybe on a Tuesday night, maybe on a Saturday morning from six to seven. Whatever hour you designate for 52 weeks, to spend one hour each week with Jesus in prayer.
Now in order to motivate you to do this I want to answer four questions that come to us from the text of Scripture regarding praying with Jesus Christ for an hour. The first question, of course, is simply this. Why pray with Christ for one hour? Why accept this invitation? And the answer very simply is because, first of all, it’s a tremendous privilege. Jesus had 70 disciples and then He had the 12, and then within the 12 there were Peter, James and John. We’re not sure exactly why He chose them. It almost appears as if they were His favorites. They were the ones that were invited also onto the Mount of Transfiguration. But Jesus invites them and says, “Come, watch with Me during this time of My agony.” What a privilege to respond to Jesus just like that! And even though He’s not on earth any more in a physical body, is it not true that He invites us as it were in heaven to watch with Him? He is, after all, the high priest who intercedes for us moment by moment. Twenty-four hours a day He keeps supplying to God what God demands on our behalf.
So when we accept the invitation to pray with Jesus for an hour, we’re not praying alone. We actually are praying with Him. It is us interceding with Christ before the throne of grace, and you’ll never be closer to Jesus than when you kneel with Him in prayer. It’s a privilege to pray an hour.
Let me say that it’s also necessary. You’ll notice that the disciples were asleep, which is really a picture of the Church today – asleep. But you’ll notice in verse 41 of the passage that I read, Jesus said, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” It’s necessary if we’re going to keep ourselves from sin.
Interestingly Peter was asleep during this time and later on that evening he denies three times that he ever knew Jesus. And so if Peter had stayed awake and maybe interceded with Christ perhaps he would have passed that test. But Jesus said, “Watch and pray because temptation is ever with us.” I don’t need to tell you the stories of Christians who have fallen into serious temptation that they see really no easy way out of. It happens all the time and Jesus says, “Watch and pray lest it happen to you.”
This past week I was talking to a man who was a very successful businessman, and a number of years ago (about 13 or 14 years ago), because of a medical procedure he was totally debilitated in a stroke. Today he is but a shell of his former self. He can’t walk unless you help him. He basically has to sit hour by hour year after year. And I said to him, “Have you ever been able to come to terms with what happened to you?” And he said, “I thank God everyday for what happened to me,” and then he surprised me by saying this, “because if this had not happened I would have had both the money and the time to pursue the sins of my youth.” Ouch! I know that it was difficult for him to accept it when it first happened many years ago, but what he was saying was, “It was worth it because this debilitation kept me from pursuing sins that would have led me away from God.” And I thought to myself, “I wonder if the medical procedure that went wrong was an answer to the prayer of some mother who said, ‘Please keep my son from being led into gross sin.’” Temptation is ever with us. Falling into sin is ever a possibility. Jesus says, “Watch and pray lest you enter into temptation.” We think of wayward children and we think of those who are addicted, and we know the great need for intercessory prayer.
So one reason is because it is a privilege. Second, it’s because it’s necessary, and third, it’s because it’s a passing opportunity. In verse 43 Jesus comes to them the third time. By the way, they did fall asleep three times. I read this passage again yesterday a couple of times just to make sure that I was getting it right. Three times! The third time Jesus comes to them, it says in verse 44 that He found them sleeping. In verse 43 He went away and prayed for the third time saying the same words again. Then in verse 45 He comes to the disciples. Now it is the third time. He says, “Sleep and take your rest later on because the man who is betraying me is here.” In other words it’s too late now. I asked you to pray with me when I was in my agony, to watch with me, to intercede with me, but you slept through the experience, and now Judas is on his way. Let’s get up and let’s go.”
It’s a passing opportunity. You will never pass this way again and there’s no way to somehow make up for the mistakes of yesterday and the wasted time of last week. You’re passing through once. Opportunities come and go, so I need to ask you a question. In ten years from now will you have wished that you had taken out one hour a week to pray and to be with Jesus? I think so. I think ten years from now if you live that long you’ll say, “Oh I wish I had done it.” Well there’s only one way to fulfill that wish and that is to do it and to begin today or begin next week as we begin a brand new year.
