2016 05 22pm Ephesians 6:18b Lord’s Day 45 Q/A 117-118 The Discipline of Prayer – Part 2

We continue our consideration of Ephesians 6:18. Some very practical suggestions about prayer are included.

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

The largest radio receiver on earth is in New Mexico.  It is a series of huge satellite disks on over 72km of railway lines.  And all the dishes together form a single telescope the size of Washington D.C.  It is called the VLA or Very Large Array.  Now, the reason it is so big is that radio signals that travel a long way are very faint by the time they get to earth.  In fact, they are so faint that the total energy of all the radio waves ever recorded almost equals the force of a single snowflake hitting the ground!  That is the sort of lengths that mankind will go to try to receive a message from space.  And in one sense that is very sad when you consider the fact that many of those trying to hear a message like that have no time at all for the message about Jesus Christ that the God who created the universe has given us in His Word.  And about this word, God says, “You do well to pay attention to it.”

But God hasn’t just spoken clearly and powerfully to mankind.  He also has what we can respectfully call a VLE or a Very Large Ear that is continually open to the prayers of His people.  Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you … [For] if you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

So, we have every reason to be people of prayer.  But as we commented this morning, while we all would agree that prayer is necessary and important, the sad truth for many of us is that nothing is more difficult to establish and maintain than a regular and meaningful prayer life.  There may be seasons of prayerfulness but they are usually the exception rather than the rule.

And so, this morning we began our consideration of Ephesians 6:18 seeking to better understand the importance of prayer and to be more motivated to pray more often.  We saw that prayer is the response of a thankful believer to the many mercies that are ours in the Lord Jesus Christ.  And so, our theme is Thankful Believers are Called to the Discipline of Prayer.

  • And we noted that it is right to speak of prayer as a discipline because prayer is a habit we need to develop and strengthen. And we shall say more about that this afternoon.
  • But we spent most of our time considering the context of v18, noting that prayer needs to be the first part of Christian activity and what accompanies all that we do as Christians. And this is because apart from the Lord Jesus, we can do nothing.
  • And then we spent a few moments seeing that “praying at all times” or constant prayer includes what we called times of formal prayer, and what we called informal prayer – the spoken or unspoken word or phrase that we fire up to God in heaven as a response to things or situations we see or experience, and what we called a prayerful attitude – having God always in our thoughts regardless of what it is we are busy with. In these ways we can be “praying at all times.”

Well, this afternoon we continue our consideration of v18.  We want to see that thankful believers are called to the discipline of constant prayer that is in-spirited, varied, unrelenting, and intercessory.  And then we will end with some lessons from the school of prayer.

  1. So first of all, thankful believers are called to the discipline of constant prayer that is In-Spirited. And we see this as we are told that our praying is to be “in the Spirit.”
  1. Last Sunday was Pentecost And Vicar Warner preached to you from John 14.  There Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to His disciples.  He said, The Spirit “will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”  Now, with the disciples, all that Jesus had said to them was the OT plus the words they had heard Jesus speak.  But for you and me it is the words of the OT and the NT together.  The Bible is all that Jesus has said; the Bible is the Word of Christ.   So the work of the Holy Spirit is to bring us to the Bible, to give us a love for what is taught in the Bible, to help us understand what we read in the Bible, and to prompt us to do what we are told to do in the Bible.  And in relation to prayer, this means that the Holy Spirit helps us understand what is taught in the Bible so that more and more what we pray about and what we pray for and even why we pray accords with the will of God as it is revealed in Scripture.
    1. Please turn with me to Romans 8:26-27. There we read, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words.”  So the Holy Spirit prays for us and He joins us in our praying, combining both of these things so that we pray in the Spirit, or so that our prayer is in-Spirited.
      1. Just listen to how one commentator explains this: “Two supernatural things happen here: First, the Holy Spirit tell us what we ought to pray for. Apart from the Spirit’s assistance, our prayers are limited by our own reason and intuition.  But with the Holy Spirit’s help they become informed by heaven.  As we seek the Holy Spirit’s help, He will speak to us through His Word, which conveys [the mind of Christ] regarding every principle.  Thus, in Spirit-directed prayer we will think God’s thoughts after Him.  His desires will become our desires, His motives our motives, His ends our ends.”

