If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click Here)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
February 11, 2007
Prerequisites to Prayer
One of the wonderful truths about prayer for the Christian is that we can communicate to God at any time. Tragically, this truth has resulted in many professing Christians becoming complacent in prayer. There is a tendency in human nature to take for granted what is easily and readily available. Others take advantage of the truth, but the familiarity results in a casual approach to God that is not properly reflective of His majesty. The result of both is improper prayer that is without effect.
While it is true that since believers are cleansed from their sins through faith in Jesus Christ that they can therefore come before God’s throne of Grace (Hebrews. 4:16), and because they are adopted in to God’s family they can before Him at any time as His children, it is not true prayer is without restrictions. The Bible contains many commands concerning the proper approach to God and requirements concerning the petitions that are brought before Him. If we want God to answer the requests we make to Him we must first make sure we are fulfilling the many prerequisites to proper prayer.
In the past month we have already looked at some of the prerequisites to prayer that Jesus set forth in Matthew 6 in which we found the proper purpose, practice and pattern of prayer. We are not to pray for the purpose of trying to impress other people. We are to pray for the purpose of talking with God. The proper practice in prayer is to tell God what is on our hearts and then trust Him to do what is best. Our is God real and personal. He is not impressed by the length, eloquence or repetition of our prayers, but He loves us and will hear and answer the prayer of those who are humble that seek His will.
Jesus gave the disciples the proper pattern of prayer in this model: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. 10 ‘Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread. 12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. It addresses God with reverence and yet with intimacy. It is selfless for it focuses on God by desiring His kingdom to come and His will to be done. It trusts Him to provide for daily needs while seeking His forgiveness and desires to walk in holiness.
But there are other prerequisites mentioned in the scriptures. Requirements of action and attitude that must be met if we are to pray properly and have confidence that our prayers will be heard and answered by God. I have listed them out in your notes along with their references so that you can follow along and refer to them in the future. There are 17 items listed with 22 references, but I have put them into 12 groups since several of them are similar to others.
Prerequisites to Prayer
1. Be in Christ – John 14:6
The first one listed is to be in Christ. This fact is not popular in the world because it excludes most people, but it is true. Among the many verses that explain this requirement is John 14:6. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”
Jesus could not have stated this truth more plainly. The road is narrow and the gate is small that leads to heaven and few find it. People complain that Christianity is intolerant because they want to be able to come to God under the conditions they set up for themselves, but Christianity points out that right only belongs to God. Christianity is not intolerant, it is exclusive. Intolerance would not make a way and pay the price for enemies to meet the requirements. Christianity is exclusive, but also merciful and gracious so that none must be excluded except by their own intolerance for their Creator and unwillingness to meet the conditions that He requires , and He has established faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the first condition of being able to come to Him.
As I mentioned in our discussion of the Lord’s prayer, only true Christians can approach God in the intimacy of calling Him, “Father,” because only they have been adopted into God’s family (John 1:14, etc.). The first requirement in order to pray properly and effectively is to be in Christ. The key reason for this is seen in the second prerequisite.
2. Pray in Righteousness – 1 Peter 3:10-12
For, “Let him who means to love life and see good days Refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile. 11 “And let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
God pays attention to the prayers of the righteous, but He is against the unrighteous. But how can man be righteous before God when all our righteous deeds are like a filthy rag before Him (Isa. 64:6)? There is only one way. You must have the righteousness of Christ imputed to you – i.e. credited to your account, and that is just what God has made available to us through faith in Jesus. “He made Him who knew no sin [to be] sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him – 2 Corinthians. 5:21. Romans 1:17 says, For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
Even for the Christian who has been made clean before God and clothed with the righteousness of Christ there is the still the matter of living in Holiness on a daily basis. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I hide iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” God is not under obligation to pay attention to your prayers if you are holding onto sin. It is my opinion that this is the greatest prayer problem among those that call themselves Christians because without a pursuit of personal holiness not only are those personal prayers hindered, but all the rest of the prerequisites to proper prayer will be unmet. Those who pursue personal holiness will still sin, though not nearly as much as those that do not, but more importantly they will be both more apt to confess their sins and do so more quickly. Remember the promise in 1 John 1:9 is written to believers. If we confess our sins, God, being faithful and just, will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Our prayers then will not be hindered by our sin.
