The Word Of God Helps Us PrayErwin W. Lutzer | February 8, 2015
Selected highlights from this sermon
The average Christian prays five minutes a day, and many pastors only pray a little bit more than that. We’ve lost the meaning, value, and practice of prayer. But how do we create a love for praying?
The answer is the Word of God. When we use verses of Scripture as our prayer, we dive into a wealth of new and profitable prayers. Most of all, we begin to think and pray God’s thoughts.
In Gethsemane Jesus said to the disciples, “Men ought always to pray and not to faint.” And, of course, when He said that He included women in that statement as well. But the point is I think that what Jesus was trying to say is that either you are going to pray or you are going to faint. It’s one or the other. And that’s why He emphasized prayer. He Himself modeled prayer for us. He went out and spent the night in prayer. A number of times it says that in the Gospels. What was Jesus doing there? Was He just repeating Himself? What is prayer really all about?
A number of years ago, there was a conference with 17,000 evangelicals. Now if you attend a conference you are probably a little bit more committed than some other folks who maybe didn’t. And a survey was done on how long they spent in prayer. Well, would you believe that according to the survey the average Christian spends five minutes in prayer a day? You say, “Well, thank God pastors aren’t average. By no means! They spend a lot more time in prayer!” Of course! We go to heaven every evening and return in the morning. (laughter) Yeah, pastors at the conference did 40% better. They spent seven minutes a day in prayer.
Why don’t we pray? Well, let me give you some reasons. We could blame it on the devil, and he certainly has responsibility for a great deal of it. But that’s not the whole of it. The simple fact is that one of the reasons we don’t pray is because we don’t feel like it. You know, the book of James says, “Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you,” but we’re not sure if we want to draw near to God because there are so many issues. There are sins. There are anxieties. And so we want to keep God at arm’s length, and so we kind of stay away. And we never really get a burden for prayer because God doesn’t share His burden with just anyone. He shares His burden with those who really are serious and who draw near. So we don’t feel like it. And we’re into a “feel” generation.
The second reason, I am sure, is because, and I’m going to be very blunt here, prayer can be very boring. That’s why many people don’t go to prayer meetings. They think that the prayer meeting here at The Moody Church is the same as they grew up with, which could be a very boring prayer meeting. Thankfully it isn’t, but people think that. And the reason is because when you pray you say the same thing about the same old people and the same old circumstances. How many times can you just say, “Now bless So-and-So?” I mean come on! Just put it on a record and let God hear it, and go do something else. (laughter) It’s boring.
The third reason is because it’s one-way communication. I mean, here we are. We’re talking to an invisible God, and He isn’t necessarily talking back to us. At least we sure can’t hear Him. I remember many, many years ago I was sitting on a couch with an older man to whom I was trying to explain the niceties of the relationship between Satan and God in Job 1, because he had a view that I thought was wrong. And so I thought God was leading me to help him understand the way more perfectly. As I was talking he began to nod off. (laughter) And when he drifted into a light snore, (laughter) I quit talking.
You know, here we are. We come to God and say, “God, do this and do this, and we want you to take care of our children, and keep us from danger,” and the whole thing. And well, I suppose He’s listening, but we’re not hearing back.
There could be another reason, and that is we’ve lost the meaning of prayer. We think that prayer is indeed God’s way of us getting things from Him, not understanding that that’s only a small part. The larger part, and that’s what Jesus was doing out in the mountain all night, is fellowship with the Almighty.
What if we had a way to pray? Now, you are here today, and many others are listening, either by Internet or radio or other means. You are listening to this by divine appointment. I believe that. What if there was a way to pray that would have variety? You never pray the same old thing in the same old way again. What if you have a way to pray like that?
What if you had a way to pray in which God’s agenda becomes important and, in a sense, He does talk to us? And furthermore our own spirits are refreshed and satisfied, and we leave satisfied with God? And so we look forward to prayer. We say, “Wow! This is a special time. You know, God is a very important person (Not to put too fine a point on it), most assuredly, and just to think that I get to connect with Him this morning.” Imagine prayer like that!
I believe that there is prayer like that, as we are changed by the Word of God. Last week’s message was on the topic of meditation. Today, we’re going to combine meditation and prayer. In effect, what we’re going to do is to pray Scripture, and learn to pray Scripture and make that a consistent habit. And there are hundreds of you listening to me today whose prayer life will be changed forever because of this message. I believe that. And the reason I do is because one day, perhaps almost 20 years ago, down in Florida, I was speaking, and another man came for a seminar. And I decided to see what he had to say, so I sat in the back. And he gave a lecture on praying Scripture. And it was transforming. Some of the ideas, I’m sure, that I’m sharing with you came from that lecture. And it can change you too. If you have a heart hunger for God this is the message for which you’ve been waiting.
