Jesus said in Matthew 7:7-8, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
How many of you have asked for something and didn’t receive, sought for something and didn’t find, and knocked and it wasn’t opened? The truth is—None of us have. I know there are a lot of us that think that we have, but if Jesus said that everyone who asks receives, then in my book, that’s true and all our experiences are not.
Yes, either what Jesus said is true or it’s not—and, church, I don’t believe Jesus was mistaken when He said this. No, I believe it is far more likely that we are mistaken in how we are hearing what He said. In other words, Jesus was likely referring to a different kind of asking, seeking, and knocking than what we have in mind when we think of these things. No, it’s asking the way that He taught us. It’s seeking the way we see it described in the Scriptures. It’s the kind of knocking that the Lord considers knocking, not what we think knocking is.
Let me give you an example of this: I’ve been in my office before and people have come to the door of the church office and knocked and I didn’t hear them knocking, and because I never heard them, I never opened the door. I wonder if that’s ever happened with us and the Lord. I wonder if we’ve knocked but it was not a knocking that He heard, so the door never got opened for us.
How about the asking part? Have you ever had someone come to you asking for something and they did it in a way that you considered inappropriate, and because of that, you didn’t give it to them? Now I am not implying that we need to say “pretty please” to the Lord in order to get our prayers answered. I’m simply making the point that our idea of asking and God’s idea of asking might not be the same. That is why we need to study to show ourselves approved in order to find out what the Lord has told us about prayer and how to see the answers to those prayers because I believe that if we ask, seek and knock the way the Lord intended, we will be heard by God and receive the answers every time just like Jesus said here. Amen?
I make this point, not to have us go back into our past and try and figure out why we didn’t receive what we asked or to feel condemned about these times. It is simply to help us understand that there is indeed a protocol to experiencing the power found in prayer to where we do indeed receive the answers to our prayers.
So, this is what we will be learning starting today as we begin a new series about prayer. And I am entitling this series— “The Power and Protocol of Prayer.”
Now the reason I am entitling this series this is because these are two very important things that I believe we need to understand about prayer: We need to first know that there is indeed power in prayer. When you and I pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, heaven and earth can be moved to see results when, in the natural, there seems like there is no way things could ever change. So, prayer—the kind God has intended—is powerful, and it requires faith to know this.
So, let’s turn over to James 5:13-18 and look at a section of Scripture that talks about the power that is in prayer:
James starts in verse 13 by saying— “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.” What does he say to do when we are suffering? Let him pray! He doesn’t say— “Call up your friends and get them to pray for you.” No! He says that we are to pray for ourselves.
Not interpreting it this way would be the same as interpreting the next part as “Is anyone cheerful? Let him ask somebody else to sing a song for him.” That would be ridiculous! If you are happy then you sing a song. Likewise, if you are going through something then you pray.
James is not saying that you should never ask somebody else to pray for you because of what he goes on to say in verse 14 but, as a general rule, we should take the responsibility to pray and trust in the Lord ourselves. You see, it does not take a lot of effort to ask people to pray for you when you are suffering. Immature believers will pass the buck on to somebody else and lean on their faith to see their breakthroughs. They will run to the phone before they run to the throne! So many times, when we are having hardships, we become too focused on our self and begin to call everyone we can think of to get them to “agree” with us in prayer. If you look ahead to verse 16 James tells us where our focus should be. He says, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” When we are going through something, we shouldn’t call everyone up to get them to pray for us. Instead, we need to call everyone up to pray for them! When you focus on praying for others that are going through similar struggles you will reap the answers to your prayers. Love never fails!
In verse 14 James went on to give us the example of a sick person calling for the elders of the church to anoint and pray for them. Now this does not contradict what we talked about from the previous verse. The word “sick” here describes someone that is extremely weak—even to the point of being bedbound. Thus the reason he had to call for the elders to come to him. So this describes someone who is too weak to believe for themselves. Just as Moses needed help to keep his arms lifted, so those that are extremely sick sometimes need friends to pick them up and tear the roof open for them to get their miracle.