The next prerequisite is to:
3. Pray according to God’s Will – 1 John 5:13-15
We spent quite a bit of time with this last week as we looked at Jesus’ model prayer, but it needs to be mentioned again. Prayer is about seeking God’s will and we should desire it to be done in the here and now as quickly and without reservation as it is done in heaven. God’s promise is to answer our prayers and grant our requests if and only if those prayers and requests are according to His will. If they are not, He is not even obliged to pay attention to us. “And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 John 5:15).
Don’t ever fall into the delusion that God exists for your pleasure. You were created for Him. We are to seek out His will, not ours. The personal reward in praying for God’s will is not only seeing that accomplished and praising Him for it, but because He knows everything and He loves us, He will always do what is best for us.
If we do fall into the delusion that God is present so that we can get what we want we will find out the truth of James 4:2 & 3. We must pray with correct motives if we want to have positive answers to our prayers. That is the next prerequisite.
4. Pray with Correct Motives – James 4:1-4 –
“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; [so] you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; [so] you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend [it] on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
If a person is not pursuing personal holiness and God’s will, then they will fail in this too. Their prayers will be ineffective because they are praying according to their own desires. They are self-centered and want to get what they want. Certainly we pray to have our needs met as we saw last week. We do pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but the problem is that we are not satisfied with daily bread. We want a porterhouse steak with all the trimmings plus desert and the cupboards filled so that we can do it again tomorrow. We crave our wants being fulfilled, not our needs being met.
Tragically, many people think they can obligate God to give them what they want by ending their prayer, “in Jesus name, amen.” They completely misunderstand the next prerequisite.
5. Pray in the Name of Christ – John 14:13,14
Many people use this verse to justify saying, “In Jesus name, Amen,” at the end of a prayer as some sort of magical incantation which will then require God to give them what they want. As we have already seen though, God is not even obligated to hear, much less answer, a prayer unless it is prayed according to His will by someone who is in Christ and is walking in righteousness. What then do these verses mean?
To pray in Jesus name is to pray in accordance with what Jesus would want. It is to pray in keeping with His character and desires. Names do not seem to mean a whole lot in this society, but in the Scriptures, names represent all that the person is. A name was much more than a title by which you called someone. It was a reference to all that person was. That is why we are not to take the name of the Lord in vain. His name is more than just a word. It represents Him, so using it in any irreverent manner is to treat Him with irreverence.
To pray in Jesus name is to pray in accordance with all that He is. To conclude a prayer in Jesus name is to declare that all that has been prayed is in harmony with His will. In essence it is saying, “grant this request because it is in agreement with what Jesus would ask.” It is not an incantation. There is nothing “magical” about it.
Of course, it is easy to pray properly in Jesus name if we fulfill the next prerequisite.
Jude 20 simply states that believers should be “praying in the Holy Spirit,” as does Ephesians. 6:18, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit . . .”. How does a person pray in the Holy Spirit? By being filled with Him and walking with Him. To be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by the Spirit (Ephesians. 5:18). To walk in the Spirit is to live according to the Scriptures and do what He says (Gal. 5). Those who walk in the Spirit do not carry out the deeds of the flesh but will instead develop the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. The longer they do this the more sensitive the will become to His prompting and leading. This comes out in prayer with the ability to understand things more clearly from God’s perspective and therefore pray according to His will.
When such a person is confused by their emotions or a lack of understanding about God’s they become unsure how to pray. We can take comfort when that happens because Romans 8:26 tells us that the Holy Spirit will intercede for us right at that point. When we do not know how to pray, He will pray on our behalf.
We must be clear though that “praying in the Spirit” is not letting your mind drift or abandoning it, nor is it speaking in tongues. Proper prayer requires that your mind be present and active.
Three statements in Scripture make this clear:
7a. Pray with your Mind (understanding) 1 Corinthians. 14:14,15
7b. Pray with Sound Judgement – 1 Peter 4:7
7c. Pray with Sobriety – 1 Peter 4:7
1 Corinthians. 14:15 states: For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What is the outcome then? I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also; I shall sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the mind also.” Let me quickly add here that the grammatical structure of this verse does not mean that Paul prays sometimes with the spirit and sometimes with the mind. He is stating that he always prays with both. His mind is present and active when he prayed and he knew what He was trying to communicate to God in prayer.