So this is what it means to pray in the Spirit.  This is what in-Spirited prayer is.  I plan to say more about prayer-lists later on in the sermon.  But if you use a prayer-list, let me suggest that you write at the top, Pray in the Spirit.

  • And do this so you have a constant reminder to ask the Spirit to guide and inform and fill and direct your prayers with the Word of Christ.
  • And do this also so that when you lack the strength or motivation to pray, you may seek the stamina and power of the Spirit.
  1. Thankful believers then are called to the discipline of constant prayer that is in-Spirited. But secondly they are called also to the discipline of Varied  And we see this as we read that we are to pray “with all prayer and supplication.”
  1. Next time we gather together to continue our sermon series following the sequence of the Lord’s Days of the Heidelberg Catechism, we will begin working our way through the individual petitions of the Prayer that the Lord Jesus taught His disciples to pray. And as we work though the petitions of that prayer, we shall see the great variety of the things that we ought to pray.  Vicar Warner has already shared with us the very useful prayer acronym that is ACTS – A for Adoration, C for Confession, T for Thanksgiving, and S for Supplication.  And we get that acronym from the variety of petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, from the content of the Psalms, many of which are prayers, and from the content of the prayers of the Bible.  Our prayers are to include the variety of adoration, confession, and thanksgiving.
    1. And that comes through here in v18 in that the first word, “prayer,” has in view what we might call our devotion – the prayers of adoration and confession and thanksgiving, and the second word, “supplication,” has in view our requests; the things we ask for.  When we adore and praise and honour the Lord, and when we confess our sins to the Lord, and when we thank Him for His many physical and spiritual blessings to us in Christ Jesus, these are our prayers; these are our devotions.  And when we ask the Lord to do this or to not do that, these are our supplications; these are our requests.

So the discipline of varied prayer means that there is to be variety in the things that we pray about.  And we won’t say too much more about this here because we have already spoken of this in earlier sermons.  Prayer may be, as we have already said, the falling of a tear or the upward glance of an eye.  But much prayer, whether it be in public or in private and whether it be spoken out loud or prayed in the mind, will praise God and confess sin and thank God and ask God for this or for that.

