Dallas: . . . that we need the assistance that you can give in this hour. You know what hard cases we are and how we are inured with so many habits of thought and feeling and how we are preoccupied and so we ask that your Spirit would draw near to us as we listen and as we speak that in this hour we would hear words which would modify our minds so that we come out with a different vision and a different faith. Increase our faith, dear Lord. Increase our understanding and somehow just get down there and open the valves of our heart so that our will might be relaxed and able to receive a new direction and a new impotice beyond anything that we can understand because of the vision that we have seen.
We are glad to know of your good will toward us. We are so thankful that we can rest in the plentiful, the bounteous redemption and forgiveness that is in Christ Jesus, in His death and in His resurrection, in His ascension, in His intercession for us. We are glad; so thankful to be able to rest in that and know that no matter what happens, that is still there and that you freely give it. We praise you for it. In Jesus’ Name, Amen. [1:47]
Now, this evening, we are going to talk about prayer as a discipline. There are many, many ways in which prayer can be addressed. We are addressing it this evening as a discipline. That is to say, we are addressing it as an activity which we may purposely choose to enter into in the faith or at least in the hope that therein we shall be so confronted with God that we shall come to live in the character of God by the power of God.
That’s the formula that I have given to you almost every evening in the series and I hope that it is weighing a groove in your brain, if not your ear, and that you will hear it ringing as an invitation as something that you can do and purposely set your life toward God in that way. See, so often we are told about God but not very much is said in definite terms as to what we can do and this is where the disciplines of the spiritual life fit in. [2:58]
You know the quip of Mark Twain that “everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it” and it is a kind of open secret in church life generally that prayer is like that. Everyone talks about it but very people do very much of it.
If we were to ask ourselves what it would be like to have a vacation in which all we did was pray; that might sound rather strange and yet on the other hand, what greater thing could we do. It is our lack of understanding of the greatness of prayer that makes us sometimes look at that as rather bad news.
I am reminded of a lady who was visited in the hospital by her pastor and the pastor, after speaking awhile, said, “Well, let’s pray.” And she said, “Oh, is it that bad?” [Laughter] We tend to associate prayer with the sinking of the Titanic and things of that sort. [Laughter] “Nearer My God to Thee;”—that song was ruined by the sinking of the Titanic, you see? And so we tend to think of these things as extreme measures when in fact, I mean, what more glorious thing could we do than to speak with God, to talk with God, to be so engaged with God that our mind was occupied entirely with doing a business of conversation and work with Him that we call prayer? [4:37]
It’s going to be impossible really to cover prayer as a subject in this one hour but taking it as a discipline, I think that we can do some very useful things with it, and I want to introduce it in this connection by tying it on to what we were talking about at our last meeting which is service. I want to ask you this evening to think of prayer as a service—a service to God and a service to others.
Let me give you a couple of verses that I asked you to read. They are on the outline of the course. First of all, 1 Samuel, the 12th chapter and the 23rd verse. 1 Samuel 12:23—now, this is the situation in which the people of Israel had rejected Samuel—in effect, had rejected Samuel as their leader because they wanted a King and Samuel took this very hard but, notice what he says to them now. 1 Samuel 12:22—“For the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake; because it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people.”
In other words, regardless if you have made this terrible mistake that you are making, God has not forsaken you and then Samuel, as God’s prophet tells them his attitude toward them now that they have rejected him. Look at these words. “ . . . God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you . . . “ Note the dimensions. “I” should sin against “the Lord”—not against them: “ . . . against the Lord in ceasing to pray for
you . . . ” (1 Samuel 12:23) [6:37]
Now, this is in the context in which of course, he is talking about God’s attitude toward them because of what they had done and he’s been saying to them, the Lord is not going to forsake you because you’ve done this. You see Samuel is as God’s prophet—God’s leader and as the priest of the people because he was both priest and prophet. As the priest of the people, he stands and he says, “No, I would offend against my divine calling if I were to stop praying and interceding for you.” Samuel understood that a major part of his work was to intercede and to pray for the people of Israel as their priest.
