Learning To Pray: Personal Prayer

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John 17:1-5

Herb Miller wrote in Connecting with God: When a nightclub opened on Main Street, the only church in that small town organized an all-night prayer meeting. The members asked God to burn down the club. Within a few minutes, lightning struck the club, and it burned to the ground. The owner sued the church, which denied responsibility. After hearing both sides, the judge said, “It seems that wherever the guilt may lie, the nightclub owner believes in prayer, while the church doesn’t.”

The Bible teaches us that there are four types of prayer. 1) Personal prayer
2) Intercessory prayer 3) Community prayer 4) And travailing prayer.

The 17th chapter of John is a key point in the life of Jesus. The Lord’s Supper in the Upper Room has concluded. Jesus is in the garden and He knows what is about to happen. The Roman soldiers are on their way to arrest Him. The disciples that have gone with Him to the garden are tired and keep falling asleep. Jesus does something very important and very real, He prays.

The first five verses of chapter 17 are very personal words between Jesus and His father. We see the intimacy of a father and son relationship. We see the openness of one talking to God.

Prayer is nothing more than an open and honest conversation with God. Prayer is the only thing that “conquers” God. But Christ has willed that prayer never be used for evil. All the power He has conferred on prayer is for the cause of good. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. So prayer only knows how… to transform the weak, to restore the sick, to free the demon-possessed, to open prison doors and to untie the bonds that bind the innocent.

Furthermore, it washes away faults and repels temptations. It extinguishes persecutions. It consoles the low in spirit and cheers those in good spirits.
It escorts travelers, calms waves, and makes robbers stand aghast. It feeds the poor and governs the rich.

Personal prayer is worship! A lot of people look for a church where “they can get something” out of it. I have to come away “feeling good.” Soren Kierkegaard asked the question, “Who is supposed to get the benefit of worship?” He said that we view church as an audience and want to be entertained. The preacher, the readers, the choir, the soloist are all actors. “No,” Kierkegaard writes, “God is the audience and all of us are there to perform.” That is worship.

We come home and we say, “That special music sounded wonderful this morning.” Rather than, “I met God on His mountain today.” Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. That is the difference between entertainment and worship. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him

Our greatest handicap in prayer is that we view prayer as one-way when the reality is that prayer is a two-way street of communication. A Christian lady once dreamed that she died and went to heaven. As an angel was showing her around, she saw a stack of boxes in the corner of a room–and they had her name on them. She asked the angel what they were–and he told her to take a look in them. They were filled with many of the things she had prayed for during her lifetime, but hadn’t received. Seeing her perplexity, the angel explained: “When any of God’s children make requests of Him, preparations are made to give the answer. But we angels are told that if the petitioner is not waiting on the answer–if they give up too soon–we are to return with it and store it here.”

We often knock on the door like a mischievous boy knocks on a door and then runs away! Jesus said “Keep knocking.” He never promised to answer runaway knocks. We need to pray and wait, pray and wait. Have we learned to wait in patience and persistence, faithfully trusting God to answer in His time? I don’t mean just the everyday kind of waiting we all have to do: standing in line at the grocery checkout counter, being put on hold when we phone for information, facing another delay in an already backlogged day. What I’m talking about is the soul-searching, heartbreaking, my-future-hangs-in-the-balance kind of waiting that few of us escape during our lifetime. You see this kind of waiting on the face of the aging wife who wonders if maybe this time the doctor will give her good news about the baby they so desperately long for. You see this kind of waiting in the eyes of a father who searches the streets for his runaway daughter, hoping to find a clue to her whereabouts. You see this kind of waiting in the slumped shoulders of the man who’s spent months looking for a job that pays enough to support his family. Waiting hurts. It frustrates. It can drive people to do crazy things.

Take Abraham. Here was a true man of God who believed God’s promises.
By faith, he left his comfortable home and became a desert wanderer. He waited for years for God to give him a son. But he got tired of waiting. The result was a liaison with Hagar, the birth of Ishmael, and centuries of fighting between Ishmael’s descendants and the descendants of the rightful heir, Isaac.
Not waiting causes us problems. So why won’t we wait for God’s perfect timing? Because waiting doesn’t come naturally. Moreover, the nature of waiting is misunderstood. Waiting is not passive. Scripture says waiting should be active. To understand what this means, let’s look at the lives of saints who truly waited for the Lord.

Hannah is one example. How she longed to be able to have and hold her own baby! But she couldn’t. To make matters worse, she suffered the ridicule of her husband’s other wife who had borne him several children. Yet, throughout all this, Hannah continued in fellowship with God. She didn’t pretend that a baby didn’t matter and she never stopped petitioning the Lord. Her faith did not diminish, despite the delay. Finally, she received the promise through the birth of Samuel.

Another example is the prophetess Anna. She had been widowed soon after her marriage, and had spent most of her life in the temple, worshiping Jehovah, fasting, praying – and waiting, waiting for the promised Messiah.
How easy it would have been for her to despair wanting to see the one who would redeem Israel. Yet Luke tells us that, even at age 84, Anna was waiting for the Lord. And when Jesus was presented at the temple, Anna was there, giving thanks to God.

Nowhere in Scripture are we promised instant answers to our prayers or immediate gratification of our desires. Rather, God expects us to be patient, to wait, and to accept by faith those things that are as yet unseen. …but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Picture yourself unencumbered by fear, failure, and frustration. Waiting doesn’t have to be a downer. Waiting God’s way, through prayer, fasting, serving, studying, trusting Him, and preparing to receive His promises, can be liberating.

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