The first question to ask is, “Why should we do it?” The next question is “When should we pray?” Jesus was here in great agony, but when you look at His whole life He was filled with constant prayer. Jesus prayed when things were going well. The Bible says that they marveled at the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth, and He spoke so warmly and so beautifully. The Bible says that the multitudes followed Him but the text says that He Himself would slip away often to pray. When things were going well He prayed. When the public opinion turned against Him and He began to be rejected, and when they tried to push Him off the brow of a hill (as they did in Nazareth) he prayed. What do we read? It says that Jesus would go onto a mountain and spend the whole night in prayer as the Son of God. Now, of course, I don’t know that we could do that. We wouldn’t have the physical strength, and that’s not what my challenge before you is. My challenge is one hour – one out of 168 hours a week. Jesus prayed when things were going well, when things were going poorly, and when He was rejected. He prayed under pressure.
There’s a very interesting story in Mark 1. Jesus is there. He heals some people and the next morning a huge crowd comes to look for him and nobody can find him. And the disciples find Him praying, and they say to Him, “Everybody is looking for you.” You know I look at that passage and I just can hardly read it because if there’s anything that a preacher likes, it’s a crowd. If I were praying and somebody nudged me and said, “Everybody is there, waiting for you to preach,” I’d say, “Set up the microphone equipment because I’ll be there.” But interestingly the Bible says that Jesus said, “I have other places to go,” and He departed and He left the crowd unsatisfied and disappointed. He had an agenda. But notice He was praying. When did Jesus pray? He prayed without ceasing.
You see, many of us think to ourselves that we’re too busy to pray. That of course is not true at all. Are you going to watch at least one hour of television a week in the New Year? Many of us watch a lot more than that. It’s not a matter of saying that you don’t have the time. We’re getting to the real matter now as we come to the third question. And the third question is, “What are the struggles that we are going to encounter when we pray? Why is there so much resistance? Why is it that when we begin to do it, it seems as if every demon in hell begins to show his face? Well, you can begin to understand that, can’t you?
What are the struggles that we are going to experience when we pray? What is going to be in opposition to you if you say, “Yes, by God’s grace today, I will pray for one hour a week for the coming year? That’s in addition to my regular devotional time. This is just one special hour a week in addition to what I am doing.”
What are some of the struggles that you are going to have? Well, number one, a place to pray. If you live in a very busy place, perhaps a small home, you might find it difficult. That’s why your prayer time may be early in the morning or late at night. I believe it’s very important. Jesus always went to Gethsemane. It says that whenever He went to Gethsemane the disciples knew that He was there to pray. Jesus said, “It’s time to pray. Gethsemane is the place.” I love that, and we love the Garden of Gethsemane today (if you’ve ever been there), don’t we, because that’s where Jesus prayed? Do you have a place of prayer? I have a place at home and I also have a place here at the church, and I always say that that is my place of prayer. When I am really serious and when I need some time to pray, that’s where I go.
Do you have a place to pray? Now you can’t always pray there obviously because you may be traveling, or because of schedules and so forth, but there should be a place to pray. But that’s not going to be your biggest struggle. Your biggest struggle is going to be your motivation. The spirit is willing. “Oh yes, we heard that message and we signed up.” The spirit is willing but the flesh is so weak because “there are all these other things to do, and furthermore my day is falling apart and nothing is going right, and today is not the time to do it,” because as I am saying, the opposition is going to be relentless all 52 weeks.
I have in my hand something that was written by Sidlow Baxter. Now he was a Scottish pastor and a great preacher, and as I read about his struggle with prayer I wonder if you can identify. I mean this is my story too so I know I can.