I want also to read the rest of this verse. I am going to return to it later in a slightly different connection but note how Samuel connects it with instruction and with truth. “ . . . God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way.” (1 Samuel 12:23) I will teach you the good and the right way. See the connection between teaching and praying? He understood that his work as a judge—a prophet depended upon his relationship to God and the people he ministered to in prayer.
We will return later to the theme of prayer and the ministry and I want you to have this verse clearly in mind when I read another verse or two to go along with it on that theme. [8:11]
So you see here, Samuel is presenting his work in prayer as a service to the people. We serve others by praying for them. Now, I don’t know how much reality that has in your mind and in all matters before God, you never substitute words for reality and if you find that the whole idea of serving someone by praying for them does not really make sense to you, then what that means is that you have much ground to gain in the matter of prayer and the understanding of prayer.
Let’s look at the other connection. We’ve seen prayer as a service to man; now as a service to God. You will recall that in Luke, the 2nd chapter, I believe I also asked you to look at this passage. Luke, the 2nd chapter and the 37th verse, we have a reference to Anna, the prophetess. Anna, the prophetess was in the temple at the same time as Simeon was there when they brought the baby Jesus into the temple for the rites of purification, I believe it was, or circumcision “ . . . to do for him after the custom of the law . . . “ it says in verse 27. [9:28]
And first, Simeon has his say and then, verse 36—“And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. (Luke 2:36-37) The emphasis here is upon serving God in prayer and this touches upon something which we will also have to develop as we go along besides the simple point that prayer is a service to God and that is, that prayer does something for God. Prayer does something for God. Fasting does something for God. [10:31]
Now, one of our problems in praying and fasting and serving God generally is the idea that floats around in the guise of dignifying God, which would indicate to us that God does not need us. This is sometimes presented as an affront to the dignity of God—the idea that He needs us and it is one of the greatest barriers to prayer.
If you are going to enter into the work of prayer, as a worker you must understand that for—and however you are to understand this and integrate it into the character of God—God needs you. You cannot serve someone who does not have some kind of need. You cannot do it. [11:19]
Now, God is not going to go out of business if you don’t pray. He is not going to quit. Right? But there are many degrees between just going out of business and not needing you at all and God’s work is one in which He needs people. That is one of the lessons, which we are taught in the incarnation and in the life of Christ upon the earth. We serve God by praying and we serve man by praying.
Now, one of the reasons why I have tied prayer on to the teaching of service is because, as I said last time, in service we simply do that which is good and helpful for someone. We do not ask what good is going to come of it. We do it because of the good that is in it and I want especially to stress that element in prayer. We do it because of the good that is in it. Period. [12:27]
You see, the thing that discourages people so much in prayer is—well, many times, discourages them from even trying to pray—because they are already convinced that nothing is going to happen. And if they have that question uppermost in their mind—What is going to happen if I pray?—normally, that will frustrate any prayer of faith. It will make it impossible to pray a prayer of faith because one will be obsessed by the result. [13:00]
I know that some of you are interested in healing and some of you have some experience with that and let me just say this in connection with prayers for healing. If you are obsessed with whether or not the person is going to be healed, you will almost invariably be unable to exercise any faith whatsoever in that situation.
It is a law of the spiritual world and this is what Jesus tries to teach us in His master prayer. He begins with the glory and nature of God—“Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed by Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done . . .” (Luke 11:2-4) You see, that is the very top of our aspiration and motivation in prayer is the service of God. It is the service of God that stands at the very top of our motivation and when we become obsessed with the particular consequence, we are very like when we are trying to serve someone and are disappointed when their lives are not changed or they are not grateful or something of that sort. We have our minds in the wrong place. We are not focused on the Glory of God. [14:22]
Now, I don’t mean to say—please don’t take anything I say tonight as a simple diagnosis of why you haven’t gotten your prayers answered. Would you please promise me not to do that this evening? I would need at least a couple of weeks before I would be in a position to say anything enlightening about the particular case that you may be in. If the Lord speaks to your heart with something I say, that’s fine tonight but don’t, please take anything like what I just said as an indication that you are a bad person or that you have failed.
