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PRAYER AND SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT
by Larry Lea
Larry Lea International Prayer Ministries
The night before the crucifixion, Jesus crossed the privileged path of prayer, now open to us thanks to the cross: "Until now nothing has been asked in my name. Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:24). Through his own example, Christ put prayer in the center of Christian life. When we pray tranquilly, all the rest of life's aspects flow without difficulty, while the Word of God sustains us. But, prayer is an enigma for anyone who considers it much too mystical, and a problem for those who find much difficulty establishing a habit of prayer. But the author of this study has been devoted to helping people to take on patterns of prayer, thus to bring to light those secrets that help develop this habit, stimulating the reflex which leads believers to incorporate practical methods that lead to a life of prayer, and not dictating rules. The result of this is a prayer which brings with it blessings and fruits of life.
1. Principles of prayer based on God's conversation with Abraham (Gen. 18:17-33)
From GOD's conversation with Abraham in chapter 18 arise, at least, three important principles: 1) We discover that evil Sodom could have been forgiven because of ten righteous men. We learn from this that it's not the presence of evil that puts an end to GOD's mercy and goodness, but the absence of good. 2) Although occasionally GOD inspires us to pray, showing us things that will have to happen (v. 17), our intercession should agree with GOD's character and his covenant with mankind. Thus, like Abraham, we would be able to call on GOD to preserve his name, honor and perfect justice (v. 25) before the world. Although we frequently measure the capacity to influence others in quantitative terms, human arithmetic can't be utilized to calculate the impact of the righteous. GOD saves through many or a few.
2. The heart of the intercessor (Exod. 32:11-14,30-34)
Moses' true character is revealed in the response he gives in prayer when faced with the ingratitude and rejection of Israel. Preoccupied with GOD's honor and not his own, Moses begs GOD to not destroy Israel. After renewing Israel's commitment to GOD, Moses risked his life for theirs (Psa. 106:23).
He later returned to the mountain for another forty days to once again receive GOD's commandments (Exod. 34:1-28). But Israel couldn't blame GOD for the tardiness in receiving the promise; their own sins had postponed the divine intentions. But these intentions stayed intact because Moses had intervened between the sinners of Israel and the divine wrath. Unselfish intercession prevails over the destructive effects of human weakness and sin.
3. Joshua and his warriors step into the breach (Josh. 10:12-14)
Fortified by the divine assurance that they would be victorious, but knowing that they must fight to obtain that promise, the warriors chosen by Joshua responded to Gibeon's petition for aid. This illustrates a classic syndrome of spiritual life. As soon as they conquered Jericho and Ai, five Amorite kings attacked Gibeon to punish it and block the Israelite advance. (Similarly, Satan forges armies to fight against those who go out to conquer for Christ.) The battle was long and ferocious. Fearful that the sun would set before they annihilated the enemy, Joshua's prayer of faith called upon GOD's omnipotence: the sun and moon, Amorite deities, delayed their transit, not only facilitating Israel's victory, but demonstrating the ineffectiveness of their demonic gods. Joshua and his warriors stood in the breach, fighting for GOD's eternal purposes and demonstrating the triumph that such faith and tenacity can accomplish in the spiritual war.
4. God powerfully intervenes (Is. 36:1-37:8)
The way Hezekiah was threatened by Sennacherib's army reminds us that even the righteous suffer problems. The Assyrian monarch invaded Judah, took 46 fortified cities, carried away 200,000 people and kept Hezekiah in Jerusalem like a caged bird. But notice how Isaiah and Hezekiah prayed. Their anguish over Sennacherib's blasphemy carried more weight than their preoccupation with Jerusalem's fate (37:16,17). Consider the magnitude of the crisis. If Sennacherib had taken Jerusalem, the existence of the Jews as a nation would have ended. The Messianic promise about the final triumph of the divine kingdom was at stake. But when Isaiah and Hezekiah prayed, GOD intervened with a supernatural show of power that demonstrated to the Assyrians who was truly GOD (37:36). From that moment, decadence began in Assyria, that had enjoyed two centuries of conquest. This is a lesson about the power of prayer to 1) confront difficult moments and 2) destroy the powers of evil.