  • Thankful believers are called to the discipline of constant prayer that is in-Spirited and varied. But we see thirdly that we are called also to the discipline of Unrelenting  And boys and girls, unrelenting means to keep on going without stopping.  You have probably forgotten what rain feels like.  But sometimes you can have rain for days on end.  And when that happens, someone might say that the rain is unrelenting; it just keeps falling.  Well, we are to be unrelenting in our prayers as we see that we are to pray “with all perseverance.”
  1. And we have many examples of and teaching about unrelenting prayer in the Bible.  Here are some:
    1. Earlier we read about Moses and the battle with the Amalekites. And you boys and girls will remember that as long as Moses had his hands up, Israel  But as soon as his arms got tired and dropped, Amalek prevailed.  So finally, they put a stone there for Moses to sit on, didn’t they, and Aaron and Hur stood on each side of Moses and held his hands up until Israel had wiped out the Amalekites.  So Moses’ intercessory activity or his ‘prayer’ on behalf of the Israelites was unrelenting.
    2. And we also read about Hannah who for a long time was unable to have children. But she prayed and prayed and finally the Lord gave her Samuel.
    3. And last week Vicar Warner read the parable of the persistent widow that Jesus told.  This widow kept on going to a judge for justice until he finally gave her what she sought.  And Jesus prefaced that parable with these words, “He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.”  We are to be unrelenting in our prayers.
    4. And in Matthew 7, the words of Jesus can literally be translated, “Ask repeatedly, over and over again, and it will be given to you, keep seeking, repeatedly, and you will find … knock continuously, over and over again, and the door will be opened to you.” These words too graphically illustrate the power of unrelenting prayer.
    5. The Lord Jesus Christ, who was unrelenting in His own prayers, wants you to know that there is a mysterious power in unrelenting prayer.
    6. In the North African city of Hippo, in AD 354, a woman named Monica gave birth to a son. He was raised in the church but embraced an immoral lifestyle in his young teenage years.  For twenty years Monica constantly prayed for his conversion and always lived near him.  Finally, in his early 30’s, he came to faith in Christ in the Italian city of Milan.  After his baptism, he left with his mother for home.  Near Rome, Monica said to him, “I have no further delight in anything in this life…There was one thing for which I desired to linger a little while in this life, that I should see you a Christian before I died…Why am I still here?”  Five days later she caught a fever, and nine days later she died.  But Monica saw her unrelenting prayers answered.  Her son was Augustine.  He became the Bishop of Hippo and one of the most influential theologians of all time.
    7. Now, what we have said about unrelenting prayer does not mean that so long as we pray repeatedly or get enough people to pray the same thing that we will definitely get what we ask for. You see sometimes, even though we might not understand how this can be so, it is better for us or for others that we not be given what it is that we are asking for.  The foundation of our prayers ought to be the knowledge that God’s ways are above our understanding but that He has promised always to cause all things to work together for the good of those who love Him, as we saw this morning.
    8. But neither may we minimize the plain truth that our Lord would have us learn – that there is a mysterious power in unrelenting prayer. God very often delights to answer persistent prayer.
  1. But the call to unrelenting prayer is also necessary because of our weakness as human beings. I have mentioned previously that we sometimes know seasons of prayerfulness.  We feel like praying/we have experienced answered prayer/we have heard a convicting sermon about prayer/we have a strong resolve to pray.  But then there are those other times, aren’t there, when prayer has little or no attraction, perhaps for physical or spiritual reasons.  Well the context of this call to prayer reminds us that we are soldiers in the Lord’s army.  So when you feel unable to pray, go to the ‘army supplies tent,’ again and again.  Remember to look to Jesus for all your needs and necessities, because He has endless, limitless strength and resources.  This too is a part of what it means to pray “with all perseverance.”
  1. Thankful believers are called to the discipline of constant prayer that is in-Spirited, varied, and unrelenting. But lastly they are called also to the discipline of Intercessory  And intercessory prayer is prayer on behalf of others.  And we see this in that our prayers are to include “supplication for all the saints.”
  1. Congregation, it is appropriate and necessary that we pray for ourselves. But if you have spent anytime at all studying the prayers of Paul that are recorded in the Epistles you will have noticed that while he requests prayer for himself, a vast proportion of his recorded prayers are for others.  Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, etc, prayer after prayer for others.
    1. John Macarthur says, “The spiritually healthy person is devoted to the welfare of others, especially fellow believers. On the other hand, the root of both psychological and spiritual sickness is a preoccupation with self.”  So praying for others is an evidence of spiritual health!
    2. And this is the prime reason why our sister Bianca works hard to give us the prayer calendar in the bulletin each week; so that we can make “supplication for all the saints.”
  1. But there can be obstacles that keep us from praying effectively for others. Perhaps you have heard it said before that the church is a nice place.  It is a place to come and withdraw from troubles at work and the ordinary stresses of daily life.  It is a place where we can sing and a place where we can give our offerings and know that the Lord is pleased to use them to extend His kingdom.  Yes, the church is a nice place, apart from one thing, which is that many of the people there are simply unbearable.  Of course, they are not all unbearable.  Some of them are OK; the ones that think as I think and do as I do, but the church would be a better place if a number of the members were to find themselves transferred to Napier or Nigeria.
    1. Now, perhaps we don’t express it as bluntly as that, but it wont comes as news to any of you that things are not always as they should be between brothers and sisters in Christ. And if that is the case, we will hardly be praying for all the saints as we ought to.
    2. In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter says to husbands, “Live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”  So if the attitude and behaviour of a husband towards his wife is un-Christ-like, his prayers will be affected.
    3. And in the same way, if you have a bitter attitude towards someone at church or you nurture resentment, or you preserve a grudge, or you refuse to forgive someone who has sinned against you, your prayers will be hindered, because you either will not pray for them at all, or your prayers for them will not be sincere, or your prayers will be influenced by your opinion of them, as in “Lord, help him see that he is a complete idiot,” which I trust you can see is not what Paul had in mind when he called on us to make “supplication for all the saints”!
    4. In Matthew 5:23-24, the Lord Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
      1. So if your brother or sister has wronged you, you must approach them and seek reconciliation so that you can pray for them with sincerity. Or if you have a sinful attitude toward your brother or sister, repent of that attitude and confess it as sin to the Lord and to the brother or sister if they have borne the brunt of your sin, so that you can pray for them with sincerity.