He says that he wanted to get up early in the morning to pray and to do so with some regularity. But he said, “Just as the stars in their courses fought against Cicero, so the stars in their courses seemed set on smashing my well-made plans.” He said, “I would begin (and so forth) but I won’t take the time telling you all of all of the subtle subterfuges which Satan used to trip me up and trick me out of keeping my plans.” And he says, “It isn’t necessary because you know them all. Many times my time for prayer and Bible study were getting crowded out and I was getting used to it.” Are you used to it?
And then he says he began excusing himself and his prayer life became a case of sinning and repenting. “Every time I got down to pray I had to start weeping and ask God’s forgiveness because of my prayerlessness. Then all of it came to a crisis. At a certain time one morning I looked at my watch, and according to my plan, for I was still persevering, I was to withdraw for an hour of prayer. I looked at my watch and it said ‘Time for prayer, Sid,’ but I looked at my desk and there was a miniature mountain of correspondence, and something within me said, ‘You ought to get those letters answered.’ So as we say in Scotland, I swithered and I vacillated. Prayer or letters! Prayer or letters! Yes! No! And then a little voice began to speak into my inner conscience that said, ‘Look here, Sid, what’s all this bother. You know very well what you should do. The practical thing is to get those letters answered. You can’t afford time for prayer this morning.’ And the voice said, ‘Look here, don’t you think the Lord knows how busy you are? You are having conversions. The church is growing. God is pleased with you. Look, Sid, you’d better face up to it. You’re not one of those real spiritual ones.’”
He said, “I don’t want to use extravagant phrases but if you had plunged a dagger into my bosom it couldn’t have hurt me more. ‘You’re not one of those spiritual ones.’ He said, “I looked within and I found that there was part of me that wanted to pray, and there was a part of me that didn’t want to pray.”
Is anybody here identifying or am I all alone up here this morning? Huh? I’m not alone? (applause) All right.
He said, “The part of me that did want to pray was the intellect and the will. The part of me that didn’t was my emotions. Suddenly I found myself asking, ‘Sidlow Baxter, are you going to let your will be dragged around by your changeful emotions?’ So I said to will, ‘Will, are you ready for prayer?’ Will said, ‘Here I am.’ So I set off to pray and all of my emotions began to talk. They said, ‘We’re not coming. We’re not coming.’ So I said to will, ‘Will, can you stick it out?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I can if you can.’” There’s a little bit of schizophrenia going on here. (laughter)
“So will and I dragged off those wretched emotions by the scruff of the neck, and we went to prayer. If you had asked me, ‘Did you have a good time?’ I would have answered, ‘Of course not.’” He said, “What I would have done without will I don’t know. In the middle of my most earnest intercessions I found that one of my principle emotions was away out on the golf course playing golf. I had to run out to the golf course and drag him back.” He said, “A few of my emotions had travelled a day and a half ahead and were preaching a sermon I hadn’t even yet prepared. I had to say, ‘Come back.’” He said, “It wasn’t a good time. It was exhausting.”
He said, “This went on for about three weeks, but will and I stuck it out, and then one morning during that third week I looked at my watch and I said, ‘Will, it’s time for prayer. Are you ready?’ and he said, ‘Yes, I’m ready,’ and just as we were going in I heard one of my chief emotions say to the others, ‘Aw c’mon, fellows, there’s no use wearing ourselves out. They are going to go pray no matter what we do.’ Suddenly, one day while will and I were pressing our case at the throne of heavenly glory, one of the chief emotions shouted ‘Hallelujah,’ and all of the other emotions said, ‘Amen.’ And for the first time the whole territory of James Sidlow Baxter was happily coordinated in the exercise of prayer.” (applause)
Of course it’s going to be tough. Of course you are going to have opposition. Of course the kids are going to misbehave. Of course your husband is going to be irritable. Of course! Expect all the opposition because the devil knows that if you are really serious you are going to do some serious damage to the kingdom of darkness, and he will resist you and you’ll say to yourself, “I’m not spiritual enough for this.” Well that’s a good reason to sign up.
We’ve answered three questions today. Why should we pray? When should we pray? What are the struggles we’re going to have?