5. Intercessors link God's Mercy with human need (Ez. 22:30)
In the days of Ezekiel, only Judah remained on Jehovah's vine, that is, his chosen people. The idolatrous kingdom of Israel had been destroyed and sent into exile under Sargon, the Assyrian governor, in 722 B.C. After 150 years, sin had opened a horrendous breach in Judah's protective wall. A "breach" was an opening that damaged a thorny protection or a wall of stones that surrounded a vineyard. So that intruders couldn't penetrate, someone had to stand watch until the breach was repaired. Thus, this literary figure is used to describe the divine search for an intercessor among the priests, prophets, princes of the people of Judah, for anyone to stand in the breach, and serve as a link between divine mercy and human need. Frequently, in our days, the protective fence around families, churches, and nations, is in a disastrous condition. GOD still seeks intercessors who can stand watch "in the breach" and help repair it through prayer.
6. Spiritual leaders: pray and teach (Eph. 3:14-21)
Spiritual leaders should pray for their people and also teach. Paul prayed for his brother believers, knowing the power of the Spirit in the inner person. Like the boat besieged by the storm, as he had experienced once, he saw himself reinforced on the inside and tightly sealed on the outside (Acts 27:17). Knowing that the strength of Christianity isn't due to external laws, Paul prayed that Christ would enter through the open door of faith, live in hearts, and imprint his nature on the minds, will and emotions of those believers. When Christ enters a life, he fills it with his life: it is the terrain on which we take root and flourish, the soil upon which our lives are based. Prayer gives birth to prayer, so that the believer whom the love of Christ fills with GOD's fullness, learns to ask and expect great things from Him!.
7. Prayer and fasting produce signs and wonders (Acts 13:1-14:28)
Paul and Barnabus' ministry of signs and wonders began because the leaders of the church prayed, fasted and sought the LORD. After the Holy Spirit himself had called these two men, the leaders laid hands on them and sent them to the mission work (13:1-4). Some time later, Paul and Barnabus followed the same plan and traveled from city to city confirming disciples and ordaining elders in the churches (14:22,23). What model did they follow? Each minister who is sent out is an intercessor of GOD who moves between the superabundance of GOD and the superabundant needs of mankind. Consequently, those who send them should feel moved by the Holy Spirit through prayer, not by their own spirits, to send men and women whom GOD has anointed and called to do missionary work in the world. When today's church discovers the way to seek and advance every ministry through prayer, we will again see how opposition and unbelief will be doubled against us. GOD confirms his Word with signs and wonders.
8. Prayer, the terrain where our faith is proven (Acts 4:1-37)
See what the response of the church was when persecutors tried to stamp our the Christian movement. The Christians turned to prayer! Sometimes, the things that threaten to suffocate or destroy the Church, become the means to its preservation and advance. The controversy that followed the occurrence of the miracle unleashed the persecution; likewise, the skeptics debated the relationship between the miracles and Christianity. The first believers knew that if they could stay firmly rooted, that the healing of the lame that had been realized in the name and power of Jesus would clearly confirm Christ's authority. Thus, they turned to prayer. What were the results? Sublime grace and enthusiasm. A very great power and enthusiasm (verses 32-34). The first Christians teach us the way toward confirmation of the reality of our faith: neither discussion nor arguments, but prayer itself.
9. God's fire descends (II Chron. 6:12-42; 7:1)
When Solomon dedicated the temple, that he had constructed so that GOD could live among his people, he presented petitions before the LORD related to many situations that would occupy Israel in the future: sin, enemies, forgiveness, drought, plague, war, captivity, etc. Each petition was followed by a plea that GOD would hear and respond to the Israelite prayers.
When Solomon's petitions ended, GOD dramatically demonstrated his approval of the temple and his acceptance of Solomon's prayers. A flash of fire descended from the sky, consuming the sacrifices and offerings. Then GOD's glory filled the temple.
There are lessons here for us, because now GOD lives in the temple of our heart (see I Cor. 3:16). If we seek Him, He instantaneously comes to our side. His holy fire descends in the moment in which we put our best offerings upon the altar. When we make a place for GOD, it's always filled with his glory.
