Sunday, April 23, 2017

Prayer Does It Make A Difference? - Session 5 - Partnership



2017 is the year of Prayer at CDG.  The Sunday morning Adult Bible Study Group after a series titled "Prayer Begins With Relationship now looks at the question Prayer Does It Make Any Difference?  We are using a book by the same title written by Philip Yancey.   In his book Philip explores the intimate place where God and humans meet in Prayer. Polls reveal that 90 percent of people pray. Yet prayer, which should be the most nourishing and uplifting time of the believer’s day, can also be frustrating, confusing, and fraught with mystery. Writing as a fellow pilgrim, Yancey probes such questions as: •Is God listening? •Why should God care about me? •If God knows everything, what’s the point of prayer? •Why do answers to prayer seem so inconsistent? •Why does God sometimes seem close and sometimes seem far away? •How can I make prayer more satisfying? Yancey tackles the tough questions and in the process comes up with a fresh new approach to this timeless topic. “I have learned to pray as a privilege, not a duty,” he says, and he invites you to join him on this all-important journey.   These are my notes for the study.   

The universe is done, The greater masterpiece, still undone, still in the process of being  created, is history.  For accomplishing, His grand design God needs the help of man.  - Abraham Joshua Heschel


Matthew 6:7-8 (NLT)7  “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions 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!


We Are God's Partners

So, why pray? The answer is simple and comforting. God has graciously chosen to give us the privilege of being His partners in both the physical and spiritual areas of life. Through prayer we work with Him in defeating the powers of evil and in bringing about the fulfillment of His loving purposes in the world. Partners with God—what a privilege! What an incentive to pray!


In addition to being God’s friends He has also made us His partners.  God established the partnership from the very beginning.


Genesis 1:28 (NLT)28  Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”


Genesis 2:15 (NLT)15  The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.


Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)  For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.


2 Corinthians 5:20 (NLT)20  So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”


God has always played a direct role in manipulating natural events:  causing a drought or a plague of locusts, reversing the course of disease and disability, even restoring life to a corpse.  Apart from these rare events called miracles, however, the Bible emphasizes an ongoing providence, of God’s will being done through the common course of nature and ordinary human activity:  rain falling and seeds sprouting, farmers planting and harvesting, the strong caring for the weak, the haves giving to the have-nots, the healthy ministering to the sick.  We tend to place God’s activity in a different category from natural or human activity; the Bible tends to draw them togetyher.  Somehow God works in all of creation, all of history, to bring about His ultimate goals.  God has a long history of accomplishing His will through people.  Often having the people who have been doing the praying do the work.  


Exodus 3:1-2, 7-10 (NKJV)1  Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.2  And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed.   7  And the LORD said: "I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.8  So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites.9  Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.10  Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt."


In this case it wasn’t Moses doing the praying it was the people.


Judges 4:1-7, 14-16 (NKJV)1  When Ehud was dead, the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD.2  So the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who dwelt in Harosheth Hagoyim.3  And the children of Israel cried out to the LORD; for Jabin had nine hundred chariots of iron, and for twenty years he harshly oppressed the children of Israel.4  Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time.5  And she would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim. And the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.6  Then she sent and called for Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, "Has not the LORD God of Israel commanded, 'Go and deploy troops at Mount Tabor; take with you ten thousand men of the sons of Naphtali and of the sons of Zebulun;7  and against you I will deploy Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his multitude at the River Kishon; and I will deliver him into your hand'?"   14  Then Deborah said to Barak, "Up! For this is the day in which the LORD has delivered Sisera into your hand. Has not the LORD gone out before you?" So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him.15  And the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot.16  But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth Hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.


The people cried out and God used Deborah and Barak


Judges 6:1-6, 11-16  (NKJV)1  Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years,2  and the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made for themselves the dens, the caves, and the strongholds which are in the mountains.3  So it was, whenever Israel had sown, Midianites would come up; also Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them.4  Then they would encamp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep nor ox nor donkey.5  For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, coming in as numerous as locusts; both they and their camels were without number; and they would enter the land to destroy it.6  So Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD. 11  Now the Angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth tree which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites.12  And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him, and said to him, "The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor!"13  Gideon said to Him, "O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, 'Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?' But now the LORD has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites."14  Then the LORD turned to him and said, "Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?"15  So he said to Him, "O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house."16  And the LORD said to him, "Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man."


