In our series called “Church on Purpose,” we are exploring what it means to be an intentional member of a church. Membership in the New Testament church is metaphorically like being a member of a physical body. You are but one part of a greater whole, and your part is extremely vital for the overall health of the church. 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
Church membership, then, is a declaration that you are a part or a member of a greater whole. It is self-sacrificing and not preference-seeking. It is giving, serving, engaging, doing life together to fulfill a greater purpose, to build the Kingdom of God.
We’ve been talking about what to do fulfill this greater purpose, and today we’re going to talk about really the easiest thing to do. And although it is probably the most frequently mentioned thing a Christian should be doing, all too often it is the thing we do the least. That is prayer.
Prayer is a challenging spiritual discipline. The concept isn’t hard to understand. You communicate with God and you listen to Him. What’s challenging is putting prayer into practice. In my experience as a pastor, people pray but it’s more during times of convenience or crisis, when people have the time, or when their world starts to crumble. Making prayer a true spiritual discipline is not very common among God’s children, yet it is so critical to our spiritual health.
Prayer really is the way you demonstrate faith in God’s Word and trust in His will. You truly cannot prioritize God’s will without praying.
POINT #1 – Prayer Puts God’s Will First
In Luke 11, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. They’ve seen Him pray to God. They’ve seen His close relationship with God and His understanding of God’s will all because of His prayer life. They want that too. So Jesus gives them a teaching tool, that we call the Lord’s Prayer.
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”
When you examine the Lord’s Prayer, you’ll notice it starts with God, not us. The famous prayer begins with an acknowledgement of who God is, our Father. Hallowed be Your name because You are holy. May Your Kingdom come because of Your will. This pattern is found all throughout the Bible. The creation account in Genesis 1, starts with God… “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The famous John 3:16 begins with, “God so loved the world…”
The same principle applies to the Lord’s Prayer. Prayer is all about God in the same way everything else should be about God. As Jesus stated in Matthew 6, prayer is about His name, His kingdom, and His will. In Matthew 6, Matthew gives us a little more insight to what was said just before the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer.
5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. 6 But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
7 “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. 8 Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!
Prayer is about God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will. Prayer is not about prayer. A cell phone does not exist for itself. It is a tool for connectivity. Prayer is a way to relate to God. When you pray, you give glory to God. Therefore, every prayer is an opportunity to witness the glory of God!
Prayer helps us connect two concepts. First, God is infinite, awesome, and way beyond us. Second, although He is way beyond us, God is near to us – right here, right now. Prayer is the way limited people communicate with an infinite God. And proper prayer puts God first (just like the Bible). Prayer is not about trying to get God to do our will on earth, but rather us attempting to do God’s will on earth. Prayer is all about God, not us.
POINT #2 – There are great benefits of an ongoing conversation with God.
Prayer is not about you, but the good news is God does care about you. When You place your faith in God through prayer, He provides His will to you. 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul gives some final advice to a church he loves, and in his advice, a helpful list emerges.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
“Be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
Notice the pattern here. In order to pursue what is good (God’s will), we have to pray constantly and rejoice and give thanks always. The path to joy is God’s will, and the only way to find this path is through the discipline of regular prayer. When Paul writes to the Philippian Church, he emphasized the importance of prayer again.
“Pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”
Prayer is a strategy for life. Prayer is a way to discern the daily tasks, the daily decisions that allow you to thrive spiritually. It’s not a last resort!
When someone offers you prayer and you say, “can’t hurt,” or when we say, “nothing else worked, so I guess I’ll pray” those are some of the weakest ways to talk to the sovereign Creator of the universe. God is in control, so we should talk to Him in a way that recognizes His power. A powerful prayer is one that rests in God’s sovereignty and trust in His grace. This trusting and resting is the very definition of prayer. It’s not our prayers that overcome. We are not that powerful! It is God who overcomes, and we pray to Him.
Prayer is so important because it connects the dots of the Christian life. Your ongoing communication with God is the very link between much of what we do as Christians. Prayer aids evangelism. In Luke 10, Jesus instructs His followers to pray for a harvest, then He tells them to go. In James 1, prayer is a pathway to wisdom. Both Jesus and Isaiah remind us that God’s house will be a house of prayer. Paul connects his partnership with the church through prayer. And Jesus Himself grew spiritually as a boy by being with His heavenly father and continued deepening that relationship through prayer as an adult.
When you prioritize prayer, you’re making God’s will your priority. As we learned through the interaction with Jesus and His disciples in Luke 11, prayer must be taught. And it gets easier the more we do it. You don’t have to have fancy words or the right prayers memorized. What you need to do is be genuine and talk to Him as your Father, your friend, your savior. Seek His will. Pray that what burns in His heart, burns in yours.
You’re not always going to get this right in the same way your kids do not always communicate well with you. But God always wants to hear from you, and He enjoys your genuine efforts to talk with Him.
POINT #3 – The place and time of prayer matters.
Church members should pray both privately and corporately. You need time alone with God, and you need time to seek Him through the collective wisdom of others. The beauty of prayer is that you can do it anywhere. Pray with others in a worship gathering and in a prayer meeting. Pray with your Bible study group. Pray every day with your spouse and your family. Lead your children by teaching them to pray.
Then you also need to pray alone. Dedicate time to God daily, even if this time is just five or ten minutes. Even the busiest people have time to pray! How do I know that? Because I’m busy, and if I make it a priority, I’ll do it every single time.
God is so ready to listen at any moment. He is literally waiting for you every moment of every day to speak to Him. He hears you at moments of unexpected crisis. Sometimes all you can do is express a quick and silent prayer. When you give a short prayer walking into what you know will be a stressful meeting, God is listening. When you offer rapid fire praises while you are driving, God is listening. God hears instantaneous prayers – every word. He understands your situation.
But you should also dedicate time to pray quietly and alone, time when you can sit and focus and listen, and scheduling this time is necessary. Look, we will all make time for what is important to us.
I make time to watch my favorite TV shows. I make time to clean my house (mostly because I love to clean), I will make time for my family – ride a bike when maybe I don’t feel like I have a lot of energy or play golf or shoot arrows because someone has asked me to. If we can make time to watch a TV or clean our toilets, then we can make time to talk to God in prayer. Prayer is a spiritual discipline, and like exercise or any other priority, you have to make the time and effort.
I’ve seen prayer work! I’ve seen what God will do when His people pray! Prayer opens the door for opportunities to witness, to heal, to move walls, and rise up out of valleys. This is why the term ‘prayer warrior’ fits us so well. It combines military language with the sacred act of prayer. Paul does a good job of describing the spiritual battle we’re fighting.
10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
We are indeed in a battle, a real and powerful spiritual battle. Paul tells Christians to put on the full armor of God, and then pray. And he doesn’t tell us just to pray for only a few minutes, he tells us to pray continuously.
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
And as a final note, Paul asks the believers in the church at Ephesus to pray for him as well.
19 And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike.
Several times in the New Testament, the apostle Paul asks local churches to pray for him. Paul knew he could not lead churches without their prayers. And I know I can’t either. I need your prayers. Start by praying for my preaching ministry, for the sermon preparation and for the delivery that it will be blessed and used by God, that it won’t fall on deaf ears. Praying for me as your pastor is really the greatest thing you could ever do for me. But when you pray for me, it doesn’t stop with me. You’re praying for the ministry that God is doing through me that touches each of you and the community around us.
Prayer is important, so much that it is our spiritual weapon as we fight for and along with God in this great battle. And please pray with faith because the war has already been won. That’s how we know we can trust God in the daily battles and in our prayers.
We are the Church. And if we are a church on purpose, we need to be praying. If we want to know God’s will, then we have to be praying. One of the more common questions Christians ask involves prayer, “Does God hear me?” He does. But the better question is, “Do my prayers align my will with God’s will?”