Today we begin a series of lessons called Above the Ceiling. Over the years I’ve heard people say things like, “I feel like my prayers bounce off the ceiling” or “I think my prayers go no higher than the ceiling.” That can be a frustrating feeling, when you are not sure God is listening or God cares or if you are praying right.
This series is designed to answers some questions about prayer. Over the past few weeks we have been asking you to tell us the questions you have about prayer. Many of you responded and gave us some good questions. Some of those questions were…
- Is it wrong to pray about certain things?
- Does how and where I pray matter?
- Can I change God’s mind about something?
- Can people that have died hear my prayers?
- What do you do when you have trouble focusing when you pray?
- Why does it feel like prayer is a one-way conversation?
- Does God hear our prayers even while we are in sin?
Those are some good questions and some are very tough to answer, but we are going to try to answer as many as we can as best as we can. Today we are going to answer the question, “Why should I pray?”
Two Don’ts Regarding Prayer
One of the questions most often asked about prayer is: “Why should we pray when God already knows our needs? Why tell God what He already knows or ask Him to do what He already wants to do?” When it comes to prayer and God, you will need to accept that there are some things about prayer and God that you will never understand. I don’t fully understand everything about how a car works, but I still put the key in it and start it and drive it down the road. I don’t fully understand how a plane operates, but I still buy the ticket and board the airplane.
I’m thankful that I don’t need to understand everything about prayer to be able to pray. Before we get into some reasons to pray, I want to give you two don’ts regarding prayer.
We don’t pray to impress God
First, we don’t pray to impress God (or others). Some people they think they can impress God with how they pray or impress those listening with the style of their pray or the length of their prayer or with the loudness of their prayer. Listen carefully to what Jesus said in Matthew 6, “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!” (vs. 5-8, NLT). Here’s the thing, we are told in other parts of the Bible to talk to God as our loving Heavenly Father (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). Prayer is a conversation between you and your Heavenly Father. You are talking about what is on your heart and He listens, but He will speak to you what is on His heart and you listen as well. Prayer is not about impressing God or impressing others.
We don’t pray to inform God
Number two, we don’t pray to inform God. Jesus made this very clear when He said, “Your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” (Matt. 6:8, NLT). Your Heavenly Father knows what is going on in your life. He knows what you need even when you don’t. He knows what your needs will be in the future. Sometimes what we think we need is not what we really need. Prayer is not a way to inform God. He knows everything. Let me show you a couple of things about this.
- Psalm 147:5 tells us, “His understanding is infinite” (HCSB). This means that God’s understanding and knowledge have no limit. His intelligence has no barriers. He knows everything. No one can tell God something He does not already know. His knowledge and understanding are infinite.
- Psalm 139:1 tells us, “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me” (NLT). He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows why you do what you do even if you don’t. He knows you. He understands you. There is nothing you can tell God about yourself that He doesn’t already know. You are not going to surprise with anything strange.
So if we don’t pray to impress God or to inform God, then why do we pray? The answer to that question takes us to the five reasons to pray. So, why do we pray?
Five Reasons to Pray
Talking to God invites Him to act
Number one, talking to God invites Him to act. We don’t pray to impress God or inform God, but we do pray to invite God into our situation. I am not talking about praying for salvation, I’m talking about followers of Jesus who pray to God inviting Him to intervene or intercede in their lives or the life of someone else. You are inviting Him to take over. Let me give you some examples of this.
Let me set the scene. Elijah arrives at a village. In the village there is a widow who had a young son. The son became very sick and died. Elijah is broken hearted for the widow and decides to pray an amazing and incredible prayer. So we pick up the story in 1 Kings 17:21, “And he stretched himself out over the child three times and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, please let this child’s life return to him.”22 The Lord heard Elijah’s prayer, and the life of the child returned, and he revived!” (NLT). Wow! Elijah prayed and invited God into the situation and God decided to return life to the child. This miracle would have been missed if Elijah had not prayed.
Let me set the scene. There are 450 prophets of Baal and one man of God, called Elijah. Elijah proposes a contest between Baal and His God. Elijah says to the 450 prophets of Baal, “You call on your god and I will call on mine God. The god who answers by setting fire to the wood on the alters we build is the true God!” The prophets agreed to the is test. Elijah let’s the prophets of Baal go first. They build the alter with wood and an animal sacrifice. They started praying to Baal in the morning and it went on all day until evening. And nothing. They finally gave up and now it’s Elijah’s turn to pray and we pick up the event in 1 Kings 18:36, “At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. 37 O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.” 38 Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench!” (NLT). Wow! Elijah prayed and invited God into the situation and God decided to take action. If Elijah had not prayed, another miracle would have not been experienced.
Look at Psalm 138:3, “As soon as I pray, you answer me; you encourage me by giving me strength” (NLT). We are going to look at how God answers pray in a later lesson, but listen… you cannot get an answer from God if you don’t ask. The encouragement you need and the strength you need comes from talking to God and inviting Him into your situation.
Before we move on I need to add something important. Just because you invite God to do something, does not obligate God to do something but it does open up your life and your situation to Him. There are some things that God has for you, that you will only receive when you ask Him. He is not going to force it on you.