This is backed up by Peter’s statement in 1 Peter 4:7 “The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober [spirit] for the purpose of prayer.” The idea of sobriety, its root meaning here is to abstain from wine, is to not be influenced by outside sources. Your mind is clear, unhindered. Sound judgement come from a compound word which joins a word for “mind / thought” with a word meaning, among other things, “make whole.” Sound judgement is whole thought. Prayer is for thinking people. Proper prayer engages the whole mind in careful thought unhindered by outside influences. That is why it can be helpful to find a quiet place to pray. Even Jesus did that. The Bible records Him finding remote locations (Matt. 14:23; Luke 6:12) and also getting up early in the morning in order to pray without distractions (Mark 1:35).
Another element of proper prayer:
8. Pray in Piety / Reverence – Hebrews 5:7
Hebrews 5:7 speaks of God the Father responding to Jesus, God the Son, saying, “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.” The idea of piety is one of proper caution, circumspection, reverence. This reminds us again of hallowing God’s name. Reverence requires the mind to be aware of proper decorum and then direct the rest of the body to act appropriately. Hebrews 4:16 tells us that we may come with confidence before God’s throne of grace, but that does not mean we come barging in or come to Him nonchalantly and indifferent to His majesty & holiness.
This is more of a danger than we realize because it is easy to start taking our access to God for granted since we can come to Him anytime, anywhere. And while I do not want to detract in the least from that great truth, there is something to be said for assuming a humble position when you pray. Actions such as kneeling or laying prostrate before Him are actions that remind us to give God the reverence due Him.
Paul adds in Colossians 4:2 “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.” Our general attitude in prayer needs to be one of thanksgiving for all that God is and what He has done. Paul expands on this in Philippians 2:4-6, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your forbearing [spirit] be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Thanksgiving needs to be an element of all our prayers. Why? Because that is part of the sacrifice of praise that is due to Him (Hebrews 13:15). In order to give Him thanksgiving for all things, which includes those things that are less than what you wanted, you have to put yourself in a position to begin to see things from God’s perspective. When you take the eternal view rather than the temporal one, even hard things are seen as part of the overall plan to make us into what we need to be. It is out of this that we learn to give thanks even for the hard things in life. When we genuinely give God thanksgiving in our prayers we place ourselves in a position were we are trusting God for what we are talking to Him about. It is the trust in Him that brings the peace. And that brings up the next item
10. Pray in Faith, not Doubt – James 1:6,7
James 1:5-8, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, [being] a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
Now faith always has an object and the object of faith in all our prayers is God Himself. The object of faith is not faith or in getting what we want. It has become popular in some circles, particularly in Charismatic ones, to view faith itself as a means to get what we want. They believe you get it because you have faith to get it. It is similar to and often a part of the positive confession movement which is also referred to as ‘name it, claim it.” The idea is that your positive statements about something in prayer will guarantee that you will get what you asking for. Again, such an idea goes directly against the command to pray for the will of God.
The object of my faith when I pray is God. I trust Him to know best and to do what is right for me and those I pray for. In some things I can stand firmly on what He has promised and know what the outcome will be. On many things I am not sure what His perfect will may be. For example, I can be absolutely sure that He will hear and grant forgiveness to the true prayer of repentance. I cannot be so sure if He wants me restored to perfect physical health if I am sick. There may be quite a few things He wants me to learn through the experience and may glorify Himself better through my being weak rather than being strong. Paul learned to be content with that and in 2 Corinthians 12:9 he remarked, “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’”
My trust is in God and not in getting the specific request I may be making. I am to have no doubts about God, His power, goodness or love. Like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, I express my own heart, but I pray for His will to be done, and I can be absolutely assured that He will do His will. I then have to be content with that without expectation that He will do what I want. There maybe doubts about my request, but there is never any doubts about my God.