See, one of the main problems again in prayer is that we feel like failures in prayer and this dominates our thinking and obsesses us and discourages us and oddly enough, as long as we are obsessed with that, we cannot get anywhere with our praying. [15:13]
We have to be able to re-direct our thinking and get it away from yourself and on to the service of others and the service of God and as we do so, things just begin to happen. They just begin to happen. I think ultimately, the explanation is simply that our hearts have gotten adjusted to where we are really contacting the realities of the Kingdom of God in faith and they are able to work.
But you see prayer has to become a kind of condition of our soul as distinct from an act, which we do especially when we are scared. It has to become a constant disposition of the soul so much so that we almost don’t know that we are doing it. It is like service in that regard also. [16:21]
You remember the story in the 25th chapter of Matthew about the last day and the judgment and the division and you remember that when Jesus said to the people you saw me hungered. You saw me in prison and you ministered unto me (Matthew 25:44) and so no, they didn’t know what He was talking about.
He also taught that in giving, we should not let our left hand know what our right hand does, see? If you think about that, that will carry you a long way into the spirit, not only of prayer, but of all of the actions of discipleship. The ideal is that you would come to the point to where your left hand did what it did so unconsciously that your right hand didn’t know what was going on. [17:15]
I have often wondered—by the way, what does that say? Let’s get the hands right here, okay? Because in thinking about this, “ . . . let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth . . . “ (Matthew 6:3)—the left hand is so often just the spectator in the action; we are a largely right-handed world. The right hand is always very busy. Now, how could you by purpose not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing? You see if you tried to do that purposely, your left hand is bound to find out, isn’t it? You can’t say to your left hand, “Now left hand don’t you pay any attention to what the right hand is doing.” You see, the right hand would certainly know then and this is just Jesus’ way of saying that you have to come to the point or I would rather say, you are invited to grow to the point to where your actions are so normal and so natural that they go unobserved the one hand by the other. [18:22]
And likewise in prayer, we are really talking about a service, which becomes so spontaneous, so normal, so natural that it is more than an action; it is a condition of soul. When Paul says, “Pray without ceasing,” this often discourages people because they think of prayer as somehow making prayers as special actions and how are you going to pray while you are adding up the grocery bill because you know, you’ve got to think about that.
What Paul is saying, I am sure, is; he’s talking about an attitude of life which expresses itself in conscious prayer but expresses itself equally well in action and in a condition of soul which by the very posture of its being refers to God and waits on God and expects from God and then that is prayer. [19:24]
Now, I’ve got to reconcile what I’ve just said with what I’ve written on the board. I would like to ask you to look at this statement and you know that those of you who have listened to me for a while know that I like to try to say what things are. I think it’s awfully helpful to just try, even if you are a little wrong. You’ll have a definite idea and possibly it can be corrected and I like to just say what things are. What is prayer? As I’ve tried to say, what is discipleship? What is service?—and so on—and I would like for you to try this statement on the board on.
Prayer is communication with God for the purpose of accomplishing His goals in our lives and in the world. Prayer is communication and it is a communication, which is to assist God—to assist God. [20:22]
Some years ago—some of you may recall; a little book by Rosalind Rinker came out—Prayer: Conversing with God, I think was the name. [The actual title is Prayer: How to Have a Conversation with God] I remember what a stir it created and it created a stir because a lot of people who had been bothered about what you do were tremendously helped by that conception of just conversing with God–communicating with God—conversing with Him.
I have been able to help some people who have not done well with prayer by suggesting to them that they pray by taking an empty chair and just imagining that Christ is sitting in the chair and talking to Him and just telling Him what is on their hearts and they have found immense help and relief and have begun to grow into a larger prayer life because they were able to accept that fundamental element of just conversation—just talking with God. [21:23]
Prayer is not making prayers. Prayers often don’t pray. Prayers sometimes do pray and for example, if you take some of the rich liturgy of the church. For example, the old Anglican prayer book and the prayers in that are just so rich and you will find many, many prayers that come to us from many sources in the history of the church that are very good.
