Sunday, April 2, 2017

Prayer Does It Make A Difference - Session 2 - A View From Above

The Sunday morning Adult Bible Study Group after a series titled "Prayer Begins With Relationship now looks at the question Prayer Does It Make A 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.   To purchase a copy of the book click on the picture at the end of the notes.   The audio recording of the study in included with these notes. 

Who one believes God to be is most accurately revealed not in any credo but in the way one speaks to God when no one else is listening - Nancy Mairs

Rather than looking at things from our perspective we are going to try to look at things from God’s perspective.

We must realize how small we are and how big God is, and how short our time of existence compared to eternity.   

Psalm 90:2 (NLT)2  Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from beginning to end, you are God.  

2 Peter 3:8 (NLT)8  But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.

Psalm 39:4 (NLT)4  “LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered— how fleeting my life is.

We tend to rely on our own sufficiency and our own issues.  Remember what I said our last time together about how small we are in the universe and how big God is and in order for us to enhance our prayer life is for us to try as best we can as humans, look at the relationship from God’s perspective.  

Psalm 39:4 (HCSB)4  “LORD, reveal to me the end of my life and the number of my days. Let me know how short-lived I am.

Psalm 90:12 (HCSB)12  Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.

James 4:13-14 (HCSB)13  Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.”14  You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are ⌊like⌋ smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes.

1 Peter 1:24 (HCSB)24  For All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like a flower of the grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls,

When Job was having his trouble he questioned some things too and he wanted God to answer him and he got this response;

Job 38:1-11 (HCSB)1  Then the LORD answered Job from the whirlwind. He said:2  Who is this who obscures ⌊My⌋ counsel with ignorant words?3  Get ready to answer Me like a man; when I question you, you will inform Me.4  Where were you when I established the earth? Tell ⌊Me⌋, if you have understanding.5  Who fixed its dimensions? Certainly you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?6  What supports its foundations? Or who laid its cornerstone7  while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
8  Who enclosed the sea behind doors when it burst from the womb,9  when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its blanket,10  when I determined its boundaries and put ⌊its⌋ bars and doors in place,11  when I declared: “You may come this far, but no farther; your proud waves stop here”?

He got the message

Job 40:3-5 (HCSB)3  Then Job answered the LORD:4  I am so insignificant. How can I answer You? I place my hand over my mouth.5  I have spoken once, and I will not reply; twice, but ⌊now⌋ I can add nothing.

With these things in mind we might want to consider:

Psalm 46:10 (NKJV)10  Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!

We are really not in control of the world God is.  We are not really in control of our futures, God is.  The only response to our problems or our condition is to be still and turn them over to God.

The Latin imperative for “be still” is to vacate (from which we get the word vacation), so God is inviting us to take a break and allow him to be God in our daily lives.  In addition the word translated “know” refers not only to intellectual knowledge but also to knowing God through worship and obedience.  In your daily life, what might it look like to actually put into practice these definitions of stillness and knowledge.  

Most of us don’t find it easy to e still and “wait on God.”  We keep taking on responsibilities and trying to accomplish more and more in our strength.  Yet many faithful followers of God who have gone before us learned to live life with a keen awareness of God’s perspective and our human frailty.

We can learn some to the benefits of waiting on God from these scriptures.  

Psalm 37:4-7 (NKJV)4  Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.5  Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass.6  He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, And your justice as the noonday.7  Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.

1 Peter 5:6-7 (NKJV)6  Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,7  casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

Matthew 6:31-32 (NKJV)31  Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'32  For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

Isaiah 30:18 (NKJV)18  Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you; And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; Blessed are all those who wait for Him.

Despite the faithlessness of the nation as a whole, Jehovah would bear with them patiently (rather than inflict final destruction upon them all) until a penitent remnant would turn in faith to him; for he would fain display in them the riches of his kindness and grace. Those persecuted and afflicted believers who looked to him for deliverance would some day see him inflict judgment upon the wicked.
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary.

2 Peter 3:8-9 (NKJV)8  But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.9  The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

Psalm 145:8-13 (NKJV)8  The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, Slow to anger and great in mercy.9  The LORD is good to all, And His tender mercies are over all His works.10  All Your works shall praise You, O LORD, And Your saints shall bless You.11  They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom, And talk of Your power,12  To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts, And the glorious majesty of His kingdom.13  Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.