Verse 15 goes on to describe what gets the results when these elders anoint the sick with oil in the name of the Lord. He says, “And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” You see, it was not the oil that brought the healing; it was faith and the Lord! Someone might say, “Wait a minute Trey! Jesus is the healer, not us!” That’s right…but Jesus Himself attributed peoples healing to their own faith. He said to the women with the issue of blood— “Your faith has made you whole!” The healing power comes from God, but our faith is what grabs hold of that power and takes it for its own!
Then after James describes the prayer of faith in reference to healing, he begins in verse 16 to explain that there are also times that we need to pray earnestly and fervently for some things. You see, there are those times and circumstances that we are to pray the prayer of faith—which is, praying one time and believing we receive—but there are also times that we need to pray continuously with perseverance.
At the end of verse 16 James gives us a tremendous promise concerning those persevering kind of prayers. He says, “The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” The words “effective fervent” are the translation of the one Greek word energeo. This describes a prayer that is continuously active and energetic (This word is where we get our English word “energy” from). In other words, it is a prayer that does not lose its passion and zeal. But rather, it is a prayer that remains full of energy and power after time. The word that is translated “prayer” in this verse is deesis which makes this a poor translation. The word deesis describes the requests and petitions in our prayer times. A better translation would have been “supplication.” James says that the energetic, fervent petitioning of a righteous man “avails much.” The word “avails” comes from the Greek word ischuo and describes “inherent power”—that is, “the power that one possesses.” So, the way you could translate “avails much” is— “possesses a great amount of power and ability.” Wow! Do you see that? James is saying that the continuous, fervent, and energetic supplications of a righteous man (or woman, of course) possess awesome power!
Someone might be thinking- “What kind of power?” Then James gives us an example of the Prophet Elijah in verse 17 & 18. He starts off by saying that “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.” The King James Version says that he was “a man subject to like passions as we are.” What James was trying to get across to us was that Elijah was just a regular person like us. He was subject to the same feelings and emotions as any human being. In other words, he was not “superhuman.” He was just “human!” He had his ups and downs just like we all do. So, James’ point was this—that we do not need to look at the answered prayers of Elijah as unattainable because, after all, he was a man of God. No, we are not any less than him! As a matter of fact, what we have is greater than what he had! Jesus said in Luke 7:28 that there was no greater prophet than John the Baptist. And that would include Elijah! But the most amazing statement in that verse is what Jesus said next— “but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” That would include everyone who is born again! Jesus was saying that everyone under the New Covenant has something better than what John the Baptist, Moses, and Elijah had! Wow! Now that does not mean that we have done greater obviously, but it means that we can do greater!
The difference between Elijah and us is that, first of all, Elijah walked with God (which is a lesson in itself) and second, James says that “he prayed earnestly” (The Greek text actually says that “with prayer he prayed.” This was a Hebruism and denotes that he prayed earnestly.) James is giving a great example of how the “continual energetic petition of a righteous man possesses a great amount of power!” When James “prayed earnestly” that it would not rain, it did not rain for 3 years and 6 months! The tremendous power that was made available through his earnest prayer was that it did not rain until (vs.18) he prayed again! His prayer stopped the course of nature and then started it back again!
But I want you to notice that this phrase— “the effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much”—is a specific kind of prayer. So, guess what else is required in order to experience the power in prayer? It is understanding how prayer works.
You see, it is not just our own idea of prayer that avails much; it is the kind of prayer that God reveals to us in His Word that has this mountain moving potential. In other words, in order to be more effective in our prayer lives and to see its potential power, we must learn God’s protocol for this powerful kind of prayer.
The word “protocol” describes an official procedure, a system of rules, or we might say a proper way of approaching someone or something. How many of you know that God has given us a way of how to approach Him and a procedure of how to approach prayer itself? He most certainly has! There are rules He’s put into place that get the best results in this area.
So, this prayer protocol is a big part of what we are going to learn in this series: What prayer is; what it’s not; how to do it; etc. In short, we are going to learn how prayer works and how to see the answers we desire when we pray.
So, as we enter into this study, I want to begin this week with this question—What is prayer? In order to tap into its power and learn how it works, we first need to know what it is, right?
WHAT IS PRAYER?
So, what is prayer? If I were to ask you this question, what would your answer be? To some, prayer is no more than a position or posture. To them, it is us getting on our knees, folding our hands, bowing our heads, and closing our eyes. To others, it is rehearsed or memorized statements that can be said with the person praying’s heart and mind being completely detached. But is this true?