So let’s begin at the basic level. If we’re going to pray Scripture, the best way to do it initially, and it’s easiest (It’s the low hanging fruit, so to speak) is to pray the prayers of Scripture. And by that I mean Old and New Testament. You know as you look through the Old Testament, I mean why not pray the prayer of Jacob in Genesis 21 when he said in his distress (having to meet Esau the next day), and he wrestled with a man who turned out to be God, “I will not let You go unless You bless me?” Have you ever been that desperate? That’s a great prayer to pray. God brought Jacob to that point because God wanted to hear that from Jacob, that ultimately “I will not let You go.” God loves desperate people who pray. And you remember that Jacob received His blessing - with a limp - because God loves to weaken us so that we don’t trust in ourselves. But what a prayer to pray!
I’m thinking of Moses in Exodus 33. I mean Moses is up on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights with God. You’d think he’d say, “You know, I’ve had enough of God. It’s time to move on to other things.” Moses said, “Show me Thy glory. I still don’t have enough of You.” And God allows him to be hidden in a rock, and the Lord comes and He can see at least a glimpse of God’s glory. And do you know what happens much time later? Many, many centuries later (maybe 12, 13 or 14 centuries later – I forgot to do the math), he’s there on the Mount of Transfiguration. And what is he doing? He is seeing more of the glory of God. He still doesn’t have enough.
Pray that prayer of Moses. We won’t be hidden in a rock. We won’t see a vision, but isn’t it important that at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the glory of God? There is nothing else that matters. God, at Moody Church, in my life, in my family, show me your glory! That’s a prayer to pray! (applause)
You know sometimes people say, “Oh, I don’t know how to pray for missionaries. What are their needs?” I am going to solve that problem for you forever. If you ever wonder what you should pray for the pastoral staff – for me (and I thank God for the hundreds of people who pray for me), and sometimes you don’t know, and you say, “I don’t know exactly what Pastor Lutzer needs today,” well, I’ll tell you exactly what he needs. You never have to worry about it again. He needs a prayer like this: “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, I do not cease to give thanks for you, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory may give you (Here we are) a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, having your eyes enlightened that you might know what is the hope to which God has called you, and what are the riches of the glory of the inheritance of the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe.”
And it goes on to talk about the sovereignty of Jesus who is above all things. Every single day I need that. Missionaries need that. You open your Bible, and you go to Ephesians 1. Don’t do it now because this is a different kind of a message. We’re going to be in a lot of different passages. But what you do is you pray Scripture. And when you pray that prayer, you don’t have to end it by saying, “If it be Thy will.” This is the will of God. You are praying the mind of God. We pray Scripture. We pray Scriptural prayers. Well, we could go on but I must hurry.
We pray things like the Psalms and Proverbs. Of course, that also is low-hanging fruit because many of the Psalms are prayers. But you even take a Psalm like this – Psalm 23. You read it and you memorize it. By the way, I quote this Psalm at least once or twice a day because if I ever need to nap, I find out that this Psalm really does it for me. Don’t misinterpret that, but it’s just a way of me focusing on God, and something other than my anxieties and concerns.
But after you know it, you pray it like this: “Father, I thank You that Jesus is my shepherd. Thank You that He is my good shepherd. Thank You, Father, that I have the privilege of being one of His sheep. Make me an obedient sheep. Lord, thank You for the way in which you supply in my life. You make me to lie down in green pastures. You lead me beside still waters. Thank You for leading me in the path of righteousness, and help me to stay on it. And Lord, during those days of darkness and fear, when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, oh Father, You are with me. Help me to believe that and that You’ll not allow me to encounter or become part of evil.” And all the way through you are praying a prayer for yourself or for someone else.
And do you have somebody who is attacking you? Do you have any enemies? Do you have people you are working with who are not committed to your personal happiness? Have you got people like that? Why not pray some of the prayers of David?
“In You, oh Lord, I take refuge. Let me not be brought to shame. In Your righteousness, deliver me. Incline Your ear to me. Rescue me speedily. Be my rock. Be my refuge, for You are my rock and my fortress. And for Your name’s sake You lead me and You guide me.” And if you go to verse 5 it says, “Into Your hand I commit My Spirit,” the words of Jesus on the cross. Even in the midst of all of the criticism that Jesus was getting, and the injustice, He was praying this prayer, and at the end He said, “I commit Myself to You,” believing that God is bigger than the injustice, and that God uses the injustice. And so you pray those prayers. You don’t just make up prayers on your own.
