We are in the middle of our series “For the Win,” which is about winning in spiritual warfare. Too long have Christians walked around defeated, depressed, and anxious. Jesus said He came so that we could have life abundantly. Where is that abundance? Well, our enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy.
We pray that through this series, you will begin to experience victory, win the fight, and take back what the devil has taken from you.
To recap the past few weeks, we have discussed where the battle begins- in our minds. Our thought life is the front line of this battle, and it’s a downhill spiral if we do not take control there. Last week Pastor Rodney spoke about strongholds or areas in our life that we couldn’t seem to get victory in. Three weeks ago, we talked about the armor of God and the equipment we are given for this spiritual war.
I want to revisit that armor briefly before hitting today’s topic.
10 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Paul then continues, and this is what we are going to talk about today:
18 “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
How often does Paul say to pray? Always.
Today we are talking about how The Real Victory Comes Through Prayer
Before we talk about prayer, I want us to really define what prayer is.
What Prayer Is
It’s been said that prayer is simply talking to God. And that’s true. Prayer does not require any secret formulas or magic words.
Jesus drove this point home on multiple occasions.
Luke 18:9-14 “Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Jesus points out that it is this humble, simple prayer that God accepts, not the pompous, proud, well-trained, and educated one.
Or in Matthew 6:5-8 “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!”
When it comes to prayer, God simply seeks a humble, open heart. He does not desire fancy words or elaborate speeches.
This is why we say prayer is just talking to God, and it’s true. 100%. But sometimes, I wonder if we have missed some other essential parts of prayer in trying to make prayer seem easy and casual.
Because the truth is, sometimes prayer is hard. Sometimes it’s very hard. And if I were to stand here today and tell you prayer is easy and no big deal, and then you go home and pray, you may find yourself unprepared.
Or I wonder if we have made prayer too casual. We want God to seem approachable, and He is. But how many of you have friends, family, or a spouse that is approachable? Is that any reason to take them for granted or not cherish your time together? No.
Have you ever wondered why God wants us to pray in the first place? The Bible says He already knows our needs, and God can do anything; He isn’t reliant on us. And praying really seems like doing nothing, doesn’t it? In the natural, you are just speaking into the air.
How many of you here are doers? You like to get stuff done but hate sitting still? How many of you are totally fine relaxing and doing nothing?
Isn’t it ironic that prayer seems like nothing to people who can’t sit still, and for people who don’t mind doing nothing, prayer seems too much?
That’s why God wants prayer. It is totally faith. To spend time speaking to a being we can’t see takes faith. But some will say I have faith; why does God need to pray? Faith without action is dead, so prayer is putting action to that belief.
God spoke the universe into existence with only words. God is the one who enacted the plan of salvation and sent Jesus when we wanted nothing to do with Him. God is the one who raised Jesus from the dead and offers us eternal life. God did everything to take care of our sin. God is the one who sustains reality, and whenever He decides not to, it will cease.
You and I aren’t even guaranteed our next breath. God does not need us for anything. But He wants us. And He has given us free will, to reject Him or freely choose Him freely.
The one thing God wants is our faith, and it’s up to us if we will give it or not.
Hebrews 11:6 And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
You and I can’t really take credit for things accomplished in prayer. Because we know it wasn’t us but God who did those things.
So why prayer? Because it is an expression of faith, and it’s also an act of obedience because we are commanded to pray.
So that’s why we pray. Prayer is a privilege.
Although God is approachable, anyone can pray, and no special words are needed; prayer is not a casual activity.
Prayer is a privilege. By faith, when we pray, we approach the throne of Almighty God. The being who is without beginning or end. The uncaused cause. The one who appears in fire, who is immortal and undefeatable. The one whose every word is accomplished without fail. He spoke, and galaxies rolled off His tongue.
He made everything. Every atom, every mountain range on every planet in every solar system, in every galaxy, in every corner of the universe.
He knows everything, every thought, everything that could be or has been, every event, and how those events play into other events and other events and other events. He knows how it flows throughout all of time, and He never has a headache over any of it.
The God who split the seas, stopped the sun, and raised the dead. This ultimate unfathomable being, the supreme king of the universe, and yet He chooses to stop and listen when you and I speak His name.
How often do you stop to consider a fly’s thoughts? Right? You are a vastly more complex and intellectual being whose ways cannot be considered by the fly, so why would you stop to put its needs above your own?
As much as we are superior to a fly, God is infinitely greater than us, yet He tells us He wants us to talk to Him.
You may be offended by the fly analogy and think I have way more value than a fly, and you do. But the value you have, you only have because God has placed that value on you.
Imagine today your favorite celebrity or an important world leader called and said they wanted to meet with you. Would you approach that meeting casually, in sweatpants, with no preparation?