Talking to God builds our relationship with Jesus
Number two, talking to God strengthens your relationship with Jesus. If you are going to have a healthy relationship with anyone, then you will have to talk with them. Your relationship with Jesus is a relationship. Christianity is not about spiritual rules and spiritual regulations that you are to try to keep. There are commands in the Bible and Christ has a standard for your life, but you didn’t become a Christian because you “received a standard” or “you believed in a set of rules.’ You became a follower of Jesus when you received HIM into your life. When He became the Lord of your life. It’s about a love relationship between you and Almighty God.
Now listen carefully, God understands and comprehends the relationship He has with you. The problem is you don’t understand and comprehend the relationship you have with Him. One of the ways you grow in your relationship with God is through prayer. You expressing what is on your heart with God and God expressing to you what is on His heart.
One of the ways this is done is through prayer. Look at Ephesians 3:14, “When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray [Paul is about to give us his prayer list for others] that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit [That sounds personal, God on the inside, inner strength]. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts [Can you imagine having Jesus living in your house to give you advice, to encourage you, to help answer the questions about what the Bible says and about what you should do] as you trust in him [Trust is a strange thing. Trust says you believe someone, you believe what they say, you believe in what they do, you feel safe with your secrets, you feel safe with your life. It takes times to build that trust. You may trust the Lord for your salvation, but you need to grow in trusting Him with your finances]. Your roots will grow down into God’s love [God’s love is getting a greater hold on you and you are getting a tighter grip on God’s love] and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand [You don’t understand everything that God is doing in your life, but as you continue to grow you power to understand will increase], as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is [If you know that God loves you and you are amazed at that, well His love for you is wider than you can imagine, longer than you could ever dream of, higher than any sin or obstacle in your life, and deeper than any pit or whole you will ever get yourself into]. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully [This love of God is not something you only study and talk about, God wants you to experience it in your life]. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (NLT). That is Paul’s prayer for the believers and he knows that it will take prayer to an incredible God to something that incredible in our lives. Prayer builds our relationship with Jesus.
Talking to God helps us to defend against temptation
Number three, talking to God defends you against temptation. The night before Jesus was crucified, He and eleven of His disciples went to a garden called Gethsemane. The eleven are tired and don’t fully understand what is going on or what is about to happen. But Jesus is fully aware of what’s about to happen. Jesus knows that He will be arrested, beaten, mocked, humiliated, questioned, falsely accused and nailed to a cross to die. He knows the disciples are about to face some personal temptations in their life when this begins. So in Luke 22:40 while they are in the garden, Jesus tells His disciples, “Pray that you will not give in to temptation” (NLT). This is so significant that Jesus will come back a little later to tell them the same thing again in verse 46 where Jesus says, “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation” (NLT). One of the ways you combat against temptation and sin in your life is by talking to your Heavenly Father.
When you know something is coming up that is going to test you that is when you especially need to talk to your Heavenly Father.
Talking to God clarifies God’s will
Number four, talking to God clarifies God’s will for your life. Throughout your life you are going to need to seek God’s will about many things. Which college does God want you to go to? Should you ask this person to marry you? What career does God want you to have? Does God want you to take this job or that job? What house does God want you to buy or does God want you to rent? Which church does God want you to be a part of? Throughout your life you will constantly be seeking God’s will.
God clarifies His will for you with five things.
- Number one, the Bible. What does God’s Word say? The Word of God is the will of God. God’s Word reveals God’s will. God will give you divine principles to help you discern what He wants you to do and not do.
- Number two, godly people. What do God’s people say? God’s Word says to get godly advice and to listen to them. God will give you direction through their advice.
- Number three, your circumstances. This is God’s providence working in your life. What is God saying through your circumstances?
- Number four, your conscience. Do you have peace about what you think God would have you to do? Peace comes from knowing that God’s Word backs you up on this, the godly advice is consistent with what God’s Word is saying, your circumstances are right and your conscience is clear about this.
- Number five, prayer. What are you hearing from God? What is He saying to your heart, through His Word, through His people, through His providence in your life, and through your conscience? What is God saying to you?
We see an example of this in the life of Jesus. Jesus needed to discern the Heavenly Father’s will about who would help lead in His ministry and mission. We are told Luke 6:12-13, “One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. 13 At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles” (NLT). Somewhere during the night while He and the Heavenly Father were talking it was clear who the leaders or the apostles would be. Jesus had his answer and so He gather all the disciples together and made God’s will known.
Part of clarifying God’s will in your life is to have serious conversation with God about it.
Talking to God prepares us for spiritual warfare
Number five, talking to God prepares you for spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:11 says, “Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil” (NLT). After describing God’s armor, Paul immediately adds in verse 18, “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (NLT). The devil is going to through all kinds of strategies at you in order to steal, kill, and destroy your life. He wants to distract from God’s will, the devil wants you to focus on things that are not important, and the devil wants you to not believe God, follow Jesus, and live for His glory. In the battle you will need to talk to God on a regular basis. Your life and God’s glory are to important to not have conversations with the One who created you, saved you, and designed you for a purpose.
It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from, or what you have done… God wants to talk to you and He wants to hear from you. Set aside some time today and this week and tell God wants on your heart and mind, read His Word and listen to Him. If its been awhile, that’s okay… He’s ready to listen.