So thankful believers are called to the discipline of constant prayer that is in-Spirited, in that it looks to the Holy Spirit in every way, that is varied, in that it includes Adoration and Confession and Thanksgiving and Supplication, that is unrelenting, in that we are persistent and always looking to the Lord for strength to persevere in prayer, and that is Intercessory, in that we make sincere requests for all the saints.

But let’s finish with some very practical lessons from the school of prayer, which I have borrowed and adapted from several sources, but especially Don Carson’s Book, A Call to Spiritual Reformation.

  1. Much prayer is not done simply because we do not plan to pray.

Those things that are important to us we schedule in our diaries.  There will be very few of us who just forgot to go on holiday or who never got around to playing golf or who had every intention of going out on a date with our boyfriend but it just never happened.  So we need to consciously set aside time for prayer.  And at the very least, make it your custom not to eat until you have prayed.  For then there will at least be three times a day when you look to the Lord.

  1. Adopt practical ways to impede mental drift

And I am sure that every single one of us knows about the problem of mental drift when it comes to prayer.  We can quickly find ourselves thinking about 100 other things rather than concentrating on prayer.  Praying out loud is one practical way to stifle this tendency.  Some people find it helpful to pace around the room or even go on a prayer-walk.  Prayer lists are a useful tool.  It can help also to have a prayer journal where you write down what you pray fo and even record the answers to your prayers.  Another tool is to pray from the Scriptures.  Read a passage and then pray.  Or use the prayers of Scripture as a template for your prayers.  (Donald Whitney’s book – Praying the Bible)

  1. Read about prayer.

I would be happy to recommend several books about prayer to you.  You will find books on prayer in the church library.  Ask others if they have found any books particularly helpful.

  1. Develop prayer partner relationships at different periods in your life.

If you are bloke, find another bloke to pray with and if you are a gal, find another gal to pray with.  And this doesn’t mean you always have to be together to pray.  But you can discuss together what you will pray for and you can talk about praying together, to encourage each other.

  1. Use prayer lists.

It is hard to remember all the things that you would like to pray for and that you ought to be praying for.  So prayer lists are very helpful tools.  And there are even apps to help you maintain prayer lists that you can keep with you on your smart phone.  You can have one list for family, one for missions, one for church members, one for urgent needs, one for areas of godliness that you are eager to grow in, one for stubborn sins that you are eager to be rid of, one for evangelistic contacts, one for civil authorities, one for church leaders, one for the various attributes of God …

And if it is thankfulness for God’s mercies to you in Christ Jesus that motivates you to pray, and you always look to the guidance and the power of the Spirit of Christ, then making use of tools like these will mean you grow in the discipline of prayer, and your prayers will be more constant, and more varied, and more unrelenting, and more intercessory than they are now.  Amen.