How do we pray with Christ for one hour? How do we do it? In your bulletins today there is another insert. I wonder if you would take the time right now to get it out? It’s a little pamphlet entitled Your One Hour Prayer Guide.
This prayer guide is a guide for you to use to pray one hour. However, I suggest you use it only for the first two or three weeks because if there’s anything that is disappointing and monotonous about prayer, it’s always when you do the same thing in the same old way. So this is a guide that goes to The Lord’s Prayer. It tells you how to meditate; it gives some ideas and the key concepts of The Lord’s Prayer, and then praying for other specifics like your immediate family, your relatives and so forth. This serves only as a guide.
My suggestion to you is that you follow this for a while and then you begin to plan your own prayer time, and yes, I mean, “plan” your prayer time. Pray Scripture. Take Romans 12 and pray it for Moody Church, or pray it for some member of the family. Do you have somebody you are really serious about praying for? You read Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1, and Paul’s prayer in Ephesians, and in his other letters, and you begin to pray those prayers on behalf of others because those are Scriptural prayers. And then you also spend a lot of time not just in intercession but also in praise and in yieldedness.
My own time goes something like this. First of all, there’s a time of real silence before God. I don’t say anything. I meditate on a passage of Scripture, and all that I am doing is asking God a simple question. What is there in my life that I need to confess and make right? That occupies me for the first while. Then I go into some time of worship and praise, and then I begin to intercede on behalf of others.
Somebody asked me this week, “Well, what if you don’t do the whole hour? Can you do a half at one time and a half at another time?” And the answer is, “Yes, of course, because of however your schedule divides itself up, but I personally think that there’s something valuable about being with Jesus for one full hour, one hour that is well planned in God’s presence.”
So this is your guide, but creatively think of ways that you can pray, using Scripture and using other guides. And once you get hooked on one hour a week, you’ll ask yourself how you ever did without it.
Why is it that we don’t pray more often? You know that’s a very, very easy question to answer. That’s the simplest question that I could possibly answer today. Why don’t we pray more often? It’s because we don’t believe God answers prayer – pure and simple. We’ve been disappointed because of unanswered prayer and we think to ourselves, “If I go to prayer meeting things are going to be the same after I’ve been there as before so why the hassle? Don’t bother.” And because we’ve bought that lie we therefore don’t pray.
Do you know that if we believed as a church that God answered prayer we wouldn’t have enough room in Kappeler Hall for our prayer meeting? We would have to move up here to the sanctuary if we actually believed that things would be different because we prayed. We couldn’t have enough room, but we don’t believe it, do we?
Let me tell you a story that was told on this platform just a few weeks ago. Jim Cymbala has a daughter whose name is Chrissy and she was here and told her own story. Some of you know about the Brooklyn Tabernacle and its great ministry in New York. What a story! Here she is and she is a teenager, loves her daddy, loves her church, but she begins to get into clothes and looking just right. And then she meets a guy who tells her that she is beautiful, and that began a downward spiral. She left home and lived with him, had a baby, which she kept, and there were weeks when Pastor Cymbala and his wife did not know where Chrissy was.
Pastor Cymbala called a pastor and the pastor said, “Well, you know, your daughter, Chrissy, is going to do what she’s going to do. There’s nothing really that you can do about it. I mean she’s 18 now and she’s going to live the kind of life she wants to live.” Cymbala hung up that telephone and said, “No, I’m not going to accept that verdict.” And he began to give himself to prayer, but he didn’t tell his congregation about his wayward daughter. They do have 2,000 people at their prayer meetings, and my wife and I were there years ago. People were lined up partially around the block before the doors opened to let people in for prayer meeting, and they have this crazy idea there that God actually answers prayer. It’s really something.
So anyway at prayer meeting one night somebody handed him a note that said, “Tonight is Chrissy’s night.” So Pastor Cymbala shared with the whole congregation the story of Chrissy, and everybody began to pray. And according to reports it was as if it was a birthing room. It was as if women were giving birth to children as they agonized and prevailed almost with wailing for Chrissy who was away from home, and Mom and Dad didn’t know where she was.