The attitude in prayer is also important
11. Pray Earnestly – James 5:16,17
James 5:16-18, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the sky poured rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”
Elijah is presented here as an example of effectual prayer and we are told that he was just like us. What is effectual prayer? The phrase “prayed earnestly” in verse 17 are two similar words that intensify the meaning. It was not just prayer, but earnest prayer, intense prayer, serious prayer. The phrase “effective” or “effectual” in verse 16 adds to this idea because it is the word from which we get the English word “energy.” There is work involved in prayer. It is not an easy task. If we really want to see God at work, then we cannot be flippant or superficial in our prayers. It takes energy and intensity. Perhaps that is why so many people do not pray as they ought. It just takes too much work. Our last prerequisites expand on the energy and intensity that goes into prayer.
To pray effectively we must:
12a. Pray with Devotion – Colossians 4:2
12c. Pray with Perseverance – Ephesians 6:18
12d. Pray without Ceasing – 1 Thessalonians 5:17
Colossians 4:2 states, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.” To be devoted is to “attend constantly” or “stand ready for.” It is the idea of always being ready to pray. Prayer is a priority item in your life.
The idea of being alert is also seen in Ephesians 6:18, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saint,” To be alert is to “keep watch, to be sleepless.” It brings an active element to the idea of being devoted. You are not just ready to pray when a need comes up, but you are actively looking out for what may need to be brought before God.
The idea of perseverance, which was also mentioned in Ephesians. 6:18, means to be steadfast. It is to continue on and persist regardless of current outcome. We can easily get wrapped up in our emotions and fail on this point. We get discouraged and want to give up, or we try to do it ourselves, or we get side tracked and forget about it. God wants us to steadfastly persist in our prayers.
That brings up the final element found in 1 Thessalonians. 5:17 to “pray without ceasing.” This literally means to “not leave off,” and so the idea of constant, unceasing. Certainly God knows we must sleep and give our attention to working to provide for ourselves and our families, but this phrase brings together many of the other elements and stresses the priority of prayer in our lives. It is to live life ready to pray at anytime. That is a good description of the relationship we are to have with God. It is not restricted to certain days, times and places, but is an active relationship that is always on going.
An effective prayer life has everything to do with your daily walk with God. Prayer is much more than saying grace before meals or spending a few quite moments with God before going to bed. It is also far beyond going to any designated time of prayer with other people. Those are important, but only a small manifestation of what should be part of a Christian’s life, for prayer is the life & breath of the heart that beats for God.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the Scripture references made. 2) Talk with your parents about how you can improve your praying.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
How are you doing at keeping the priority of prayer in your life? What could help it be better? What is the proper purpose of prayer? What is the proper practice of prayer? How are you using Jesus’ pattern of prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 in your own life? Why must a person be in Christ in order to pray properly? What do you say to those that criticize Christianity for being exclusive? Why is righteousness important in prayer? How is a person made righteous before God? What is the importance of confession relative to being righteous? What sort of things do you pray for? Meditate on whether they are based in seeking God’s will or trying to get what you want. Why is praying in “in Jesus name” not an incantation? What does it mean to pray “in Jesus name”? What is the relationship between praying in the Spirit and praying with the mind? What is the evidence that you are filled with the Holy Spirit? What is the relationship between praying with the mind, sound judgement and with sobriety? What is the importance of piety and reverence in prayer? We are to be thankful for all things – how can you be thankful for the things you do not like? What is the object of faith in prayer? What does it mean to be earnest and how can you pray that way? What is the relationship between devotion, awareness and perseverance in praying without ceasing? How has your prayer life changed in the last month?
Sermon Notes – February 11, 2007
Prerequisites to Prayer
1. Be in Christ – John 14:6
2. Pray in righteousness – 1 Peter 3:10-12
3. Pray according to God’s Will – 1 John 5:13-15
4. Pray with correct motives – James 4:2,3
5. Pray in the name of Christ – John 14:13,14
7a. Pray with your mind (understanding) 1 Cor. 14:14,15
7b. Pray with sound judgement – 1 Peter 4:7
7c. Pray with sobriety – 1 Peter 4:7
8. Pray in piety/reverence – Heb 5:7
10. Pray in faith, not doubt – James 1:6,7
11. Pray earnestly – James 5:16,17
12a Pray with devotion – Col 4:2
12c Pray with perseverance – Eph 6:18
12d Pray without ceasing – 1 Thess 5:17
If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click Here)
For comments, please e-mail Church office