I am the type of person that likes to ask questions like—Why do we do this? Why do we get on our knees when we pray? Why do we close our eyes? Why do we bow our head? Why do we say the things we say? Now I believe that some of these things are good to do when we pray, but I also believe that we need to know why they are good and not just do them out of tradition or habit.
For example, I’ve heard Pastor Robert use this as an analogy, that when he was a child, his family would say “grace” at the dinner table, saying that cookie cutter prayer, that “God is great, God is good, Let us thank Him for our food …” but it never dawned on him that God actually was great and that He really is good.
You see, I believe people say a lot of things when they pray, but they do not truly realize what they are saying. Here is another example—a lot of us have it engrained in us that when someone sneezes, that we say, “Bless you.” It’s just good manners, right? But why is that good manners? I know there is a back story to why we do bless someone when they sneeze, but are these things biblically based and necessary?
Now I am not trying to get you or your children to stop acknowledging someone who sneezes. I just think we need to ask questions like this so that we are not doing things simply out of tradition with no understanding as to why we are doing them. I think prayer has a lot of those “Bless you’s.” I believe people do certain things under the guise of prayer simply because it,s what was modeled to them, it’s how they’ve been trained, or it’s just tradition.
So, we need to understand that just because somebody prays, it doesn’t mean that they know God or are a truly spiritual person. In fact, prayer is one of those things that even those who do not know God can do.
That’s right—religion (the bad kind) loves to pray. We see it is with the other religions of the world like Muslims, Hindus, etc. who pray much more religiously than most of us Christians do. Now based on what we know to be true, these other religions that pray do not know the one true and living God, right? So, the fact that someone prays does not make them godly or spiritual. In fact, Jesus taught us that hypocrites love to pray (We will cover this more next week).
So, I say all of this to say that there are types of prayer that are absolutely ineffective and not a clear reflection of someone’s healthy relationship with God. On the other hand, there is a right kind of prayer that holds tremendous power to move heaven and earth.
So, my heart in this teaching is for us to discover how to be more effective in our prayer lives, and also to put into our hearts a desire to do more of it. Amen?
So, let’s now look at the word commonly used for “prayer” in the New Testament. It is the Greek word proseuche. It comes from two Greek words:
The first word is pros which literally means “unto or towards” and denotes “facing” someone or something. Now while it can describe simply turning towards something or someone who is at a distance, it is also used to describe drawing near and coming face to face with that person or thing. I believe the latter description is what is intended when it comes to prayer. Why? It is because God specifically told us in this New Covenant to draw near to Him (James 4:8) and to come boldly before His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). And the reason we can do this is because we who once were far off, have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).
So, I see this word pros describing to us the proximity of prayer. We boldly draw near and come “face to face” with God. This is a big difference between “Call Him up, call Him up, and telling Him what I want” (that’s a song, by the way) and going to see Him in person, which is what we are invited to do.
It is also interesting to note that the Greek word used for “worship” uses this same prefix pros also. So, to me, this prefix describes a place of intimacy that whether one is praying to God or worshipping Him, directly drawing near and face to face with Him is a prerequisite.
So, when I pray, I ought not to see what I am doing as I’m way down here and He’s way up there somewhere and I hope if I shoot some of these buckshot prayers into the heavens, one of them will hit. No, this describes to me that I can approach the God of the Universe and face Him personally and intimately. It is me entering into His throne room and presenting my worship, petitions, fellowship, etc. to Him.
Now the second word included in “prayer” is euchomai which means “to wish, desire or pray.” The root word describes making a vow or oath. Now a vow or oath is not a request, is it? No, these are statements, not requests. So, what would “euchomai” describe? This word would describe not only our requests and petitions; this would also include, simply, our conversations with God.
You see, most people only see prayer as petitions, but let’s look at a couple of verses that clearly do not agree with that theology--Philippians 4:6 & Ephesians 6:18.
In both of these passages, the apostle Paul used the phrase “prayer and supplication.” Isn’t it interesting that Paul makes a distinction between “prayer” and “supplication”? The word “supplication” literally describes fervently asking God for things. So, prayer is obviously not just our requests.