This time He used Gideon


Nehemiah 1:1-4 (NKJV)1  The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel,2  that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.3  And they said to me, "The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire."4  So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.  


Nehemiah 2:1-6 (NKJV)1  And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before.2  Therefore the king said to me, "Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart." So I became dreadfully afraid,3  and said to the king, "May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?"4  Then the king said to me, "What do you request?" So I prayed to the God of heaven.5  And I said to the king, "If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' tombs, that I may rebuild it."6  Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), "How long will your journey be? And when will you return?" So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.  


Nehemiah 6:15-16 (NKJV)15  So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days.16  And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God.


Here He used Nehemiah, the king and the people to accomplish His will regarding Jerusalem.


Kingdom Partners

When Jesus was teaching His disciples, He left no doubt as to whom God would rely on to carry out the work of His kingdom.


Luke 10:1-3 (NKJV)1  After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go.2  Then He said to them, "The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.3  Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves.


God does very little on earth without you.  When we pray “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth”  we are opening ourselves up to being used by God for Him to accomplish just those things.  We all have a role to play and so that we can perform that role we have been given talents and spiritual gifts.  


Ephesians 4:11-16 (NKJV)11  And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,12  for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,13  till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;14  that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,15  but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ--16  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.


The church is called to be faithful in sharing the gospel through word and deed. The church is to be a “lighthouse” in the community, pointing people toward our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The church is to both promote the gospel and prepare its members to proclaim the gospel


Matthew 28:18-20 (NKJV)18  And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.19  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20  teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.  


Acts 1:8 (NKJV)8  But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."  


1 Peter 3:15 (NKJV)  But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;


The church is also to teach biblical doctrine so we can be grounded in our faith. The church is to be a place of fellowship, where Christians can; be devoted to one another and honor one another , instruct one another, be kind and compassionate to one another, encourage one another , and most importantly, love one another


1 John 3:11 (NKJV)11  For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another,


John 13:35 (NKJV)35  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."


How do you relate these examples to you and your prayers for things or for others?.  


Since we are in a partnership and we know who the stronger and more dominant partner is we want Him to do the heavy lifting and He does but prayer shows that we want to and are willing to do our part, no matter how small that may be.


Philip says that prayer is consenting to cooperate with God.  He works with us He doesn’t overpower us.  


God-Incidents


We live day to day in a material world.  Yes we know that things happen in the spirit that affect and even cause the things in the material and for us prayer is the way we try to bridge that gap.  


Galatians 5:16-26 (NKJV)16  I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.17  For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.18  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.19  Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness,20  idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies,21  envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23  gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.24  And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.25  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.26  Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.


Only in this way can believers rise above the limitations of the flesh and avoid fulfilling its desires. To realize the victory over the flesh, one must put himself under the leadership of the Spirit. - The Wycliffe Bible Commentary.


We ask God to intervene but some things He wants us as partners to do.  While God continues to perform miracles the vast amount of times He works though and in creation not despite it.   Philip makes an interesting comment that because God works in and through man and also performs miracles it is really difficult to prove what caused the desired answer to prayer.   Then He quotes from C.S. Lewis’s book “Miracles”.  (Lewis makes a case for the reality of miracles by presenting the position that something more than nature, a supernatural world, may exist, including a benevolent creator likely to intervene in reality after creation.)


This impossibility of empirical proof is a spiritual necessity.  A man who knew empirically that an event had been caused by his prayer would feel like a magician.  His head would turn and his heart would be corrupted.  The Christian is not to ask whether this or that event happened because of a prayer.  He is rather to believe that all events without exception are answers to prayer in the sense that whether they are granting or refusals the prayers of all concerned and their needs have all been taken into account.  All prayers are heard, though not all prayers are granted.    He concludes “only faith vouches for the connection.  No empirical proof could establish it.”  We believe a prayer has been answered not because of any scientific criteria proving cause and effect, but because we have faith.  Trusting God’s character, we can see in the relationship between our prayer and an event more than a coincidence.   We see a true partnership, intimate and intertwined.  