10. Constant prayer is the key to deliverance (Acts 12:1-17)
This conflict is a study regarding the permanent confrontation with evil. The Herods symbolized Satan's implacable attack against the Church. Herod the Great had intended to kill Jesus; his son ordered John the Baptist killed; his grandson had James beheaded, and now he had incarcerated Peter, intending to put him to death after the Passover. At the same time that Peter suffered imprisonment, the church suffered with him, on their knees in prayer. Hour after hour, the believers agonized in prayer, and when they had done everything that they could do, GOD began to work. Suddenly, an angel "anesthetized" the sixteen guards and Peter's chains came loose. (But neither GOD nor his angel did what Peter could do for himself. The apostle had to put on his clothes and his sandals and follow the angel.) Nothing hindered the escape. An iron door opened; and the sincere persevering prayers brought the apostle Peter's freedom. It's curious, but the only impediment that Peter encountered was the front door of his friends' house! And thus it is, that even those who pray sometimes neither see nor believe in the rapidity with which GOD works when they lift their supplications.
11. The Our Father (Matt. 6:9-13)
"The Our Father" is a model of prayer that contains seven great topics, each one of which represents a basic human need: 1) The paternal need: "Our Father" (v. 9). When you pray, all your needs are attended to by the benevolence of a loving Father. 2) The presence of GOD: "Hallowed be your name" (v. 9). Enter into his presence through praise (Psalm 100:4), and call him "Father", because of the expiatory blood of Christ (Heb. 10:19-22; Gal. 4:4-6). 3) GOD's priorities: "Your kingdom come" (v. 10). Declare that the priorities of His kingdom (Rom. 14:17) will be established in you, in your loved ones, your church and your country. 4) GOD's provision: "Give us today" (v. 11). Jesus, he who supplies our needs, tells us that we should pray daily, asking him to provide for all that we lack. 5) GOD's forgiveness: "And forgive us" (v. 12). You need GOD's pardon and you need to forgive everyone. Walk daily, deciding to love and forgive. 6) Power over Satan: "And lead us not...free us from evil" (v. 13). Ask the LORD for a circle of protection around you and your loved ones (Job 1:9,10; Psa. 91). Ask him to clothe you with his armor (Eph. 6:14-18). 7) Divine society: "For yours is the kingdom" (v. 13). Glorify GOD for making you a participant of his kingdom, power and glory (II Tim. 4:18; Luke 10:19; John 17:22). This is the prayer that teaches you how to pray.
12. To pray is to be in agreement with God's will (I John 5:14,15)
Immature faith tries to manipulate GOD. It seeks shortcuts and formulas that guarantee a response to whatever petition. It sees prayer as a weapon to obligate GOD to comply with His promises. But true prayer isn't a human effort to persuade GOD or to force His will. True prayer is based on seeking GOD's will and putting ourselves in accordance with it (v. 14). We should ask according to His will; later we rest on faith, confident that GOD hears us and that what we ask for is already ours (v. 15). 2) Believe that GOD hears your petition and has already begun to answer you. 3) Pray tenaciously and patiently until His will is fulfilled. This makes up true prayer.
13. Seeking God in prayer is the way to satisfaction (John 4:34)
When Jesus refused the food offered by his disciples and declared, "I have meat to eat that you know not" (v. 32), he wasn't saying that physical hunger and thirst are sinful (later he made eating and drinking sacramental signs). However, his spiritual hunger took priority over physical appetites. He found satisfaction in a profound communion with GOD and in doing the will of his Father. Applause and material acquisition can feed vanity and nourish ambition, but don't give sustenance to the spirit. Seeking GOD in prayer will lead us to find our sustenance, our spiritual strength and the satisfaction of doing GOD's will. Like Jesus, we will discover GOD's will through daily communion with Him. And thus we will receive the fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit with which to achieve it.
14. David asks for Joy and the presence of God (Psa. 51:1-19)
David's prayer of repentance remains as a painful testimony of his brokenness before GOD and as a teaching to others who sin. His repentance isn't born out of fear of punishment or preoccupation with future success. He repented for having turned against GOD himself, his person and his nature. David wept, not only for forgiveness, but also for purity; not only to be held innocent, but to be accepted; not only for consolation, but to be totally cleansed of sin; at whatever cost. Although his heart was wounded by shame and the pain of his sin, he knew the amplitude of divine mercy. Notice how, once he confessed his sins, and they were forgiven and purged, David dared to ask GOD for his most precious gifts: joy, restoration, his presence, and his Holy Spirit. He then offered to use them as an instrument to give divine praise and to instruct other sinners. This psalm shows that GOD accepted the offering.