I was raised in a tradition—the Baptist tradition in the south—in which anyone who read a prayer was probably inspired by the Devil to do so because the model of spirituality in that area was really “turned loose” and “be spontaneous” and you know, that was the only thing that made any difference. There you had the form of informality being imprisoned and spontaneity if you know what I mean? And so, it took me many years where I could come to the point where I was blasted out of that by just finding some prayers that just so opened me up to God and helped me to say what I could not say. [22:38]
Many times written prayers can help us but we do have to remember that praying is not a matter of making prayers and I think, by the way, that’s why it’s good to have some around that have already been made sometimes so we can get our minds off of making a prayer and just enjoy the ride. Hmmm? Help us say something to God that we mean and that we believe. Prayer is communication with God and it is something that God desires of us and deserves of us. I would say demands of us in order to work with Him. [23:17]
Now then, once we put it in this way, we have to make some qualifications that occur to us, as for example we study the life of Jesus. I’ve already pointed out the story in Mark where Jesus comes back from the mountain and you will remember, we took this up in connection with fasting because at least in some of the later versions, the scriptures have Jesus saying to the disciples—when they could not cast the demon out of the boy—they have Him saying, “ . . . this kind cometh not out except by prayer and fasting . . .” (Matthew 17:21) and then He doesn’t fast and pray. He just says, “Out!” Right?
And so one way of looking at that is to say, “Well, why did Jesus say that? He didn’t fast and pray.” Another way of looking at it is to help us enlarge our conception of prayer. Not all communication is talking to somebody. You can communicate to people and with people in various ways and you will notice that one of the forms of mature communication is that it happens without talking. [24:28]
You ever watch a team of figure skaters communicate? How much time do they spend talking? Hmmm?—very little. When they are skating, you better believe they communicate but they do it by what they are doing and the way they do it.
So, when we say communication, we do want to remember that there are many ways of communicating and some people have been struck that Jesus practically never prayed for anybody. Can you remember a single case where Jesus prayed for someone? In the sense of, you know, having a person here and then getting down on his knees, and saying, ”Now Lord, bless this person?” No, He spoke His blessings. He gave His blessings.
Now, you see, that is that level of communication in which in the act you communicate. [25:31]
Another passage which I have asked you to look at and I want to refresh your memory in this connections is Acts 13:11 and this is that case, which I like to site. It’s so illustrative of a way of working where Saul—verse 9 of chapter 13 is on the Isle of Cyprus and he is ministering in the house of Sergius Paulus, the depute of Rome and the country and he is being withstood by a sorcerer by the name of Elymas and in verse 9—“Then Saul, (who also is called Paul), filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him (Elymas) and said, O full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil . . . “ He didn’t mince words, did he? “ . . . thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:9-10) And now watch! Paul doesn’t pray about this, does he? Watch what he does. [26:35]
He says, “And now, behold the hand of the Lord is upon thee, (he repeats, the hand of the Lord is upon thee) and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.” (Acts 13:11) [26:47]
So, when we think of communication now, we want to remember that this is not always a matter of talking to God. There is going to be a lot of talking to God and Jesus certainly talked to God. He spent a lot of time doing it but I want to stress this other side of the direct action with God which, also is carried out as a process of communication because he was working with God and when you work with God in this way, there is a communication that brings the power of God to bare to accomplish His purposes, His goals in our lives and in His world. [27:30]
Now, let’s take on some questions about prayer and conclude with some practical points. First of all, let’s just take the straightaway, the question—Why pray? Why should there be necessary prayer?
I want to take two particular points that bother folk when they face this question. First of all, the whole idea of communication, the idea that God somehow needs communication. It’s often expressed in this way—doesn’t God already know what we need? Doesn’t God already know what’s going on? [28:07]
Now, some people present the omniscience of God—His all knowingness as if God were victimized by it as if somehow If God decided He did not want to know something, He couldn’t. He was just stuck with it. See? Like maybe, you get stuck with the knowledge that you are overdrawn at the bank and you just can’t stop thinking about it. You sit up all night and you think about it and you just keep thinking about it. Some people present God’s omniscience as if He just couldn’t stop knowing everything all the time. Can you think of how many things there are to know? And just think of having to know all that stuff all the time.
See, He would have to know all about the pieces of wool in your sweater and how they are related to the other pieces of wool and then he would have to know about all the molecules that constitute those little pieces of wool and then the atoms and all their positions. Now, God is big enough to do that but why should He? [29:12]
You see my own interpretation of God’s omniscience is that it is a function of His omnipotence but He is not victimized by His omniscience. He can know anything He wants to at any time but He doesn’t have to if He doesn’t want to. So, His omniscience is a function of His all-powerfulness.
