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Purpose in Prayer

                    Text: Luke 11:5-13

                  Rev. Garry E. McCaffery

          As I’ve been talking about prayer for the past couple of weeks you probably have a sneaking suspicion I’m doing a series on prayer.  I’d have to say, you’re absolutely right!  I’m doing this series because I want to remind us about the place of prayer in our lives, both individually and as a community.  Prayer is truly a keystone in our life and faith.  Without prayer the church can do no great work and, without prayer, we can do no great work.  There is not a ministry we could develop that would be able to sustain itself without being undergirded, or supported, by prayer.

          I am taking this time to have us look intently at prayer so we will be encouraged to make prayer a priority in our life and in the life of the church.  If prayer becomes a priority for us as a congregation, then we will see the movement of God in ways we have never anticipated or expected before.  In order to see this move we have to, intentionally, be a people of prayer.  I hope you have already been encouraged and motivated to pray more as a result of the past two weeks.  I hope that encouragement will continue because, as Christians, we are called to pray.  It is our main duty, privilege, and joy to come before the throne of God and pour our hearts out to Him.

          Since the beginning of the year we have talked about the necessity of prayer.  We know that in order to have a living, breathing, dynamic faith it is necessary for us to pray.  We know it is necessary to pray with faith, to pray every day, and to pray persistently.  Last week we were reminded about the power that is available through prayer.  Power that often remains “untouched” because we fail to ask.  Then, when we do ask, we fail to believe God can do what we are asking Him to do.  We learned, again, that faith plays an important part in our prayer.  We must have faith that God will do and act.  We were reminded we must pray boldly and believe whole-heartedly that the Lord will answer our prayers.

          Today, I want us to look at our purpose in prayer.  First, is the purpose FOR prayer.  The primary purpose for prayer is the building of a relationship with God.  As we build a relationship with God, we in turn learn how to pray.  By praying we build the relationship that is essential for us to have as we “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

          Prayer is essential.  In Luke 11:9 Jesus tells us to, “ask, and it will be given to you.”  Ask.  Boy, that is hard to do sometimes, isn’t it?  It is hard enough for us to humble ourselves to ask another human being for help.  Here, Jesus is telling us to ask God.  Ask God for help.  Come to God, humble ourselves, and come to God to receive what He wants to give us.  What does God want to give us?  God ultimately wants to give us relationship.  God wants to have an intimate, loving relationship with us.  However, we cannot have a relationship unless we are willing to come to God and, literally, ask for it.

          God will never push himself on us.  He will reach out to us, he will call to us, he will give us countless opportunities to connect with Him, but we have to want it, to choose it.  Prayer is essential for this relationship.  Through prayer we honor God and acknowledge our need of Him.  Through prayer we are humbling ourselves.  Prayer is our plea of weakness, ignorance, and want, a plea that God will not ignore.  It is a plea which God delights in because we are acknowledging our total dependence upon Him.

          The more we acknowledge our dependence on God the stronger our relationship with him can grow.  The stronger our relationship becomes the more we are willing to go to God and ask, asking not just for our daily bread, but asking for even greater things.

          This is one of the reasons we pray, not only individually, but also corporately.  As a body of believers we pray together, acknowledging we are not sufficient in and of ourselves, to do anything of great consequence.  We need God’s help.  As a congregation, the more we pray, the greater the things we will find ourselves asking God to do.

          We pray in order to set our hearts right with God, to get in tune with God.  We pray in order to move the gospel forward.  So, we ask and ask boldly for great things.  This leads us to our second purpose in prayer, seeking to influence God for the sake of others.

          Yes, again we are going to look at the influence of prayer on God.  This is so awesome and incredible that I think we have a hard time believing it to be true.  We have a hard time believing we have influence with God.  The reason for this is probably because we’re afraid we’re stepping out of bounds by asking God to change the outcome of something.  How dare we think we should try and persuade God to do one thing or another.  Why would God even be open to listening to us?  Who do we think we are?  I’ll tell you who I know I am.  I am a child of God, born again through faith in Jesus the Christ.  I’m a Christian who believes God’s Word is true and the promises laid out in scripture are true.  I believe what is written in the Bible when people of faith prayed with the expectation that God would be moved by that prayer.  Who among us who have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, has not dared to pray for God to change something that is occurring in their life; whether it be sickness or disease, a person’s heart, a relationship that’s gone bad, a desire for someone to be healed or for something to happen differently in our life as a nation?  When we pray in this way we are not out of bounds in our relationship to God, not by a longshot.