Well, we must hurry along. First of all, what you do is you pray the prayers of Scripture. You pray the Psalms. I was thinking about this. I’ve never done it but if I were a father with young children in the home, I’d probably want to pray the entire book of Proverbs just for my children. You know you say, “Well, what should we pray for them?” Work your way through Proverbs. Not all of them may be suitable to pray, but most of the Proverbs are proverbs of wisdom, and that’s what we want our children to have. So you pray, and you can pray with them, and teach them how to pray Scripture.
Third, pray the Old Testament prophets. This is more difficult, but there are passages as you are reading Jeremiah, for example, that are so applicable to America.
“My people have committed two evils. They have forsaken me the fountain of living water and hewn out for themselves broken cisterns that can hold no water.” What an amazing passage of Scripture, and that is simply true of America.
You know, when I was talking about praying the prayers of Scripture, I forgot to tell you this, and it comes to mind. When I pray for my children I use different passages of Scripture. Sometimes I may pray the same prayer for all of them. But this morning since I happen on Sunday to pray for our oldest grandson, Jack, this is what I prayed for him.
I said, “Father, I pray that he might abound in love and all discernment. I pray, oh Lord God, that he might be able to do that, and that he might be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, being filled with the fruit of righteousness, which is by Jesus Christ unto the glory and the praise of God.” Doesn’t that trump, “Oh God, bless Jack?” This is Scripture that you are praying, and if you are open to looking at the passages as you read them, and making a note of all of the different prayers in the New Testament, you’ll begin to pray different prayers.
Well, we must hurry on. Pray the Gospels! You can do that too. I mean, if you are reading Mark 1 where the demons were subject to Christ, and even where they affirm the fact that He was the Son of God, the way in which you turn that into a prayer is you stop and you thank God. And you thank Jesus for His absolute total triumph over evil. And you thank Him that the demons are subject to Him. And you take the miracles that He did and you turn those miracles into miracles of praise and gratitude to God. And pretty soon, you see, when you approach the Scriptures with the intention of saying, “How I can pray this back to God?” it’s amazing how that in almost every place you can do that.
Now, of course, there are some passages that don’t lend themselves at all really to prayer. And so what do you do then? Well, you know, it doesn’t hurt for you to read those passages to God because God will be honored as you read His Word to Him because He says, “I have magnified My Word above My name (or at least equal to My name).” But what you are doing is you are always coming to the Scriptures, and the reason that you are coming is because you want to encounter not merely the text, but you want to encounter God. Like that song goes: “Beyond the sacred page I see Thee, Lord.” That’s why we read the Bible.
You see, this is why so many people get turned off. They think, “Well, I’m told I should be disciplined. I should be in the Word.” And so they look at it as if this is a box I have to check. “I read the Bible today!” Well, yes, it is. Many of us are listening to all of the New Testament. I listened to about five chapters last night, and about seven this morning. I was listening to the Bible on my iPhone, by the way. I just wanted everybody to know that. Just let that float out there. (laughter and applause) And we’re all doing it, and so we’re so preoccupied doing that, that we’re not spending a whole lot of time. I’m missing my time reading the Word, so I have to find other ways and other times to continue to read the Word so that I can continue to pray the Scripture, and in that way encounter the Lord God. So we’re always doing that.
I like to shock seminary students sometimes and say, “You know, the Bible wasn’t written to be studied.” And they say, “Look at all the tuition that I just paid, and it’s not written to be studied?” The Bible was written to transform your life. The means to get there is study, so you didn’t waste your money when you put in that money for tuition. It is important, but it’s important to get to a goal. The Bible says that knowledge puffs up. If all that you look at is all the knowledge that you have, you’ve missed the whole point. You read the Word and you pray the Word to encounter God.
You can pray the Letters of the New Testament. Once again, for the most part they are easy to pray, but I’m thinking of people. I have a friend, and I met him at Founder’s Week, and he shared with me a huge trial that he is going through. And I prayed for him right there, by the way, but you know, it dawned on me later that what I could have done, and what I’ll do, is to pray the book of James for him. The opening verse is, “Oh may So-and-So count it all joy when he meets various kinds of trials. Oh Lord, I pray that he might know that the testing of his faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect that he may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Give him wisdom.” And all the way through! You’re just praying now God’s Word. You’re not just saying, “Oh God, bless him.” I’m praying something different because the Word is filled with opportunities to pray or to praise if you only look for them.
Now I know that I’m giving you a lot of material here, but I am giving you these examples for a reason. As a result of this I want you to latch on to something that I am saying today that will change your life. Let me give you some transforming lessons as we try to nail all this down. Praying Scripture is praying God’s will and God’s mind. You’re finally on God’s page.