If you don’t make that turn, you see you have actually limited His power because you are saying there are some things He can’t do—namely, He can’t not know that you are now seated in the third chair on the fifth row in the middle aisle. I don’t like to be put in the position of saying there is anything God can’t do and consequently, we must remember that God is not victimized by His omniscience. He has a purpose. All right? [30:11]
Secondly, one of the things that you might expect of a personality in relationship to other personalities is that they would leave them alone. [Goes silent from 30:22 to 30:31-Change of Tape] If you will reflect on that, I think you will see that human life as we know would not be possible; it simply would not be possible. It would smother the person completely.
And I want to say that one of the things that God does in making human beings and in creating the human world and allowing the possibility of sin and redemption and glorification as well as damnation—one of the things He does is He leaves us alone. He does not pry into everything that concerns us because He wants from us a relationship in which we willingly come to Him—which we willingly give to Him of ourselves—which we open up.
See, the picture of Jesus standing at the door and knocking is a picture of someone who is courteous, who is considerate, who comes and says, “Will you let me in?” The picture of God, which you get if you listen many times to the way we present Him, is the picture of a bully who will just come along and kick the door down or in fact, has already got you bugged. You have nothing—there isn’t anything that He doesn’t already know about you. [32:05]
Now, there are two pictures then that I want you to get. One is a picture in which God has already claimed and invaded everything and leaves you no room for choice or freedom or deciding to withdraw from Him. The other is the one in which God, if you wish, is a courteous, loving person who offers His fellowship to you and who offers you the privilege of participating in co-working with Him, see? Two pictures. [32:43]
The latter picture is the one, which makes sense of prayer. Not only do we have to understand that God leaves some things for us to tell but there are many things, which God certainly does know, but He wants us to tell Him and share with Him anyway. There are many things, which you know about your children, but you want them to share it with you. You want them to know that they can come and work with you. You don’t want the attitude of being able to drag it out of them. There is no love and kindness and freedom in that.
Now, that same thing we have to remember with God. I mean if you know the needs of your children, you of course can do them. You can meet them but is that the model you want for your children as they grow up? Well, the answer is obviously no. You don’t want that. You want one where they come and discuss these things with you and then as they grow, you want one where they take care of their own needs. That is the normal, mature process of growth and what I am challenging you to do this evening in dealing with this question of why pray is to understand that that is the way it is between you and God. [34:11]
There is another thing that stands as a barrier to prayer in the minds of many people and that is that God’s Will will be done. This simply shuts off prayer for many people. Yes?
Question: (Somewhat Inaudible) Before we leave that, isn’t there a danger of people getting to the point where they think they’ve reached a critical pinnacle where they can out-guess God as to what moment and what incident where He is actually with them. I mean, if what you have presented—I would think that it would become a danger to try to second guess God for prayer or for prayer for God’s will. [35:04]
Dallas: I don’t think there is any guarantee against that danger, Jim. I really don’t. I think the only thing that guides us there is teaching, study, fellowship, and service both. We need many things to guide us in our prayer life. [35:23]
This is one of the things, which I said earlier; namely, that prayer is not the answer to all things and people can withdraw into a false spiritual superiority around prayer. There is no question about it at all.