So, since I just made the point that at the root of prayer is a “vow,” and vows denote making a commitment or a promise to someone, when does one generally make these statements? These statements of commitment (i.e. vows) generally come during our times of worship of, and fellowship with, God. Therefore, this second part of our literal definition of prayer shows us that prayer involves our fellowship with God and our praise & worship of Him.
SO, WHAT IS PRAYER AGAIN?
Herein lies the difference between what prayer truly is and what man has considered it to be: Prayer, in its purest form, is simply our communication with God based on the relationship we have with Him. It is not just us petitioning Him for our needs to be met (although this is one aspect of prayer) but includes fellowshipping with Him through simply talking to Him.
So, in light of this, allow me to give you my definition of prayer: Prayer, literally, is “intimately approaching God (coming face to face with Him) for the purpose of communicating with Him.” In short, you could define prayer as our communion with God.
You see, the word “communion” describes the union of two people. So, prayer is simply our coming together with God and enjoying fellowship with Him. This means that prayer is the relationship that we have with God. And, of course, a big part of this relationship is that verbal communication that we have with each other. This means that prayer is so much more than our requests and petitions; prayer is the vehicle which drives our relationship with God.
Now as I made the point of earlier, we can pray and not have a relationship with God, but we cannot have a relationship with God and not pray.
Yes, we have a lot of people who can pray up a storm and spend lots of time praying, but they don’t know God. But how can you and I know God without communicating with Him? We can’t. Sure, we can know about Him—learning things that teach us who He is—but in order to know Him and have this personal relationship with Him, we must communicate with Him through prayer.
So, it is for this reason that I see prayer not as our relationship with God, but as the vehicle that drives our relationship with Him. In other words, our prayer life is how we arrive at a healthy, vibrant relationship with the Lord because it requires us communicating with Him.
Aren’t the relationships that we have with one another driven by good, healthy, and constant communication?
Now when it comes to, say, the relationship between a husband and a wife, while it is good to have special times with our spouse, the vast majority of the time involved in a relationship is not going on dates. This is only a fraction of the time that a husband and wife will spend together.
So, although these date times are wonderful and necessary, relationships are not all about intimate contact and romance. We cannot have these intimate moments with our spouse all of the time, can we? The majority of our time spent in one another’s presence is in the other type of time that I described earlier—the times involving other necessary things such as our children, jobs, hobbies, etc.
You see, the downfall of many married couples is that although they go on the occasional “date” and have the occasional “intimate” moments, they do not make the effort to strengthen their relationship with their spouse during the daily affairs of their life. They do not really communicate. They do not touch. They only practice these things when they go on dates and when they have special moments. But by learning to “practice their presence” during these times where distractions are present is what takes a relationship from being just normal to becoming great!
Most experts say that the first and foremost key to a healthy marriage relationship is constant communication! They say that a marriage relationship is maintained, not by special occasions or date times alone, but through learning to consistently communicate throughout the day in and day out activities of life.
You see, after we begin our new life with our significant other, things tend to become busy and cluttered. Usually, during the time we are married, life begins coming at us real fast. Usually, we are beginning our careers—which take much of our attention and some of our energy. Then we have children—who demand all of our attention and take all of our energy. And these distractions of life never stop. So, if we are not careful, the time we spent successfully communicating with our spouse either before we were married or soon after we got married, can begin to suffer. This is when we must learn to cultivate a lifestyle of communication with our spouse even when other things are vying for our attention. This is when we must learn to keep those lines of communication open throughout the day for all seven days of the week.
So how does this apply to prayer? Well, God’s Word instructs us to pray without ceasing, does it not? So, when you view this command from the perspective of everything revolving around a personal relationship with God, First Thessalonians 5:18 is saying that God desires for us to remain in a place of constant communication with Him! Therefore, we can see that just as constant communication is important in any natural relationship, God apparently thinks that it is just as important in our relationship with Him as well.
You see, so many Christians who actually are successful in practicing communicating with God on a regular basis just talk to God during the special times they set aside for Him like; for instance, first thing in the morning. This is a good practice; do not get me wrong. But the problem is that after that time they spent communicating with Him in the morning, they hang up the phone with Him and do not talk to Him the rest of the day. This is, of course, unless they have an emergency. But, you see, what “praying without ceasing” means is that we do not ever hang up the phone! We need to stay on the line with Him all day long and keep those lines of communication open continuously!
