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Prayer That Makes a Difference
By Pastor Lutzer
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In this insightful and concise book, Pastor Lutzer digs into the difficult topic of prayer. He writes about praying for one another, praying for our city, the sin of prayerlessness, and praying for the glory of God. You will gain life-changing insights from prayer warriors in the Bible including Samuel, Paul, and Jesus. Unless we learn to develop a disciplined prayer life, we will never learn to pray effectively.
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DEVOTIONS WITH A DIFFERENCE
A tavern was being built in a town which until recently had been dry. A group of Christians were opposed to this and began an all-night prayer meeting, asking God to intervene. Incredibly, lightning struck the tavern and it burned to the ground. The owner brought a lawsuit against the church, claiming they were responsible. The Christians hired a lawyer, declining responsibility. The judge responded, “No matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear. The tavern owner believes in prayer and the Christians do not.”
Does God answer prayer? Do we believe in prayer or do we not? We hear so many formulas about the secret of holy living. And yet, sometimes we forget that it comes down to a personal daily relationship with God. The bottom line is our commitment to prayer.
In future chapters we shall learn how to pray effectively. For now, let us consider our private devotional time, those special moments that we set aside when we have fellowship with God. What would happen if we sought God consistently?
First, we would be content with God. Martin Luther said, “All sin is contempt of God.” What he meant was, whenever we sin deliberately, it really means that we are dissatisfied with God. But when God meets our needs, we can resist temptation because sin loses its effectiveness. Second, we would be blessed with hidden rewards. Remember that God rewards those “seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Christ promised that those who pray to God in the closet are “rewarded openly.”
Finally, we would love and know the living God. God has made us for fellowship with Himself and it’s time that we got serious about meeting Him every single day. When we are disciplined in our relationship with God, we can rest in the Lord.
What do we need for our daily time of fellowship? In Mark 1, Christ gives us an example of the five ingredients that made up His devotional life.
First of all, we need time. We read, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed,” (Mark 1:35). Christ went out early in the morning and prayed. He had a designated time when He met with His Heavenly Father. If we don’t specify a time, we will soon find our life filled with other things. Our devotional life simply will not happen.
Christ went out early. That’s the best time for us to meet the Lord so that we have the entire day to live with the consciousness of His presence. I often say that each Christian should meet God before 9:00 a.m. If it’s not done then, it won’t happen during the day.
Also, Christ took out this time in the midst of much pressure. He had been healing and casting out demons in Capernaum. And we read, “And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons…”
If there is anything a preacher likes, it’s a crowd. Yet, although the whole city had gathered at the door to hear Christ, He disappointed the multitude by going away to pray.
Do you and I have time for the Almighty? No time to fulfill the purpose for which we were created? We give our jobs eight to ten hours a day. We give time to the television set; time to sports, time for leisure, and yet some of us do not have fifteen to thirty minutes for the Almighty?
Patients who are on dialysis machines spend several hours a day giving first rate priority to their physical needs. Amazingly, when our physical lives are at stake, we somehow find the time to do what is necessary in order to live. Yet how easily we can live without fellowship with God!
If Christ were physically present and we could set up interviews with Him, you can imagine how many people would be lining up in our churches to spend ten minutes with Him. And yet, He invites us to come and spend time with Him in the throne room of the Almighty. How easily we disregard the invitation.
Sometimes God wakes us up in the middle of the night, and we forget that it’s time to pray. Many people who suffer from insomnia lie awake with anxieties, not realizing that this may be the hour God has designated for them to intercede for others. In fact, if we are inconsistent in our devotional lives, why don’t we ask the Lord to awaken us to spend time with Him, even if it is in the night? We need a time for prayer.
Second, Christ had a designated place. We read, “he…went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” In this instance He was at Capernaum, but when He was in Jerusalem we know that He also had a special place there called the Mount of Olives. Every one of us should have a spot where we meet the Lord. Even if you live with a roommate, or are in crowded quarters, you can designate a place to pray—possibly beside the bed or even in the bathroom. We all should have some place where we meet God.
I have the good fortune of having a study both at home and at the church; but even within those rooms, I have one place designated where I pray. This is a constant reminder to me of the need for regular prayer. What memories such a place brings back to us.
Third, Christ had a purpose. We read, “there he prayed.” Let’s remember that Christ not only talked to the Father, but the Father also spoke with Him. He and the Father shared those hours together.
Prayer, properly understood, is two-way communication—two-way communication between us and the Almighty. One reason prayer can become mundane is because we may think that God is not listening to us. It’s difficult to talk to someone if you suspect that they are not hearing your words. I recall speaking to someone who was sitting on the couch, and when I didn’t hear any verbal response, I began to realize the person was falling asleep. That discourages conversation!
But how does God speak to us? Not through an audible voice as He frequently did with Christ, but through His Word. “Beyond the sacred page I see Thee Lord.” No one can have a successful devotional life unless God is speaking to him. Each morning we should read God’s Word until we have a thought or a verse that will carry us throughout the day.
D.L. Moody said that we sometimes read the Bible like he hoed a garden. He had to put a stick in the ground to indicate the rows that had been hoed; evidently he did such a poor job that one could not tell the difference simply by looking! We’ve all had the experience of reading a chapter of the Bible and getting to the end of it, only to realize that we had read this the day before. That’s why meditation in the Word is so important. We must absorb the Word of God into our minds so that it does not simply pass through as water through a sieve.
There is no area of our life that is under more constant attack than our devotional experiences. When we get serious with God, every demon who has ever watched us begins to harass us. Our minds are filled with distractions, distress, and anxieties. We shouldn’t even expect to have a good time for the first few weeks. There will be much opposition that needs to be overcome. But then the rewards begin!
Finally, Christ enjoyed His fellowship with God the Father, knowing that in the end, He would be rewarded with much strength. He was able to say, I have “accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” These moments gave Him the courage He needed in order to do the will of the Father.
Interestingly, when He was praying there alone, we read, “And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ And he said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.’” Notice what the disciples are saying, “Lord, what are you doing here, when everyone is looking for you?”
But Christ did not return to the crowd. He left them waiting in disappointment. Time with His Father was more important than meeting their expectations; He left a fruitful ministry to go where He was not always welcome. The will of the Father is all that mattered.
George Mueller is known for founding several orphanages in England. Yet, interestingly, he says the reason he did it was only secondarily to take care of children. His first desire was to prove the faithfulness of God. And because of that, he did not ask for funds but depended on the Lord alone to supply his need. He was proving that God could be trusted.
Mueller says that he realized an important principle in his devotional life that revolutionized his relationship with God. Rather than awakening in the morning to pray, he would begin feeding his soul on the Word of God. He writes, “The first duty of every Christian is to find his soul happy in God.” Mueller says that just as food is needed for the body, so the nourishment of the Word of God is needed for his spiritual life. And he taught that contentment with God is the first responsibility of every Christian.
So Mueller would awaken early, read the Word of God and meditate, listening to God’s voice until his soul was refreshed. Only then was he ready to pray and resume the duties of that day.
In the well-known story in Luke 10 where Martha and Mary welcomed Christ into their home, Mary was commended by our Lord. Christ reminded Martha, “One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Notice how simple it all is: Only one thing is necessary! And Mary would not have that taken from her. The implication was that what Martha was doing would vanish away, important though serving might be.
God wants us to do the one thing that is absolutely necessary—-namely, to listen to His voice and worship at His feet. And when we do that, everything else will fall into place.