I think that this is one of the things we really have to take seriously—is that that can happen and that God leaves us and made us so that it could happen. You see, our choices are very real, and just because we become Christians doesn’t mean somehow that all of our choices are basically worked out. We still have momentous choices to make and these involve prayer and these involve other things as well and we can go wrong and probably will because the progress of spiritual growth is not normally just a straight line but more something like this—[makes a motion with his hands]. You know? Growing in these directions—up and back—and if we are really making good progress, then we get the three steps forward, two steps back. There is not a simple sure-fire way of proceeding with these things. [36:35]
One of the problems with the disciplines is that people tend to take them and blow them into total solutions—whether it is fasting or service or prayer and so, in answer to your point, all I can say is, “That’s a good point.” It’s something we really need to be worried about and concerned about as we think about “ . . . working out our salvation with fear and trembling. . . “ (Philippians 2:12)
See, the point about the “fear and trembling” is that there is something to fear and tremble about. God is working in us and yet it is not going to be automatic. The paradox—work out your own salvation, okay? Some people like to take that and they go over here and they start working out their own salvation. The other people read the other part of the verse which says, “For it is God which worketh in you, both to will and do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13) and so they sit down and say, “Well, isn’t that wonderful? God is going to do it.” But that is the paradox and the tension of our life before God is that we are going to do it and God is going to do it. And so there are all sorts of dangers that we have to recognize and go forward trusting God to bring us along and when we get off the track, God does not forsake us. He stays with us. [37:52]
You could tell stories you know from now until Kingdom come almost about people who have abused prayer and there are many ways it can be done. The way you mention, I take it, is where you sort of run ahead and sort of do it without respect as to what God is doing in relation to it. Well, yeah, I think that happens.
And then there is the other side of those who sit back and don’t do anything because they say, “Well, God’s will. God’s Will; now we must pray according to God’s will” and they mean by that, we must figure out what God is going to do anyway and then pray for that. Right? No, that really is not what is meant. What is meant is better expressed by Jesus in John 5 where He says, when they criticize Him for working on the Sabbath, He says, “My Father worketh hitherto and I work.” [38:51]
There was a kind of communication there between Him and His Father in which He knew that God was working and so He worked also. Now, would God have healed the man with the withered hand if Jesus had not done anything? No, He would not have and if we can imagine it, if Jesus had done something but God hadn’t, the hand wouldn’t have been healed. You see, it is the working together—the co-laboring with God and prayer and communication in the manner. I’ve tried to describe it with its many dimensions as a part of that co-working / co-laboring with God.
Let me just say this to the other point of praying in the will of God. You see it is in the nature of co-working. It is in the nature of laboring with someone that at many points, the issue is not what does the boss want but how do you want to do it? The boss may want the floor mopped. Well now, suppose you were to say, “The boss has a will in all these matters so the boss must have a will at which corner I begin.” So you say, “Boss, what is your will about the corner I begin at?” Well, he may say, “That one.” So then you say, “Well now, the boss has a will about everything so he must have a will as to which hand I put into the bucket first.” So you say, “Boss, which hand should I put into the bucket first?” At that point, the boss says, “What do you want? Use either one. I don’t care. Do something. Get on with it!” [40:46]
Now, please understand me. There are many things about how God’s will are accomplished in a particular case that the question is not what God wills, but what do you will? What do you will? You have to have the maturity of faith to tell God what you will in the matter and base it on His will for the outcome. I will give you one case on this—a case in which I hope you are familiar with.
Do you remember that after the children of Israel sinned with the calf? God thought about it for a while as it were and then said to Moses, “I am going to kill them all and make a new nation out of you.” Now Moses did not stand up and say, “Well, Lord, whatever is your will.” Moses stood up and said, “No, you are not going to do that.” Just in those terms and he said, “You are not going to do that because if you do that, all those blokes down in Egypt will say, ‘Looky there what God did’ “ and do you know what? God apparently bethought Himself the better of it and decided not to do it. [42:02]
Now, if you look into that, you are going to see many deep lessons. One is what it is to pray in the Will of God. Moses approached God about a process that was already coming down the track and said, “This is not in conformity with your Glory and the Honor of your Name.” So he prayed in the will of God and stood against a process which was already coming at least in the permissive will of God to pass and said, “No” and God agreed with him. [42:37]
So, let me just say this. In many, many issues that you face in prayer, the issue is not just what God wills, but what do you will? And you must at least concede that God has the intelligence of the average boss in working with His subordinates. You must at least concede that and that He wants you and expects you as His child to stand up and survey the work to be done and to go after it and to invoke His power for those purposes because you understand what He is doing.
See, many times in a misguided will to honor God, we dishonor Him and we must understand these things if we are going to make any sense at all out of prayer.
Now, when we come to the particular matter of the ministry, we especially must understand that above all, the ministry of the Christian church is a ministry of prayer. Yes? [43:56]
Dallas: That’s right! Yes!