We say that there are no coincidences.  Everything about us has already been planned.


Jeremiah 1:5 (NLT)5  “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”


Psalm 139:15-18 (NLT)15  You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.16  You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.17  How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!18  I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!


Bishop Desmond Tutu said “When I pray, coincidences happen, when I don’t, they don’t.   So rather than call something a coincidence call it a God-incident.


Stages of Prayer


There are really no stages of prayer or levels of prayer but we do mature in our prayer life and our relationship with God.  In our book Philip identifies what he calls, for lack of a better word, stages of prayer.  


First stage Childlike request:  


John 14:12-14 (NKJV)12  "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.13  And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.14  If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.


A childlike request for something that we want. Like a child’s Christmas list or a bucket list for an adult.  While it may be a little like approaching God as if He was a Genie, or as some say a “bellhop”, it is still prayer.  Especially when they are made by new Christians.  They pray like little children making requests of their parents because they trust them and are not afraid to ask anything.  As we mature we seem to lose our trust and our childlike faith to ask anything.  We become more and more selective and not willing to accept God’s response in any way other than the way we want it.  Philip calls the American pray-er, those of us who think we are mature long time “ace boon coons” with God, those who want it “our way”.  On the other hand a first stage pray-er is like one who thrusts God to answer any way that He wants.  


Second stage: Meditation or “keeping company with God”.  


Psalm 119:16, 24, 35, 47, 77 (NKJV) 16 I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word. 24 Your testimonies also are my delight And my counselors. 35 Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, For I delight in it. 47 And I will delight myself in Your commandments, Which I love. 77 Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; For Your law is my delight.


He is not talking about the kind of meditation as the Hindu, or Buddhists do making meditation the goal.  We are not talking about the health club meditation either.  The kind of meditation that emphasizes relaxation and self-improvement.  The emphasis in our meditative prayers puts the emphasis on God.  Our meditation should be in waiting to hear from God and learning His will.  That way we are praying for what God wants for us.  Spending time in meditation allows us to be quiet and listen for the Holy Spirit who as we have learned speaks in many ways.  He speaks through the Bible, through a nudge to our spirits, through a song, through another person, and even sometimes audibly.  Being quite in meditative prayer helps align our desires with God’s.  .
If we seek God more than anything else we will want more of what God wants and less of what we want and we’ll be content with having what He wants for us.


The third stage  Not my will but yours be done:  


Matthew 6:10 (NKJV)10  Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.


At this stage we learn what the partnership is all about.  It is at this stage where we submit completely that we learn that prayer is God’s way of getting His will done on earth.  The emphasis is His will not ours.  God takes our requests which we through prayer and meditation become our desires which should match God’s desires for us, and that fits into God’s plans for mankind.  


Matthew 26:36-44 (NKJV)36  Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, "Sit here while I go and pray over there."37  And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed.38  Then He said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me."39  He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will."40  Then He came to the disciples and found them asleep, and said to Peter, "What? Could you not watch with Me one hour?41  Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."42  Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, "O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done."43  And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy.44  So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.


How well do you think we Christians understand and respond to the balance of prayer and action that the Bible mandates for accomplishing God’s will?


Praying most often doesn’t get us what we want but what God wants for us.  So Eugene Peterson says “Be slow to pray” because “Praying puts us at risk of getting involved with God’s conditions.  If you’re not ready for that then don’t pray


Psalm 37:3-4 (NKJV)3  Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.4  Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
As our scripture says we are to delight ourselves in the Lord and if we do He will give us the desires of our hearts.  That signifies a mutual relationship.  We delight in the Lord and He gives us our heart’s desires.   Delighting ourselves in the Lord, means that our thoughts are constant towards God and that everything we do is in obedience to Him.


Prayer becomes the process of our being available for what God wants to do on earth through us.  Cod want to do miracles every day through us, if we only make ourselves available.


We we pray we should be asking God what actions He wants us to take as His partners.

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