After that prayer meeting Cymbala came home and said to his wife, “Tonight we reached heaven. If Chrissy doesn’t come back there is no God because we reached heaven tonight and she will return.” In less than 36 hours Chrissy was at the door with her baby saying, as she knelt before her mother and father, “I’ll do whatever you want me to do.” She kept saying over and over, “Who prayed for me Tuesday night?”
Well, let’s hear her part of the story which she told us here on this platform a couple of weeks ago. She was sleeping Tuesday night and God awakened her in the middle of the night. And a demonic spirit came to her in all of his evil and said, “I’ve got you and I want your baby. She’s next – the one sleeping in the crib.” But at the same time God revealed Himself to her, and it was as if Jesus came to her and almost put His arms around her. And for the first time she could pray. You see, as long as you are walking in disobedience your mouth is closed. I mean how do you cry up to Jesus when you are doing your own thing and you are living a lifestyle of evil?
She was able to pray, and she humbled herself and pled with God and repented of her sins and all the evil that she had been into, and she came home now. And today she is the wife of a pastor here in the city and they are beginning The Chicago Tabernacle Church, and the little daughter that she bore before her marriage is now a teenager walking with Jesus.
You see, that’s what happens when people really believe that God does answer prayer, and here’s my challenge to you. There are five Wednesdays in January. Beginning on the tenth I would like to dedicate those four prayer meetings in January and have as many POPS as possible present. I know what you are saying. You are saying, “Did we hear you right?” Isn’t that what you are asking? POPS? Yeah! POPS stands for parents of prodigals. I’d like to have as many as possible present and we are going to be praying and fasting for your children, believing this notion that God actually does answer prayer (applause) and with you praying with Christ for one hour as parents and as singles, and whoever you may be – as teenagers. You are accepting this challenge to pray with Jesus for an hour.
Can you imagine what God may be pleased to do here at the Moody Church this coming year? I can’t even imagine it if we really got serious and believed that God really answered prayer.
Did God answer the prayer of Jesus? “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.” No, the cup was not taken but in the process of praying Jesus had the strength to go through with the cup that His Father gave Him – the death on the cross. And then in the end, God answered the prayer by raising Him from the dead, in a different way that maybe the request was asked, but God was there. God is for us and with us, even when we don’t get the answers that we seek.
But I want you to visualize Jesus in heaven today saying to us (I know that we are not Peter, James and John.), “Can you not watch with me for one hour?” Is one hour a week too much for you and me to get together and to pray?
This morning what we want you to do is to sign up to pray for an hour. And if you can’t make that decision yet today, you can make it next week too, but at the doors as you leave there are going to be sign-up sheets, and we’d like to even have your name and address, because we’d like to catalog who it is who is signing up to pray for an hour. And also we want you to sign up with a partner. Why? Accountability!
Now I can tell you that I’m going to be praying with Christ for one hour this week, and every week of the New Year for sure. So you can ask me anytime if I am keeping up with my commitment. You can say, “By the way, you said you were going to pray for an hour, and how is that Scripture reading coming?” You can hold me accountable, but who is going to hold you accountable? Sign up with a partner. Find somebody after the service that has the same vision as you to say, “Yes, we’ll do this together and we’ll hold one another accountable to accept the invitation from Jesus to do some serious damage to the kingdom of darkness.”
God does answer prayer, but sometimes He doesn’t until we get dead serious, and then the blessed Holy Spirit of God who helps us to intercede brings about the transformation.
Would you join with me as we pray?
Our Father, we ask in Jesus’ name that in this congregation in this coming year this church would be known as a house of prayer, as You asked that the Temple in the Old Testament be known. May it be known not just as a house of worship but a house of prayer. But Lord, we can’t change human nature. We can’t take unmotivated people and motivate them. We can’t implant within the human heart the desire to pray. That’s all Your business. Our business is simply to lay out the opportunity. Would You stimulate Your people that together we might see Your glory and Your power at the Moody Church? In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.