Dallas: Well, depending on the circumstances, there are a number of things you need to do in that kind of situation. I would say, first of all, if you find yourself in that situation, involve yourself with some brothers and sisters and begin to get them to pray with you about that matter and spend some time talking with them and letting them talk to you and think about it and have a fellowship of concern that takes it up. [44:48]
Then secondly, as you do that, expect to learn that there may be some things that need to be done other than pray. There is a time to act. There is a time to learn. There is a time to repent. There is a time to change the basis of one’s life. [45:11]
There are many things that we need to learn and God does not, and I’m afraid that this may offend many of you but I want to say it again—prayer is not a cure all. Prayer is work. It is work to be done for an effect and it is not a cure all. It has conditions and those conditions must be met and life generally imposes conditions other than prayer.
But when you find yourself coming again and again—well, first of all there is nothing wrong with that. Don’t ever accept the teaching that coming again and again proves you did not have faith. You will occasionally find people who will tell you that if you ask again, that just proves you didn’t have faith. If you are challenged with that, say, “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief,” and go on and keep asking but do take the second level—begin to pray for guidance about your prayer. Begin to pray for illumination as to why you do not seem to be making progress with it and seek the wider fellowship of sharing. [46:21]
By the way, back to one of the matters that really come up in connection to what Jim was saying. Prayer will not take the place of fellowship. Prayer will not take the place of nourishing by other members of the body of Christ, including the ministry of teaching, of exhortation, of prophecy and so on that should go on in the local body. That’s one of the problems with taking prayer, as a sort of total solution and it really isn’t. So, seek the wider fellowship and seek illumination. Begin to pray about your prayer. Don’t hesitate to do that and try to learn from what is going on with it.
I want to say just a few words now though, more about the ministry of prayer and the word. Perhaps, I should just remind you of two verses and you will remember that in Isaiah, the [he said 57th, but meant 56th] 56th chapter and the 7th verse, Isaiah says words, which are repeated by Jesus. “ . . . mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.” (Isaiah 56:7) It is interesting that that stands out above all else when the scriptures talk about the house of God. [47:36]
You may recall the great prayer of Solomon when the temple was built and how over and over and over he would describe the situation and say, ”Dear Lord, whenever this happens, prayers will be made from this house. Hear thou in Heaven,” and etc., etc., etc. He goes over that seven or eight times I think, different kinds of situations. The house was a house of prayer.
Jesus repeated that and we have to think seriously now when we speak about the ministry to what extent is our house a house of prayer? In many churches, I am afraid quite frankly; it becomes a house of entertainment, a house of maybe orthodox teaching and preaching, but not much praying. One of the things you should covet above all is the image of a place where people can come for prayer and prayer that is heard. [48:40]
The Apostles in the 6th chapter of Acts were faced with an administrative crisis. The widows of the none—how can I say that?—the widows of the Jews, which did not live around Jerusalem. Those widows were being neglected in the daily administrations of food and so on and the Apostles were called in to settle this issue and they did what every wise administrator does—they appointed a committee and this committee was called deacons.
But the point is that the twelve—verse 2 of chapter 6—“ . . . the twelve called the multitude of disciples unto them and said, it is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables, Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give our selves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:2-4)
Prayer and the ministry of the word—you see, the ministry goes forward by prayer. It does not go forward by great learning. It does not go forward by good eloquence, cleverly devised programs—it goes forward by prayer. It is the work of God. We are born of the word of God which liveth and abideth forever and that word of God works in an atmosphere of prayer. No person can minister the word of God mightily that is not bathed constantly in prayer from some source or other. It is impossible. It has never been done otherwise. Never. [50:28]
You find the great times in the history of the church when people were being swept into the Kingdom of God; you find the times when prayer is at its highest tide. Prayer—and there have been many times in which the meetings were nearly 100% prayer and singing—and people were swept in by the thousands. A few words spoken by a ministry anointed through the prayers of the saints is as powerful as tons and tons of words that come forth from learning. Paul knew this. Jesus knew this. Prayer is the key to the ministry of the word.