This morning, as I was walking down the stairs, I met a member of the choir, and every time I meet him I always say, “Are you walking with God?” And he said, “Yes,” and I have reason to believe him. I was just checking. But let’s suppose I were to ask you, “Are you walking with God; do you have an intimate relationship with God?” and you were to say, “Well, you know the weather this winter wasn’t as bad as last winter, but still I think we’re going to have a lot of cold.” I’d say, “Okay! Are you walking with God?” And you’d say, “Well, you know, I don’t think that the president did right when he made this other decision.” “Okay! Are you walking with God?” And suppose you were to say, “I’ve had back trouble and I’ve never been able to find a solution for it.”
I think that’s the way we pray sometimes. There’s a disconnect between what we’re thinking and what we want and God wants. God says, “I want the best for you, but I also want intimacy with you, and the reason that I’m not answering all your prayers is to keep pushing you toward Me so that you could actually sing Sweet Hour of Prayer and not be lying.” Many of us who are a little bit older, used to sing Sweet Hour of Prayer. How many of you remember that song? Look at that! Listen! Many of the people who sing that song have never had an hour of prayer in their life unless they were trapped at a prayer meeting. (laughter) And it certainly wasn’t sweet. Basically there was no intimacy with God!
Listen! The prodigal son came home because he was hungry. But actually I have to tell you that he needed his dad more than he did a dinner. And God draws us to Himself by all of the problems, all of the unresolved issues, all of the pain. Why? It’s to keep pushing us toward Him because He says, “There’s something more that I am after than answering your prayer, and that is I want you to walk with Me. I want you to enjoy a sweet hour of prayer sometime.” After all, Jesus enjoyed a tremendous amount of time.
Some of us were with David Jeremiah the other day, and he outlined for us all the times that Jesus went to the mountain to pray – over and over again. And He prayed, and He prayed. What was going on? He was enjoying fellowship with His heavenly Father, reminding His heavenly Father that He was His servant, willing to do whatever the Father wanted to do, and the Father was well pleased. That’s what prayer is all about. It’s not about checking a box.
So first of all, when we pray Scripture we pray God’s will, and as a result of that God does talk back to us. I mean through His Word. I don’t mean verbally. You don’t get special revelations. You know, I happen to be writing a book on the Protestant Reformation, and Martin Luther encountered some prophets from Zwickau who came, and they had all of these fantastic revelations. They said, “If God wanted to give us the Bible, he would have given it to us directly from heaven. We don’t need the Bible. We just need these revelations.” And you know the Bible says that the Holy Spirit is like a dove. So Luther, who was known for his sarcasm said, “I will not accept their revelations even if they have swallowed the Holy Ghost, feathers and all.” (laughter)
So we’re not looking for external revelation, but in the Word we see God. And that’s why Calvin (I may have mentioned it in a previous message) said that when we approach the Scripture we should approach it with the same kind of reverence with which we approach God because we expect to be blessed, and we expect to hear from Him. So it isn’t just a one-way conversation anymore. Your soul is refreshed.
Second, God’s Word triggers memories and ideas and other people to pray for. I think it’s fine to have a prayer list as long as it isn’t just a list where we say the same old thing in the same old way. You might want to pray for the people and you might want to use the same prayer for all of them, or maybe read the prayer once but say, “Lord, this is my burden for So-and-So, and So-and-So, and So-and-So.” But the point that I want to make is that in the process of using the Word of God this way, ideas will come to your mind that will never come any other way.
If I am reading the Psalms and I come across, for example, “The fool has said in his heart ‘There is no God,’” how do you pray that? Well, you pray for atheists. You know, pray for Dawkins. The Word of God triggers within our minds other people, and other events that we can give thanks to God for, and that we can pray for. And that’s what the Word of God does.
You know, there are some people who are so particular in the way in which they pray. And they have so many barriers they have to overcome before they come into God’s presence, perhaps forgetting that the only way that we come is, after all, through the blood of Christ. Sometime ago I heard about a man, you know, one of these real particular men. God created some of them, thankfully perhaps not too many of them. But he said, “If I kneel, I get my clothes dirty. If I stand, it’s so hard for me; my legs hurt. Sitting isn’t reverent enough.” Okay!
So the story goes that at dusk he was walking across a field and happened to trip and fell headlong into the shaft of an old well. Are you following this? And there he is head first in the shaft of an old well. And he discovered that you could really pray regardless of the posture. (laughter) Yeah! Get over it!
