“We Believe in Prayer” – Part 3

This is the third article in this short series on “Prayer”.  We first considered the Power of Prayer.  Most believers today will say that prayer is powerful when offered in faith. (See James 5:16)  And yet many Christians in the West often seem surprised when God does answer a prayer in a dramatic way, or perhaps I should say, they aren’t too surprised if their prayers are not answered.

This led us to consider the next important lesson regarding the Passion for Prayer.  If prayer is viewed as just a daily routine that one does just before each meal (i.e. saying “grace” at dinner time) or is to be practiced mainly when a terrible crisis confronts us, then no wonder some people do not see the great privilege we have to go to God in prayer and be more active and passionate in our prayer life with God.

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This brings us then to the next important topic on prayer, which is to consider what is the purpose of prayer.  Now I would venture to say that if we did a large random poll of the general population, we might find that one of the most consistent answers we would get when asked what the purpose of prayer is, would be that people would say it is to ask God for something or for Him to do something.

In a way, this is a valid answer, for they are recognizing that God is the source of power to be able to grant these requests in the times when we are in need of something or there is a crisis in our life and we need help.  But if this is the only answer a person gives, it is so woefully inadequate as a response for it is basically a self-centered response which goes beyond asking for what we “need” to us asking for the things we “want”.

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As I did in the last two articles, I will summarize some of the key ideas and points that were presented to us in the Sunday School lesson time that I attended last month at Crossroads Christian Church in Grand Prairie, Texas.  And here is the Overview that was included for us at the top of the lesson:

This lesson is to help us see that prayer is not intended to help us get what we want, but rather, it is the means by which we know God’s will.  Even as we pray for God to provide the resources to reach more children, more youth, more adults and more families for Christ, we do so seeking His will.  The real purpose of prayer is actually for God to get what He wants!

The context for this Overview above, as well as the whole series on “Prayer” is that Crossroads is about to launch a building campaign to construct a huge Children’s and Youth’s Activity Center.  It could so easily be interpreted that the church leaders just want another big building which they hope will impact the lives of young people.

But from all I hear, it would appear that God has opened up so many doors into the lives of people in their community, that the only way to focus the potential of these open doors is through the use of a large central building.  Put in this context, it is God’s direction and providence, not the desires or ambitions of men, that is the key impetus behind this building campaign.  This distinction will help us to understand the following key points that our teacher touched on in our lesson.

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Key Point #1:  The Purpose of Prayer is to Build a Relationship With God.

In Psalm 42, the writer reveals with a heartfelt honesty how discouraged and downcast he is feeling.  We don’t know all the circumstances of what was happening, but he appears to be far from the Temple in Jerusalem where he was free to worship and pray to God.  And he longs desperately to return there to continue doing that, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” (v. 1) The greatest joy of a human ought to be like the Psalmist, to desire to be in the presence of God.

Key Point #2:  The Purpose of Prayer is to Acknowledge Our Dependence Upon God.

We think that we are in control of our lives.  That is so untrue.  Circumstances of life and even just the forces of nature show us that is not true.  And so we are a people characterized by great anxiety.  Scripture tells us though in Philippians 4:6-7 to not be anxious for anything, and God will grant us supernatural peace.  And Matthew 7 tells us that God is like a great loving Father who will not be cruel or stingy to His children, but will be generous to us when we put our trust in Him.

Key Point #3:  The Purpose of Prayer is to Get Our Needs Met.

This point must not be taken out of context, such as quoting Jesus in John 14:14, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”  We still must pray within His sovereign will.  And even more important, we must distinguish the difference between our true needs and our wants as I mentioned above.  So taken within context, Matthew 6 makes it clear that when we seek God and His righteousness (doing all God says is right to do) then God will provide us with our basic needs, such as our food and shelter and clothing.

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There is so much more than could and needs to be said about the purpose of prayer.  But I do hope that this has been helpful to all who read this article.  Let me just say in closing that as you look at the three points above, you will notice that we start with God, put ourselves under His authority and Lordship, and then end with humble requests concerning our real needs which ultimately come from Him.

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