We could spend a lot of time speaking about why it is we do not pray or we don’t pray well. Very simply, I want to say really the reason why we don’t come into the place to where we pray and pray well is because, once again, we don’t think that it is as important as it is. We believe that we have more important things to do. I don’t really think it is to be explained simply in terms of a lack of faith. In fact, the lack of faith itself needs explaining and probably is explained by a lack of prayer. [51:59]
It is not so much a lack of faith, I believe, though there must be a certain faith before we can pray but rather a feeling that somehow other things are more important and I want to just conclude this evening by talking a little bit about how we might deal with some of those things.
If you believe that prayer is important, remember this one thing. Begin the day with it! Begin the day with it! Now, you can figure out a way of doing that. If you will think of the first thing you do in the morning and instead of doing that, set up some barrier which makes it impossible to do it until you have prayed, you can arrange to pray first. It will depend somewhat on your habits and where you do this, you have to deal with the particular things that fit with your life. [52:55]
If you are the sort of person, for example who awakens in bed, you can perhaps pray before you arise. Many people do not awaken in bed. [Laughter] They get up, and at some point through the day they awaken. I am generally—I happen to be the sort of person that does awaken in bed. I awaken in bed. My son, if he awakens—he can tell you some of the most interesting things and be totally asleep. [Laughter] So, you know, it depends on your habits.
A lot of this has to do with our physiology—so many things. I mean, accept the person you are and if you don’t awaken until after your third cup of coffee, then you make sure that at that point, you arrange your affairs where you can pray, okay? [54:00]
I think this is more important than praying before you go to bed or before you go to sleep but that’s a good time to pray also but I think it’s more important to pray and as you pray, go through the day, the things you have to do—it doesn’t take long—and pray over each one of them. Ask God to guide you and fill you with His light sand His love as you go through the day.
Another thing I would say is distinguish several parts of prayer and I want to give you some parts because I do find that people have a problem here and I am just going to list them. I am not going to talk about them at all beyond maybe just to explain them if you have questions because we are about out of time but let me give you five parts of prayer and these are parts, which I find useful to do in the order that I give them.
First of all, adoration. Adoration—you bring God before you and you bring what He is and what He has done for you. You bring them before you and you adore Him. You worship Him. [55:00]
Secondly, thanksgiving. Thank Him for what He has done. Thank Him for the good things that you enjoy. Thank Him for the things you really enjoy, not the things you don’t enjoy. Put that in another category. When you go to thank God, don’t try to thank Him for things you are not thankful for.
Concentrate on the things you are thankful for and you will find that it’s much more heart warming to thank Him for that because you are thankful, see? The thankfulness that we need is the stuff that comes from somewhere, you know down in where we really feel good about it. That’s what we praise God with.
Third, confession. Deal honestly with your failures—not with a view to picking over you but just admitting where you need help.
Fourthly, petition. Once you have confessed, you have things before you that you need help about and ask God for help frankly with them.
And then finally, intercession. I would urge you never to pray without intercession. Think of those who have needs and pray for those needs.
Now this is a very simple thing and you can do it and if you will do it without getting worried about how much faith you’ve got or whether or not God is going to answer your prayer, if you will just do it, you will over a very short period of time, enter into a rich prayer life and you will begin to see your whole life change because the reality of prayer has come into your life. [56:44]
This is something you can do whether you feel like it or not and one of the strangest things that has ever occurred to religious people is that if you don’t feel like it, you can’t pray.
Feeling has nothing to do with it. You can pray. Just do it! And the only secret to learning to pray is to pray and if you will just take this simple division I’ve given you, not because it’s the only possible one or the only right one, but because it’s a good one. Just do it! And you can add things on and you can elaborate an exercise of pray which I assure you will completely transform your life. [57:38]
“Lord, we are thankful for the possibility of prayer. We remember the old song, “Ere thou left the room this morning, did you think to pray?’ We pray that you will remind us.
Help us to find the place to talk to you because we are engaged in your work and we want to communicate about it. Oh, make it a reality, dear Lord for all of these friends who are here this evening so that they are a people of prayer and that their house, their home as well as this church is a house of prayer where it’s just as natural, it’s just as normal, it’s just so good and wonderful and free that they spontaneously live that way. They pray without ceasing because that is what they are.
Dear Lord Jesus, make it to come to pass for the honor of your name. Amen.”
Thank you! [58:43]