And so I emphasize that we need to learn to pray. You say, “Well, what do I do with the distractions?” Well, yesterday I was on Open Line and somebody asked that question. One of the things that you can do, you know, when you are praying (and this comes to mind), is you might want to pray for the thing that comes into your mind, either a sin that needs to be confessed, or an issue that needs to be given to God. I have to tell you that sometimes I have actually had a pen next to me while I was praying because I knew that the devil (I think it was the devil) would bring to mind everything I had to do that day. So if I wanted a complete list, all that I needed to do was to pray, and all of these thoughts would come. And if I wrote them down, I didn’t have to worry about forgetting them. So you know, I would pray, and here would be a list of things that I need to do. Don’t let the distractions, whether it’s a baby crying, or whether it is the distractions that come into your own mind, deter you from concentrating on God.
Is God worth ten minutes of your time in the morning – or fifteen minutes? Is God worth that to you? Listen, in waiting on God, no time is lost. I can assure you of that. God makes it up in a hundred ways. I’ve proven that. He makes it up to us (applause) if we spend time with Him.
Don’t be discouraged. Sometimes God says no. Sometimes He says slow. Sometimes he says grow. Either way, you’re after Him ultimately – not just getting the answer to your prayers.
Now, I’m going to give you an assignment. You say, “Well, we’re already listening to the Word of God. Good! You’ve got something else to do. This week I’m going to give you a chapter on which I want you to pray. And the chapter is actually going to be Romans 12. I want you to have this as the basis of your prayer. You know this is a very, very famous passage of Scripture. “I appeal to you by the mercies of God to give your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you might know what is the will of God that is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Do you know anybody who needs that prayer? I venture to say you probably do. I do. Pray that for yourself. And by the way, it has 21 verses. Pray three verses a day, if you want to do it that way. Verses 1 and 2 are so critical. You might want to pray that for a couple of days for a number of different people. And then you move on and it talks about spiritual gifts. It talks about our relationship with one another.
Have you ever prayed that God would show you your spiritual gift, or that someone else would discover their spiritual gift? Well, all that is going to come out if you begin to pray this passage of Scripture. And when you get to verse 9, I have frequently prayed verse 9 to the end of the chapter for The Moody Church. This is an incredible passage of Scripture. Can you imagine? “Oh God, at Moody Church may love be genuine. May we abhor what is evil! May we hold fast to what is good! Let us love one another with brotherly affection! May we outdo one another in showing honor! Let us not be slothful in zeal, but rather be fervent in spirit. May we contribute to the needs of the saints! (There’s one that just happened to pop out at me – verse 13.) May we contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. May we bless those who curse us,” and on and on. What a marvelous prayer!
If necessary, pray that a couple of times this next week, but concentrate. And of course, there are other prayers you are going to pray. Sometimes the Scripture is only the basis for prayer, but pray those prayers. Romans 12 is the assignment for this week, and God will give you creativity as to how to do it.
Now in the Bible there are many prayers, and there is one prayer that I’m thinking of that some of you should really pray for sure before this meeting is over. You may be here and you say, “Well, you know regarding this business of intimacy with God, you folks talk as if you know God,” and you just don’t feel at all a connection to what I’ve been talking about. Maybe it’s because you’ve never come to saving faith in Christ, because Jesus is the connection between you and God the Father. If you don’t come through Him, you don’t get an audience with the Almighty, so you have to.
And in the Bible, Jesus told the story about one man who was very self-righteous who went into the Temple to pray, and said, “God, I thank You that I’m not like other people. I am better than they are,” and he listed all of his goodness. Maybe even there’s somebody here today who feels that way. You know, “I’m better than these snobby Christians.” And next to him there was a publican, who didn’t have the nerve to even look into heaven. His posture was one of looking down, and he smote his chest, and he said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus said, “That guy went down to his house justified. The other guy didn’t.”
It’s not the prayer that saves you. It’s not a magic formula, but if you pray that prayer as a response to your heart because God has worked in your heart and shown you your need and your sin (and if that is what has happened to you), I can assure you that God led you to this moment to pray that prayer for yourself. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner. I need a Savior.” And whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Praying Scripture is transforming, and what I want us to do is to get into the habit of doing that. And the way we are going to conclude today in just a moment is we’re going to pray one of the prayers of the New Testament that you could pray at any time for Moody Church, for yourself, or for your family. It is directly from the Word of God. The only difference is we changed the pronoun so instead of Paul saying, “I’m praying for you,” we end up praying for ourselves.
Let’s all stand together now as the words come on the screen and we are going to read God’s Word together as our closing prayer.
For this reason we bow our knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory, He may grant us to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith -- that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may behold with all the fullness of God.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen.