Scripture: Ephesians 1:15-21
Preacher: Kelvin Mulembe
Nothing is more important to Christian living than prayer. Prayer is one discipline that you must absolutely master. As Christians, we are taught that prayer is the most powerful way to experience God. Yet, for most of us, our prayer times are a constant struggle. Often dry and empty, irregular and uninspiring. Therefore, we have no choice but to learn how to pray. As a church, we have no choice. We must learn not just how to pray, but learn to pray. If we don’t, we won’t make it. We may close our doors, or may remain a struggling shell of past glories.
I have always known that Jesus prayed. But, as I study his life and ministry, the more convinced I am that His whole life was taken up by prayer. He spent most of his time praying, and never did anything without prayer. He was a prayer radical. It is obvious from the way Jesus prayed that He understood that everything depended on prayer. For us to be God’s people in the world, we must begin to pray like Jesus did. By God’s grace, we can do it. We must do it.
Imagine your doctor informed you that you had a terminal illness. You only had a few weeks to live, except, there was a chance that a particular drug could dramatically alter your circumstances. If you strictly followed instructions, one pill a day, you can live a normal, healthy, and prolonged life. The only condition is that you don’t miss a day or you would die. Would you forget to take it? Would you rely on somebody else to remind you? Would you consider it an unnecessary burden?
The answer is NO. You would not miss a day. You would reorder your life to make sure that doesn’t happen. You would set up reminders everywhere. Sticky notes on your refrigerator, calendar, Smartphone, you would download apps. It’s once in a lifetime opportunity. You can’t mess it up. You would do extraordinary things to make sure you stick with it.
That’s exactly what prayer is. Prayer is the lifeline available to us. It is the antidote to the worldly troubles we face. It is our connection to eternal life. Prayer is the foundation and the pillar that holds our faith-lives together. As we face the overwhelming challenges of our times, without prayer, we are not going to make it. This world is so broken, so fallen, so unjust, so greedy, so corrupted, so bigoted, and so unstable that we cannot make it without prayer. We won’t make it. We can’t.
That is why Jesus prayed consistently and commanded his followers to pray, so that they do not give in to temptation. In this world you will have trouble. Prayer is the only tool that can help us endure and overcome such evil.
Last week we celebrated Easter Sunday, and we continue in that season of celebration. We firmly confessed “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed.” Christ has overcome the world, triumphed over sin and death. By His grace we have been saved through faith. And, how did Christ do it? He did it with continuous prayer. Jesus’ life and ministry was saturated with prayer. His death punctuated by prayer, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” “Into your hand I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
Even after His resurrection, we see Jesus still praying as He broke bread with the two disciples he had joined on the road to Emmaus. After He prayed, their eyes were opened and they recognized the presence of God among them. Prayer is an eye opener to God’s presence among us. How can we think that prayer is unnecessary? How can we be so casual about it?
Why is Prayer such a Challenge?
Prayer is hard work. It demands discipline and training. We see in Luke 11:1, the disciples asking Jesus to teach them how to pray. Jesus then taught them the Lord’s Prayer. I am sure they saw him praying, everyday, but they still found it challenging to pray. Even after he taught them, there is disappointing evidence of failure at praying. So, we are not the only ones to struggle. But Jesus did not tolerate their prayerlessness. He rebuked them and still taught them.
We have wrong information on prayer. Few people take the time to study prayer. Often the majority rely on information from others, testimonies, and sometimes from books written by people who don’t even pray. “Try these seven steps and all your prayers will be answered.” But, we end up disappointed and frustrated. So, we quit and wait for a crisis.
What you know and what you don’t know both affect your life significantly. What you do and what you avoid doing determine your results. Above all, your habits are ultimately responsible for your success and failure in every aspect of your life. Be it, your relationships, career, ministry, finances, physical body, happiness, and your prayer life. These can be summarized as Knowledge, Behavior, and Discipline.
What is prayer?
Prayer is what connects us with God. It is both a personal conversation and an encounter with God. It is more than just words spoken at God, highlighting our list of needs, anxieties, pain, frustration, and desires, even though these can be and are often part of our prayers. Prayer is our response to God in conversation. God is the initiator of that desire in us to reach out to one who is higher than us. We are all created in the image of God, which means that we are wired to both reflect and relate with God. Prayer is our response to God’s desire to be knowable to us.
Rev. Tim Keller, author of the Prodigal God defines prayer as a personal, communicative response to the knowledge of God. Therefore, our amount and accuracy of this knowledge will greatly affect our prayer life. As Christians, this accuracy is verified through Scripture and the Holy Spirit. For Methodists, this is verified through Scripture, church tradition, reason and experience. Prayer must always resonate with the gospel of Jesus. In most instances God is speaking to us through the scriptures and waiting on us to respond.
Prayer is growing in intimacy with God. The more we spend time in prayer our knowledge of God deepens, and we become more Christ like. Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians shows us some personal functions of prayer. Prayer:-
- Enables the Spirit of wisdom and revelation (understanding) to invade our lives
- Increases our knowledge of God and of ourselves. A personal knowledge of Christ will undoubtedly change your life.
- Opens the eyes of our heart (subconscious mind or inner spirit) to be enlightened in order to be – hopeful of his calling for us; and – to see the promises of our glorious inheritance.
An accurate knowledge of God helps us discern a prophetic and positive outlook of the future, instead of a vague optimism or shallow self-induced positive thinking. Human minds cannot by themselves discern and understand spiritual things no matter how smart they are (1 Corinthians 2:14). Only by the influence of the Holy Spirit (Spirit of wisdom and revelation) are we capable of obtaining the conviction and assurance of salvation. There are no gimmicks.
As children of God we have access to the blessings that come with this revelation of our glorious inheritance through Christ Jesus. But, we cannot know and appropriate these blessings without a commitment to fervent prayer. This knowledge does not come simply by intellectual engagement (pub theology) and attending church on Sunday. Some things are learned experientially. You have to do it to know it. You can’t teach a child to walk by simply reading to her a Baby walking manual for Dummies. You have to guide the child to do it. With the guarantee that there will be times of stumbling, falling, and bruises along the way. It will not always be pleasant, but without doing it, death will occur. The child’s muscles will atrophy. And she will never learn the joy of walking.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what has happened to the church today. Most denominations are in sharp decline. The Church’s spiritual muscles have atrophied. No longer holding the same authority as a moral guide. Instead, the church is now seen as a sell-out, a political bicycle that anyone can use to ride up the Capitol Hill. The church is in trouble because we have lost the art of prayer. We have lost our moral right to shepherd the nation. We are no longer God’s prophets, but are now self-seeking salesmen in profits’ clothing.
The necessity of praying without ceasing has been lost. We must recover the art of prayer or we will not make it. We cannot afford to be comfortable with the status quo. Prayer must be the foundation of our Christian life, not an optional item. We must spend time praying and seeking God’s guidance.
Our prayers not only influence us, but they also impact other people. Jesus prayed at the tomb of Lazarus not for his own sake, or even for the sake of Lazarus, but for all those who were present. In that instant, prayer was a tool for evangelism. The bible records that many marveled and glorified God. Not just because of the miracle, but because of the connection of the miracle to Jesus’ prayer. If you really want to change the world, begin to pray.
How do I improve my prayer life?
Make prayer a priority. Prayer is not an option for a Christian – it is life. The moment you stop praying, you stop growing and start dying. If your prayer life is starving, your spiritual life is malnourished. It doesn’t matter whether you read the entire bible, from genesis to revelation, or engage in social justice or church activities. Your prayer life must inform all these activities.
Do it even if it feels awkward and poorly timed or inconveniencing. Motivational Speaker, Les Brown said it well, “Anything worth doing, is worth doing badly.” Don’t be afraid to do it badly until you build the muscle. God’s grace is sufficient to see you through.
Find other people you can pray with. John Wesley spoke of accountability groups or covenant discipleship groups. Sometimes all we need is a little encouragement, a little push, and a little accountability. Find a co-worker, classmate, neighbor, Facebook friends, etc. The church can facilitate this by starting a prayer meeting or finding opportunity for corporate prayer. But, you also need to pray as individuals privately. Don’t wait for a church program.
Pray more than once a day, until you develop the habit. Daniel prayed three times a day – Morning, Noon, and Evening. There is nothing wrong with having a routine or specific schedule. All that is required is discipline. It will be uncomfortable at the beginning. Stop making excuses that you are a morning or evening person; all this is just your habit. Habits are not scripture, they can be changed.
There is Power in public prayer. I will never take for granted the power of public prayer. When I was in college, one of our fellow students died of sickle cell anemia. She had been an active member of Chi-Alpha Christian fellowship and was an inspiration to many. Her death was so sudden and it shook the faith of many of us. We had prayed for her healing the night before, when she was not feeling well. Yet, she still died. It was difficult to understand what had happened, why God didn’t answer our prayers. Perhaps God did answer, but not just the way we wanted. We wanted her healed.
What I can’t forget is what happened at the funeral. I was asked to say a prayer for the family, and for all of us, before we left. It was a simple and short prayer. I can’t even recall the contents. But, as we were getting ready to leave the house, the brother came rushing to me. Holding my hands tightly, he said, “thank you brother. Thank you for praying. I don’t know you or how well you knew my sister. But, something happened to me when you were praying. I was angry at God, and at my sister. I am not a practicing Christian, but I vowed that I would never step in a church building or listen to any Christian talking about God ever again. But, then you started saying exactly what I was saying inside. It’s like I was hearing myself in you. Something in your voice convinced me that God was listening to you. And when you finished, my heartfelt light, my anger is gone. God has touched me. He heard my cry. Thank you, brother.”
Prayer changes things. Prayer changes us. Prayer changes how we see things and it opens us up to a completely new kingdom. “Let your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Prayer is the only sure connection we have with God. It signifies our complete dependence and trust in God. It is not an option. Prayer is that life saving pill that you need to take daily. Prayer is an absolute necessity for every Christian. We cannot substitute it for anything else. We must learn to pray. We have to.