          Listen to what Jesus said in Luke 11:9, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find.”   Seek.  Seek and not only will you find the answer to your prayer, but you will likely find you have moved God’s heart through your prayer.  Just as there are many examples of God being influenced to heal people of physical ailments in prayer, there are many examples of God being influenced to show mercy and grant forgiveness.  In the book of Deuteronomy 9:18-20, we find ourselves in the midst of Moses recounting to the people of Israel some of the things they had experienced together.  In this particular message Moses is reminding them of the incident wherein they had disobeyed the Lord by making a golden calf and then bowing down to worship it.  The people built this idol and began worshiping it while Moses was on the Mountain of God receiving the Ten Commandments.  This incident almost cost the people of Israel their life.  God wanted to destroy them for this blatant act of disobedience.  God wanted to destroy them and start all over again with Moses.  God wanted to make Moses the father of a great nation.  What did Moses do?  He prayed to God for 40 days and 40 nights pleading for the life of the people.  He recounted this story to the people of Israel and told them, “I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure with which the Lord was angry with you, to destroy you.  But the Lord listened to me at that time also.”

          Moses prayed long and hard for the sake of the people and God was moved by Moses’ compassion for the people and did not destroy them.  Moses, through prayer, connected with God’s grace and desire to forgive.

          In the book of Jonah, chapter 3, we again find God’s purpose changed by the hand of those who prayed a prayer of repentance.  The city of Ninevah, as we read in this book, was a large city that God wanted to destroy because of the people’s sin.  His prophet Jonah, who was very reluctant, finally went and preached to the people, prophesying the judgement coming their way if they did not repent.  The people were cut to the heart and responded to this message by turning to the Lord in prayer.  In Jonah 3:9-10 we read, “Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?  Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.”

          God is influenced by prayer and human action because of His great love for us.  Prayer truly influences God and connects us to His love and grace.  Yet another reason we pray corporately.  Through our united prayers it is possible for us to influence God

and, just as important, for God to influence us and transform our hearts to bring us in line with His purpose and will.

          This brings us to a third purpose in prayer, praying with a purpose.  We pray For a purpose, we pray to influence God and/or get in line with God’s purpose, and we pray WITH a purpose.

          Praying with a purpose means our prayers have direction and focus.  Jesus said,  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

          Author E. M. Bounds, author of a series of books on prayer published in the 1800’s, which this series of sermons is based, tells a story about a man named Dr. Adam Clarke who, in his autobiography, records an incident wherein he was returning to England by ship with fellow passenger, John Wesley.  Yes, the Rev. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.  While on this return journey they were facing strong head winds which were greatly affecting their progress.  Dr. Clarke wrote, “Wesley was reading, when he became aware of some confusion on board, and asking what was the matter, he was informed the wind was contrary.  “Then,” was his reply, “let us go to prayer.”

          After Dr. Clarke had prayed, Wesley broke out into a fervent supplication which seemed to be more the offering of faith than of mere desire.  “Almighty and everlasting God,” he prayed, “thou hast sway everywhere, and all things serve the purpose of thy will, thou holdest the winds in thy fist and sittest upon the water floods, and reignest a king forever.  Command these winds and these waves that they obey thee, and take us speedily and safely to the haven wither we would go.”

          The power of his petition was felt by all.  Wesley rose from his knees, made no remark, but took up his book and continued reading.  Dr. Clarke went on deck, and to his surprise found the vessel under sail, standing on her right course.  Nor did she change till she was safely at anchor.  On the sudden and favorable change of wind, Wesley made no remark; so fully did he expect to be heard that he took it for granted that he was heard.

          That was prayer with a purpose.  The definite direct utterance of one who knew that he had the ear of God, and that God had the willingness as well as the power to grant the petition which he asked of him.”

          When I first read this I tried to imagine it in my mind.  As I tried to visualize the scene all I could think was “wow!”  John Wesley prayed with a purpose and with focus, and with faith and his prayer was answered.  He was specific in his request and he, and all with him, were blessed when God answered by calming the wind and the sea.

          The purpose of prayer is to open the store-house of heaven.  The purpose of prayer is to seek God’s will and to influence God to act in areas that concern us.  The purpose of prayer is to grow us in our relationship with God.

          Let us be a people who pray for a purpose, to a God of purpose, with a purpose.  For in so doing we will develop the greatest relationship to God that is possible this side of heaven.  Truly the greatest purpose in prayer.  Amen.

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