We have to realize who we really are in comparison to God in our relationship with Him.  


We have to acknowledge that we are guilty.  Many books on prayer emphasize the act of confession.  It’s like David’s prayer of forgiveness after the affair with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah

Psalm 51:1-10 (NLT)1 Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins.2  Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin.3  For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night.4  Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just.5  For I was born a sinner— yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.6  But you desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there.
7  Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.8  Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me— now let me rejoice.9  Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt.10  Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.

When we acknowledge that we are so very small we are in our imperfection, when compared to God who is perfect it establishes the right ground rules of how we relate to God.  Confession makes for good psychology in addition to it being good theology.  

God already knows who we are.  It’s us who have to come to terms with who we really are.  We need God’s help in digging out all the hidden things like selfishness, pride, deceit, unforgiveness, etc., and prayer is a way we can get that guilt out.  

Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)23  Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.24  Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Psalm 89

We have to come clean and be real not like the hypocrites that Jesus warned His disciples not to pray like.  He told them that they should go into a closet and pray.  The homes in Jesus day usually weren’t big enough to have closets because they were only one room so He was probably using a figure of speech for getting into a space, which could even been in a crowded room where we can somehow ensure that our prayers are heartfelt and not a performance.  


We have to admit that we are helpless.  Human beings don’t ordinarily like to admit that we need help.  I have had that problem most of my life.  That can become the sin of pride which will short circuit our relationship with God and our ability to talk to Him in prayer.  

James 4:6 (NLT)6  But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.”

Proverbs 8:13 (NLT)13  All who fear the LORD will hate evil. Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance, corruption and perverse speech.

But Jesus told His disciple that they couldn’t do anything without Him.

John 15:5 (NLT)5  “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

Truth is that we are not self-reliant.  We rely on DWP for water and electricity, GM to provide transportation, farmers and ranchers for food, pastors, to nourish us spiritually.  

Prayer forces us to really look at our true state.  We never outgrow our dependence on God if we do we are fooling ourselves.  Asking for help lies at the root of prayer.  Prayer is a declaration of dependence on God.  The Lord’s prayer is a string of requests.

Matthew 6:9-13 (NKJV)9  In this manner, therefore, 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 this day our daily bread.12  And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.13  And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Psalm 145:14 (NKJV)14  The LORD upholds all who fall, And raises up all who are bowed down.

Prayer is a declaration of dependence on God.  

having or showing a modest or low estimate of one's own importance.

Prayer forces us to be humble.   Humility doesn’t mean that we grovel before God.  It means that in the presence of God I see my true place in the universe which is so very small and at the same time acknowledges God’s greatness.  

1 Peter 5:6-7 (NKJV)6  Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,7  casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

Look at the progression from humility, which is the step down, to God lifting you up.

On the other hand Jesus comments about the Pharisee and the tax collector show the contrast between a prayer of superiority and a prayer of desperation.  

Luke 18:13-14 (NKJV)13  And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'14  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

The example for us today is that our culture shines the spotlight on a billionaire who takes delight in firing people (who is now our President), on supermodels, conceited entertainers, and boastful athletes.  The theologian Daniel Hawk puts it, “The basic human problem is that everyone believes that there is a God and I am it”  Humility in prayer is the way to correct that lie.

Why should we value humility in our approach to God because our being humble reflects the truth.  We don’t have much control of our live at all.  We can’t affect the rotation of the earth, or its orbit around the sun and our place in the universe.  There is a God and I am not it.  


In prayer we need to acknowledge that we sometimes doubt.  Doubts about God’s love for man, given the stuff that goes on in the world, and to us.  Why we struggle so much, why there is poverty in world and here.  Why is God allowing all this.  We are not the only ones to have doubts and frustrations.  One thing about the Bible is that it doesn’t sugar coat life or hide what even those who love and serve God feel when frustrated, and most of these are prayers.

Habakkuk 1:2-4 (NLT)2  How long, O LORD, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save.3  Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery? Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence. I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight.4  The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.

Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes (all is vanity), Psalms, and of course Job show angusish, hurt, and betrayal, situations that don’t make sense, even sometimes thinking the God doesn’t care or even exist.  There are Psalms like that.