And this constant communication is needful in all relationships. It is not just limited to the marriage relationship, but should be practiced in all aspects of a family. As a matter of fact, all of these things that we have discussed today that make up a good relationship between both a parent & child and a husband & wife are applicable to making any relationship prosper.
But while many of the things I just said apply to the marriage relationship, I truly speak concerning a Husband and a Father who passionately loves us. So, let’s become that bride that is passionately in love with our Groom—Jesus Christ! Let’s become that child that ministers to our Heavenly Father!
What a grand opportunity we have, for how can it be that our God desires to have a relationship with you and I!?! I tell you the truth, He desires this from you more than anything else you could do for Him! He, first of all, desires a personal relationship with you and then He wants for you to introduce others to Him for the same purpose. This is Christianity in its simplest terms— relationship with God!
THE PURPOSE OF PRAYER
And church, this is what it’s all about—having a vibrant, personal relationship with God! It is what the Lord intended from the very beginning when He created man. He wanted someone created in His likeness and image that He could come, walk and talk with. He just wanted a family—He wanted a marriage and He wanted children. This is why the New Covenant that we have with God is described as the relationship between a Father and His children and a Husband and His bride.
No, in the Garden, there was not anyone there who needed to be prayed through for salvation. There were not any bills that needed to be paid. There was not anything that they needed to ask God for. Yet they walked and talked with God in the cool of the day. So, since there was not anything they needed to ask God for, what did they talk to God about? They just came face to face with Him with the purpose of communing with Him! That is, they fellowshipped with Him and they also praised and worshipped Him. They had a relationship with Him! They asked Him questions and they listened to His answers. God did not create them for any other reason but to simply have a relationship with them. And if that is the original reason man was created, then we can be sure that that is God’s perfect will for us today.
Having this relationship with God (i.e. prayer) is the primary purpose of our salvation. We were not primarily created so that we can evangelize the world, but we were created so that we can intimately know the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Someone might argue, “How can you say that? Winning the lost is our primary objective as children of God!” I can say that because, again, why did God create Adam? It was not to win the lost, but it was to commune with Him. Revelation 4:11 says that all things were and are created for His pleasure. And mankind was one of God’s creations. So that means that we were created for the pleasure of God. So how do we bring pleasure to God? By worshipping Him, praising Him, thanking Him, and just simply fellowshipping with Him!
Jesus said in John 3:16— “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus came for one purpose— that we would have eternal life and not perish!
What is eternal life? Because I’ve got news for you: You are going to live forever either in hell or heaven! So “eternal life” could not just be living forever. Jesus describes eternal life in John 17:3— “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” The Father’s goal for sending Jesus was for us to come into intimate fellowship with Him and His Son! Eternal life does not start when we die and go to heaven. In John 3:36 Jesus said, “he who believes in the Son has everlasting life.” Not that he will have everlasting life but that he immediately possesses eternal life—which is, having a relationship with God the Father and God the Son.
Since having a relationship with God is the high call of every believer, then we need to act like it, and not be religious in our ways of praying. Prayer is not a position or a posture. Prayer is not having your head bowed and your eyes closed. Prayer is simply communion with God—whether it is walking, sitting, standing, eyes open, or eyes shut. Prayer is just talking to God and sometimes it is appropriate to bow our knees in reverence or close our eyes to focus when we are communing with Him but we cannot get legalistic about it and say we have to do these things every time.
You see, we need to think about why we do some of the things we do. Are we lifting our hands out of some traditional habit? Are we bowing our head because our Sunday school teacher, Sister so and so, said we should? And just because we begin our prayers with “Our Father” and end them with “in the name of Jesus” does not make it prayer either. We can go through all these religious formalities of prayer and never have those words enter the ears of God. It is not these external rituals that make our prayers acceptable. It is the attitude we have in our heart that God is looking at when we pray!
Church, I say these things today because we need to know what prayer truly is. Once we know this and act on these truths, I believe we can begin to experience the power of prayer in our lives—because we know the One whom we are praying to. Amen? This is the first step in the protocol of prayer—basing it on relationship and not religion. Amen.