Probably not. See, we know when things are important, and we give them the appropriate attention. Today I urge you that although anyone can do prayer at any time, and there are no special words and no special people, prayer is not some casual flippant activity. Prayer is a privilege.
The supreme being in the universe wants to speak with us. We should not take that lightly.
Prayer is Hard
Prayer is a privilege.
We pray to express faith and obedience.
And can we be honest? Sometimes prayer is hard.
To express this, I have an analogy for which I need a volunteer.
Has anyone ever had to dig a ditch?
Here is a picture of some of the footers for the foundation of a church we helped build in Colombia. Here in the states, you grab a heavy piece of machinery and knock it out, right?
Over there, it was just 20 of us going at it with shovels and pick axes. On one level, digging a ditch is easy. It’s just this motion. Right? You put the shovel in the ground, pick up the dirt, and put it elsewhere.
It’s simple. What makes it hard is when you have to move more than one shovel of dirt. Or when the soil doesn’t want to give up quickly, it takes repeated work to break ground.
Moving one shovel full requires little effort- anyone can do it. But what if that dirt you need to move is a mountain? Then it’s discouraging. What if it’s filled with rocks?
Prayer is simple. It’s talking to God. Anyone can do it. But what about when the things you need to pray about are heavy? What happens when the things you pray about don’t change overnight? What happens when you keep swinging the pick axe, and nothing seems to break? Then what?
I don’t say this to discourage anyone because, ultimately, God does the work, not us. But I also want us to be prepared; sometimes prayer is hard.
- When you pray for a loved one who is sick and don’t see healing.
- When you ask for something, and God doesn’t give it to you.
- When God’s timing is different than ours.
- When we cry out about injustice but nothing changes.
- When there is a loss and grief.
- When there are repeated struggles that you keep crying out to God about, and nothing seems to change.
Prayer can be challenging. And Jesus knew that. That’s why He gave us stories like these:
Luke 18:1-8 “One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. 2 “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. 3 A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ 4 The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, 5 but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!”
6 Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. 7 Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”
Luke 11:5-10 Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, 6 ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ 7 And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ 8 But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.
9 “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Isn’t it significant that two of the three parables Jesus gave us about prayer are about persistence? I won’t stand up here and tell you prayer is easy, and I don’t know why God chooses to do things the way He sometimes does. But I know prayer works. I have seen it work in my own life, and I know that we aren’t called to understand- we are called to have faith. Two of the three parables on prayer are about persistence.
Persistence really is another word for faith. Without faith, you would never persist.
Galatians 6:9 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.
Prayer is a privilege.
We pray in faith, even when it’s hard.
How to Pray
To close, let’s talk practically about how to pray.
The disciples asked Jesus how to pray. What did He tell them?
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
Let’s break this passage down.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
This is how Jesus said to start our prayer. For God to be hallowed. How many of us actually use the word hallowed in our day-to-day life? What does hallowed mean? It means to be made holy.
Jesus is saying that we should start our prayers by giving God the respect He deserves. We talked about this earlier. Not taking it for granted, but in both our attitudes and words, giving God the respect He deserves.
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
This is about priority and perspective. How many of you know when you are in a situation, it can be hard to see things clearly? But when you are outside of a problem, it can be so simple. Here we set our perspective above- where God’s is.
We recognize what’s really important and pray that what God wants most will happen. That His kingdom will come- that people will turn to Him and experience abundant life through Christ.
This perspective frames what comes next, asking for our own needs.
Give us today our daily bread.
We present our requests to God because we know He hears us. Because we know He cares for us. We lift up the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs that we have and see in others around us.
Often this is where our prayers begin and end, with a grocery list of wants that we hand to God. But Jesus continues.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
In teaching His disciples to pray, Jesus clarifies that repentance and humility are necessary. We all make mistakes- and God wants to forgive us- but we need to turn to Him continually. But notice, He says, as we have also forgiven.
It seems to Jesus that our own receiving of forgiveness is tied to our willingness to forgive others.
This is made all the more apparent if you jump down to verses 14 and 15
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
If we want God to forgive us, we must also forgive. Unforgiveness is a stronghold, as we talked about last week. If you feel like your prayers aren’t being answered- check your heart. Are you harboring unforgiveness there?
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
Jesus closes by asking God to protect and save us from temptation.
In this outline, Jesus shows how everyone can pray- from the seasoned saint to the newborn believer.
After Paul explained the armor of God, he moved right on to talking about prayer- signifying that prayer is the action he assumed we would take.
All the learning, all the reading, and all the sermons we hear are worthless unless we act on them. Prayer is the action we need to take.
As Oswald Chambers said: “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.”