Prayer allows a place for us to bring our doubts and complaints and lay them before God where you realize that you don’t have control and must learn to trust.   Your doubts take on a different flavor when you get to know the Person to bring them to.  


We have to be honest about how we feel about our prayer life.   Is it just a ritual, are we just repeating words, does God really hear our prayers, should we keep praying even though we’re not even sure that we are doing it right?  God wants us to be real.  We all have two sides.  One we show to the world the one everybody sees on the outside.  Then there is the one we never let anybody see.  Well that’s the one that God sees  

1 Samuel 16:7 (NKJV)7  But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

When we pray we sometimes don’t really say what we feel but God hears that too:

Psalm 139:4 (NKJV)4  For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.  7  Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?
8  If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.

We have to level with God about bitterness over an unanswered prayer, grief, over loss, guilt over an unforgiving spirit, a baffling sense of God’s absence.  If we don’t do that the relationship with God won’t go any further that a shallow relationship that we have with another person where that person is just a casual friend.  With a casual friend we engage in small talk and don’t get too personal about our lives.  If we do that we will only engage in formal prayers and never break through what Philip calls the intimacy barrier.  We have to learn to trust God with what He already knows.  


We need to not be afraid to expose ourselves in God’s presence.  When we come to God in prayer we need to ask ourselves if we bare the deepest, most hidden parts of ourselves.  Only when we do will we discover ourselves as we are.  God knows the selfish motives behind everything that we do.  Prayer invites us to bring our whole life into God’s presence for cleansing and restoration.   It’s not easy to expose ourselves but when we do we give God the opportunity to clean and repair us.  We don’t need to be afraid that God will reject us.  Just think about it.  Humans represent the only species on earth with whom God can hold a conversation.   Only we can articulate praise or lament.  Only we can form words in response to the miracle, and also the tragedy, of life  We dare not devalue our unique position.  

David Ford, a professor at Cambridge asked a Catholic priest the most common problem he encountered in twenty years of hearing confession.  With no hesitation the priest replied, “God.”  Very few of the parishioners he meets in confession behave as if God is a God of love, forgiveness, gentleness, and compassion.  They see God as someone to cower before, not as someone like Jesus, worthy of our trust.    Ford comments, “This is perhaps the hardest truth of any to grasp.  Do we wake up every morning amazed that we are loved by God?... Do we allow our day to be shaped by God’s desire to relate to us?

Do we trust God with our exposed self or do we hide our real selves afraid that God will be displeased with it when in fact the hiding may be what displeases God most.  What we think is protecting ourselves God sees as a lack of trust.  When we finally acknowledge our need we will find that God is not a tyrant but a lover.  Paul prayed that we begin to understand how much he loves us.  

Ephesians 3:14-19 (NKJV)14  For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,15  from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,16  that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,17  that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,18  may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height--19  to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

When we look at it the most important purpose of prayer may be to let our true selves be loved by God.  

Psalm 103:10-14 (NKJV)10  He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities.11  For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;12  As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.13  As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him.
14  For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.

Knowing the Heart of God - Charles Stanley

Most people long to be understood. We may have many acquaintances, but we all have a deep need to feel truly known by those we love most. This is because we were created in God's image--He also desires to be intimately understood and loved by us.
Just as you don't want to be known for only the superficial details of who you appear to be, it's not enough to know about the Lord. He wants us to learn how He thinks and feels, what's important to Him, and what His purposes are. Of course, it's impossible for man to completely know the mind of the Creator of the universe. In Isaiah 55:9, He tells us, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts." The depth and breadth of His mind is so great we will never be able to fully grasp it in this lifetime.
However, we can better understand God's heart and character by seeking Him and learning day by day from His Word. If we genuinely desire to walk in His ways, we must first genuinely know Him. We come to know our friends better by sharing more experiences together. Similarly, we will also understand God better the longer we walk with Him and meditate on what He has revealed about Himself in the Bible.

God wants you to seek Him with all your heart, and He promises that when you do, you will find Him

Jeremiah 29:13 (NKJV)13  And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.  

So, the next time you're feeling a need to be better understood, turn to the One who understands you perfectly. Even more importantly, ask Him to help you know Him better.

Bible Study Audio

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